This will be the first post in a series that will address the reliability of scripture. I have an enjoyable, civil, and (hopefully) ongoing conversation with another blogger that has precipitated this thread. Not much original thought to add to the already copious amount of material on this topic but a few initial observations that I regularly share with my church family.
Point first, there is no such thing as a "perfect" translation. All of you "KJV only" folks please save your hate mail. Anyone who has ever done any language study knows that there are some words in different languages that will simply not translate. There are simply no equivalent words. What's a translator to do in such a situation? They try and find an equivalent way to say it. For example, in John 3:7 (find it for yourself to get the full context) Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again." (ESV). "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" (NASB) "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" (NIV) "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (KJV). "So don't be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be 'born from above' - out of this world, so to speak." (The Message). Five translations - all good, but all fall short of communicating what is present in the Greek (original language).
Two things here. "Do not marvel..." is trying to get at the Ingressive Aorist Tense. Could literally translate it as, "Don't start marveling..." We just don't have the ingressive Aorist in English. Second, unless you have a good translation with solid textual notes you will miss the fact that the second "you" is plural ("ya'll" in southern speak). So Jesus is addressing not only Nicodemus but all who are like him.
Sorry this got technical but it lays the groundwork for a lot of the other discussion to follow. Let me clearly say it again in case you got lost along the way. There is no such thing as a "perfect" translation. There are, however, a number of very good and very reliable translations available. Your best bet is to learn Greek, but since most of us won't do that we have to rely on good translations.