Disputed Biblical Translations

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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."[1]

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 not used for study, worship or devotional purposes.

Vanishing Devil

Modern translations have been eliminating references to the Devil:

KJB 57 references to the Devil[2]
NASB 32 references to the Devil[3]
NIV 35 references to the Devil[4]

Disappearing Hell

Modern translations have been eliminating references to Hell. For example, the King James Bible mentions Hell 54 times[5], while the New International Version mentions it only 14 times[6]. 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.

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:[7]

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.[8]

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[9] 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.

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 sines 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.

Isaiah 7:14

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.

Psalm 22:16

Psalm 22:16 contains a prophesy of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ; the evil and the harm to the hands and feet are translated slightly differently:[10]

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.

Romans 3:28

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.

John 19:30

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.
NRSV ... he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Msg[11] ... Jesus said, "It's done ... complete." Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.

"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."[12] 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.[13] This Greek word is typically translated as "to breathe, "to blow," or "of the wind."[14] It forms the root for the English term "pneumonia".[14]

For hundreds of years the English translation of this term in connection with the third member of the Holy Trinity has been "Holy Ghost":[15]

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:[15]

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.[16]
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.[16]
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.[17]
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."[17]

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.[18] 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."[19]

The passage is used to deny the very existence of Hell, and thus the necessity of being saved.[20]

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[21] 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.

Our Father

Different versions have different translations for the leading Christian prayer, the Our Father (at Mt 6:12-13):

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[22] 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.[23] There are differences with respect to the Old Testament.

Note that there are significant differences between modern translations and translation of several hundreds of years ago.

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[24] 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.

Acts 8:37

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.[1]
NIV ........[2]
ESV .........[3]

Context

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)

Meaning

This omission shows an emphasis being placed on works rather than faith in Jesus Christ. Baptisim alone will not take you to Heaven.

Prodigal Son

The translation of the immoral conduct of the wayward Prodigal Son has been diluted over the years in Luke 15:13 (emphasis added):

AV/KJV[25] ... 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.

References

  1. http://www.holybible.com/resources/version_comparison_chart.htm
  2. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/search/?type=bible&keyword=Devil&translation=kjv
  3. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/search/?type=bible&keyword=Devil&translation=kjv
  4. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/search/?type=bible&keyword=Devil&translation=kjv
  5. http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=Hell&t=KJV
  6. http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=Hell&t=NIV&sf=5
  7. These are taken from the keyword search tool on http://www.biblegateway.com/
  8. http://www.contenderministries.org/biblestudy/kjodeityofchrist.php
  9. Revised Standard Version
  10. http://www.biblestudy101.org/hbgen/transtest2.html
  11. The Message
  12. "Paraclete". NETBible.com
  13. "Pneuma". The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon. Crosswalk.com
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Pneo". The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon. Crosswalk.com
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term the Holy Ghost". Geocities.com
  16. 16.0 16.1 Matthew 14:26. My Bible Study Tools. Crosswalk.com
  17. 17.0 17.1 Luke 24:39. My Bible Study Tools. Crosswalk.com
  18. See, e.g., Essay:Adulteress Story
  19. "Capital punishment - the death penalty; Basic reasons: pro and anti". ReligiousTolerance.org (emphasis added)
  20. 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
  21. Amplified Bible
  22. Authorised Version (King James Version)
  23. Akin, Jimmy. "The Greek New Testament". JimmyAkin.org
  24. Authorised Version (King James Version)
  25. Authorised Version (King James Version)

See also