God has been using translation since the first words of Genesis were penned, which transliterated read: Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim v’et h’eretz. A literal English translation in keeping with the word order would be something like “In the beginning He created, God, the heavens and the earth.”
Did you ever stop to consider that we do not have the exact words of Adam and Eve from they themselves? The most conservative biblical scholars say Moses wrote most of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, obviously with the exception of recording his own death) in Hebrew. I have yet to hear a case that Hebrew preceded the Tower of Babel. Maybe Hebrew was the perfect, unscathed language that God chose to use in the Garden of Eden, but that assertion seems arbitrary.
We should be willing to admit that what we have preserved by God in the Hebrew language in understanding Adam and Eve’s communication is sufficient for our teaching today. We can equally declare with clean conscience to an audience using a number of good English translations, “You have access to God’s Word sitting in your laps!”
Let’s think about words for a moment. Camisa roja in Spanish means “red shirt” in English, even though the words’ order is different in each language. I could say “the shirt of red,” or even “shirt red,” and people would still understand what I’m saying, although we conclude “red shirt” is probably the best translation for your average English speaker. Let’s go a step further.
Even when speaking the same language, we all make interpretational calls. When reading “red shirt,” one may imagine a shirt having a lighter or darker hue of red, but one is in error if one understands those words and then interprets them as “blue skirt.” While people may misunderstand words and they themselves are in error in the interpretation, translation is sufficient to communicate information and for uses of doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (sound familiar?). Thus, Jesus had no problem quoting from the Septuagint (LXX, a Greek translation of the OT) on multiple occasions instead of the Hebrew scriptures 1) because of whom he was talking to, and 2) because the words meant the same thing!
To God, the greater importance is not of the ink retained on parchment or the accurately chiseled tablet (and while I do not believe the ink/tablet/parchment of the originals were magical in any way, I do believe the intended meaning behind every single letter of the original documents was without error and hold to verbal plenary inspiration of the original documents). We do not revere the pens and keyboards of men, but the Being and commands of God.
Allow me some brief thoughts concerning those who take issue with discussions of copies and the practice of textual criticism. I do not claim to be an expert in this activity, but it is no secret that historians are astounded at the magnitude and quality of manuscripts we have of biblical literature in comparison to other ancient documents. The providential and sovereign fingerprints of God are all throughout various copies and translations of His Word. Some copies and translations have human errors in them. The vast majority of these are exceedingly obvious, and no major doctrine is compromised within these commonly discussed textual variants. A classic obvious case is 1 John 5:7, called the Comma Johanneum, which does not appear to be part of the canon of Scripture. The only Greek manuscript we have of this verse is a translation back into Greek from Latin! (See a more detailed explanation of that issue here.) What is not compromised in a case such as 1 John 5:7-8? The doctrine of the Trinity, which is preserved, not in this portion of 1 John, but in Matthew 28 and 1 Corinthians and other Scripture passages and narratives.
Every command of God and doctrine of God that He wanted us to have can be clearly discerned and followed by those reading quality collections of Greek manuscripts and quality translations in their own spoken language. It doesn’t come like magic. It’s important to 1) learn how to read (or be read to— Romans 10:17), 2) search the Scriptures (1 Timothy 3:15-17), and 3) study the Scriptures.
Part of human interpretation is human error. Part of human copying is human error. But Peter made it clear that we are better off with written copies of God’s Word than having a face to face conversation with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21)! We have the advantage of having the completed canon of Scripture—an advantage most in the early church did not have. You can explain Greek concepts and sentences in English, and even translate the Bible into English (I won’t comment here on which English translations I think are the best), French, German, Swahili, Chinese, and Russian translations etc., and give yourself and others the opportunity to understand exactly what God has said.
Praise God for using translations since Moses and for miraculously preserving His Word even now!