Contradictions and versions…

Intaglio,, copperplate print (KJV) 1631 Holy B...

Intaglio,, copperplate print (KJV) 1631 Holy Bible, Robert Barker/John Bill, London. King James Version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of Bible versions out there.  There are also a lot of passages and verses which when omitted or included or indeed translated using an alternative word, cause (in some cases quite rightly) a bit of outrage!

The first thing to remember is that in many most the vast majority of nearly all cases the changes make no difference whatsoever to the meaning of the text.  In others, the emphasis is changed but the idea is the same (test if I’m telling the truth by running a few try-outs on biblegateway.com to get the idea).  Personally I think it vital that God-fearing individuals, full of His Spirit and preferably selected by God Himself carry out the work (consider this interview with Colin Urquhart, who seems to have the right idea).  This is not meant as a general comment on the accuracy of modern Bibles (which I actually consider accurate), but I do think we need some principles for dealing with any confusion…

Some possible principles for confusing passages or where translations disagree or there is more than one option given…

Principle 1: Do not panic or despair.  God is not confused.  The verses about Him promising that He will preserve the words he has spoken are not in jeopardy (e.g. Matthew 24:35 plus numerous passages that imply the scriptures are still reliable after many thousands of years- see one of my first posts for more on this).  So His promise stands.  So the book He caused to be written stands.  He is good and always true. 

Principle 2: if one translation is confused and the other makes sense in the context, go with the one that makes senseThis page points out one such example of a difference between the King James version (accurate) and the New King James version (also accurate, but missing the point here).  Jesus is clearly God’s Son not just His Servant.  However, the NKJV still has plenty of verses that show that Jesus is indeed God’s Son.  Also, bearing in mind that the Greek pais evidently means both son and servant, there is some merit to remembering Jesus served His Father faithfully, even to the point of death.  Indeed presumably the reason that the words are the same is there was little difference in the standing of a son and a servant: (e.g. Proverbs 17:2 implies some interchangeability).  This is not usually a big problem: consider the English: “tear” (a word with two meanings) in theses sentences: “A tear dropped down his cheek.” and “There was a tear in the page between the two words.”  The right meaning is usually obvious!

Principle 3: Does the inclusion of the verse contradict another part of scripture?  First check if it is a paradox? (i.e. something hard to understand like my earlier post on free will and predestination discussed, where a passage looks like a contradiction but actually is not)  This is the most common case.  Occasionally however, you might find something you absolutely can not understand.  It may just be an unresolved paradox or perhaps an error like that of the infamous Wicked Bible.  If so, it would be well documented like the aforementioned disaster.

Principle 4: Difficult verses: does the inclusion of the verse contradict anything you know of the character of God?  First, check if it is just your culture or training that has given your ideas.  E.g. do not throw away all ideas about a God of Judgement just because you think love involves a sort of mushy punishment-less state of fuzzy joy, which is certainly a common misconception in my part of the world.  Then check if it is just a cherished idea of your own?  Obviously these do not trump God’s words.  Consider Acts 8:37 about the qualification for baptism: “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”, a verse which is left out in some translations.  Looking through the rest of scripture in any translation backs up this position on baptism (see my earlier post on this topic if you like).  But there are reasons (culturally) why some of us might want this particular verse left out.

Principle 5: Is there some historical reason why a particular phrase/word was translated in a certain (even valid) way, that shows more the bias of the translator than their openness to the Spirit of God, or something where meanings have changed over time?  E.g. the use of bishops and deacons (KJV, Philippians 1:1), whose words have much simpler meanings (overseers and helpers/ministrants, e.g. Young’s Literal, Philippians 1:1).  These have been traditionally translated one way (bishops and deacons), but those terms have come to mean something else altogether in our language (a position in an institution).  Remember that our own language changes (hence the necessity of the occasional new translation).  Often the most basic, simple meaning of the word resolves the problem, and I find that the Young’s Literal Translation, though awkward for everyday purposes, is very useful for getting an accurate word-by-word translation in these cases.

Principle 6: do not throw away your Bible in a quest for the “perfect version” unless it is based on later myths like the Book of Mormon (given by an angel only Joe Smith saw on magic gold plates that were taken back to heaven by the angel, presumably to help with paving issues in heaven, the upshot being that nobody else saw them).  Translators may not be perfect, but we have God’s promise that He will preserve His word.  We have a lot of hang-ups about exact wording, hang-ups that did not exist in Hebrew times.  There were no quote marks in the original: it is not the exact word used but the exact meaning that is important to preserve (otherwise translation would never be possible).  (e.g. the difference between: “he went in” and “he entered”).

Principle 7: God knows more than us.  He asks us to ask for wisdom (James 1:5), and frankly it is only since I started doing that that I got more understanding!  Oddly enough, God understands His own words better than we do.  Only through the eyes of His Spirit can he be fully understood (1 Corinthians 2:14) so any understanding we have of His word comes from Him.  If you still do not understand the occasional phrase, go back to principle 1: hang in there!  We do not have to all immediately understand everything perfectly.  The perfect is coming (1 Corinthians 13:9).  Keep aiming for it (Matthew 5:48).

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