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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label translations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label translations. Show all posts

Monday, February 02, 2015

Was the Bible Changed to Make it Look Like Jesus was Worshiped?

There's a silly claim made by Kurt Eichenwald in his Newsweek article that sounds like it came out of a page fron the Jehovah's Witnesses playbook. Eichenwald claims that our modern Bibles get the word worship wrong in the New Testament. He writes that the Greek word προσκυνέω (proskyneo) is intentionally mistranslated by modern biblical texts. He writes:
Throughout the King James Bible, people "worship" many things. A slave worships his owner, the assembled of Satan worship an angel, and Roman soldiers mocking Jesus worship him. In each of these instances, the word does not mean "praise God's glory" or anything like that; instead, it means to bow or prostrate oneself. But English Bibles adopted later—the New International Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Living Bible and so on—dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.1
He then claims that the change was intentionally misleading to support a view of Jesus' deity that would otherwise be absent for the scripture. He concludes, "In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse." 2

Playing Fast and Loose with Language

Eichenwald is wrong on several counts. First, the fact that there is a single Greek word that can have more than one meaning doesn't meant the translators wouldn't be able to know when to translate it worship and when to translate it bow down. That's like saying one cannot tell if someone tells you "Sam is blue today" you couldn't tell if he was referring to his feelings or his color. Context is king and reading the context of the passage will give you the appropriate English word.

Secondly, it simply isn't true that translations like the NASB "dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus." In Matthew 4:9, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms in the world if he would just "fall down and worship" Satan. In Acts 10:25, it reads that "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him" and in Revelation 13:15, the people are commanded to worship the image of the beast or be killed.

Similarly, there are people who fall down before Jesus where the word proskyneo is explicitly not translated worship. Matthew 8:2 reads, "And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.'" Matthew 15:25, in the story of the Canaanite woman who sought help for her daughter, reads that she "came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'" The phrase "began to bow down" shows action and it's thus translated that way, even though the action is directed towards Jesus.

So, Eichenwald's claim that the word is somehow intentionally manipulated to get a result holds no water.

The Jehovah's Witnesses resistance to the word worship

I've had conversations with Jehovah's Witnesses who try to argue a similar point to Eichenwald's. They hold that the word proskyneo shouldn't be translated worship when applied to Jesus. But that argument actually begs the question. We know that the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that God alone deserves worship. They would agree with us that Jesus even says so in Matthew 4:10 when he rebukes Satan's offer and quotes from "it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Even a created angel should not be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10, John was so overwhelmed by the visions that he saw that he "fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.'"

Here, we can see the context of the word implies worship, even when it is referring to an angel. We also see that in both instances, the command it to worship God alone. Hebrews 1:5- is therefore especially vexing because God the Father commands the angels worship the Son:
For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him."
The word proskyneo is translated in Hebrews 1:6 as worship and it is clear, unlike Eichenwald's claim, that it isn't the word worship that implies Jesus is divine. It is verse 8 where we read, "But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'" The Father calls the son God. We have a clear claim to Jesus' deity and a command that every created angel should proskyneo him. Given that context, the word worship is appropriate.

Both Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the New Testament translations are biased, yet neither of them offers the proper context for the word worship, acknowledges that the word's two meanings may be differentiates appropriately given the context of the passage, nor recognizes that there are clear texts that make the claim of Jesus's divinity elsewhere in the New Testament. The fact is that John 1:1 to 1:3 explicitly defines Jesus as Creator God. It seems to me that the charge of disingenuity doesn't fall on the translators of our bibles but on Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves.


1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. Eichenwald, 2014.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the Bible Reliable Since Its Been Translated So Many Times?

When Google's translation page first came out, some friends and I would have a little fun translating the web page of our employer from English into another language like French or Japanese. We would then copy that text and paste it back into the Google translator and let the computer try to recreate the English. The final result was awkward and would produce pretty comical phrasing, with words implying something completely different from the original message.

The reason we attempted such silliness is to try and intentionally confuse the translating robot. We knew that churning out a translation of a translation would force mistakes to be multiplied, a realization that takes no scholarship at all. Yet, this is the way many people assume the scholars responsible for our modern bibles have worked. Yesterday, a gentleman at my church said he had been in a conversation with a Muslim who said, "Your Bible has been translated so many times challenged by a Muslim on the validity of the Bible as it compared to the Qur'an." This isn't an uncommon claim and many atheists and non-believers have tried to make the same point.

Take the Newsweek cover story published just two days before Christmas entitled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." The article, which seems to take as its goal the undermining of biblical authority, is rife with inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings about how biblical scholarship works. Interestingly, its very first criticism is at the problem of multiple translations. Author Kurt Eichenwald, under the heading "Playing Telephone with the Word of God," writes:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we've all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.1
That's the thinking that many people have. yet this perception is so incredibly wrong it takes my breath away. But Christians seem to not know how to respond to such accusations, as the question posed to the man at church shows.

Counting Up the Number of Translations to You

The first thing I emphasize when tackling the objection that we are somehow insulated from the real meaning of the Bible because of so many translation is to simply ask, "how many times do you think the Bible version you have has been translated from its original languages?" People are feign to guess, imagining perhaps ten, dozens, or more. The reality is that every modern Bible translation has been translated exactly once from the original Greek and Hebrew. Once. That's all. There is no "translation of translations of translations." Biblical scholars work directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts to create the English versions we have today. Eichenwald could have seen that if he had bothered to look at the prefaces to any Bible. Here's what the Translation Committee for Crossway, which publishes the English Standard Version states:
"each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text."2
Here's what the Lockman Foundation, who created the New American Standard Bible says:
The New American Standard Bible has been produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture, as originally penned in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, were inspired by God… At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable. This method follows the word and sentence patterns of the original authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts.3
Here's what the NIV translation committee explained:
In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars met near Chicago and agreed to start work on the New International Version. Instead of just updating an existing translation like the KJV, they chose to start from scratch, using the very best manuscripts available in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.4
And just to show that this translation approach is not something that only began recently, here's what the translators wrote in the preface to the original 1611 King James Version:
That out of the Originall sacred tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our owne and other forreigne Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue; your MAJESTIE did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the worke might be hastened, and that the businesse might be expedited in so decent a maner, as a matter of such importance might justly require (emphasis added).5
Note that the translators state that they look at the originals and then look at other translations (the "many worthy men who went before us," such as Tyndale) to be better informed on their own word choice. Consulting existing translations is actually a benefit, as it adds more counselors to the translation efforts, not fewer. Yet, each and every translation begins and is compared against the original languages to ensure accuracy and compatibility. Your Bible, no matter which translation you choose, has been translated only one time, and straight from the original languages to English.


1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. The Translation Oversight Committee. "Preface to the English Standard Version." About ESVBibleorg. Crossway, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
3. The Lockman Foundation. "Overview of the New American Standard Bible." The Lockman Foundation. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
4. "The NIV Story." Biblica. Biblica, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
5."King James Version Original Preface." BibleNetUSA, 2006. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why a Good Bible Translation is Not Enough

A friend of mine from Holland recently asked if there was an English equivalent to the Dutch phrase "'s Avonds een vent, 's ochtends een vent." The phrase translates to the English "At night a man, in the morning a man" and it's a very popular idiom there, or so I'm told. The Dutch will recognize its meaning immediately, but as an English speaker, I'm going to be hopelessly lost unless my friend unpacks the phrase a bit more. As it turns out, it implied that if one wishes to act like an adult and stay out late (perhaps drinking or partying), then one must also act like an adult in the morning by getting up on time and putting forth a full effort at his or her responsibilities of work or school.

How Culture Affects the Use of Language

Reading the translation of the idiom by itself, I don't think anyone unacquainted with Dutch culture would ever understand its meaning. The United States was heavily influenced by the Puritans, so we don't have any figure of speech that equates drinking with being a grown up. Instead, we have Benjamin Franklin's "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," which is much more in line with our work ethic.

I offer this example because idioms and figures of speech are used throughout the Bible and simply reading a Bible translation without understanding how the language is being used can lead the student to as much confusion as only translating the Dutch idiom above. Let me give you one example: In Amos 4:6 God tells the Israelites, "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities." To a 21st century culture, one may rejoice. But the phrase is a curse as it is followed by "and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me." God is telling the Israelites that he caused a famine; their teeth were clean because there was no food left to get stuck in them!

Because modern society places an emphasis on white teeth and good oral hygiene, we bring certain presuppositions to the text without even realizing it and one can often miss the point. Another example is Proverbs 22:13 which reads, "The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'" While such an alarm sounds important and anything other than sluggardly, if you know that lions were native to Israel but not dominant there1 you can perhaps make out the meaning of the proverb. The sluggard says he cannot go outside to work because he may be attacked by a lion (a very unlikely scenario). It's akin to me saying I cannot drive to work because I may be killed in a car accident.

The emphasis of a culture also colors words. In talking about the Franklin quote above, another friend  responded with a favorite from her father: "Early to rise, early to bed makes a man socially dead!" Different times can emphasize different values and can make the same idiom appear differently to the reader. The influence of the Puritans are fading from American culture!

Understand the Context to Understand the Message

There are of course many more illustrations I could offer, but I think the point is clear. One must do more than simply read the Bible in a wooden, literal way to understand what the author is trying to convey to his readers. This especially is true when a skeptic or atheist tries to assert that one certain passage offers a contradiction to another. As I've previously written, claiming a contradiction for Jesus' claim that he'd be in the tomb three days and three nights is simply an abuse of an idiom. We know that the phrase is an idiom because David used it well before Jesus in 1 Samuel 30 and it didn't mean 72 hours in his usage either.

Therefore, before you read a book of the Bible, make sure you keep in mind a few key questions. Ask about the audience to whom the book was being written. Was it for believers in the church, Israel citizens, or a general retelling of events? What issue, problem, or point prompted the author to write to them? Is the author trying to write history, poetry, establish civil laws that would apply only to the nation of Israel, or do something else in the text? All these pieces help the student better understand the words on the page. Most good study bibles will have an introductory section that answers these questions for you as well as footnotes that can explain some of the more confusing idioms. Good commentaries can also be of immense value in better grasping the historical aspects of the passage. It's like the old proverb says, "Any text taken out of context is a pretext." Be a man and divide the word rightly!


1. See Rowan, Yorke M. and Jonathan Golden. "The Chalcolithic Period of the Southern Levant: A Synthetic Review." Journal of World Prehistory 22: 1-92. 9 April 2009. 24. Available online at

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The King James Version versus modern translations

Monday, I highlighted an online correspondence I had with a woman about the King JamesVersion of the Bible versus other translations. You can read that entry here. Today, I wanted to finish that correspondence with her last question and my response to it. She writes:

Photo provided by AlphaSix
So tell me Lenny, what is your take on the confusion that so many translations cause in churches? I for one cannot follow any preacher or speaker who uses a different translation. It breaks my heart that they want to take the beautiful Words and change them in to simplicity. I know it has confused people who are not saved too.
Let me take your question in parts and hopefully you can see just how difficult a job it is to translate any work, especially one from another culture and point in history. First, one must realize that any translation can never be perfect. One cannot simply change each word of the original into the corresponding word of the foreign language. Anyone who has translated a document using the Google Translate tool soon sees that you can get a lot of nonsense sentences this way. Words don't have an exact counterpart (for example, in Koine Greek, the pronoun is included in the verb, so one the phrase "I'm going" would have only one word), and words that are equal in one respect carry different ideas in another.

As an example, let's look at Amos 4:6 in the King James. Go d proclaims to Israel "And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." We read this and could be very confused. God gave them cleanness of teeth yet they still rebelled? God cares about their dental hygiene? Actually, no. The phrase is meant to imply that God gave them so little food, they were not eating enough for any to get stuck between their teeth. That's a big difference!

Secondly, there can be problems translating because the concept itself is foreign to the audience. When the Wycliffe translators went to provide Inuits who live in the Arctic regions of North America with a translation of the New Testament, they ran into a big problem: many of the items talked about in the Bible don't exist in the Artic. Inuits have never seen a sheep, but sheep and shepherds play a significant role in Biblical texts. So what does a translator do? He either brings real sheep to live among the all the Inuits across the continent or he seeks some familiar term that would come close to the original meaning. In the Inuit Bible, Jesus is called the "seal-pup of God" to show his purity and his obedience.

Lastly, even when we do have words for a text, language is not so static that they never change meaning. In the KJV, James 2:3 begins, "And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing." Is this a verse that promotes homosexual attire (whatever that may mean)? Obviously not, for the word gay has taken on a new meaning in the last fifty years. Many people give up reading the Bible because of all the thees and thous, which confuse readers since they are no longer part of modern speech.

Given all these challenges, new translations of the Bible are necessary to allow new readers to understand the text better. The King James translators themselves understood this and they make it clear that they are only providing their best interpretation of the text at the time. In the preface they wrote:
An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done... But, that we should expresse the same notion in the same particular word.
The most interesting thing in the King James Only debate is that when the KJV came out, people complained that it had deviated from the accepted translations that had come before it! Critics were upset that the translators were changing passages. In the preface they wrote:
Yet before we end, we must answere a third cavill and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our Taanslations [sic] so oft; wherein truely they deale hardly, and strangely with us. For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to goe over that which hee had done, and to amend it where he saw cause? Saint Augustine was not afraide to exhort S. Jerome to a Palinodia or recantation; the same S. Augustine was not ashamed to retractate, we might say revoke, many things that had passed him, and doth even glory that he seeth his infirmities. If we will be sonnes of the Trueth, we must consider what it speaketh, and trample upon our owne credit, yea, and upon other mens too, if either be any way an hinderance to it.
So, you see the discomfort with new translations applied to the KJV as much as it does to translations today.

I know that having many different translations can be confusing in a church service. However, you should see this as a blessing. We are not tied to only one group's understanding of the text. We can read several translations side by side and learn more about what the author intended even if we cannot read Greek or Hebrew. The translators of the King James were willing to "trample upon our owne credit" if their translation hindered people from the truth of God's word. We should therefore hold every translation as just that, an attempt by men to communicate God's word to another people in another language. Hold the originals as inspired, but remember the limitations of any translation.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What Does 'the Bible Is Inerrant' Really Mean?

The question over the reliability of the Bible is one that Christians must deal with from time to time. However, I've found that there is just as much confusion from believers as there is from skeptics concerning this issue. One such point of confusion is the reliability of biblical texts.

Because the King James Version of the Bible had such an enormous impact on the English-speaking world, many people still consider it the definitive version of the Bible. There are some, though, who take this idea ever further and hold that the King James translation is somehow inspired itself. I had written on this some time ago, but I still receive questions from people discussing the issue. I'd livke to let you "eavesdrop" on one such question I received recently. My correspondent wrote the following:
You know, I keep hearing that our Bible The "King James" version, is not necessarily the true and accurate version and that these new translations have searched and found a more accurate account of what is true. I have a very big problem with what has been said. First of all, if there are any errors in the Bible, then it is not the true Word of God. So when the Bible says that it is the inerrant Word of God, then that would be a lie.

It also says to not add or take away from the book and that is being done. If we cannot believe that we have the one and only true Word of God without error then why even read it? I read on one of your articles that only a hand full of men translated the "King James" but that over a hundred translated the NIV. To me that makes absolutely no difference. God could use just one man, if he so chose to, so just to say that more men studied and wrote more about what is right, is null and void. God knew what we needed and used the men he wanted to use and it has to be 100% accurate or we may as well not believe any of it. By changing the Word of God (and the beauty of the words), there is confusion in the church. Who can follow along with what is being read and preached if there are dozens of different translations and why would we need God to speak to us about what he wants for us to get out of His Word if several different men are writing different versions of the Bible? We don't need a bunch of different versions, we just need to ask God to show us what he has for us in the verses that are being preached or when we read by ourselves. Besides these people are making millions of dollars by writing different versions and trying to make it easier to understand by their understanding. Not only that but it is a tool of Satan to keep confusion in the church and in the minds of the people. What about the versions that leave the blood out of the translation? It is playing with fire to mess with Gods Word and there is no reason to change it or try to simplify it.

Thanks for listening. I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart. He is my Savior and I love His Word
Notice some specific piece in this letter. The questioner is concerned with the concept of inerrancy, but she has taken that too far, to mean that the KJ translation must be inerrant. Inerrancy has never been held to such a strict standard, though. She then equivocates the idea of retranslating the Bible to "changing the Word of God." She also appeals to "the beauty of the words" so there is more than a mere concern over accuracy here. Lastly, she believes that different translations somehow make the text say different things. (The point about versions that "leave out the blood" is in reference to Colossians 1:14, where the KJV reads "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" while all the modern translations don't include the phrase "through his blood" as it is missing from the oldest manuscripts.)

My goal in online exchanges like these is to help people see the problems to which a faulty view leads. I want them to realize it themselves instead of just telling them they are wrong. So, I usually begin with a question that they should agree with. My initial response was this:
Hi and thanks for your concern. I appreciate your love of the Bible and your desire to follow God's word. But before we get too far into the discussion, I'd like to ask you a question. In 1631, Robert Barker published a version of the King James Bible, but when typesetting Exodus 20:14, he accidentally left out three letters. Unfortunately those three letters make up the word "not" so his version of Exodus 20:14 read "Thou shalt commit adultery." I am absolutely certain that Robert Baker had no malicious intent whatsoever. He made a mistake, that's all.

My question: Is it possible that the King James Bible could have other mistakes as well, and if so how would we tell?
My correspondent's answer was quick, although it missed the point of the initial question a bit. However, she did get to the crux of the issue.
Hi Lenny,
Thanks for answering my email. In my "King James" Bible, the word "not", is not left out, so where do you get your information?

How can anyone believe that there are errors in God's Word? Which part then would you believe? Have you gone to the Lord to ask the truth of His Word? Just asking!!!!!

Thanks again.
I replied:
Thanks for the exchange! I sure appreciate you reading and dialoguing. Many different people print the KJV. My claim was about one of the printers from every early on. (This version of the Bible was dubbed "The Wicked Bible" and you can find more information on it here.)

Your question is a really good one. How can anyone believe there are errors in God's word? I for one don't. I believe that God inspired the authors to write the very words that He would have them write. I also subscribe to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. I make a big deal of this point in my article "Is The Bible Completely Error Free?"

However, while the Christian church has always held that the original writings by the Biblical authors are inerrant, it has NEVER held that someone couldn't make a mistake in copying or translating the work. The Jehovah's Witnesses offer a distorted version of the Bible in their New World Translation. Wycliffe translators working with indigenous tribes have made may errors in translation, sometimes simply because they didn't know the language that well.

Since we don't have any of the original writings, we need to go back and compare all the copies that we do have and make sure that the copies that have mistakes (like leaving out the word "not") are corrected. That is one reason why your copy of the KJV doesn't have this mistake. The original translators of the KJV didn't have nearly as many copies of the texts as we do today, and they didn't have as many early copies—copies that were less generations removed from the original writings.

I hope you can see how all this makes a big difference in understanding inerrancy. Let me know if you'd like more detail about it.

In a previous blog post, I showed the importance in asking questions in doing effective apologetics. Here is another example that allows for discussion while developing a rapport with your interlocutor. I'm not done with this exchange, though. In part 2, I go into a bit more detail as I continue my conversation. I hope you'll join us.
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