Critique of Dr. H.D. Williams’ book Word-for-Word Translating

The author of this book obviously has the honorable motive of wanting the Word of God translated into the various languages of the world. His burden for souls around the world and his view of basing translations on the Textus Receptus is something we do not criticize. However, the honorable motives of an author do not make his book above criticism.

Whether Dr. H.D. Williams speaks a foreign language fluently or has done translation work, the book does not say. There is a one-page biographical profile about the author but no mention is made about the author speaking other languages fluently, doing actual translation work, or studying linguistics. There is just a passing reference in the book to Dr. Williams having taken some formal courses in a couple languages. In my view, all this does not mean he should have never written about this topic, but I believe he should have been more cautious in some of his statements. For example, in the section entitled “77 Criteria for Translating,” he used the phrase “under no circumstances…” for several issues in which conservative translators (including the KJV translators) sometimes made exceptions. Also, I believe that in his conclusion Dr. Williams lacked humility when he stated: “However, if a translation has not honored word-for-word translating as defined by this work, then it should be abandoned…”

On page xxiii of the preface the author states that “billions of people do not have a Bible among the people of the 200 most common languages,” and on page xxiv he says “the greatest number of people in the most common language-groups do not have a Bible.” That there are some around the world who do not have a Bible in their language is not in dispute, but to put the number in the billions (when the world population is around 6 billion) among those who speak the top 200 languages does not square with statistics demonstrating that portions of the Bible have been translated into 2,454 languages, with whole Bibles having been translated into 438 languages ( Perhaps the author does not consider foreign Bibles that are not based on the Textus Receptus to be Bibles. The author seemed to have critical text Bibles based on modern translation theories in mind when he wrote on page 21: “Their works are the product of sin, which offers no covering; only obscurity and darkness, by conceiving and uttering falsehood.” On page 87 he adds, “They are frauds because they are called Bibles, when they are only the comments of men on the Words.”

I believe a more reasonable position would be to still consider critical text translations to be Bibles, but simply less reliable Bibles than those based on the Textus Receptus. Why should these foreign Bibles (presumably not based on the Textus Receptus) be maligned with terms such as “product of sin…obscurity and darkness” when people are getting saved and growing with them, especially when in some cases it is all they have? Why should a growing Christian who loves the only Bible available in his language be told that he really does not have a Bible? I can hardly think of a greater insult than for a growing Christian to be told that what he thinks is a Bible is really not a Bible. If the only translation in a given language is not based on the Textus Receptus, I believe one is certainly needed, but I do not believe it is proper in the meantime to say they do not have a Bible. On a related note, see my article “Must all foreign translations based closely on the Textus Receptus be revised if not conforming 100% to the Textus Receptus?” at

On page xxii of the preface the author considers the views of many others on Bible translation to be mere theories, by this statement: “The Scriptural method for translating is clearly derived from the Lord’s commands and is not a theory.” If what the author proposes in his book is so simple and not involving theory like others, why did it take 270 pages to write it?

The author warns over and over again against interpreting in the process of translation. Although I would agree that unnecessary interpretation should be avoided, it cannot be denied that a Bible translator is forced to interpret thousands of times in the process of translating the Bible. One example would be the Hebrew word for God. It is defined in Strong’s Concordance as follows:





Plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative: – angels, X exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), X (very) great, judges, X mighty.

In Hebrew it does not make a distinction between the true God and false gods. Every single time that a Bible translator translates the Hebrew word for God, he is interpreting. Granted, 99% of the time the context makes is very obvious as to whether a false god or the true God is being referred to. An example where the context is a little ambiguous is the second mention of God in Genesis 3:5. Most Bibles based on the Masoretic Text in the Old Testament have translated the second mention as “gods,” while some in Spanish, Portuguese, and German (all based on the Masoretic Text) have translated it as “God.” There are many more examples that could be given of instances in which a translator is forced to interpret. Many marginal notes in the 1611 edition of the KJV provide many examples of places in which alternative translations were provided. As in virtually all translations, the KJV translators took some liberties in the translation process. For example, the introduction to Young’s Literal Translation mentions that the Hebrew word panim was translated 94 different ways (if you count idiomatic renderings). Conversely, “to destroy” in the KJV represents 49 different Hebrew words according to Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance.

On page 16 we read the following: “Furthermore, the inspired Words of God are full of ambiguity and to remove it would be to forsake His words and replace them with man’s reasoning.” On page 53 a similar statement is also made: “Ambiguity in the original source-language should be left in the receptor-language.” The problem with this statement is that in the King James Version, the translation which the author rightfully believes is the best in English, its translators sometimes appear to attempt to remove an ambiguity. This would include 2 Sam. 21:9, where with obvious honorable motives the words “the brother of” were inserted into the text in italics. What should be warned against is going overboard in attempts to remove ambiguities.

On a more positive note, I wholeheartedly agree with the author on page 43 regarding the idea of Bible translators utilizing footnotes. Although Dr. Williams only mentions the idea of utilizing footnotes in passing, I believe it was the best advice in the book directed at Bible translators. If utilized correctly and briefly as possible, I believe footnotes are the best way for the translator to let readers know of times when he agonized over a translation of a certain word and still was not sure if his choice was the best possible. If a translator felt that his literal translation of a certain word or phrase could be misunderstood, he could provide the less literal translation in a footnote. At times a translator may feel that his translation choice in a given situation was either too literal or not as literal as he would have liked; therefore, he can briefly explain his reason for the final choice so others would know he did not translate something on a whim.

In a particular instance when the KJV translated the meaning of a Greek word in an accurate but non-literal manner, but a modern translation resorted to a literal translation, the author makes some puzzling statements on pages 98-99:

On occasion, an idiom will need to be translated with words which have the same meaning in the receptor-language. For example, “God forbid,” is a translation of Greek words mA ginomai “let not this be.” “Let not this be” does not give the full impact of the idiom in the New Testament. The impact of “let not this be” is to let it not happen as if God were preventing it. “God forbid” is the precise meaning of the idiom in English. It is not a dynamic equivalent translation like the NIV translation of mA ginomai at Romans 3:4, “Not at all!” The translation by the NIV has much less impact; and it is not the precise meaning of the passage!

What is strange about the author’s statements is that he accuses the more literal translation of Romans 3:4 of being a dynamic equivalent translation! Young’s Literal Translation has “let it not be!” in this verse. The KJV added the word “God” without Greek authority, although I believe it was justified because they were translating the meaning, but in doing so it was no longer a literal translation in Romans 3:4. As I will mention again in this review, the NIV has plenty of problems, and it tends to be much less literal than the KJV, but I found it strange that it would be criticized for being more literal in Romans 3:4, and even be accused of implementing dynamic equivalency in this instance.

On pages 234-235 he states that “KJB Jn. 11:41 ‘Jesus lifted up his eyes’ should not be changed to NIV Jn. 11:41 ‘Jesus looked up.’” In my opinion, this is an example of an insistence on translating in a more literal fashion than necessary. Referring to lifting up our eyes is not a normal way of saying we “looked up” in the English language. The KJV translators decided in this instance to translate literally, but many other times they felt free to translate the meaning rather than the actual words. An example of this would be Jeremiah 39:12, where the KJV translators have “look well to him” but they inform us in a marginal note that the literal Hebrew translation for this is actually “set thine eyes upon him.” I do not endorse the NIV, but in this instance it seems to translate accurately the meaning of the underlying Greek without being unnecessarily literal. There are many problems with the NIV, but in my opinion this is not an example of a problem.

On page 238 the author wrote: “Therefore, only the text that lies behind the King James Bible should be used.” If by this the author is referring to the Textus Receptus in general, I do not disagree. However, in recent times some who refer to the text underlying the KJV mean something else. Notice this from the Dean Burgon Society website, of which Dr. Williams is Vice-President according to the biographical profile in the back of the book:

But which [TR edition] is the purest? It is the TR underlying the KJV. … Is not the Greek Text underlying the KJV the Textus Receptus? Whose TR? Not completely Erasmus’s, Stephen’s, or Beza’s, it is a new edition of the TR which reflects the textual decisions of the KJV translators as they prayerfully studied and compared the preserved manuscripts. … I believe God providentially guided the KJV translators to produce the purest TR of all. The earlier editions were individual efforts, but the TR underlying the KJV is a corporate effort of 57 of the most outstanding biblical-theological, and more importantly, Bible-believing scholars of their day. Khoo, Jeffrey. “A Plea for a Perfect Bible” The Burning Bush. January 2003, pp. 5-6

I do not know which definition for the text underlying the KJV that Dr. Williams has in mind, but if it is as defined in the above quote from the website of the Society he represents, I heartily disagree. This is because under Khoo’s definition, the textual decisions of the KJV translators are treated as essentially forming a new Textus Receptus—Scrivener’s in the late 1800’s. This would not be much different than composing a new Textus Receptus based on the textual decisions of an authoritative Spanish Bible and then insisting that the English Bible and all others be translated from it.

It was not my intention to review chapters by contributing authors in the book, but two related quotes captured my attention and will be discussed here briefly. In his chapter on Bible societies, Dr. Phil Stringer stated the following on page 157 regarding the British and Foreign Bible Society: “For the first ten years, all translations were done from the King James Bible.” In a paragraph on page 161 regarding the founding of the American Bible Society, Dr. Stringer wrote as follows: “All translations were to be made from the King James Bible.” No source was given for this information. I am familiar with a different author’s failed attempt at alleging that the American Bible Society once supposedly required translators to translate directly from the KJV. This other author tried to make the case only based on the fact that the American Bible Society (hereafter ABS) did not want the Greek word baptizo translated as “immerse” in the translations they published but rather left transliterated as in the KJV. The other weak evidence used by the other author was the case of a competing Bible society that made an unfounded accusation against the ABS. The ABS denied this charge vigorously in 1850 as follows:

Again, it has been charged that the board [of the American Bible Society] have set up the English Bible as a standard, to which all translations must be conformed. The resolutions above cited, as to which the society strictly adheres, show this to be unfounded. Missionaries and others, in making new versions, are required by these rules to translate from the original tongues, and their imitation of the English is not expected to extend any further than the transference of a few words which either can not be translated, or concerning the meaning of which there are disputes which divide the evangelical churches” (Strickland, William Peter. History of the American Bible Society: From Its Organization to the Present Time. 1850, Harper & Row, pp. 154-155 [bold not in original])

I have a separate article regarding the issue of translating the KJV into foreign languages here:  “Has the KJV been translated into hundreds or thousands of languages?”

In his “77 Criteria for Translating,” the author used the phrase “under no circumstances…” for several issues, some with which I would readily agree. However, at times some of his criteria was not even followed by the KJV translators, whom the author holds up as an example. One case that got my attention was on page 230 where the author wrote: “Under no circumstances shall an anachronism be used in translating.” I immediately could not help but be reminded of anachronisms in the KJV, which the author and I agree is the most accurate Bible in English. The KJV contains vocabulary related to British monetary units, such as penny, pence, and pounds. His “under no circumstances” criteria would invalidate the KJV, which demonstrates in my opinion that the author is going too far with some of his ideas. It appears he is holding foreign Bible translations to a different standard than the KJV.

On page 4 the author laments that others consider the term “word-for-word” translating as too rigid, but in reality that is what the phrase implies to many people, not just modern language theorists. Many people’s perception of “word-for-word” translating is just that—translating word-for-word, regardless of meaning or word order such as in an interlinear. Dr. Williams explains that he only means word-for-word “so far as the syntax of the receptor-language will allow.” Many other conservative translators use terms that are much less subject to misunderstanding, such as “formal equivalence.”

In conclusion, as evidenced by examples in this review, it seems that the author sometimes tends to go overboard in his noble insistence on translating as literally as possible. Although I do not completely endorse it, in my opinion a much better book is available on the topic of Bible translating: Biblical Bible Translating, written by a Fundamentalist named Dr. Charles Turner. Dr. Williams referred to Dr. Turner’s book as “one excellent about translating” (p. 47). Dr. Turner has actual Bible translation experience and seems to have a much better grasp of the issues. In his book, Turner gives many examples of difficult decisions he had to make in order to achieve a balance between accuracy and understandability, some of which resulted in less literal translation at times than what some Fundamentalists might expect. He translated into a primitive language that did not have many theological terms in their vocabulary, causing him to have to be creative in his quest to be as literal as possible while maintaining a level of understandability that would keep readers’ frustrations to a minimum.


The author of this book review grew up as a missionary kid in South America and has spoken Spanish since he was two years old. As part of his ministry he has translated several Christian books, pamphlets, and tracts, as well as having served as an interpreter for preachers on dozens of occasions.

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