Bible Translation — “Tongues Translationism” Defined

“That Book in Your Hand”

In my last post in this series, I discussed the authority of translations.  Next, I’d like to discuss two views of Biblical translation, which I call “tongues translationism” (sometimes called “double inspiration”) and “scientific translationism.”  In this post, I’ll explain / define “tongues translationism,” and in the next I’ll evaluate it Biblically.  Then, I’ll move on to “scientific translationism.”


Sermons on the nature of the Bible (Bibliology):

  1. The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
  2. The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
  3. The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
  4. The preservation of God’s Word.
  5. The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.
  6. The perspicuity of Scripture — the Scriptures can be understood and rightly interpreted.
  7. The canon of Scripture — this wasn’t a sermon, but it belongs in this study on Bibliology
  8. The unity of Scripture — it is one Book by one Author with one unifying message.
  9. The sufficiency of Scripture — the Bible is complete, and provides all we need to bring us to salvation and to guide us in a God-honouring life.

Previous posts on Bible translations:

  • Scripture translation is approved by God, as we can see by the use of languages in the Bible and the use of translated Old Testament passages in the New Testament.
  • Scripture translation is a necessary part of God’s plan, continuing the pattern of taking the Gospel to people where they are, a pattern which reached its highest expression when God became man.
  • Bible translations have anchored authority — their authority should neither be minimised nor separated from the authority of the original.

“Double Inspiration”

The “double inspiration” view is that the translators themselves were inspired when they did the work of translation.  Some (but certainly not all) who believe the King James Version is the only appropriate English translation hold to this view.  A few say that those who translate the Bible to other languages should be guided by the KJV rather than Greek and Hebrew, because the KJV (the translation itself) was “given by inspiration” and so has replaced the original Greek and Hebrew as God’s Word for our day.

As we’ve seen earlier in this study, the Greek word theopneustos has a primary emphasis on the divine nature of the Scriptures, with a secondary emphasis on the act by which He gave them.  Thus, our translators accurately rendered it “is given by inspiration” rather than “was given by inspiration.”  This divine nature still exists to a large measure in translations, so we can say a translation “is inspired” in the sense of possessing divine qualities (“living and life-giving” as I have said previously).

The “double inspiration” / “tongues translationism” view is different.  It asserts that the translators themselves were “inspired,” divinely guided in the same way as the original authors were guided.  Those authors gave a perfect original, and (according to this view) the KJV translators gave a perfect translation.  In both cases, this was because of a supernatural working of the Spirit to guarantee that the exact words produced were the exact words of God, in the first case in Hebrew and Greek, in the latter case in English.

Not a New Idea

The attribution of divine oversight to a translation, resulting in a perfect translation, is not a new idea.  It is only in the last half century or so, as far as I know, that this has been advocated for the King James Version, but it has been seen before.

There was a Jewish legend (going back to at least the second century B.C.) that Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt wanted a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  He arranged for 72 scholars (12 tribes supplying six each) who worked independently for 72 days in translating the first five books of the Old Testament.  The legend claimed that all 72 copies matched exactly, proving the translators had been given the words by God!  Thus, the translation was called the Septuagint (the Seventy), and those who claimed this story to be true believed this translation of the Law was superior to any other version of the Old Testament.  After all, if God had given it, it must be perfect!

Of course, there is no evidence the account is accurate, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever mentioned this “wonderful” event, and this Greek translation (at least in the form we have it today) is manifestly not perfect.

Why Call it “Tongues Translationism”?

First, even though this view is commonly called “double inspiration” or “a second act of inspiration,” I believe it misuses a Biblical word.  The view says that the translators were inspired in their work, but Scripturally, “inspired” refers to the product (the Scriptures), not to human agents (writers).  II Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is inspired, it doesn’t say the human writers were.  So the view that the translators were inspired is a misuse of “inspired.”

Second, the Bible actually mentions miraculous language translation, and I prefer to use the Biblical term.  We see it in I Corinthians chapters twelve and fourteen.

I Corinthians 12:10

To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

The Bible certainly does describe a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit whereby someone can interpret / translate languages under divine guidance, resulting in a Spirit-produced translation.  It calls it “the interpretation of tongues” (languages).  It was well-known in the church at Corinth (and presumably other churches as well) in the first century — divinely superintended translation of languages.

It is better to use Biblical descriptions.  When describing translators being guided by the Holy Spirit to give a translation, word for word, exactly as God wanted, we should refer to the interpretation of tongues.  Thus, I prefer the term “tongues translationism.”

Hopefully, for those who are unfamiliar with the view, that gives enough understanding of it to start with, and makes it clear why I use “tongues translationism” to describe it.  In my next post in this series, we’ll attempt to evaluate tongues translationism Biblically.

More to come….

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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