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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Infallible Word of God

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines infallible as the quality of being incapable of error or mistake; entire exemption from liability to error; inerrability. No human being can justly lay claim to infallibility. This is an attribute of God only. And we agree that the original, inspired Scriptures are infallible. The key word here, though, is original. Unfortunately, we do not speak the original languages of the writers of the Scriptures, and so we are dependent on English translations, Hebrew and Greek dictionaries, and a multitude of other resources. This is truly unfortunate because while God, and thus His Word, is infallible, man is not. With that in mind, we are going to provide an overview of some of the top English translations of the Bible and review how they compare to one another, discussing the history, purpose, and challenges of each in an effort to help minimize the influence of biases, doctrines, and man-made traditions.

The King James Version (KJV)

The King James Bible was commissioned by King James of England and Scotland in 1604; and the first edition was published in 1611. Today, many churches and believers consider the KJV to be the best translation overall. However, it is important to understand several points, which ultimately create a bias. First, this version was done at the bequest of a monarch; a ruler that had the right to execute anyone at whim.

Secondly, England was the battleground for different sects of Christianity, including the Puritans, Papists, Presbyterians, Nonconformists, and Separatists. In addition to the various religious constituents, England had vibrant political leanings too. It is also important to remember there were different hierarchies established for most of the religious groups and churches too - some of which led all the way to Rome.

Thirdly, at the time of King James’ ascension to the throne, the Geneva Bible was the most popular one in use; unfortunately, this version was seen as being borderline revolutionary to the King. There was also a Prayer Book, which had been published under the approval of Queen Elizabeth, King James’ predecessor. Finally, there was yet another Bible version being used, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible.

Fourthly, the KJV was being written for a largely illiterate populace. This meant that the phrasing used focused more on its oratory performance opposed to its literal translation. It was intended that every church in England use the KJV and provide a consistent, theological foundation to the listening attendees.

Finally, there were many doctrines and man-made traditions already in full force and effect well before 1604. The concept of the trinity had been accepted by the church fathers, (and I use that term loosely), the changing of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday by order of Constantine, and the prevalent antisemitism. It can be safely assumed that all of the doctrines and practices of the church, at that time, played a role in deciding the phrasing chosen during the translation process.

In summary, the KJV was commissioned to reinforce a clear-cut royal political agenda, to be done by elite scholarly committees consisting of more than 50 people, reviewed by a self-serving bureaucracy, with ultimate approval reserved to an absolutist monarch. Once published, it was intended primarily for public and popular consumption - but on an oral basis opposed to written. No wonder there are some issues with the KJV.

The English language is constantly evolving and changing. Words once used on a regular basis are nowadays becoming more obsolete. For example, people generally do not say that they are “vexed” about something; instead, they use words like teased, provoked, irritated, troubled, agitated, or even afflicted. Secondly, the definition and understanding of some words is not what we might think it means; or even what it originally meant. A good example of this is the word “affirm”. At one time, this word meant something was “strengthened or made firm”. Today, it means “to assert positively; to tell with confidence; to aver; to declare the existence of something; to maintain as true; opposed to deny.” The changes in the English language are more of a factor to consider when reading the KJV than any other modern version published today. To counteract this, we use dictionaries more frequently than the average student; and we use older dictionaries, like the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary listed on our Resources page.

Now that we have provided a brief review of the KJV, let’s take a look at some of the more common translation errors discovered. We are not able to provide a complete listing, as that would make this paper much longer and more tedious than necessary. We simply want to provide a few examples so that you can understand the importance of researching the original context of verses yourself.

Some of the mistranslations are based on inconsistent renderings in English of Hebrew or Greek words, such as: hell, Hades, devil, demons, etc. Other challenges are different ways of identifying something, such as in Revelation 22:19. This verse reads as “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” in the KJV. However, in the original Greek, “book of life” is translated literally as “tree of life”. Most of the errors of this type are fairly minor, when one considers the Bible as a whole. Unfortunately, there are other, graver issues.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the more problematic verses of the KJV. The first verse we will consider is Genesis 15:6, which says, “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Obviously, this verse was originally written in Hebrew, but it was quoted in three verses of the New Testament. All three quotes of this verse, in Greek, are identical; however, each verse was rendered slightly differently, at the discretion of the translators. I have underlined the phrase in all four verses so that you may more clearly see the differences. Our first comparable verse is Romans 4:3, which reads, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Our second comparison is Romans 4:9, which says, “Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.” Finally, let’s review Galatians 3:6, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Another verse is Acts 9:6, which states, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” There are two positions regarding this verse. The first, claims that this verse is not found in any of the original Greek manuscripts, but is only found in the Latin Vulgate translation; the second position claims that portions of the verse, specifically “trembling and astonished” and “what wilt thou have me to do” are additions to the original verse.

The other problematic verses specifically pertain to the concept of the trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit). The first of these troubling verses is 1 John 5:8, “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” The second part of this verse, specifically “and these three agree in one” is only found in the Latin Vulgate and one Greek manuscript drafted around 1520 by a friar in Oxford. Matthew 28:19, which says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” has also been tampered with, according to the best of historical research scholars. A father of the church, Eusebius, quoted this passage approximately 18 times in various writings, as “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in my name.” It was only after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. that the verse was changed to its current version.

With all that being said, we still use the KJV as the base to all of our research. It is against this base that we measure all other versions of the Bible. Once all of the errors and mistranslations are accounted for, the KJV is still 99.95% accurate and can be trusted for the most part. But, as we have tried to show here, it cannot be blindly trusted; one must always keep in mind that it was translated by men and thus does have its share of bias.

The New King James Version (NKJV)

The New King James Version was started in 1975 and written under the guidance of Arthur Farstad and more than 130 Biblical scholars, pastors, and theologians. Mr. Farstad was a conservative Baptist, and a former editor of Thomas Nelson Publishers. It was subsequently revised in 1984 by another committee, chaired by Mr. Farstad. The members of the two groups were primarily Baptists, with some Presbyterians, and jointly prepared the guidelines for creating this particular version. The stated goal was to update the KJV grammar and vocabulary, yet preserve the style and literary beauty of the original KV as published in 1611.

Many Bible readers have switched to the NKJV because they believed that it was the same as the KJV, but easier to read. Unfortunately, this is not the whole truth. Yes, the NKJV is easier to read; but, it is not the same as the KJV. Many words and verses have been altered or even deleted. For example, Acts 3:26, says, “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” In this verse, the word “Son” has been changed to “Servant”. We are confident that you will agree that son and servant and nothing alike and have totally different meanings and connotations. Matthew 18:11 in the KJV reads, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” Yet, the NKJV reads that the Son of man has come, as in past tense. Worse still, several verses were removed from the Scriptures themselves and designated as footnotes, including: Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 17:36; Luke 22:43-44; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 28:29; and Romans 16:24.

The New International Version (NIV)

The New International Version is a popular version used in a few parochial schools and many mainstream churches. It is usually the first version of the Bible purchased for children and is either the first or second in sales by unit and dollars each year. It was started in 1965 under the guidance of the Christian Reformed Church, National Association of Evangelicals, and a group of international scholars. The core translation group consisted of 15 scholars with participation from a mix of denominational backgrounds. Unlike the KJV and NKJV which attempted a word-for-word translation, the NIV is a mixed translation including some word-for-word and some thought-for-thought, or phrased translation. But the real question is, is it a version you can trust?

Well, let’s just say that we call it the “Nearly Inspired Version” - and for very good reason. There are more than 155 verses that have been modified, partially deleted, or completed deleted. While the bulk of these verses are still in the NIV, references to Christ have been deleted, such as: Galatians 6:15; Galatians 4:7; Galatians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 9:18; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 3:14; and Acts 2:30, just to name a few.

Similar to the NKJV, the NIV has also opted to move some verses from the body of the Scriptures and into the footnotes, specifically: Matthew 12:47; Matthew 21:44; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 22:43-44; and John 7:53-8:11. The NIV has also completed removed several verses, such as: Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Luke 17:36; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 24:7; Acts 28:29; and Romans 16:24.

The English Standard Version (ESV)

The English Standard Version is another version that we rely on, second and subject to the KJV, as you will see. Over 100 people helped with the translation of the ESV, including Wesleyans and Calvinists, dispensationalists and covenant theologians, Pentecostals and cessationists, egalitarians and complementarians, paedobaptists and credobaptists. The ESV attempted to stay as true as possible to the original translations of William Tyndale and the King James Bible. The translation was completed under the guidance of a 14 member oversight committee and which debated many of the challenging topics of the day. For example, one such debate centered on gender issues. The ESV wanted to create a more “gender-neutral” version, by removing the masculine references such as “he, him, man, father, brother, brethren” and replacing them with words such as “they, people, person, human” etc. These changes appear to minimize the masculine gender within the Greek text. This is somewhat problematic in that Deuteronomy 4:2 exhorts, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”

Secondly, similar to the other translations that we reviewed, verses have been completed removed, including: Matthew 12:47; Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Luke 17:36; Luke 22:44; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 24:7 (note half of Acts 24:6 and 24:8 is also removed); Acts 28:29; and Romans 16:24. In addition to the verses that have been deleted, more than 33,000 words within the New Testament have also been removed. This is problematic; however, we generally use the ESV as a review of whole passages due to its ease of reading, but then use the KJV to more closely review and examine a particular text or verse.

Finally, while the study version of the Bible does come with an awesome array of notes, information, background, and historical context, it is heavily slanted towards the doctrines of the participating denominations. We are probably more aware of these biases than the average reader, and so they tend to “jump out” at us while we are reading. So why do we still use it? Honestly, because it is easy to read, and very comprehensive as far as the cross referencing and study notes are concerned. Because we are so aware of its numerous shortcomings, we do use it more as a secondary reference; not a primary source.

The New Living Translation (NLT)

In 1971 Tyndale House published a version of the Bible called the Living Bible, written by Ken Taylor. The New Living Translation is, in a nutshell, a complete revision of the Living Bible. Initially an organization of more than 90 scholars were going to “correct” errors in the Living Bible, but ultimately decided to create an entirely new translation, with the approval of Ken Taylor and Tyndale House. Each book of the NLT was revised, reviewed, debated, and then voted on with an editorial board making the final decisions for the translation ultimately printed. The NLT is classified as a dynamic equivalence (as opposed to word-for-word like the KJV or thought-for-thought like the NIV); which means that it is more of a paraphrased version, trying to obtain a natural equivalent of the original text in language and style. In other words, literary accuracy was not important; because of this, it is much harder to list out the issues. The next few paragraphs provide an example of just one passage, Matthew 7:21-23, to illustrate the differences between the NLT and other versions we have already discussed.

King James Version: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

New King James Version: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

New International Version: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

English Standard Version: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

New Living Translation: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

When compared to the KJV, there are several verses from the NLT that have been significantly modified, partially removed, or completely removed, including: Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 19:9; Matthew 23:14; Mark 6:11; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 4:8; Luke 17:36; Luke 23:17; John 1:41; John 3:16; John 3:13 ; John 5:4; John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; Acts 17:29; Acts 28:29; Romans 1:20; Romans 16:24; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Timothy 6:5; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 4:1; 1 Peter 4:14; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:3; 1 John 5:7-8 ; 1 John 5:7; 1 John 5:13; and Revelation 1:11; Revelation 5:14.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

This particular version of the Bible is one that we are not personally familiar with; in fact, we have never even heard of it until we began doing our research for this White Paper. We are including it in our discussion because it was the sixth in sales by dollars and seventh in sales by units; therefore, we are assuming that it has a fairly large use among the general population. According to our research, this version of the Bible was also commenced at the bequest of Arthur Farstad, the writer of the NKJV. He wanted to begin a new, independent translation project, but still use the same foundational texts as what had been used for the KJV and NKJV version. Upon his death, the project was taken over by Dr. Edwin Blum, who changed the underlying Greek text to one established by modern scholars. Unfortunately, the texts used are considered by many scholars as being corrupt and heavily influenced by the Alexandrian Greek Gnosticism. Secondly, it has been reported that the Holman Christian Standard Bible is very similar to the Bible used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

While many of the translations we have reviewed have opted to remove many verses, it appears that the HCSB retained them, but used brackets to delineate them and then provided additional information in the footnotes. The verses specifically treated this way are: Matthew 12:47; Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 21:44; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 17:36; Luke 22:20; Luke 23:17; John 5:3-4; Acts 8:37; Acts 28:29; and Romans 16:24.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB/NASV)

Out of all the Bibles commissioned in the 20th Century, the New American Standard Bible has a reputation as being the most literally translated version. The objective of the writers was to revise the 1901 American Standard Version to provide: a true translation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; a grammatically correct and readable (understandable) version; and to give proper place to Jesus Christ. Because it was created as a revision of the American Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible is sometimes referred to as the NASV. Part of the challenge in understanding literal, word-for-word versions is understanding what is the base, or foundational, documents used. The KJV follows the Byzantine manuscript tradition, which has now grown to about 95% of the extant manuscripts we know about today. The NASB is similar to the ESV, HCSB, and NIV, which is based on a more eclectic mix of texts composed of primarily Alexandrian manuscripts, and allegedly found in the mid 1800s, with occasional changes. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that many of the verses mentioned with regards to the other translations have also been relegated to footnotes or removed.

For example, here is a listing of some of the verses that have been delegated to footnote status: Mark 16:9-20; Luke 22:43-44; Luke 24:12; and John 7:53-8:11. And these are the verses that have been completely removed: Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 23:14; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Luke 17:36; Luke 23:17; Luke 24:40; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 24:7; Acts 28:29; and Romans 16:24.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of some of the differences between the top selling Bible versions, we would like to provide some guidance on how to select the translations that will work best for you. Right up front, we want to make it clear that we use the King James Version as our foundation Scripture source. This is the version that we use electronically to really delve into the Scriptures and look at the original Hebrew and Greek words. For more thematic studies, we use the English Standard Version because it is easy to read, has great study tools, and provides good format for themes. Outside of these two versions, we use the rest of the Bible versions listed on our Resources page for contrast and comparative purposes. We like to see what is different between the various translations; it is these differences that can truly highlight problematic areas that we need to research more carefully. People generally don’t get into disagreements over similarities - especially if the words are exactly the same.

It is our recommendation that you have a KJV, if for nothing else then to use to compare to your preferred version. Your primary Bible for reading and studying should be one that you can read without too much difficulty. And that means more than just language and grammar; it includes the literal print. Is the font an easy one to read; large enough to see without reading glasses; printed dark enough on the page that you can see it clearly. We also highly recommend that you use a word-for-word translation opposed to a thought-for-thought like the NIV, or even worse yet, a complete paraphrase, like The Message. We prefer Bibles that have decent margins and excellent cross-references. We like to use a mix of methods for marking up our Bibles, including special pigment pens, highlighters, and even quarter-inch labels; therefore, margins are important to us. We like having all the extra bonus material too; things like introductions, indexing, maps, concordances, etc. Our philosophy is the more information included the better. Using the internet, research any of the complaints, issues, or challenges lobbied against that particular version before you buy it. In other words, make as informed a decision as possible.

Once you have purchased your Bible, carefully review how it was written, what its purpose was, and who did the actual writing, reviewing, editing, and publishing. Knowing the bias of these groups of people is important because, whether you want to admit it or not, it does influence the decisions that are made along the translating process. Using the internet, again research any of the complaints, issues, or challenges lobbied against that particular version. Make notations on the verses that have been modified by either manually “correcting” them or by notating the footnotes, as applicable, so that you do not forget the changes made. Highlight any obvious biases that you discover, too, so that you will remember them when studying.

One of the hardest things we ever did was make that very first mark in our personal Bibles. We had such a respect for the Word of God that writing on it almost seemed sacrilegious. Trust us, it is not. To truly study the Bible, you need to do whatever you need to do to comply with Deuteronomy 6:4, which instructs us as follows: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” A little marking, noting, highlighting, categorizing, and cross-referencing can help immensely. We promise - it is not a sin to mark up your Bible in an effort to embed it into your heart and life.

Finally, if you really want to study the Bible in-depth, we highly recommend that you download a free software program called e-Sword. This program give you access to most of the translations, dictionaries, concordances and other reference materials that we have listed on our Resources page. It can take some time to figure out how to use the program effectively and efficiently. We do not recommend it for the casual reader but for those that want to truly understand what God’s infallible Word has to teach us without the biases, doctrines, man-made traditions, or manipulations. In other words, you too can search the Bible with an open mind, an open heart, and a teachable spirit. Just make sure that you include an open Bible that you can trust.

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