How should I respond to a person who states that there is no exact translation of the bible, which means that we cannot show others that some of their beliefs are false?
The Holy Scriptures have been wonderfully preserved by the Holy Spirit from their inspiration and writing, through copying of the manuscripts, through handing down from generation to generation and especially in their assembly into the canon. Even the scientific, archaeological, and historical approaches affirm the Scriptural truth that God preserves His Holy Word (Psalms 12:6-7, Mark 13:31). That is to say, as the trusty theological language would state: what we know a priori (“objective knowledge independent of experience”/by faith) and though not required by the believer, this is affirmed a posteriori (“knowledge dependent on empirical evidence”) through scientific investigation.
For a more thorough treatment of whether or not you can trust that God’s Word has been preserved throughout the centuries and it’s reliability, I would direct you to a great DVD series, “Bible on Trial” available through Concordia Publishing House. Or a great, and yet short, read, The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? by F.F. Bruce. Issues Etc. also has done a good segment on “The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture” that addresses how God has preserved the authority of His Holy Word.
The nature of your question then is, does this preservation remain even into translations that we can trust and use to speak a true confession? The answer, in brief is “Yes!”
Since Scripture is intended to give us knowledge of our salvation in Christ, as well as to teach others, have correct doctrine, and equip us for all good works in Christ, it is necessary and in accord with God’s Will that Scripture would be translated into all the various human languages that it may be used as it is intended in the daily life of all Christians. Therefore it has been the tireless work of the Church, from its beginning, to make a point to furnish translations of Scripture into the many foreign languages from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts.
It is, of course, self-evident that the original texts wield the authority over the translations. The translations have authority only in so far as they correctly render the original text. Therefore all translation must submit to the test of whether they reproduce the original correctly. One will find, that it is a rare, and often very minor situation where an error of translation has unduly changed the understanding of Scripture. This speaks to the miraculous work of the Spirit of God to preserve his Word. If in error in translation, much as in copying, is made it does not unravel the character of the authority of God’s Word or the original text. There error is simply identified and through a proper process measured against the original text and evaluated to ensure its faithfulness to render the original text properly. If it is determined to be an error, then it is simply corrected.
Francis Pieper, in Vol I of his Christian Dogmatics also speaks well to your question in his section on Holy Scripture, “The Original Text of Holy Scripture and the Translations”:
There is ample proof for the fact that translating does not deprive Scripture of its character of being the infallible Word of God. According to Scripture the infallible Word of the Apostles and Prophets will to the end of time, at all places, among all nations and tongues, be the foundation of faith for all Christians and the norm and standard according to which all Christians judge whether the doctrine is true or false. Since, however, the vast majority of Christians posses the written Word of the Apostles and Prophets only in translations, it is clear that Holy Scripture does not lose its character of being the infallible Word of God by being translated. God’s protecting hand has guarded not only the original text, but also the translations. As we have a firm and fixed Word of God in the original despite the [minor variances of readings], so the current versions of the Bible present a firm and fixed Word of God, and this despite the fact that every existing translation contains occasional mistakes and is subject to continuous correction in the light of the original.
Since we know that God’s Word is indeed preserved by His Spirit, even into translation as they reproduce the original copy, we know that Scripture translations have the authority of God’s Holy and infallible Word. Thus, you can feel confident to apply Scripture as itself directs us: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
-Rev. Sean Smith
Note: With this post, Worldview Everlasting would like to welcome Rev. Sean Smith to our WE Answer team!