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One of the disturbing facts relative to all existing Bible translations is that they are affected by the bias of the men and women who have labored to produce them. Not all such bias is the result of evil intent, or a lack of Christian character. To a large extent, translation bias is the result of men needing to make judgments about the original author’s meaning. Quite logically, men will gravitate toward interpretations of words and phrases that they believe conform to truth. A serious problem is exposed as it is observed that a great many things men believe to be true are in fact false.
When a Bible translator overlays his beliefs upon the text he is rendering into another language, the result is that errors creep into the Scriptures. It is not possible to translate an ancient book such as the Bible into modern parlance without making a great many judgments about the meaning of the text. If the Bible scholar has a deep and accurate understanding of the subject matter he is translating, then he is greatly helped in arriving at a faithful reproduction of the original documents. If, however, the Bible scholar does not have a solid understanding of the truths and facts being conveyed, or worse yet, if his understanding is fraught with falsehood, error, and misconceptions, there is a high probability that the Bible version he produces will bear the imprint of his errant beliefs.
The naive reader of the Holy Scriptures often thinks nothing of the process that was undertaken to transmit the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into English. It has been previously noted that some have so little understanding of the original authorship of the Scriptures, and the work of translation, that they mistakenly believe that Christ and His apostles spoke the King’s English. Not perceiving the human factor in producing a Bible version in the English language, the ignorant are highly susceptible to being led astray. At the very least, those who fail to recognize the human factor in Bible translation will suffer from a lack of care in maintaining a critical eye that seeks to discern between the thought of the Bible’s original authors and the errors introduced by copyists and translators.
Not all Bible bias is the result of good-hearted men failing to comprehend the original intent of the Scriptures. Some men have manifested less integrity in their labors. There are intentional deceivers, and there are men who in their pride believe they can improve upon the message of prophets, evangelists and apostles. I have encountered some truly egregious examples of men making wholesale alterations to the Scriptures in order to make them conform to their particular doctrinal beliefs. A recent example of this is observed in the Complete Jewish Bible, a translation produced by David Stern and published in 1989.
The description for this book states, “The only English translation that expresses the Bible’s original and essential Jewishness from Genesis to Revelation. It reconnects Christians to their Jewish roots and Jews to their Messiah.” Such a statement sounds well and good, but along with the “essential Jewishness” that David Stern emphasizes in this translation, he also interjects his belief that Christians are subject to the Law of Moses. As I previously mentioned, this writing series cannot properly address the subject of the Law. I encourage all who have an interest in the purpose, scope, and duration of the Law to read the book Laying Down the Law.
David Stern admits in the introductory material at the front of his Bible version that he has made alterations to Paul’s writings to make them more sensible and clear to Christians who are often confused when they read the apostle’s words relating to the Law of Moses. What David Stern characterizes as confusion are Paul’s many statements that affirm that the Law was given to mankind for a limited duration “until” the promised seed should come that Yahweh promised to Abraham, that seed being Yahshua. Paul in many of his writings, and with numerous arguments, testifies that the Law no longer has jurisdiction over those who are “in Christ.” Paul makes some very plain statements in this matter, such as the following.
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God… But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
You cannot be any freer from something than to have died to that to which you were formerly bound. Paul is not preaching lawlessness here, for he plainly states that we were “released from th Law…, so that we “might be joined to another,” that is, to Christ. Christ becomes our Head, our Sovereign, our Shepherd to guide us in the path of righteousness that Yahweh would have us to walk. The Law contained only shadows of the will of God, but the Holy Spirit can disclose the substance of the Father’s will to those who are in Christ.
One of the ways David Stern hides the apostle Paul’s message of being loosed from the Law is by inconsistently translating the Greek word “nomos.” In Romans chapters 5 and 7, Mr. Stern renders this word as “Torah.” Yet, in chapter 6, sandwiched right between these other passages, he translates nomos as “legalism.” Why does he do this? It is because to render the word consistently as “Torah” would have led to the following translation.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Torah, but under grace.
To make the words of Paul conform to his own doctrinal beliefs, David Stern switches up the word here, rendering it as “legalism.” This is not all, however. In Paul’s epistle to the Galatian believers he uses the expression “ergon nomos” which is properly translated as “works of the Law.” Following is how this verse appears in the New American Standard Bible.
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.
Mr. Stern renders “ergon nomos” as “legalistic observance of Torah commands.” He gets even more expansive, in his efforts to shape the readers understanding, in the next chapter as he renders the Greek phrase “hupo nomos” (“under Law”) with the thirteen word phrase, “in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism.”
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
These are egregious examples of altering the Scriptures to make them conform to one’s doctrinal bias. David Stern is unfaithfully altering the apostle’s words because to translate them accurately leads men and women to conclusions that he does not support.
David Stern is not the only person to make such alterations to the Scriptures. I have found that those who hold to the belief that Christians are bound to the Law of Moses are particularly predisposed to playing very loose and free with the words of the apostle Paul. Recently a brother in Christ asked my opinion about the Hebraic Roots Bible.
I use the term “cult” very guardedly when referring to religious groups, for the word carries much stigma with it. Yet, the word seems befitting the group that produced this Bible translation. On their Q&A page, some of their aberrant beliefs are revealed. Following are two entries that are very troubling.
73. In this spiritual wilderness time period we are in how do we literally identify the real Laodicean members in YHWHs congregation?
Clearly, we are in the Laodicean era of the end time congregation. Laodicean means ruled by the people. We see this attitude permeated in society with social uprisings over the last 3 to 4 years and we also see it in the congregation with many false brethren forsaking elders and leadership. The Laodicean claims he is “rich and made himself rich and is in need of nothing.” These Laodiceans think they have the proper doctrine even though it is false and heresy, and they are blinded to the truth by their pride. The bible states in Mathew 7 “you will know them by their fruits.” The laodicean is bearing no fruit for Yahweh’s kingdom. Anyone denying the ordained elderhood set up by Yahweh and Yahshua and bringing their own heresies and will not repent but are held up in pride clearly are displaying a Laodicean attitude in which scripture tells us to leave such a one and mark him before the congregation (Ro 16:17).
These words reveal that this group believe there is a recognized “elderhood set up by Yahweh and Yahshua.” Of course, the leaders of this group believe they are that “elderhood.” This becomes all the more troubling in light of the following entry on the Q&A page.
69. Can you have the Holy Spirit in you without the laying on of hands?
Yahweh is not the author of confusion (I Cor 14:33), but He has a systematic way of transferring the Ruach HaChodesh (Holy Spirit) to others. He uses this as a safeguard so that his spirit will not be transferred to just anybody, but only to those that his true ministers have qualified to have truly repented of their sins and accepted the blood of Yahshua for the forgiveness of those sins. The more we know, the more accountability we have before YHWH (Lk 12:47-48). This is why YHWH does not call everyone today, and give a full knowledge of the truth, so that he can have mercy on their ignorance at a later judgment. Romans 11:32, “For YHWH hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he may have mercy upon them all.” This is why the laying on of hands and transferring of the Holy Spirit can only be done by someone who has been ordained and given the authority from YHWH (Jn 20:21-23)…
Think about it. If any baptized member had the ability to transfer YHWH’s spirit, what chaos it would have caused…
The laying on of hands is part of the baptism ceremony and one of the basic doctrines of the congregation in Heb 6:1-2. It can only be performed by a qualified Elder, who has been given the authority from YHWH, through ordination, and having hands laid on him.
Here is a group of men who claim that they alone have the power and authority to transfer Yahweh’s Spirit to other men. This is gross error, and a manifestation of pride. Undoubtedly, such a doctrine serves as a means to control the members of the church. The elders need only declare someone disqualified on any basis they choose to charge the individual who disagrees with them of not being a partaker of the Spirit of Yahweh. After all, they alone are the sole arbiters of such matters.
In answering the e-mail from the brother in Christ who asked me for my thoughts on this Bible translation, I shared the following. (http://www.coyhwh.com/en/bible.php)
I have found the phrase “Hebraic Roots” to be used as a synonym for “Torah Observant.” I have yet to find anyone who claims to be a Hebraic Roots adherent who is not teaching the saints that they must keep the Law of Moses. I would be surprised if this Bible translation does not include some biased translations of Paul’s teachings that would render it more “Law friendly.”
A second issue I have is with the statement below that is found on this same page.
This complete bible also has the New Testament based on the original Aramaic Peshitta text, the very language that our Savior spoke. The original New Testament was not written in Greek, but Aramaic.
I find difficulty with this statement for many reasons. First, the Peshitta was written in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic that is distinct from Hebrew. It is somewhat disingenuous to refer to it as the Aramaic Peshitta. Most scholars refer to the Peshitta as the Syriac Peshitta. The reason for this is that Syriac and Hebrew, though both being dialects of Aramaic, are distinct from one another. It is therefore inaccurate to say that this is “the very language that our Savior spoke.”
Thirdly, the statement that “The original New Testament was not written in Greek, but Aramaic,” is a belief held only by a small minority of Bible scholars, many of whom are members of groups described as Hebraic Roots, or Messianic congregations. Those who hold to this view are influenced by a bias toward Hebrew and against Greek. The existing evidence in ancient manuscripts does not support the belief that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament, and the most complete, are written in Greek. The majority opinion among Bible scholars is that the Peshitta was translated from existing Greek manuscripts into the Syriac language. I think there should at the very least be some acknowledgment of the fact that the claim of the New Testament being written in Aramaic is highly contested. By failing to admit this, those who produced this Hebraic Roots Bible version are demonstrating their bias in the matter.
Fourthly, the Peshitta did not include the books 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. These were added centuries later because it was disputed by believers in Syria as to whether these writings ought to be included in the canon of Scripture. It is therefore disingenuous to write as if the Bible as we recognize it today was originally contained in the Peshitta.
As one examines the argument for an original Aramaic New Testament, there are serious obstacles. For one, much of the New Testament was written to Greek speaking Gentiles. Luke wrote both his gospel and the book of Acts, addressing them to Theophilus, which is clearly a Greek name meaning “lover of God.” It is likely that Theophilus was not an individual, but a name Luke employed to denote that his writings were for all who were lovers of God. If Luke’s audience had been Hebrew speaking people, it seems unlikely that he would have chosen this Greek name to open his writings. Then there are Paul’s many epistles, comprising a majority of the books of the New Testament. Paul was sent to the Gentiles, not to the Jews.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.
Seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles)…
Why would Paul write his epistles to the Greek speaking Gentiles in Aramaic?
After writing to this brother, I looked up some Scriptures in the Hebraic Roots Bible to see how they handled Paul’s words relating to the Law. I had rightly surmised that they had made unfaithful alterations to the apostle’s words.
4 So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the (penalty of the) Law through the body of Messiah, for you to become another’s, to the One raised from the dead, so that we may bear fruit to Elohim.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death.
6 But now we have been set free from the penalty of the Torah, having died to that in which we were held, so as for us to serve in newness
[Hebraic Roots Bible]
Note that in verse 4 the editors of this Bible version have put the words (penalty of the) in parentheses, for these words do not appear in Paul’s letter to the Romans. These are added to lead the reader to conclude that Paul had something different in mind here than he had elsewhere in this book when he wrote about the Law. Observe also that in verse 6 the phrase “penalty of the” appears again, but this time the editors failed to use parentheses to indicate that these words do not appear in the original manuscripts. The editors did the same thing in the following verse of Scripture.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the penalty of the Torah, but under grace? Let it not be!
The italics are mine. They point out that the italicized words do not exist in the original manuscripts. The great inconsistency in translating the Greek word “nomos” (Law) is revealed in the following verses.
6 But now we have been set free from the penalty of the Torah, having died to that in which we were held, so as for us to serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the instruction sin? Let it not be! But I did not know sin except through the Torah; for also I did not know lust except the Torah said, “You shall not lust.” (Ex. 20:17)
In these two verses the translators have rendered the same Greek word in three different ways:
the penalty of the Torah
This is an example of translation bias. It is the result of the translators overlaying their doctrinal beliefs on top of the Scriptures, resulting in a translation that is unfaithful to the original manuscripts. This is all the more serious because the group producing this Bible version has labeled it “A Literal Translation.” There is no evidence of having followed a “literal” translation method in these examples. The writers are adding words to the text that are not present, and they are rendering words inconsistently in passages where Paul consistently used the same Greek word.
Similar examples of translation bias are found when looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
16 knowing that a man is not justified by works of (Levitical) Law, but that it is through faith in Yahshua Messiah, we also believed into Messiah Yahshua, that we may be justified by faith in Messiah and not by works of (Levitical) Law, because all flesh will not be justified by works of Law. (Psa. 123:2)
[Hebraic Roots Bible]
The word “Levitical” is inserted here to make it appear that Paul is speaking of something different than the entirety of the Law delivered to Moses for all the people of God. Some groups that advocate the continuance of the authority of the Law in the life of the Christian divide the Law into various divisions, such as the moral law, the law for the Levitical priesthood, and the Law of sacrifices. They then contend that Paul had only that portion of the Law relating to the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices in mind when he spoke of the Christian no longer being under the law. They declare that the moral Law continues to exert authority over the believer. Such a suggestion is readily refuted from a careful examination of Paul’s writings.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
The part of the Law that says, “Thou shalt not covet” is neither the Levitical law, nor the law of sacrifices. It is the moral portion of the law. Indeed, these words are found in the Ten Commandments. It is this moral Law of which Paul declares, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
Brothers and sisters, these Bible translations ought to come with warning labels such as I have shown in the image at the head of this writing. The naive reader, or the Christian who will not stir himself up to examine all things carefully, will easily be led astray to embrace false doctrine by being unaware of the translation bias that is present.
Translation bias is not a new phenomenon. It has been present for thousands of years. In an earlier post I mentioned a Greek version of the Bible created by Theodotion that Origen included in the Hexapla. Theodotion was a Hellenistic Jewish scholar. He produced a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures around the year 150 A.D.. When Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate, discoursed with Augustine about the Septuagint, he referred to Theodotion in very unflattering terms. Jerome stated, “Origen borrowed the things which he has added from the edition of a man who, after the passion of Christ, was a Jew and a blasphemer.” It is Theodotion whom Jerome describes as “a Jew and a blasphemer,” for Theodotion denied that Yahshua was the Messiah. Theodotion was also accused of translating the Hebrew into Greek in such a way as to obscure the prophecies of the Messiah that seemed most to speak of Yahshua as the promised one. That is serious, and reprehensible, translation bias.
King James Bible
Perhaps the most widely known example of translation bias is that observed in the writing of the King James Bible. In giving the English translators the charge to produce a new Bible translation, King James listed 15 rules that the translators were to follow. Following are the first four rules delivered to the translators, and printed in all of the early copies of the King James Bible.
1. The ordinary Bible read in the church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.
2. The names of the prophets, and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained as near as may be, accordingly as they are vulgarly used.
3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, namely, as the word church not to be translated congregation &c.
4. When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent Fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of faith.
None of these rules express a motive to create an excellent and accurate translation of Bible in English. Rather, each of these rules manifest the bias of man. King James wanted to preserve that which was familiar, and in harmony with the orthodox practice and teachings of the Anglican Church. Rather than following a well devised naming convention that could have brought order to the confusion found in the Bishop’s Bible, the translators were told to keep that which was familiar and common (vulgar). The ecclesiastical (religious) words preferred by the Anglican church were also to be maintained. The Greek word “eklessia” was to be translated as “church” rather than “congregation.” The Greek word “baptizo” was not to be translated at all, for the word means “to fully submerge, or immerse” and the Anglican church practiced sprinkling. The word was transliterated instead of being translated. That is to say, it was carried over in its essentially Greek form rather than its proper meaning being given in English.
All of these rules put restrictions on the translators, hindering them from producing a Bible version that was integrally faithful to the existing Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. One of the more offensive examples of translation bias in the King James Bible is found in the following verse from the book of Acts.
And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
The Greek word being translated here is “Pascha,” which is properly translated as “Passover.” This Greek word occurs 29 times in the New Testament, and in 28 of its occurrences the KJV translators rendered it as “Passover.” There was no justifiable reason to translate the word “Pascha” as “Easter” here. Nevertheless, the Anglican Church held Easter as its highest holy day of the year, and it seemed expedient to have this holiday mentioned somewhere in the Bible, even if the translators had to insert the word where it did not belong. I do not know of another Bible version that has rendered the Greek word “Pascha” as “Easter.” Even the New King James Bible has corrected this verse to read “Passover.”
I could cite a great many more examples of translation bias, for there is not an English Bible version in existence that does not contain examples of this type of error. I do not suspect any malice, or evil intent, where most of this type of bias is found. It is the natural consequence of men translating according to their understanding and beliefs. Some translators have given a faithful rendering of a word into English even when they thought it was wrong or did not understand why a particular word was used, but the natural impulse of the human heart is to be faithful to what one believes.
It is needful for Christians to apply themselves to the study of the Scriptures, testing everything carefully. The prudent disciple of Christ will recognize the corrupting influence of man and apply themselves to dividing between that which is true and that which is false.