I've seen a number of comments and answers (here and elsewhere) regarding the [un]reliability of a specific translation. Occasionally, the angle of attack on a given translation is (kind of) ad hominem toward the translator(s).

Is it possible for a non-Christian to produce a "good" translation of the Bible?

The definition of a "good translation" is perhaps up for debate, but the upshot of the question is, should a Christian avoid studying (perhaps only primarily) a translation that is not made by a (group of) believer(s)?

I read Non-Christian/secular translation of the Bible?, but this question was not really addressed. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'm sure that I haven't considered all angles of the question.

  • For example, the NIV is often cited as suspect because of some of the translators.
    – mojo
    Jan 11 '14 at 5:58
  • Since people have already answered, this could only be considered a corollary question, but what if the translation group contains certain people who are not believers (or who do not agree with me about things I consider important)? Should their work be suspect? I guess this is more of a question for those who think only Christian translations should be considered trustworthy.
    – mojo
    Jan 12 '14 at 3:39

Yes. Anyone who has the technical skill can translate material. Translation is a skill that has to do with understanding the technique and fluency in the languages/cultures, and it's certainly possible for non-Christians to have the requisite skills, just as it's possible for a Christian not to have it. That should be fairly obvious, so I assume by "trust" you are wondering about them getting away with altering the texts or getting them wrong.

If that's the case, let's step back a moment so I can ask how you'd go about verifying if a Christian got it right. You wouldn't know for sure if anyone, Christian or not, got it right, unless the work had undergone some form of peer review]1, where other translators verify the work. This is standard and common in translation, history, and any discipline where someone can make a mistake.

The risk of a Christian and non-Christian making errors in understanding the meaning is the same, so in one sense, the answer is "no", but not because they're not Christian, but because they are human, and therefore not perfect.

We can grant a non-Christan the same amount of trust that we'd grant a Christian simply because peer review for catching errors is an implicit part of establishing whether the work was done right, regardless of who did the work.

It's the same principle as the one behind manuscript evidence. The more examples to compare, and agreement we have, the higher confidence we can have that we have it right.

There would be so many versions to compare it to that obvious changes that affect doctrinal issues would be discovered and lambasted immediately after it was published. Not to mention the hundreds of experts that could refute and dispute errors, intentional or otherwise.


Many of the doctrines of God especial on His nature are hard for man to comprehend and even harder to put into words. The prophets did their best but even still many of the doctrines in the Bible can be interpreted many different ways. In reality there can only be one true meaning that God intended us to know. There is no such thing as a perfect translation in the eyes of man. We can just get it as close to what we think the original meaning or thought was but it is highly subjected to the translators biases, limited understanding and thought. No translation of holy writ can ever be considered fully correct unless it is done by someone who is under the full inspiration and guidance of the holy spirit. The same spirit that would have been present when the original words were penned by His holy prophets.

1Cor 2:4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

So in answer to your question "Can a non-christian be trusted to translate the Bible?" NO Should we FULLY trust and except translations done by Christians either? NO! The Bible has been translated by Christians hundreds of times with each translation being close in nature but different in words which ultimately changes meaning. It has to be done by the spirit.

  • Does performing an appropriate rendering require the translator to believe what he's reading? Does it require the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Is there textual support for this assertion?
    – mojo
    Jan 11 '14 at 5:57
  • The things of the spirit which are Gods words need to be understood by the spirit. If they were reviled by the inspiration of God then they should be translated through the same means as well, if you want them to be just as correct as the original. John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    – Nelson
    Jan 11 '14 at 6:18
  • 1
    Forgive my pestering. Does 1 Co 2:14 apply to translating? Must one truly understand Christianity in order to give an honest translation? Are translation and exegesis synonymous when it comes to the Bible?
    – mojo
    Jan 11 '14 at 6:23
  • 1
    Words are an expression of thought. Improper translation can change the meaning of a text. Only God and the original writers actually know the intended meaning. Since the prophets don't have an all inspiring spirit, if we want the text to be fully trusted it needs to come from the source. That being God. Things of the spirit. If one does not believe in that spirit then it could not have come from that spirit in the first place. Then the best worldly, scholarly translation would have to do.
    – Nelson
    Jan 11 '14 at 6:41
  • Lovely answer - marking up. But can any translation be trusted? Can the experts be trusted? Jan 11 '14 at 9:26

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.