The extent to which the Bible contains spiritual parables has been little understood by Christians. This is true today even of seminary trained Bible scholars, and experts in the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages, men and women who are frequently employed in the work of Scripture translation. Because these individuals do not discern the multiple layers of revelation contained in the Scriptures, they do not perceive the damage they are doing when they paraphrase. When translators choose what they refer to as a “functionally equivalent” word or phrase, rather than being faithful to bring forth an “essentially literal” translation of the original Bible manuscript, they are stripping vast amounts of divine information from the text, information whose presence they have little suspected.
This matter is best expressed by use of an illustration. I have previously shared that Joshua, the man chosen by Yahweh to lead the Israelites into the land of their inheritance, is a type of the Son of God who bore the same name. Even as Joshua lead the Israelites into Canaan to take possession of their physical inheritance, the Son of God who bore the same name leads the saints to Zion to take possession of their spiritual inheritance. In the book Christ in You – The Hope of Glory, I have looked at a specific account from the life of Joshua, demonstrating that the details provided were chosen carefully by Yahweh to reveal a profound spiritual parable. Most Christians have been taught to only read such accounts as a narrative story of the history of God’s dealings with man. Readers may derive a moral application from the historic accounts of the Bible, but they seldom perceive that the passages contain veiled truths waiting to be discovered by those who are given spiritual insight.
Following is a partial excerpt from the aforementioned book in which I have demonstrated that every detail of the account of the crossing of the Jordan River is filled with divine revelation.
As Joshua (a type of Yahshua) led the people of God into their inheritance at the crossing of the Jordan River, we are given clear types of the first resurrection from the dead. The Promised Land serves as a type of the inheritance of the saints in Christ, which is their resurrected state in glory. Even as the Jordan had to be crossed, we have to cross over from death into life. Observe now the symbolism of this crossing.
And they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
The ark of the covenant stands as a symbol of the presence of God in His glory… (This glory was revealed in the Son who was the incarnation of the Father.)
Joshua commanded the priests to carry the ark into the waters of the Jordan, and all who followed were strictly charged to remain at a distance of about 2,000 cubits. Every detail of the word of God is pregnant with meaning. Yahshua would be the first man to cross into the inheritance prepared for the sons of God. It would be “about 2,000″ years before any others were to follow, entering into the same inheritance prepared for the saints in glory. The 2,000 cubits stand for 2,000 years. We should note, however, that it says “about 2,000,” for no one knows the hour or the day. We are not told that it would be precisely 2,000 years from the time of Yahshua’s resurrection to the time of the resurrection of His firstborn brothers. We are only told that it will be “about 2,000” years.
This is a marvelous testimony. Joshua is leading the people of God across the Jordan, signifying that we must all pass through the waters of death before entering into our spiritual inheritance. The ark, representing the presence of God revealed bodily in the person of the Messiah, went ahead of the people. They were told to remain at a distance of “about 2,000 cubits.”
This distance was not arrived at arbitrarily. It was commanded by Yahweh who does all things with great deliberation and divine purpose. He could have told the people to stay back 1,000 cubits, or 5,000 cubits, but He did not. He could have commanded the people to surround the Ark as they did when they were camped in the wilderness. Doing so, however, would not have communicated the spiritual parable that Yahweh had purposed. The distance was set by Yahweh to prophesy of His Son being the first to cross through the waters of death and then to enter into His glorious inheritance. Yahshua would be the first to enter into ruling and reigning with the Father, but there would be a much more numerous company of overcoming sons who would one day join Him. These are those sons who attain to the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
There is a distance in time between Christ’s ascension to the throne, and those who attain to the first resurrection from the dead. The distance is “about 2,000″ years, even as the ark and the Israelites were separated by “about 2,000 cubits.” To understand more on this subject, I recommend the book from which the above excerpt was taken.
It is very important that our Bibles faithfully reproduce the words and details of the original manuscripts, for any alteration of the text will tend to obscure the spiritual insight contained therein. Consider now, how the following Bible translations have rendered this passage from the book of Joshua.
When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
[New International Version]
“When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them. Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about a half mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don’t come any closer.”
[New Living Translation]
“When you see the Covenant-Chest of God, your God, carried by the Levitical priests, start moving. Follow it. Make sure you keep a proper distance between you and it, about half a mile — be sure now to keep your distance! — and you’ll see clearly the route to take. You’ve never been on this road before.”
[THE MESSAGE Bible]
Each of these versions cited are examples of a new breed of Bibles that are known as “dynamic equivalent translations.” The word “dynamic” signifies that which is living, and changing. The opposite of the word dynamic is static, which indicates that something is fixed and unchanging. There are many proponents of the dynamic equivalent model of Bible translation. Their main goal is to make the Bible “relevant” and “understandable” to the masses. Being ignorant of the depth of information Yahweh has encoded in every word of Scripture, these translators are effectually covering up, obscuring, and bringing wholesale alteration, to the spiritual mysteries Yahweh has hidden in His word.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
The Bible contains tens of thousands of these types of symbolic details. A man could spend his entire life mining for hidden truth, seeking to unveil the mysteries of Yahweh’s word, and only skim the surface of all that lies therein.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
Dynamic equivalent translations, although easier to read and understand, do not contain all the information Yahweh chose to communicate through His holy prophets. They end up being like a Cliffs Notes version of the Bible. These translations are focused only on the surface account, giving no heed to that which lies beneath. Christianity today is very shallow in its comprehension of spiritual truth. Human reasoning and mental apprehension have largely replaced a focus upon divine inspiration. Most Christians see only that which human reasoning can disclose to them. The mysteries of God which can be grasped only through divine revelation and spiritual enlightenment remain hidden from their sight.
Returning to the two verses in the book of Joshua that we have looked at, we can see that the divine intent has been missed by these modern paraphrases. The words “about 1,000 yards,” and “about a half mile” do not contain the same information as the words “about 2,000 cubits.” Although these substitutions may be functionally equivalent on a surface level, denoting a similar distance of space, they are not equivalent at the many deeper levels in which Yahweh communicates truth selectively to those who are granted insight. Yahweh hides truth that His sons and daughters might search it out. However, in a dynamic equivalent translation, much of this hidden information is no longer present. These types of translations transform the Bible into something that appears good on the surface, but which has no depth underneath. That so many have cast off literal translations of the Bible to embrace paraphrastic translations is an indictment upon the shallow state of the body of Christ in this hour of apostasy.
The many books and writings I have made available to the body of Christ are filled with hundreds of examples of the parables hidden in Yahweh’s word. In my studies of the Scriptures, I have always relied upon a class of Bibles that are described as “essentially literal translations,” or “formal equivalency” translations, terms which are used interchangeably. These Bibles preserve the information contained in the original autographs of the Scriptures. An essentially literal Bible translation makes only those alterations to the text that are necessary to adapt the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into a modern language. These changes are generally minor, consisting in the rearrangement of words, the addition of punctuation, and the addition of words that render the text more readable, such as inserting the definite article “the” before a noun. Many of these essentially literal translations indicate where such words have been added, often by printing the added word in italics.
Because essentially literal translations strive to reproduce the original text of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles faithfully, with a minimum of alteration, there is a high correspondence between them. Leland Ryken, in his book The Word of God in English demonstrates the correspondence between essentially literal translations by citing a portion of I Thessalonians 1:3. He begins by citing four essentially literal versions of the Bible.
“… your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” (KJV).
“…your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (RSV).
“…your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB).
“…your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV).
You will note that these four translations are nearly identical, for they have held to a philosophy of translation that encourages fidelity to the original manuscripts. In contrast, Leland Ryken includes the following four dynamic equivalent Bible renderings of the same text.
“…your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV, TNIV).
“…how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm” (GNB).
“…your faithful work, your loving deeds, and your continual anticipation of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NLT).
“…your faith and loving work and…your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (CEV).
These four translations not only differ from the essentially literal Bible versions, but they vary widely from one another. Each of the dynamic equivalent translations insert explanatory words and phrases not found in the original manuscripts. Very often, these explanations are subjective, introducing error that leads the reader away from the actual thought of the author. The more loosely a translation treats faithfulness to the original text, the more divine information is lost, or obscured.
Following is a graphic listing many of the well known English translation Bibles, placing them on a scale from the most literal to those that take the most liberties with the text.
(Click on image to view larger)
This graphic, created by Brent MacDonald, notes which Bibles have adopted gender neutral language, which Bibles include the Apocrypha, and the approximate reading grade level of the Bibles. The reading skill level varies from third or fourth grade for the Easy to Read Version and the New International Readers Version, to twelfth grade reading level for The Amplified Bible, and grade 13 for the KJV. This higher reading level for the King James Bible is largely due to its employment of archaic words that have fallen out of common usage.
(Note: I am personally hesitant to place The Amplified Bible so high on the scale of literal translations, for as its name implies, it “amplifies” the original text, adding many explanatory words to bring out the fuller meaning of the Scriptures. I do find The Amplified Bible to be a valuable resource, however, and I refer to it frequently.)
I have found the New American Standard Bible version to be a much better translation for study than the New International Version, or far looser translations such as The Message. Yet, even the NASB translators have failed to maintain fidelity to the original Hebrew and Greek in a great many instances. There are no “perfect” Bible translations today. I have not even found one that I would describe as “excellent.” There are some good Bible versions, but all of them contain errors, many of which are serious, and all have strayed from the original manuscripts in numerous places. Consider the following example from the New American Standard Bible which is rated as one of the more literal English Bibles.
And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.
The writers of the New Testament did not express distances in miles. In the verse above, the Greek manuscripts use the word “stadia,” a common measure in Roman times. Stadium is the singular form of this Roman word, and stadia is plural. The English equivalent of the Roman stadia is the furlong which equates to 606.14 feet, or 185 meters. The passage above from Luke’s gospel actually records that the distance between Emmaus and Jerusalem is about “60 stadia.”
I do not believe there is a number found anywhere in Scripture that does not bear some divine significance. It is therefore inadvisable for translators to alter the text of the Bible using modern measurements that will change the numbers Yahweh has inspired holy men to record. The NAS Bible states that the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus is about “seven miles.” The number seven is nowhere to be found in the Greek manuscripts. The only number given is “hexekonta,” which translates as “sixty.” Only a translator who does not perceive that every detail of Scripture is significant would place so little emphasis upon rendering every word as literally and accurately as possible.
I am sympathetic to the fact that a literal translation is more difficult to understand, but it is the only form of translation that preserves the divine mysteries and manifold parables contained in holy writ. I believe a better translation policy would have rendered Luke 24:13 accurately as “sixty stadia” while adding a parenthetic comment stating that this distance equates to seven miles. Following is another example of this type of translation error that is found in the New American Standard Bible.
And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.
Are we to believe that angels measure things in miles and yards? This is what this English Bible version would lead one to believe. To be quite accurate, there is no mention of miles or yards in the Greek text from which these words were translated. Neither will you find the numbers “fifteen hundred” or seventy-two” in these verses. The literal measurements given are “12,000 stadia” for the length, width, and height of the city, and “144 cubits” for the wall. Without question the numbers 12,000 and 144 were chosen by Yahweh for the design of the New Jerusalem because of their divine significance.
Consider now, how The Amplified Bible conveys this matter. It both preserves the literalness of the translation, as well as including parenthetical explanations.
The city lies in a square, its length being the same as its width. And he measured the city with his reed–12,000 stadia (about 1,500 miles); its length and width and height are the same. He measured its wall also–144 cubits (about 72 yards) by a man’s measure [of a cubit from his elbow to his third fingertip], which is [the measure] of the angel.
(I will insert what I intend to be a helpful note here. As I have been writing this series, some have noted that I have made mention of particular Bible translations as being above average in some aspect of their translation policy. For example, I have mentioned that The Scriptures published by the Institute for Scripture Research does an admirable job with its naming conventions. This is not a minor point, and it provides some reason to give attention to this Bible translation. At the same time, I commented that there are other translation policies adopted by The Scriptures’ editors that I find to detract from its overall usefulness. The bias against certain words such as “holy,” and “Lord,” and the editorial explanations that state that Christians continue to be subject to the Law of Moses, are but a few examples of that which detracts from the overall value of this Bible translation.
Some may take my favorable mention of various translation policies of The Amplified Bible as another endorsement, and be inclined to run out and purchase this Bible version. You will no doubt find much benefit in adding this translation to your study resources, but it too has shortcomings. Not all parenthetical explanations are as objective as the ones found in the passage from Revelations above. It is no more than a statement of fact to say that 12,000 stadia equates to “(about 1,500 miles).” Nevertheless, a great many of the parenthetical explanations found in The Amplified Bible are subjective. Such is the case in the following Scripture.
For sin shall not [any longer] exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law [as slaves], but under grace [as subjects of God’s favor and mercy].
The words “as slaves” which are found in brackets are not found in the Greek text of the New Testament. These are explanatory words of the editors intended to amplify the meaning of the passage. These explanatory words can, and often do, change the entire meaning of a passage. They can also limit a reader to perceiving only one narrow understanding of a Scripture, rather than opening their spirit to multiple shades of meaning.
In Romans 6:14 the apostle Paul is stating without any equivocation that Christians are “not under Law.” He does not mean to state that they are still under Law, but not under Law as slaves. Because of the added words “as slaves,” some would understand this verse to mean that Paul is stating that Christians are not bound to a slavish subservience to the Law, but they still remain under the Law. The addition of various explanatory words placed in The Amplified Bible can lead the reader to erroneous conclusions.
* The subject of the Law, its role and duration, is an important one, but it is beyond the scope of this book to address it. I would refer any interested readers to the book Laying Down the Law.
Some of the bracketed and parenthetical comments found in The Amplified Bible are truly helpful, but they must all be tested carefully. Whenever men begin to expound upon the meaning of the Bible there is the possibility of error.
What I wish to convey is that whereas I find certain editorial and translation policies of individual Bible versions to be excellent, I have not found any Bible version to be free of error, or editorial bias. I believe there is value in studying from multiple translations of the Bible. I am not seeking to endorse any single Bible version as an exceptional resource to be studied exclusively.)
It now seems a good point for me to interject that although I find that dynamically equivalent translations degrade the overall value of the Bible by rendering void much of the divine information contained therein, I still believe this class of Bibles can be of benefit in certain situations. They may be helpful to a new believer, or to a child, who is at the elementary levels of spiritual or scholastic learning. They may also be of use to more advanced students of the Scriptures who wish to compare various translations to glean from different perspectives on the meaning of Bible passages. Dynamic equivalency Bible translations should not be relied upon exclusively, however, nor for too long, for to do so will hinder the apprehension of divine truth.
If you are beginning to perceive that there are a large number of problems in every English Bible existent today, and that none of them approach perfection, then this series is achieving one of its purposes. I desire that Christians would understand that even as the church is leavened with error, deception, and that which is false, yet the Holy Spirit is present to lead a remnant of God’s people to spiritual maturity, so too the failings of our English Bible translations can be overcome as we look to the Spirit of Christ as our tutor. Yahshua stated:
“It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you… I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.”
Yahweh did not promise that a flawless Bible translation would be preserved for His people to study anymore than He promised that the church would be pure and spotless and free of error in this age. What He did promise is that He would send us His Spirit to guide us into all truth. The Spirit is able to disclose to us truth and error, both in the church and in the Bible versions we read. We must apply ourselves in both cases to discerning between that which is true and that which is false. We must study, while always inviting the Spirit of Christ to open our eyes and our minds to discern both truth and error.