The Bible was originally in Hebrew and Greek, so there will be errors made in translation.
Anyone who has used Google Translate or tried to decipher a menu literally translated into English will understand that the fact the Bible was not written in our native language brings another set of problems to us: the problem of translation and interpretation. (My personal favourite was a pupil who wrote that a pop star was married to ice cubes, a misinterpretation which came from looking up ‘on the rocks’ in a dictionary and failing to understand that this referred to a drink with ice, rather than to a failing marriage…) There is a difference between literal word-for-word translations (which we often may find difficult to understand) and paraphrases (which try to convey the gist of a passage but which may not be totally accurate), but all modern translations of the Bible go back to the original manuscripts and by comparing different versions of the Bible, we can seek to find out not only the exact words but the meaning behind those words.
Jesus said ‘not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’ (Matt 5:18) The ‘jot’ and the ‘tittle’ (as they are referred to in older versions of the Bible) were small symbols in the Hebrew alphabet which could alter the meaning of a word considerably (think of the English p and q or b and d, for example.) For us to really understand another language, we have to be able not only to understand the actual words, but also what they mean: in the example about ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’, for example, those words are meaningless to us unless we understand what they meant to a Hebrew writer. The NIV gives us a meaning for those words rather than simply using the translation ‘jot’ or ‘tittle’: ‘smallest letter’, ‘least stroke of a pen.’ We don’t need to know any Hebrew at all to get what that means, but it’s not a literal translation of the words. A paraphrase might go even further, talking about ‘minding your ps and qs’, a phrase which shows any English speaker that a small difference in letters can make a big difference in meaning! These kinds of things explain why different versions of the Bible sound different, even when they are all in the same language. Nonetheless, all modern translations of the Bible and even most paraphrases have gone back to the original manuscripts and the original languages to work out what was originally written, and therefore we can have confidence that what we read in English is an accurate representation of what the original Hebrew or Greek said.
If prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit, why can’t we keep on adding to the Bible now as people are ‘God-inspired’ when they prophesy?
Scripture in the form of the Old Testament as a revelation from God through the prophets ended around 450 B.C. with the close of the book of Malachi. This was the Bible of Jesus and His disciples, and it was precisely the same in content as our Old Testament. By A.D. 240, Origen from Alexandria was using all our 27 New Testament books as “Scripture,” and no others, and referred to them as the “New Testament.” He believed them to be “inspired by the Spirit.” But it was not until A.D. 367 that Athanasius, also from Alexandria, provided us with an actual list of New Testament books identical with ours.
Although we believe God still speaks to us through prophecy, we believe that the Bible as we have it is God’s inspired, revealed word to us and therefore all modern-day prophecy has to be subject to that written word. Rev 22:18-19 reminds us that nothing must be added to or removed from that word of prophecy; we also see that there has to be some objective ‘measure’ by which prophecy can be judged, which is the Bible. Prophecy is, we believe, still important today, but God-inspired prophecy will never contradict what is revealed to us in the Bible. Paul says ‘two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said’ (1 Cor 14:29); he also wrote ‘Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.’ (1 Thess 5:20-22) We need to test and weigh prophecy carefully against Scripture.