As some of my readers may know, there are public websites out there which allow subscribers to ask questions on various subject to which other subscribers can then post answers to. I joined on a lark, but found there are a lot of people seeking answers to deep spiritual questions out there. I’ve decided that some of these bear repeating to my readers, so this series will show you a question that a real person has asked on the Internet and my response. Enjoy.
It really depends on what you mean by “experts” and “controversies.”
Among honest scholars of both Hebrew and Greek, there are few real controversies out there, and most of them have nothing to do with translation, but with “was this in the original MS or not?” There are not many texts in dispute, but any decent Bible will have each of them marked and notated somehow (usually in parenthetical or marked with asterisks).
As far as translation, the so-called “controversies” arise mainly from the fact that we are dealing with languages both ancient and dead.
Koine Greek is an especially complex (and beautiful) language, ever so much more than English. A Greek word in and of itself has a myriad of layers and meanings that can only be deduced from context clues and cultural cues. Usually, we’ve got enough of both to know what the author was trying to say, but sometimes the cultural context is all but non-existent and sometimes the context isn’t totally clear. Nevertheless, even in these cases, there is almost always enough information to get a really good approximation. Then there are a few examples where there simply is no English equivalent for a Greek word.
Hebrew, by contrast, is a much simpler language and is more easily understood than Koine Greek, but complications arise simply because the style of Hebrew and the MS its contained in are so old. We are talking stuff that was recorded more than 2,000 years ago here. The cultural context for most of it is pure guesswork for some cases.
In the end though, it’s mostly just academic stuff for the intellectuals to have a friendly debate over coffee. One thing that must be emphasized to people who struggle with the fact that a few select passages are in dispute or that this or that word is unclear is that no Church doctrine is dependent on any disputed text. That means you can take or leave any disputed text or unclear wording we still haven’t pinned down yet and it won’t change the message of the Bible. Someone who believes that the story of the woman caught in adultery is canon is no more or less a Christian than the one who believes its apocryphal. All the important, key texts that define doctrine are not in dispute at all.
As for “experts,” you might want to be careful about them. Not all who write books about this subject or do TV interviews are actually trained in Hebrew or Greek or know anything academically about the subject. For the most part, the only people seriously studying the Bible, its cultures, and its languages are the people who believe in it (with some exceptions). Most of the people claiming that there is a controversy in Scripture big enough to crack the Church in half are just blowhards who heard what they wanted to hear from an academic they didn’t understand and then spun it out of the stratosphere.