Posts Tagged ‘Bible Translations’

On Bible (Manuscript) Contradictions: Number Differences, and Major Differences (Judges 19:2)

December 27, 2021 5 comments

In apologetics study, one focus is on addressing the skeptics’ claims of supposed “Bible contradictions,” and here I appreciate such blogs as the “Domain for Truth” series answering the skeptics to show that such supposed conflicts are not actually conflicts when we correctly understand the meanings of words, such as in genealogies and direct descendants versus multiple-generation ones:  the Bible languages did not have differing words for “son” versus “grandson” or “great-grandson” as we have in English, for instance.

But another area of contradictions, that I have recently looked at, is that of textual variant contradictions:  where one set of manuscripts has one word, and other manuscripts have a different word, and a real contradiction exists, in that the two differing meanings cannot both be true, and are mutually exclusive.  This comes up especially when reading the King James text as compared to modern English translations, and interacting with KJVO people.  Most of these differences are relatively minor; yet some feel that even a number count difference is worth some study time and then writing about — insisting that the number in one manuscript is correct, over the other number; as for example in Luke 10:1 and 17, did Jesus send out 72, or 70, to preach?  An online article that addresses this 72/70 question then concludes that “The King James Bible is always right. Accept no substitutes.”

It’s well and good to put forth reasons and good logical arguments in support of one particular view over another (72 instead of 70).  But then consider the following other textual problem in the KJV/NKJV and MEV (all based on same manuscript sets):  in these translations, 2 Chronicles 22:2 states that Ahaziah was 42 years old when he became king.  However, the same KJV/NKJV/MEV in the parallel passage, 2 Kings 8:26, state his age as 22 years old; in fairness to the MEV and NKJV, both of these translations add the footnote of  the parallel text 2 Kings 8:26, “twenty-two.”  These same three texts agree in 2 Chronicles 21:5, 20, that Ahaziah’s father Jehoram was 32 when he became king, and reigned 8 years — meaning that he was about 40 when he died, and his short life is noted as the result of God’s judgement upon him for his great wickedness.

The obvious way to understand this is that Ahaziah was 22 years old, not 42 (which would put him at 2 years older than his own father!), but the KJV/NKJV/MEV retained their faithfulness to a specific set of manuscripts – even retaining this obvious number error found in a particular set of manuscripts of 2 Chronicles 22.  But to insist, after examination of a different text such as Luke 10, that ‘the King James Bible is always right,’ goes beyond what ought to be claimed; clearly the King James translation, by its limiting to only certain manuscripts, does include errors such as in 2 Chronicles 22:2.

But aside from the small differences such as numbers, there are at least a few Bible texts where even one word in differing manuscript sets makes a great difference in the understanding of that text.  One example I recently encountered was Judges 19:2, and the word which describes the woman — in some manuscripts, as “played the harlot,” others “was unfaithful”, while others have “became angry.”  According to one version of the story, the wording in KJV and similar translations, this woman had been a-whoring with one or more men in sexual immorality.  Further, according to some Bible teachers (including, for instance, the MacArthur Study Bible notes) — and going beyond even what that version of the text says — the Levite should never have married her in the first place because she was already a harlot before he married her.  This view then sees a type of divine retribution, lex talionis, in that the woman at the end experienced what she had previously done in her own sin.  From the Matthew Henry commentary, as one such example:

(Referring to the woman returning to her father’s house): Perhaps she would not have violated her duty to her husband if she had not known too well where she should be kindly received. Children’s ruin is often owing very much to parents’ indulgence.  …

Many bring mischief of this kind upon themselves by their loose carriage and behaviour; a little spark may kindle a great fire. …  In the miserable end of this woman, we may see the righteous hand of God punishing her for her former uncleanness, when she played the whore against her husband, v. 2. Though her father had countenanced her, her husband had forgiven her, and the fault was forgotten now that the quarrel was made up, yet God remembered it against her when he suffered these wicked men thus wretchedly to abuse her; how unrighteous soever they were in their treatment of her, in permitting it the Lord was righteous. Her punishment answered her sin, Culpa libido fuit, poena libido fuit—Lust was her sin, and lust was her punishment. By the law of Moses she was to have been put to death for her adultery. She escaped that punishment from men, yet vengeance pursued her; for, if there was no king in Israel, yet there was a God in Israel, a God that judgeth in the earth.

The other meaning of the word in Judges 19:2, became angry, of course gives us a very different view of this same text.  The narrative itself, outside of that phrase in verse 2, says nothing that would suggest that the woman was a harlot — no mention of any other man or men; the husband actually comes to her trying to win her back, only to later — when his own life was in peril — send her out to the mob, and then the next morning addressed her casually, a ‘let’s go’ attitude.  Certainly in any other setting — without the meaning given in some manuscripts in verse 2 — the narrative suggests instead a man of poor character, with a bad-temper, similar to what is observed in our day the social situation of an abusive man who regrets his bad temper after the fact and comes to the injured party (such as the abused wife) promising that it won’t happen again; and then after some time, the bad temper does return — when things aren’t going well, the old nature resurfaces.

Other articles have addressed this specific passage in more detail, regarding the two possible meanings of 19:2, such as this post written for general audience.  In my online searching I also came across a 17 page (PDF-format) academic paper,  “Was the Levite’s Concubine Unfaithful or Angry? A Proposed Solution to the Text Critical Problem in Judges 19:2,” which looks at the details of the different manuscript sets, and sets forth a case that the original and earliest wording was “and she was furious with him,” which at later points in time was changed to the rendering in the MT (and KJV group) of ‘played the harlot.’  The Abstract:

Judges 19:2 poses a text critical problem that has vexed scholars for over a century. According to the MT, the Levite’s concubine left her husband and returned to her father’s house in Bethlehem because she had “played the harlot against him.” According to LXXA , the woman left her husband because she was “angry with him.” However, no other Greek, Latin or Aramaic variant of the verse supports MT or LXXA. This article proposes a new hypothesis for understanding the relationship among the various textual variants of Judg 19:2. It will be argued that the earliest Vorlage used the verb עבר in the hitpa‘el form which has the meaning “to be furious”. This Vorlage is reflected in LXXA . Later scribes then read the verb עבר in the qal form that has multiple meanings that depend on context. LXXB translated the verb in Greek with the meaning of “to move on”. In contrast, Pseudo-Philo interpreted the verb with the meaning of “to transgress”. The MT, which emended “to transgress” to “to play the harlot”, represents the final stage in the redaction process.

Manuscript contradictions is an interesting topic, with differences that sometimes can have major interpretive differences.  As the scholarly paper linked above notes in the introduction: Was the woman unfaithful to her husband or did she become angry with him? Clearly, a story that revolves around a common place conjugal disagreement is a very different narrative than a story that describes the consequences of a woman’s adultery and abandonment of her husband. …. The relationship among the various textual variants of this verse has interested scholars for over a century.

All such contradictions, of course, must be taken on a case by case basis by looking at the various English translations as well as any other texts that reference the same person or event (if such are available), as well as considering the different manuscripts and the actual sense and context of a narrative passage.

The Early English Reformation (Carl Trueman Reformation Series)

January 9, 2015 4 comments

In Carl Trueman’s Reformation series (see previous post), I am now going through the English Reformation section, and again pleased with the level of detail not found in most church history series.

Aside from the well-known facts about England’s Reformation – the basics about John Wycliffe as the “morning star” of the Reformation, and the political event of King Henry VIII’s desire for the pope to grant a divorce, Trueman fills in many more details for the overall background of that Reformation. A starting question, a “debate” among scholars, concerns the issue of how much of the English Reformation was done from the top-down imposed on the people, versus how much came from the grass-roots level of the people influenced by Wycliffe (the Lollards). The short answer is that we really don’t know the full extent of Lollardy among the people, though some areas of it have been researched. We can look at the statements in people’s wills, since in medieval times these usually included Catholic wording with reference to Mary and other saints, etc.; but not everyone wrote wills, so we don’t have that large of a sample. We can also look at cases of heresy trials. But not everyone who was tried for heresy was actually part of any organized “Lollard” type movement; some may have simply had great hatred for the Pope or his bishops or even the local priest. We do have record of “sporadic but significant” Lollard influence, including in Trueman’s home area of Gloucestershire, as well as in Kent and in the mid-lands.

As for Wycliffe himself, though he correctly understood basic Christian doctrine including justification by faith, he also advocated what is now called “Erastianism” (named for 16th century Thomas Erastus): an idea also advocated by Italian city-states during the later Middle Ages, that local government should rule over the church (though instead of the Catholic Pope). Wycliffe defined the church as the sum total of all the elect; then, in agreement with the medieval teaching, taught that no one could have assurance of their salvation, no one could know if they were of the elect – and therefore the Pope himself could not know if he was predestined and therefore the Pope could not know for certain if he was a member of the church – and therefore the Pope could not claim any powers related to the church.

England’s early “proto-Reformation” of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, including the lay preaching and the Wycliffe Bible translation in the hands of the Lollards, led to a negative association for the government officials: Bible translation equals political radicalism. The result was a delay in official English translations, and translations from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, until relatively late. Germany had its first German translation of the Bible in 1466 without any political controversy, while England’s first official translation, authorized and from the original Hebrew and Greek, did not come until 1539 (the “Great Bible” Coverdale, three years after Tyndale was martyred).

England’s first experience of the 16th century Reformation began in the 1520s and 1530s with the radical Anabaptist groups, as well as with a gathering of intellectuals at Cambridge: the White Horse Inn reading group. Unlike today’s popular online radio show and ministry website of that same name, the original White Horse Inn was not exclusively or particularly Protestant but more humanist, with the influence of Erasmus during his years there; the group included a few later “semi-Protestants” including Thomas Bilney, who came to a basic understanding of justification by faith yet still affirmed the Pope’s authority, the Mass and transubstantiation, yet was burned at the stake as a Protestant in August 1531. Protestant members of this group included Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who would later be martyred together on the same stake. However, a few members of the White Horse Inn would become the ardent Catholic defenders against the Protestants in the 1550s.

From the top-down side of England’s Reformation, Trueman points out the history of England’s political view of national sovereignty versus the Pope, including many laws passed by England’s parliament in the 14th century against the promotion of papal laws and authority – laws sometimes worded quite vaguely so as to allow the English government to reject whichever laws introduced by the Pope that they disliked. Another interesting fact: the men that Henry VIII recruited for assistance with his legal problems with the Pope, came from the White Horse Inn group.


Proverbs 22:6: A Positive Promise, Or A Threat?

June 29, 2012 3 comments

After getting sidetracked for a while with another book, I’ve returned to finish the last part of Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs book (reviewed previously here), including the lengthy section of appendices.  Appendix 3 discusses a rather interesting textual issue, from which I’ve learned that sometimes even when we study a verse in several good English translations, we don’t always have the correct meaning of the original Bible verse.

Proverbs 22:6 in all English translations (at least all the major and not so major ones I’ve checked), conveys a different meaning from the original Hebrew.  Here it is in the ESV:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

As Phillips points out, that verse has come to be seen as a promise for Christian parents, a verse cherished by many believers.  If the parents bring up the child in the right way, in a good Christian home, the child will grow up in that good way and become a believer.  Some parents even take this as a promise and thus a guarantee; others at least recognize that the Proverbs, including this one, are general principles and not guarantees, but they still interpret the verse in a positive way as expressed in English Bibles.  I have come across a few homeschool Christian parents (with children still fairly young) that indeed have expressed the first view (promise, guarantee) regarding God and their family; when questioned, they have reasoned that if the child turns out bad, the parent must have failed that child in some way.  Elsewhere in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, Phillips also addresses that error, showing that Proverbs as well as the overall Bible sets blame sometimes on the parents, but sometimes on the wayward child.  After all, if the parents are 100% to blame for the child’s actions, then how could the law of Moses command that a rebellious adult child be stoned?  If parents were always at fault, surely the law would also stipulate that the parents be stoned.

The full chapter of material describes in more detail the actual Hebrew and a DJV-translation (Dan Phillips’ literal translation). In summary, the Hebrew text does not include the modifier of “should go,” and the referent for “way” is not stated but very likely is not “God’s way” but “his,” the child’s, way.  A very literal translation of the Hebrew is: Initiate for (with respect to) the child on the mouth of (according to) his way; even when he is old he will not turn from it. Understood this way, Proverbs 22:6 is really more of a threat of the bad way; a child brought up in his own way (of folly), will never depart from that way.

As I consider from overall principles of interpretation, we should not depend on any single verse for a particular doctrine.  As Spurgeon said so well, the ideas expressed in one place are found elsewhere in the Bible, so that our overall understanding does not rise or fall with a particular verse.  So here I note that my Bible software program, TheWord, cross-references Ephesians 6:4 as a similar  idea to the English-version of Proverbs 22:6:   Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Yet the point made in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is well taken, that we really cannot use Proverbs 22:6 as either a guarantee or general principle regarding bringing up children in a Christian home.  As to why all the English versions have this incorrect translation, the sad but true reality is tradition, going back to the original KJV translation.  Even modern translators have some reluctance to go against the trend when a particular rendering is well known and popular.

I’ve recently been using Google’s Translate service, which appears fairly accurate for at least the Latin and Greek-based languages (though lacking in its ability to translate from Oriental languages to English), and a useful website which includes online Bible text in numerous languages.  From perusal of the foreign-language versions of Proverbs 22:6, the different renderings perhaps point to the history of translation into those various languages.  Interestingly enough, the Latin vulgate has a more accurate rendering.  Here is a sampling of the Google-translations of several foreign-language Bibles, that agree with the original Hebrew meaning:

  •  Train up a child in the way even when he is old he will not depart from it – Latin Vulgate
  • As you get used to a boy, so he does not like when he grows old. – German (Luther) into English
  • Raises the boy under the rule of his way even when he grows old he will not depart from the point. – French Darby
  • Train up a child in the way of his, he will not depart from it, and when old. – Russian
    Train up a child in the way of his, that he, as he is old, does not depart from it – Afrikaans
    Train up a child in the way he, even when old, they will not depart from it. — Hungarian

On the other hand, a few of the European languages follow the KJV example:  Portugese, Norwegian, Bulgarian and Albanian, for instance.

My new ESV Large Print Bible

January 13, 2010 Comments off

I now have a new hardcover Bible, an ESV large print, ordered from Amazon after Christmas.

After reading the ESV translation on the computer (in my Bible software “The Word”), it is nice to now have the ESV in a portable format.  My previous Bibles, bought in my early Christian years around 1990, are NIV text:  a hardcover NIV Topical Study Bible, and the NIV Study Bible.  Both of these books are adequate, but I now have greater appreciation for the ESV text and footnotes; and sometimes those study notes can get in the way of reading the text.  Last year when I first tried reading my Horner Bible Reading lists using my NIV Topical Study Bible (because of its larger print size), I grew weary of some of the “notes” (I think in the prophets section) that associated the OT prophecies with fulfillment in the Church Age.

At this point, my MacArthur Bible Commentary has all the study notes I need.  I’m not so interested in other study bibles, but just wanted a “basic bible” without other people’s commentary on it.  At first I considered standard print ESV Bibles, but I’ve noticed that I prefer expanding the text on the computer screen, and that when I read my NIV Study Bible I need my glasses to read the smaller print.  I found a webpage that lists all the ESV editions published, along with their font sizes.  The large print is a 12.75 point size, which actually is smaller than the standard “large print” definition of 14 point — but very readable, similar to standard non-Bible books.  As I learned, standard type for Bibles is around 7 or 7.5 points.  No wonder I have problems reading that, as compared to common fiction and non-fiction books published nowadays.

Many others have said far more about the details of translation, favoring ESV over others, or favoring some other version, and I don’t wish to belabor the point here.  As one who had only been familiar with NIV, the ESV took some getting used to.  For instance, where the NIV would say “firstborn” the ESV says something about that which comes first out of the womb.  However, two specific items in the ESV translation especially prompted the switch from NIV.  The footnotes in Job 40 and 41 — texts describing animals very much like the modern understanding of dinosaurs — are at least honest.  Whereas the NIV footnotes actually suggests animals (such as the crocodile), the ESV simply says “a large animal, exact identity unknown.”  The second item is the correct translation of Galatians 6:16 — “and upon the Israel of God.”  As many others are no doubt aware, the NIV translation alone renders that “even.”  I first learned of this while listening to Jim McClarty’s Eschatology series (the Greek is the same basic word “kai” which means “and”) and since then from others, regarding the Israel and Church distinction.  Church replacement advocates will cite the NIV of Galatians 6:16 as a type of proof for a case where Israel could also refer to the church.  Just this morning in my S. Lewis Johnson message (about Baalam’s first prophecy), he mentioned the very unsatisfactory NIV translation of Galatians 6:16, noting that he had written up a paper about the matter, and planned to send them his paper in the hopes of changing that in the NIV:

So at any rate, I hope that we will live to see the day in which that particular rendering is transformed.  The NIV likes to let people know and Ken Barker is now the man who is in charge of their work.  They like to let others know that if you see some rendering of the NIV that is wrong, you should write them and give them reasons for it.  And ultimately I am going to send them a copy of my paper and hope that maybe he will come to his senses and change that particular rendering.

I wonder if he ever did.  That was in 1985, and the NIV still says what it said then.

“The Prince to Come” and a KJV Translation Error

January 11, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been reading through Sir Robert Anderson’s “The Prince to Come“, which is interesting reading — if not always easy reading, due to the more cumbersome 19th century writing style.  Some parts are rather dry, such as his detailed calculations concerning different calendars and the refinements to different degrees of the lunar cycle.  Still, he does emphasize the importance of literal, natural interpretation of scripture, and puts forth a strong case concerning understanding of Daniel’s 70 weeks.

Yet in reading through chapter VII I found the following supposed inconsistency in the Bible:

According to the book of Kings, Solomon began to build the temple in the 480th year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt. (1 Kings 6:1) This statement, than which none could, seemingly, be more exact, has sorely puzzled chronologers. By some it has been condemned as a forgery, by others it has been dismissed as a blunder; but all have agreed in rejecting it. Moreover, Scripture itself appears to clash with it. In his sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:18-21) St. Paul epitomizes thus the chronology of this period of the history of his nation: forty years in the wilderness; 450 years under the judges, and forty years of the reign of Saul; making a total of 530 years. To which must be added the forty years of David’s reign and the first three years of Solomon’s; making 573 years for the very period which is described in Kings as 480 years. Can these conclusions, apparently so inconsistent, be reconciled?

The text in 1 Kings is straightforward enough, but when I looked up Acts 13:17-20 in my own Bibles, the text clearly assigns the 450 years to the time BEFORE the judges and kings period.  As such, Paul’s account makes perfect sense and aligns with the Old Testament texts that reference these years.  first, 400 years in Egypt,  then 40 years in the wilderness, followed by 10 years of Joshua’s campaigns to take over the land.  The time of the judges and kings clearly follows AFTER the 450 years.

ESV, Acts 13:17-20:

The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then ithey asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.

Other modern translations agree with this —  as does my Bible software’s “DRC” (direct translation from the Latin Vulgate to English), which reads:

17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they were sojourners in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought them out from thence, 18 And for the space of forty years endured their manners in the desert. 19 And destroying seven nations in the land of Chanaan, divided their land among them, by lot, 20 As it were, after four hundred and fifty years: and after these things, he gave unto them judges, until Samuel the prophet.

Only the King James Version, and the Geneva Bible from a generation before it, render Acts 13:17-20 in the manner described by Sir Robert Anderson:

The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it.  18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. 19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot.  20 And after that he gave [unto them] judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.

In fairness, Sir Robert Anderson, living in the late 19th century, had no other English translations to consult.  Accordingly, he then tries to make sense of this “discrepancy” by some discussion about how the extra years mean that the Israelites came out of Egypt in the 16th century B.C. (not the mid-15th century B.C.), and the extra years were not included in 1 Kings, because those were years when God gave His people over to foreign rule, years that Paul counted but were not officially counted in the 1 Kings 6 text.  He puts this forth as a precedent for having a gap between two sets of periods of years.  Yet as he later goes on to say, such a precedent is not even required because of other texts that clearly and directly tell us there must be a time gap (between the 69th and 70th week).

Here, though, I only note an obvious, yet strange (to me), translation error in the King James text — and a challenge to the KJV-only crowd, who would insist that only the King James translation is accurate.  No doubt others are more aware of the translation problems and can answer this one, as to WHY the King James Version has Paul attributing the 450 years to the time of the judges and kings, when it makes far more sense to understand that the 450 years refers to the time in Egypt, the wilderness, and Joshua’s day.  For one thing, those years do add up to 450 years, to agree with several other Old Testament texts that refer to those years — texts such as in Genesis where Abraham was told that his descendants would be in Egypt for 400 years, and the year number statements given in Exodus, Joshua and 1 Kings.