Not All Versions Are Created EqualFrom the first complete translation of the English Bible in 1382 (normally attributed to John Wycliffe-c1330-1384), there are today literally hundreds of English translations of the Bible. These translations, normally called versions, are usually directly translated from the original languages of the Bible, namely Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Yet not all the translations are equally reliable. To understand this we need to know that there are two basic issues in translations:
The most reliable English translation of the Bible today has to be the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV, published in 1990 It took into account all the major source texts, including the Biblia Hebraica (the massoretic text), the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies. More importantly the translation was done by scholars from various denominations (Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox) and even include Jewish scholars. Thus there was no theological axe grinding in its translation. Of course, other good versions abound; examples include the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which is the precursor of the NRSV, the Good News Bible and the New English Bible (NEB).
Fundamentalist versions, however, are a different matter. Fundamentalist bibles include versions such as The Book, The Living Bible and The New International Version (NIV). These are translated mainly by people who believe in Biblical inerrancy and the complete infallibility of the Bible. Given below is the quote taken from the Translator's Preface of the NIV:
As the ex-fundamentalist, Dan Barker, remarked:
Removing Contradictions by Quoting or Using Less Authoritative TextsSome alterations seems to have been made to remove contradictions from the main text. One example:
The NRSV did not even have a footnote at II Chronicles 36:9, implying that the main textual traditions supported this reading, although it is in contradiction to the passage in II Kings. Let us see how the NIV presented these passages:
See how the contradiction has disappeared! Have there been new discoveries in archaeology or textual criticism since the publication of the NRSV (in 1989) that the NIV took advantage of? No. The NIV I have is also a 1989 edition and is similarly based mainly on the Biblia Hebraica, like the NRSV. The truth is found in a very small footnote at the bottom of the page in which this passages appears. This is what the footnote says:
Thus the footnote implicitly admits that the balance of evidence favours eight not eighteen. So why was the latter chosen to be in the main body of the text? Look at the excerpt from the preface again. Now one can see the relevance of Dan Barker's comments. This is not all, look through the passages with contradictions, and many have been treated similarly.
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The various translations above gives us an idea of what the original Hebrew is conveying, that if Adam were to eat the fruit he'll die on that very day. The problem is that Adam did partake of the fruit (Genesis 3:6). However he did not die, in fact he lived to a ripe old age of 930 (Genesis 5:5)!
The way NIV skirted this difficulty is interesting, watch:
Can you see the theological rabbit being pulled out of the hat? Yes, by translating the passage in the "soft focus" mode, the specific curse to die on the very same day is no longer there. Thus a difficulty is removed!
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The passage doesn't put Elisha (or the Lord) in good light for both seems to be responsible for the murder of 42 children. That "little boys" or "small children" are meant can be seen from the original Hebrew. According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible the original Hebrew word for "little" used here is qatan which means small in number or young in age and the word for "children" here is naar which means a boy (or a girl) from infancy to adoslescence. We can see that the above three versions have been quite faitful to the original Hebrew despite the theological difficulties.
The NIV however translated the same passage thus:
The italics are mine, but it's just to emphasise the major change in meaning that has happened by using "youths" instead of "little children" or "small boys". "Youths" today can mean young men in their early twenties. Suddenly Elisha's act does not look that bad. It looks like some gangsters taunted him and he defended himself. Yet as we see above, "youth" was not meant in the original Hebrew; as the other versions attested. Thus by twisting two words completely out of its original meaning the NIV has managed to skip over another theological difficulty.
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The prophecy reffered to by the Matthean passage above is found Isaiah 7:14. This is how the passage looks like in the King James Version:
At first glance, this looks like an amazing fulfilment of prophecy. Unfortunately, the KJV's use of virgin here is a well known error in translation.
The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 of the massoretic text, wrongly translated as virgin above, is almah. Now almah does not carry any explicit notion of virginity, meaning simply a young woman of marriageable age. Had Isaiah actually wanted to convey the prophecy of the virgin birth he would have used the word bethulah which does carry the explicit meaning of virgin.
As we have shown in detail elsewhere, Matthew used the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which erroneously translated almah as parthenos. Now parthenos does mean "virgin". The correct Greek word that should have been used by the translators of the Septuagint was neanis. Thus Matthew's proclaimation was based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word almah.
In fact in modern, more reliable versions, the correct translation for Isaiah 7:14 is used. Two examples:
The Good News Bible even provides a footnote explaining this:
Obviously, the implication of the above translation is enormous. It implied that Matthew erroneously attributed a non-existent prophecy to Jesus by utilizing a less than perfect translation of the Hebrew Bible. Let us look at how the NIV presents the same passage:
Amazingly, the isn't even a footnote explaining why virgin was used! Again the implication is obvious. The adherence of the editors/translators of the NIV to Biblical inerrancy made them perpetuate an obvious translation error in Septuagint in order to "keep" the prophecy!
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In his most recent book The Bible in Translation (Baker Book House 2001), the respected textual scholar of Princeton Theological Seminary and chairman of the NRSV translation committee, Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, had this to say about this aspect of the NIV:
Professor Metzger did not elaborate on why these textually indefensible additions were made. However the theological implications are clear. Let us look at a couple of the passages Metzger cited:
First, let us look at Jeremiah 7:22, in which the "Lord Almighty" speaks:
Remember that Metzger mentioned that there is no Hebrew manuscript that supports this reading in NIV(i.e. the addition of "just"). Note that this addition changes the whole meaning of the passage, from negative to positive. The reason the NIV translators did so, is easy to see. For God did command the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt about burnt sacrifices. One example:
It is obvious then, that in the original Hebrew manuscripts, a blatant contradiction exists. Here was a passage (Jeremiah 7:22) that explicitly mentioned that God did not gave any commands on burnt offerings during the exodus that clearly contradicts Exodus 20:22-24 which equally explicitly provides a commandment from God about burnt offerings and sacrifices. Thus to save their doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, the translators added the word "just" to avoid this very contradiction!
The passage from Matthew 13:32 is even more blatant. Let us compare the NRSV and the NIV again here:
The extant Greek manuscripts have Jesus here saying that the mustard is the smallest of all seeds, as the NRSV faithfully translates. However this statement, that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, is a gross botanical error. For while it is true that mustard seeds are small, they are not the smallest. The orchid seed, for instance, is even smaller.[b] Of course the fundamentalist translators of NIV cannot have the divine Jesus being shown to make such a mistake, so they the word your to seeds, implying that Jesus was merely talking about the seeds available to this audience! Again it is important to note that the translators had added a word not found in the extant Greek manuscripts.
These examples should be enough to caution anyone about thinking that all Bible translations are the same. Some have theological preconceptions built-into the translation.
Other fundamentalist versions such as The Book (and the Living Bible, on which The Book is based) have similar methods of skirting through theological difficulties. To those who are interested to explore this further can consult the book Fundamentalism: Hazards and Heartbreaks by Rod Evans and Irwin Berent published by Open Court publishing.
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