By R. J. Rushdoony
January 01, 2005
The publication of a new translation of the Bible should be an occasion for rejoicing. The availability of Scripture in a new language, or a fresh rendering in “modern dress” for people already possessing the Bible, can be of great importance in propagating the faith. The faith, this indeed is the central motive in many contemporary versions, but by no means all. At least two other motives are important factors on the contemporary scene: first, a financial motive and, second, an anti-Christian religious motive.
The Profit in Bibles
A profit motive is, in its place, a godly aspect of life, by no means to be condemned unless it transgresses the laws of God. Without faith, every aspect of life is under condemnation, all life then is out of focus, and things, in themselves pure, become impure in the hands of the ungodly.
As is well known, the Bible is the consistent best seller. The annual sale of millions of copies makes it therefore a phenomenal sales item. Its potentiality as a moneymaker is thus enormous, almost staggering to the economically minded imagination. But one very serious drawback exists: the Bible, in its most popular English form, the King James Version, is not subject to copyright. Any publisher can print it and enter into a highly competitive field where the margin of profit must be kept very low for competitive reasons. The handicaps thus are very real, although several publishers have regularly counted on their Bible sales for assured profits. Is it any wonder, therefore, that publishers, among others, have come to recognize the tremendous potentialities of a copyrighted Bible?
A copyrighted Bible is thus a major bonanza to publishers and a financial and prestigious asset to scholars participating as translators and editors. Not every new translation has been a moneymaking scheme, but many of them have clearly had this motive as among their central ones. It is no wonder that new versions are thus often front-page news; the advertising and promotion behind a major version makes it a financial asset to many media. Possession of a copyright is again a major affair and, in one recent case, was a subject of legal battle.
Thus, the Revised Standard Version is copyrighted by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and first published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in New York, Toronto, and Edinburgh. Because many evangelicals regarded this version as “modernist” in character, in 1962, a “study” edition was put out by the A. J. Holman Company of Philadelphia, with 59 evangelical scholars giving their evangelical “imprimatur” to it by means of brief introductions and articles.
The unstated fact is that, with every copy and every edition, the profit goes to the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. The National Council has thus a source of income now entirely apart from any donations by member churches. It has an invested interest in a particular Bible. The use of this Bible is thus promoted in a variety of circles. It is used for responsive readings in hymnals and in Sunday school lessons. The Holman Study Bible was given away as a subscription premium by Christianity Today, ostensibly a voice of evangelical Christianity.
“New Bibles” are big money and their by-products are likewise profitable. They are used in newer commentaries by permission to further their popularity and concordances suggest their durability. With all the money at stake in new versions, is it any wonder that people are urged, to their confusion, to believe in the necessity for new versions?
Revision, Translation, or Paraphrase?
It might be well to note here a further area of confusion. The Revised Standard Version claims to be a revision of the King James Version, i.e., not a new translation but merely the King James corrected and modernized. Oswald T. Allis, in Revision or New Translation (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948), has called attention to the fact that it is closer often to a new translation by unconservative scholars. In Recent Revised Versions, Dr. Allis extended his critique to the New English Bible.
New translations, moreover, tend to follow radical readings of erroneous or “wastebasket” texts in preference to standard readings. With each new version, the number of departures from the Received Text is steadily increasing. The sales value of these new versions, judging by some promotional material, seems to depend on new and novel readings. There is, in the minds of some buyers at least, a premium on newness and on departures from the “old Bible.” With some, there is almost a hopeful note that the newer Bibles might gradually convert “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to “Thou shalt commit adultery”! New versions, of various qualities of good and bad, are purchased by many persons almost as fetish objects and remain unread.
But many of the new versions are not translation. They are paraphrases. What is the difference? A translation is an exact and literal rendering of the original Greek or Hebrew into English. A paraphrase tries to put the original thought into modern thought forms. One of the most popular liberal paraphrasers today is J. B. Phillips. A paraphrase can be a very valuable help at times, but it can never substitute for a translation. Thus, Edgar J. Goodspeed renders Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as “Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need.” This is brilliant and telling; it gives us a vivid grasp of the meaning, but unfortunately Goodspeed, while giving us a few such gems, also neutralizes many of the basic theological terms of the New Testament with weak paraphrases.
The King James Version is not a paraphrase. It is both a revision of earlier translations in part and a new translation in its day.
One of the charges consistently leveled against the King James Version is that its language is archaic and obsolete. The answer is a simple one: it is intended to be. In 1611 the King James Version was as “out of date” as it is today. Compare the writings of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, King James I, and John Lyly with the King James Version and this becomes quickly apparent. The translators avoided the speech of their day for a basic English which would be simple, timeless, and beautiful, and they succeeded. Their version spoke from outside their age and tradition with elemental simplicity. Their wisdom here exceeds that of their successors. Nothing seems more ridiculous than an outdated “modern” translation. Let us examine William Mace, 1729, as he rendered James 3:5-6:
The tongue is but a small part of the body, yet how grand are its pretensions! A spark of fire! What quantities of timber will it blow into flame? The tongue is a brand that sets the world into a combustion; it is but one of the numerous organs of the body, yet it can blast whole assemblies. Tipped with infernal sulphur it sets the whole train of life in a blaze.
In 1768, Dr. Edward Harwood’s Liberal Translation of the New Testament, i.e., a paraphrase, rendered Luke 15:11, “A certain man had two sons,” as “A gentleman of splendid family opulent fortune had two sons.” This is clearly an extreme instance, but it does illustrate a point: if we consider our age and its requirements as normative, we can involve ourselves in absurdities. And such absurdities are not missing from the various versions. The critic Dwight Macdonald has called attention to some of these in the Revised Standard Version in a New Yorker article, “The Bible in Modern Undress.”1 Macdonald comments on the RSV by way of a conclusion, “Whether it will be any more successful in replacing the K.J.V. than the 1885 version was remains to be seen. If it is, what is now simply a blunder — a clerical error, so to speak — will become a catastrophe. Bland, favorless mediocrity will have replaced the pungency of genius.”2
The issue is not that the Bible should speak our everyday language, for this involves debasement, but that it should be understandable and here, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, the King James speaks a language which, while sometimes difficult because the matter itself is so, is more often simple, clear-cut, and beautiful. Some modern versions are very helpful, but none equal the King James in its clarity and memorable beauty. The greatest single demerit of the King James Version is simply this, it is not copyrighted and, hence, no organization and no scholar can profit thereby.
A Trustworthy Translation
The question of a trustworthy translation is all-important, especially since novelty is increasingly characteristic of many new translations. Which translation is a trustworthy one?
At this point, it needs to be noted that all translations face certain perplexing problems. The meanings of certain Hebrew words are uncertain, and the exact identity of many plants and animals subject to debate. With these details, we are not concerned. The marginal readings of a good edition are helpful in clarifying meanings or giving alternates translations at difficult points.
The important question is in another area. What text of the Bible is being translated? In answering this question, let it be noted, we are departing from virtually all accepted scholarship. This however does not trouble us for, after all, the major break with “accepted” scholarship comes with acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior, and the Bible as the inspired and infallible word of God.
Since the days of Westcott and Hort, textual criticism has applied to Biblical textual criticism a rigorously alien category of thought and “an essentially naturalistic method.”3 This scholarship assumes man to be autonomous and ultimate rather than God; and it requires all documents to meet the same naturalistic tests with respect to their nature and history. Nothing which is not true or possible of Homer’s Iliad can be posited thus for the Bible and its books. Moreover, this method is applied to the Bible with a certainty and omniscience lacking in the determination, for example, of composite authorship in Shakespeare’s plays, where we often know he had collaborators.
As Hills has pointed out, the doctrine of the sacred origin and preservation of Scripture is a part of the “General doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the controlling providence of God.” “He worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). This providential preservation of the text, Hills has maintained, as an expert in New Testament manuscripts, is to be seen in the standard text of the New Testament translated in the King James Version.
It is not our concern here to enter into the intricacies of textual criticism, nor are we qualified to do so. But we are qualified to assert that most current criticism, both “conservative” and “liberal” rest on a radically non-Christian philosophy which cannot bear other than implicity or explicity anti-Christian fruit.
Another Religion in New Translations
Are the variations in the new translations simply minor differences in wording or do they conceal a new religion? To answer this question, let us examine Genesis 1:1,2, first of all in three older translations: the King James (Protestant), the Douay (Roman Catholic), and the Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text of the Jewish Publication Society (Old Testament, 1917, 1955, 1961); then let us examine The Torah, the Five Books of Moses (Jewish Publication Society, 1962) and the Doubleday Anchor translation, prepared by “more than 30 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish scholars”:4
King James: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Douay: In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the waters.
Approved Version, Jewish Publication Society, 1917: In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit God hovered over the face of the waters.
Torah, 1962: When God began to create the heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water — God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (v. 3 included)
Anchor: When God set about to create heaven and earth — the world being then a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water — God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (v. 3 included)
As Edward J. Young has noted in “The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2,”5 this passage has been used to try to introduce mythology into Moses’ account.
The conservatism of the first three translations, especially the first two, is apparent. These are, of course, older translations. In the King James and the Douay, Genesis 1:1 and 2 are three separate sentences and the first sentence is a separate paragraph. Now paragraphing is a form of interpretations in itself, as is sentence formation. To set “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” in a separate form is to declare in effect that this sentence is either an introduction to the account of creation, or a summary statement of creation, or both. It declares God to be the Creator, and then the details of the acts of creation are given to us.
But in the Torah and Anchor versions, verse 1 is made into a subordinate clause, “When God began to create the heaven and the earth,” and “When God set about to create heaven and earth.” This now ceases to be a completed statement of fact. Instead, we are now told what the condition of the universe was “when God began to create,” namely, that at least one segment of it was “a formless waste” and, as we learn subsequently, this “unformed and void” earth was not created but developed by God. As a result, instead of Biblical theism, we have the ancient pagan dualism, the co-eternity of God and matter. The great void of being, the unformed chaos of matter, always existed, in this philosophy, and God did not create it; He merely acted on it, with varying degrees of success. Thus, in the new “translations” of Genesis 1:1,3, we have substituted for Biblical theism an alien religion! We have a god very different from and sharply limited in contrast to the God of Scripture. Translation here has become the vehicle of a new religion, the instrument of the proclamation of “other gods,” an instrument of idolatry.
The net result of this new “translation” is, to repeat, another god than the God of Scripture. It is a god similar to that of illuminist tradition and of Masonry. The Cardinal of Chile, in The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled, described this god aptly:
The god creator, or the god of Masonry, is not the God Creator of Christians. The Architect constructs the building with materials which he did not make, but which he finds already made; the Creator constructs the edifice of the world, not with foreign or ready made substance but with materials which he himself made from nothing.6
It should be noted that the Torah Version gives the older accepted readings as footnotes.
In the Torah Version, “the spirit of God” in v. 2 becomes “a wind from God” and in Anchor it becomes “an awesome wind.” The Holy Spirit is thus eliminated from creation.
In the Torah Version, Genesis 1:26 reads: “And God said, ‘I will make man in My image, after my likeness.” The footnote adds that this is literally, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” This change is justified on the grounds that the Hebrew plural form here are simply “plurals of majesty.” But the fact remains that the Hebrew text gives a plural form and that Elohim, a plural noun for God, literally Gods, takes when used for Jehovah, a singular verb. Many Christian scholars have rightly seen in this an evidence of the plurality of the Godhead and of its unity, a definite witness to trinitarianism. Modern translators may disagree; but they have no right to mistranslate the text, which as admitted, reads, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Such novel and unwarranted renderings of words can be destructive of meaning and of doctrine. Thus Genesis 3:14 reads, respectfully, in Joseph Bryant Rotherham, in King James, and in the Torah version:
Rotherham, 1897: And enmity will I put between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed — He shall crush thy head, But thou shalt crush his heel.
King James: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Torah, 1962: I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your offspring and hers; they shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel.
In the Torah Version by changing the number of “seed” or “offspring” from singular to plural, the reference is radically changed in this prophecy. It can no longer mean Christ, who is singular, but refers to the plural offspring of the woman, to the faithful, or to Israel. We are thus pointed to another Savior.
By such changes, often too slight for many readers to detect, new meanings are read into the Scripture, and another bible and other gods appear on the scene. And each new version, irrespective of its source, seems bent on surpassing the previous ones in its adoption of novelties.
An important consideration for Christians in evaluating new versions is this: consider the source. Can unbelievers, modernists, men with left-wing records, and men faithless to their ordination be expected to produce good fruit? Our Lord said it clearly:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (Mt. 7:16-28)
1. Dwight Macdonald, New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1953, vol, XXIX, no. 39, 183-208.
2. Ibid., 208.
3. See Edward F. Hills’ introduction to John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Mark (Jenkinstown, PA, 1959), 40f. and 66; and Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended! (Des Moines, Iowa, 1956).
4. Time, September 27, 1963, 48 and 50.
5. Edward J. Young, The Westminster Theological Journal, May 1961.
6. The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled, 72. Reprinted from: Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1989.
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