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.

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.

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 means "virgin".

New American Bible:
... the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Holman Christian Standard Bible:
... The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
New International Version:
... The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
New Revised Standard Version:
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

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.

New American Bible: For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
New International Version: For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Holman Christian Standard Bible: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
New Revised Standard Version: 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.

New American Bible: ... he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
New International Version: ... Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Holman Christian Standard Bible: ... He said, "It is finished!" Then bowing His head, He yielded up His spirit.
New Revised Standard Version: ... he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The Message: .... 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."[1] 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:

New International Version: "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."
New American Bible: "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 Christian Standard Bible: "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."
New Revised Standard Version: "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.[2] This Greek word is typically translated as "to breathe, "to blow," or "of the wind."[3] It forms the root for the English term "pneumonia".[4]

For hundreds of years the English translation of this term in connection with the third member of the Holy Trinity has been "Holy Ghost":[5]

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:[5]

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.[6]
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.[7]
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.[8]
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."[9]

The Adulteress Story, beginning of John 8

The story of Jesus and an adulteress appears at John 7:53 through John 8:11 and its authenticity is rejected by modern biblical scholars.[10] The passage has become a favorite of liberals to argue against capital punishment and for permissiveness in general. The passage conflicts with Jesus's emphasis on Hell and is misused to claim that Hell does not exist.[11] How do the different translations of the Bible treat this passage?

New International Version: The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.
New American Bible: 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 Christian Standard Bible: Other mss [manuscripts] omit bracketed text [John 7:53-8:11].
New Revised Standard Version: 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.

Our Father

Different versions have different translations for the leading Christian prayer, the Our Father.

Protestant or Catholic

There appears to be no meaningful differences between translations of the New Testament between Protestants and Catholics.[12] There are differences with respect to the Old Testament.


  1. http://net.bible.org/dictionary.php?word=Paraclete
  2. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4151
  3. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4154&version=kjv
  4. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4154&version=kjv
  5. 5.0 5.1 http://www.geocities.com/brandplucked/HolyGhost.html
  6. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/mybst/default.aspx?type=bible&translation=NAS&bookcode=mt&bookname=Matthew&chapterid=14&verseid=26
  7. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/mybst/default.aspx?type=bible&translation=NAS&bookcode=mt&bookname=Matthew&chapterid=14&verseid=26
  8. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/mybst/default.aspx?type=bible&translation=NIV&bookcode=lu&bookname=Luke&chapterid=24&verseid=39
  9. http://biblestudy.crosswalk.com/mybst/default.aspx?type=bible&translation=NIV&bookcode=lu&bookname=Luke&chapterid=24&verseid=39
  10. See, e.g., Essay:Adulteress Story
  11. 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."[1]
  12. http://www.jimmyakin.org/greek/page/2/

See also

Bible translations