The translations of several passages in the Bible are disputed. This has led to some doctrinal disagreement throughout Christian history, with scholars and others citing different translations of the same passage to support slightly different views. A few critics of Christianity cite rare uncertainties in translation to challenge the entire religion; this viewpoint ignores the overwhelming agreement in translation and the role of faith, prayer and divine inspiration in religious discourse.
The most significant differences in translation arise between modern versions and the older King James Version, rather than among different modern versions. One (of many) examples is the modern change in translation of the phrase "eternal damnation" in Mark 3:29 to "eternal sin."
Islam dictates that the Koran be read only in its original Arabic, thereby avoiding any issues of translation. Translations of the Koran do exist, but they are called "interpretations", and not used for study, worship or devotional purposes.
"With Child," or merely "Pregnant"
|Matt 1:18 (English Standard Version)||"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit."|
|Matt 1:18 (NIV)||"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to me married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit."|
|Matt 1:18 (Today's New International Version)||"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to me married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit."|
|Ecclesiastes 11:5 (King James Version)||"As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all."|
|Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NIV)||"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things."|
|Ecclesiastes 11:5 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)||"Just as you don't know the path of the wind, or how bones [develop] in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you don't know the work of God who makes everything."|
"Conceived Children," or Something Else?
|Romans 9:10 (ESV)||"... when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, or forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad ..."|
|Romans 9:10 (NIV)||"... but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac."|
|Romans 9:10-11 (New Jerusalem Bible)||"... what was said to Rebecca when she was pregnant by our ancestor, Isaac, before her children were born ..."|
|Romans 9:10 (New Revised Standard Version)||"... something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac."|
|Romans 9:10 (The Message)||"When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac, and her babies were still innocent in the womb - incapable of good or bad - ...."|
The "past" does not exist in the Gospels; the term is not used, not even once, by the New American Standard Bible or the New International Version in translating the Gospels. Jesus never used the Aramaic or Greek equivalent, not even once.
|Luke 1:3 (NASB)||"it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;"|
|Luke 1:3 (RSV)||"it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph'ilus,"|
|Luke 1:3 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)||"it also seemed good to me, having carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus,"|
Using "liberal", but not "conservative"
Some modern liberal translations introduce the term "liberal" in a favorable sense, but none introduce the term "conservative":
|Proverbs 19:6 (King James Version)||Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.|
|Proverbs 19:6 (New American Standard Bible)||Many will entreat the favor of the liberal man; And every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.|
|Proverbs 11:25 (Revised Standard Version)||A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.|
|Proverbs 11:25 (New International Version)||A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.|
Modern translations have been eliminating references to the Devil:
|KJB||57 references to the Devil|
|NASB||32 references to the Devil|
|NIV||35 references to the Devil|
Modern translations have been eliminating references to Hell. For example, the King James Bible mentions Hell 54 times, while the New International Version mentions it only 14 times. The following translations of Matt 11:23 in chronological order illustrate the disappearance:
|KJB||And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.|
|NRSV||And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.|
|NAB||And for your , Capernaum: 'Will you be exalted to heaven" You will go down to the netherworld.' For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.|
|NIV||And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.|
|Holman||And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.|
Note that Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries show the word being translated as "hell" is "ᾅδης" ("hadēs"). Properly translated unseen, that is, “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: - grave, hell. 
Downplaying the Deity of Jesus
Modern versions tend to downplay the deity of Jesus, and use phrases like "Lord Jesus Christ" and "Jesus Christ" less frequently than older translations. Here is a comparison:
|KJV||81 references to "Lord Jesus Christ"|
|ESV||61 references to "Lord Jesus Christ"|
|NIV||60 references to "Lord Jesus Christ"|
|Holman||61 references to "Lord Jesus Christ"|
See also the section on "Jesus as God" below. One commentator argues that modern translations are not downplaying Jesus's deity, but the tables provided in the analysis indicate otherwise.
Downplaying the Spirit at Creation
The first few sentences of the Bible describe Creation, and liberal translations tend to deny the presence of the Spirit of God. Here is Genesis 1:1-2 in several different translations:
|RSV||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.|
|New English Bible||In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.|
Translate as "bow" or "rainbow"?
The origin of the rainbow is explained in Genesis 9:13, but many translations refer to it as merely a "bow":
|New American Bible||"I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."|
|English Standard Version||"I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."|
|Conservative Bible Project||"I am setting My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall serve as a banner of a binding agreement between Me and the earth."|
Light versus Darkness in John 1:5
The translation of John 1:5 requires addressing whether "darkness", which perhaps encompasses both a lack of faith and pure evil, fails to understand the "light" (Jesus), or whether it may understand the light but fails to overcome it. In addition, there is the issue as to whether the darkness continues to fail to overcome the light. Here are various translations of that single verse:
|New King James Version||And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.|
|NIV||The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.|
|Today's NIV||The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.|
|Holman||That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.|
This passage is a prophesy of the birth of Jesus, and the dispute concerns whether to translate the term for the woman as "virgin" or "young woman." The Hebrew term is ambiguous; the Greek term as used in the Septuagint means "virgin".
|NAB||... the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.|
|Holman||... The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.|
|NIV||... The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.|
|NRSV||Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.|
|KJB||For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.|
|NKJV||For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet.|
|NASB||For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.|
|Holman||For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.|
|NIV||Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.|
|NRSV||For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled.|
Many scholars of Judaism consider all these to be mistranslations, and understand the verse thus:
|JPS||For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.|
This passage sparked the Reformation. Martin Luther added an extra German word for "alone" (alleine or alleyn) after the phrase: "justified by faith": "So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, alleyn durch den Glauben." This reflected Luther's view that man is justified (saved) by faith alone, and that salvation comes only from faith. The Roman Catholic Church (and Eastern Orthodox Church) taught that man is justified (saved) by faith and good works.
|NAB||For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.|
|Holman||For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.|
|NIV||For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.|
|NRSV||For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.|
This passage describes the last words of Jesus, and what happened next.
|NAB||... he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.|
|Holman||... He said, "It is finished!" Then bowing His head, He yielded up His spirit.|
|NIV||... Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.|
|RSV||... he said, "It is accomplished!" Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.|
|NRSV||... he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.|
|Msg||... Jesus said, "It's done ... complete." Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.|
Add an hour to your life, or a cubit to your height?
One of the most striking differences in translations, even modern conservative translations, concerns Luke 12:25:
|Holman||Can any of you add a cubit to his height by worrying?|
|NIV||Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?|
|NKJV||And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?|
|ESV||And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?|
The word helikian was used by the Greeks to mean both lengths of time and bodily stature.
"Holy Spirit" (Paraclete)
Jesus used the Greek term "paraclete" to refer to what is now commonly called the "Holy Spirit" in English (formerly the "Holy Ghost," see next section below). The Greek term can mean "(1) a legal advocate, or counsel for defense, (2) an intercessor, (3) a helper, generally." What are the differences in translation in its biblical use? One of the five references to this word by John (four in his Gospel, and the fifth in his first letter) is in John 15:26, which quotes Jesus:
|NAB||When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.|
|Holman||When the Counselor comes -- whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father -- he will testify about me.|
|NIV||When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.|
|NRSV||When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.|
Holy "Spirit" or Holy "Ghost"
The English language lacks an equivalent for the Greek term "pneuma", which is used 350 times in the New Testament to express the third member of the Holy Trinity. This Greek word is typically translated as "to breathe", "to blow," or "of the wind." It forms the root for the English term "pneumonia".
- Not only does the King James Bible use the term the Holy Ghost, but all earlier English Bibles did as well. The Holy Ghost is found in Wycliffe's translation 1395, Tyndale’s New Testament 1525, Coverdale 1535, Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, Mace N.T. 1729, Wesley's N.T. 1755, Douay-Rheims version, and in more modern times it is also found in Montgomery’s New Testament, the Revised Version, the Catholic Douay version 1950, the KJV 21st Century version and the Third Millennium Bible.
Yet none of the modern English versions of the Bible translates this as "Holy Ghost," and instead they insist on the less forceful and more ambiguous term "Holy Spirit." One commentator observes:
- It is ironic that the NKJV, NIV, NASB, RSV and many other modern versions have tossed out the term Holy Ghost, yet they have introduced the totally false idea of human ghosts.
For example, the New International Version repeatedly refers to a personal, human "ghost" where the King James Bible referred to "spirit":
- Mt 14:26:
- New International Version: When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
- King James Bible: And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
- Luke 24:39:
- New International Version: "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.
- King James Bible: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."
The Adulteress Story, beginning of John 8
The authenticity of the story of Jesus and an adulteress appears at John 7:53 through John 8:11 is rejected by most modern biblical translations and many if not nearly all modern biblical scholars, and it does not exist in any of the early biblical manuscripts. The passage has become a favorite of liberals to argue against capital punishment: "Common reasons against capital punishment ... Abolitionists often quote Jesus' treatment of the adulteress in the Gospel of John as support for their position."
The passage is used to deny the very existence of Hell, and thus the necessity of being saved.
The different translations of the Bible comment on this passage as follows:
|NAB||7,53-8,11: The story of the woman caught in adultery is a later insertion here, missing from all early Greek manuscripts. A Western text-type insertion, attested mainly in Old Latin translations, it is found in different places in different manuscripts: here, or after 7, 36, or at the end of this gospel, or after Lk 21, 38, or at the end of that gospel.|
|Holman||Other mss [manuscripts] omit bracketed text [John 7:53-8:11].|
|NIV||The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.|
|NRSV||The most ancient authorities lack 7.53-8.11; other authorities add the passage here or after 7.36 or after 21.25 or after Luke 21.38, with variations of text; some mark the passage as doubtful.|
|Amp||John 7:53 to 8:11 is absent from most of the older manuscripts, and those that have it sometimes place it elsewhere. The story may well be authentic. Indeed, Christ's response of compassion and mercy is so much in keeping with His character that we accept it as authentic, and feel that to omit it would be most unfortunate.|
Disappearing Warning Against Adultery?
The King James version has 43 references to "adultery". But modern translations refer to it less and less. An example of this erasure is Galations 5:19:
|KJV||Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,|
|NIV||The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;|
|Holman||Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,|
|ESV||Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,|
|NASB||Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,|
|NAB||And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.|
|Holman||Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.|
|AV/KJV||And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.|
|NRSV||And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.|
Protestant or Catholic
There appears to be no meaningful differences between translations of the New Testament between Protestants and Catholics. 
One passage however, Luke 1:28 in which Gabriel greets Mary, is translated differently by Catholics and Protestants. The phrase "Hail, full of grace," from which the first line of the Catholic Hail Mary prayer is derived, is likely to appear in Catholic Bibles; Protestant Bibles, such as the NIV, KJV, and ASV, use the phrase "highly favored" instead of "full of grace."
There is a difference among Protestants with respect to predestination (Calvinists and conservative Presbyterians accept it, Catholics and other Protestants reject it) and the translation of Romans 8:29-30:
- For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
There are differences with respect to the Old Testament.
Jesus as God - Romans 9:5
A point of contention is the description of Jesus as God in Romans 9:5. Here are several translations of it:
|AV/KJV||Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.|
|NIV||Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.|
|NAB||theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.|
|NRSV||to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.|
|RSV||The patriarchs are theirs, and from them by natural descent came the Messiah. May God, supreme above all, be blessed for ever! Amen.|
|KJB||And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.|
Right before Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunch, the eunuch asked "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (KJV Acts 8:36) In other versions, nothing. The chariot stands still, and he is baptized (v. 38)
This omission shows an emphasis being placed on works rather than faith in Jesus Christ. Baptisim alone will not take you to Heaven.
The translation of the immoral conduct of the wayward Prodigal Son, and the effect of that conduct, has been diluted over the years in Luke 15:13 (emphasis added):
|AV/KJV||... and there wasted his substance with riotous living.|
|NIV||... and there squandered his wealth in wild living.|
|NAB||... and there he squandered his estate with loose living.|
|NRSV||... and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.|
|Holman||... where he squandered his estate in foolish living.|
Ending to the Gospel of Mark
The ending to the Gospel of Mark, who was not an eyewitness to Jesus, briefly describes the Resurrection after Mark 16:8. Some cite an absence of this ending in certain early manuscripts in order to deny its authenticity as part of the Gospel of Mark.
As an ending, however, it is possible that it was not always fully copied, and manuscripts that lack this ending also lack other portions. Very early Christians repeatedly cited the full ending as part of the authentic Gospel of Mark, and it is fully corroborated by the other Gospels.
Pro-abortion Christians cite Exodus 21:22 in an attempt to downplay how wrong abortion is. That passage concerns an accidental injury to a pregnant woman, and the punishment that should be imposed if there is resultant injury:
|KJV||If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.|
|Holman||When men get in a fight, and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born [prematurely], but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman's husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment.|
|NIV||If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.|
|NRSV||When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.|
There is a difference in translation as to whether a ruler had faith in the ability of Jesus to bring his daughter back to life after death, or whether his faith was in Jesus to heal his daughter in order to avert death:
|KJV||While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.|
|Holman||As He was telling them these things, suddenly one of the leaders came and knelt down before Him, saying, "My daughter is near death, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live."|
|NIV||While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, "My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live."|
|NRSV||While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."|
Diluting Proverbs 3:5
|KJV||Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.|
|Holman||Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;|
|NIV||Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; |
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
The martyrdom of Stephen ends with "fell asleep" in Acts 7:60, where the more modern term of "unconscious" seems more appropriate:
|KJV||And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.|
|NASB||Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.|
|NIV||Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.|
|International Standard Version||Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them!" After he had said this, he died.|
Did Jesus Sing?
Most translations of Mark 14:26 refer to Jesus and His Apostles ending the Last Supper in this manner: "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (NIV) The term "hymn" is used in nearly every modern translation except two, which refer to signing "psalms". The footnote in the Holman Christian Standard Bible is enlightening: "Pss 113-118 were sung during and after the Passover meal."
Did Herod Protect John the Baptist?
Modern translations claim that Herod protected John the Baptist, while the KJV says that Herod "observed" him. Mark 6:20 is translated in many different ways by different versions of the Bible.
- See also the Feminist Bible.
- Perhaps surprisingly, The Message is more conservative than the NIV here.
- Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries - G86
- These are taken from the keyword search tool on http://www.biblegateway.com/
- Revised Standard Version
- The Message
- "Paraclete". NETBible.com
- "Pneuma". The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon. Crosswalk.com
- "Pneo". The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon. Crosswalk.com
- "Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term the Holy Ghost". Geocities.com
- Matthew 14:26. My Bible Study Tools. Crosswalk.com
- Luke 24:39. My Bible Study Tools. Crosswalk.com
- See, e.g., Essay:Adulteress Story
- "Capital punishment - the death penalty; Basic reasons: pro and anti". ReligiousTolerance.org (emphasis added)
- Here is an example of a false denial of Hell based on the Adulteress Story: "No one is going to burn in hell. ... Here's what we know from Jesus' teachings. He would never condemn anyone. Read the story of the adulteress about to be stoned." - Craig. "Re: Heaven and Hell". Greater Reality Forums. Forum.GreaterReality.com
- Amplified Bible
- Authorised Version (King James Version)
- Akin, Jimmy. "The Greek New Testament". JimmyAkin.org
- The King James Version is quoted above for Romans 8:29-30.
- Authorised Version (King James Version)
- Authorised Version (King James Version)
- The New Jerusalem Bible and the HCSB are the only major modern translations that use the term "psalms" rather than "hymn".