Bible Translation Errors – The Long Version

by Mary Pearson

This is the original longer version.
If you wish to read the shorter version, which is suitable for publication, and is actually quite different than this version, please Click Here.


On May 5, 2001, when Pope Paul II begged God’s forgiveness for sins committed by Roman Catholics against Jews, heretics and women, he acknowledged that the “Church” has been wrong in the past. It also took the Catholic Church 359 years to admit that they were wrong when they accused Galileo of heresy, condemning him to death, unless he recanted that the earth rotates around the sun. It was considered heresy to challenge the belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe. (Read Galileo’s Story.)

People have used the Bible to endorse slavery and segregation, initiate wars and crusades, condemn inter-racial marriage, burn women at the stake as witches, support the racism of the Ku Klux Klan, approve of Hitler’s holocaust, etc, etc. . . . the list is long.

We look at these atrocities now and wonder, how could people have been so wrong about what the Bible says? Are people wrong again about what the Bible says about homosexuality? How could this happen?

I believe that the original scriptures were God-inspired and contain the truths that God would have us to know. I believe that subsequent translations must deal with text, where perhaps there is no comparable word for the original, or meanings of words are sometimes lost or changed. To “fear” God is not to be afraid of God, but to respect and trust in God. Words do change over time.

Translations have been written with the best of intentions by God-fearing, uninspired human beings who have done their very best to convey God’s message, as they understand it, with their current knowledge that they have of the original languages, customs, traditions and culture of Bible times, AND with their own biases, based on their understanding of what they THINK the original scriptures say.

For example, the most accurate translation of the word “Abba” is “Daddy”, but the translators felt that the term “Daddy” was not reverent enough, and so, although the CORRECT translation of “Abba” is “Daddy”, in your Bibles, you will read “Father”.

The translators had the best of intentions, but for their own reasons, they translated “Abba”, (Daddy) into “Father”, a term which is much more formal and rather distant compared to “Daddy”. Do you regard God as your Father or your Daddy? Think about it. The essence of the word is still true, and yet it really is not nearly as accurate as it should be.

None of us have been brought up in a vacuum, and it is impossible not to let our preconceived beliefs influence our understanding.


WORD MEANINGS CHANGE

In my day, “grass” was mowed, “coke” was a cold drink, “pot” was something your mother cooked in, and “rock music” was your grandmother’s lullaby. “Aids” were helpers in the Principal’s office, “chip” meant a piece of wood, “hardware” was found in a hardware store, and “software” wasn’t even a word.

LIFE BEFORE THE COMPUTER

Memory was something you lost with age
An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity

A keyboard was a piano
A web was a spider’s home
A virus was the flu
A CD was a bank account

A hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived
And if you had a 3-1/2 inch floppy

………. you just hoped nobody ever found out


TRANSLATING FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER

My sister-in-law’s first language is French and when we first met she spoke very little English, but even with her limited English, it was much better than my limited French, and so we conversed, mainly in English.

I remember very vividly going to a restaurant for breakfast and she ordered a “difficult” egg. Neither the waitress, nor any of us at the table, could figure out what she wanted. After a while, she was able to explain that what she wanted was a “hard-boiled” egg.

At that time, her understanding of the word “hard” was “difficult” but as you can see, it was not the correct word for the situation, even though “hard” does indeed mean “difficult”.

Unless the culture and nuances of language were known to the translators, errors in interpretation could easily be made. Research is continually adding to our NEW knowledge of biblical times. It is important that we use the latest information available to us as we seek to understand the accuracy of Scripture.


“The word ‘sodomite’ is not found in the original Hebrew, nor is it found in the Greek. It was not until AFTER the rise of the hierarchy in the institutional Church that the account of Sodom and Gomorrah began to be equated with homosexuality. The word ‘sodomite’ then came into use. If the truth be known, the original use of this word referred simply to a person who was a resident of Sodom.”

From Christians Combating Homophobia Among Christians by Rev Fred Pattison – available in the Store.

The word “homosexual” did not appear in the Bible until 1946.


“Since the publication of the King James Version, there have been dozens of English Bible translations. Many of them are based on the formal equivalence approach to Bible translation (like the New Revised Standard Version and the Tanakh), and others use the functional equivalence approach (like the Contemporary English Version and the New Living Translation). With so many different English Bible translations done over the past several hundred years, including quite a number of new ones published in the recent past, the Bible reader today must wonder why there are so many of them.

First, languages constantly change. New words are always being added and others take on different or added meanings. For example, only recently have we begun using the word “internet” as part of everyday speech. And when we hear the word “cool” in a conversation today, it is not always referring to the weather! These two words are examples of how the English language has recently changed.

Second, Bible scholars are always learning new things about ancient Israel and the Near East that can help us better understand the historical and cultural context out from which the Bible emerged. For example, we understand much more clearly today the way the various social classes interacted in the ancient world, as well as the more intimate workings of families, clans, and tribes in ancient Israel. Such discoveries sometimes affect how we understand the words and stories of the Bible. In addition, archaeologists continue to find documents and libraries that help translators understand the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages better, and so help them translate the Bible more accurately. For example, the King James Version (published in 1611) translates I Samuel 17:22 like this:

“And David left his carriage in the hand of the keeper of the carriage, and ran into the army.”

The translators had difficulty with one of the Hebrew words in the manuscript they used, and translated “his carriage” and “keeper of the carriage” based on the context of the narrative. As translators learned more about the Hebrew language and its vocabulary, however, they understood that the verse did not talk about David’s “carriage,” but about the “carried things” or “baggage” that he had with him for the soldiers in the army. And so, the translators of the Revised Standard Version (published in 1952) were able to translate the same verse more accurately:

“And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the ranks.” – from “The Learning Bible, Contemporary English Version 1995, pg. 28


“Among recent archaeological discoveries that help translators understand Hebrew and Greek better are the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. This very important discovery consists of a huge collection of manuscripts (including important copies of the Scriptures themselves) which shed light on ancient Israel, the Hebrew language, the beginnings of the early Church, and the way the Scriptures were organized and used by ancient communities.

Below are a couple of examples to help understand how errors can occur.

(The word) “Exodus” comes from the Greek word meaning “exit” or
the way out“. Those who wrote the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) named the book Exodus to emphasize how God chose Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.

The Hebrew title of the book means “These are the names“, a phrase that appears in Genesis 46:8 and lists the names of some of Israel’s ancestors. This title emphasizes how Exodus continues the story of God’s people, begun in Genesis.” (from “The Learning Bible, Contemporary English Version 1995, pg. 128)

So in one word “Exodus”, we can see two very different interpretations between the Greek and the Hebrew.


And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years [for] a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;

So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with [their] buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. Isaiah 20:3,4

This sounds very much like Isaiah went around naked for three years, especially when in context of “buttocks uncovered” in verse 4. In reality, it has been discovered that the word “naked” in verse 3 denotes “the state of one who has laid aside his loose outer garment (Lat. nudus), and appears clothed only in a long tunic or under robe worn next to the skin.”
– from ChristianAnswers.net

Isaiah was a wealthy prophet. The tunic that he chose to wear was that of a servant. No doubt the people who knew of his status would question why he was wearing the garb of a servant. We would say today that he was a “walking testimony”. It would have given him the opportunity to testify of the One True God to a polytheistic nation.

“To go barefoot was a sign of great distress, or of some great calamity having fallen on a person.”
– from ChristianAnswers.net

Certainly Isaiah had a distressing message for these folks, but the point is that it appears that he was naked, when in reality he was not naked as we understand the word today.


“Even within English, there are differences in the language depending on where you come from. In England, “pants” refer to underwear, whereas “trousers” are what we, in North America, would call “pants”.

It is not possible to eradicate all forms of misunderstanding because of the cultural difference in words.”

From: Business Correspondence Level 1,
Academy of Learning Computer & Business Career College.


This just touches on the subject of how errors can occur in translations. My point is not to denigrate the Bible, but to emphasize the necessity of updating our research tools and methods, using all that we have available to us to give the most ACCURATE translations.

My hope is that you will grasp the concept, that if people can misunderstand scripture in the past many, many times, to the point that millions of people were slaughtered, it is worth considering that, with the best of intentions, scripture has been misinterpreted again with regard to gay people, and we have a responsibility, where possible, to enlighten others with the TRUTH.

Information with regard specifically to the “clobber verses” is found here.


Timeline of Bible Translation History
used (with permission) from WWW.GREATSITE.COM

1400 BC: The first written Word of God: The Ten Commandments delivered
to Moses.

500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make up
The 39 Books of the Old Testament.

200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts which contain
The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.

1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make up
The 27 Books of the New Testament.

315 AD: Athenasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, identifies the 27 books of
the New Testament which are today recognized
as the canon of scripture.

382 AD: Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain All 80 Books
(39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).

500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.

600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.

995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of
The New Testament Produced.

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript
Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be
mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written.
The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.

1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.

1522 AD: Martin Luther’s German New Testament.

1526 AD: William Tyndale’s New Testament; The First New Testament printed in
the English Language.

1535 AD: Myles Coverdale’s Bible; The First Complete Bible printed
in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).

1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English.
Done by John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers (80 Books).

1539 AD: The “Great Bible” Printed; The First English Language Bible
Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).

1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible
to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).

1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which
the King James was a Revision (80 Books).

1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the
Rheims New Testament (of 1582)
Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible;
Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 AD The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books.
The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.

1782 AD: Robert Aitken’s Bible; The First English Language Bible (KJV)
Printed in America.

1791 AD: Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas Respectively Produce the
First Family Bible and First Illustrated Bible Printed in America.
Both were King James Versions, with All 80 Books.

1808 AD: Jane Aitken’s Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken);
The First Bible to be Printed by a Woman.

1833 AD: Noah Webster’s Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary,
Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.

1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison
showing the Greek and 6 Famous English Translations
in Parallel Columns.

1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible
printed in America. A King James Version, with All 80 Books.

1885 AD: The “English Revised Version” Bible;
The First Major English Revision of the KJV.

1901 AD: The “American Standard Version”;
The First Major American Revision of the KJV.

1971 AD: The “New American Standard Bible” (NASB) is Published as a
“Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation” of the Bible.

1973 AD: The “New International Version” (NIV) is Published as a
“Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation”
of the Bible.

1982 AD: The “New King James Version” (NKJV) is Published as a
“Modern English Version Maintaining the
Original Style of the King James.”

2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is Published as a translation
to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB
and the readability of the NIV.

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