Friday, May 31, 2024

About That "Very Critical Alert..."

 I've been asked a couple of times recently about a meme running around on social media. It's kind of a mashup of accusations against the New International Version and English Standard Version of the Bible, tinged with some Satanic Panic hysteria. Ordinarily I wouldn't think it would even deserve comment, but since I've been asked, and since we have the NIV in our pews at Northwest and I know some of us use the ESV, I thought maybe I should comment briefly.

     There are different versions of the post, but most of them start with something like "VERY CRITICAL ALERT." They go on to allege that the NIV and ESV have "removed 64,575 words from the Bible, including Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost, and omnipotent, to name but a few." The post also says that the versions in question have "removed 45 complete verses." 
     You're advised at the end of the post that "if you must use the NIV or ESV, buy and keep an earlier version of the Bible." The loss of all these words and verses, the post alleges, happens when you're asked to update digital Bible apps. 
     There's so much ignorance here, willful or otherwise, that it makes your head spin.
     To address the words that the versions in question supposedly leave out: "Jehovah" occurs 4 times in the King James Version of the Bible, but is used much more often in the American Standard Version of 1901. It's a very awkward attempt to denote the name by which God revealed himself to Israel, often spelled Yahweh or just YHWH. Since Jewish people often tried to avoid pronouncing God's name (even when the pronunciation was known) to keep from taking his name in vain, they would substitute the word Adonai -- "Lord." "Jehovah" is the combination of the consonants of God's name with the vowels of adonai. It doesn't appear in the NIV or ESV because nearly every modern translation now signifies the name "Yahweh" by "LORD" (in all caps). God's name is not removed in those verses -- it's just translated "LORD."
     "Calvary" doesn't appear in Luke 23:33 because it's just a transliteration of a Latin word that means "skull." The NIV and ESV translate the word instead, and so, instead of "the place which is called Calvary," you have "the place called the skull" -- which is a better translation.
     "Holy Ghost" doesn't appear in the suspect translations because modern translations use "Holy Spirit." "Omnipotent" doesn't appear because newer translations choose "Almighty". Strong cases can be made that for modern English speakers, those choices are better.  
     As for the 45 verses supposedly "removed" -- it is closer to the truth to say that older translations "added" those verses. The people who translate the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to English (or any other language) need a base text to translate from. Since there is no "original Bible," translators work from handwritten copies of copies of copies, mostly in small pieces, a few complete or almost-complete manuscripts, and some quotations and sermons, ranging from the second century to the 13th or 14th century. All of those manuscripts and fragments differ from each other in small ways -- including words, phrases, verses, and a few even larger chunks that appear in some manuscripts and not others. 
     People who specialize in using those manuscripts to reconstruct
the text of the Bible that underlies our English translations are always working and revising as our understanding changes. They have criteria for making the decisions about what is most likely to be the original text of the Old and New Testaments. It isn't an exact science, but it IS a science.
     Earlier translations, like the KJV, used a base text that is different from the one used by more current translations, because the KJV translators didn't know about the many manuscripts discovered in the 413 years since it was published. Some of those differences include verses that are no longer regarded as original by most scholars who specialize in this field. Those 45 verses cited in the meme fall into this category. They include the longer ending of Mark, several instances in the Gospels in which harmonization occurred (Why "remove" Matthew 18:11 and leave Luke 19:10, which both say the same thing?), and instances like the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7-8 in the KJV), in which it seems that commentary originally jotted in the margins of a manuscript was included in the Bible text by later copyists. 
     In short, the VERY CRITICAL ALERT actually describes the normal practice of biblical scholars who want to reconstruct as nearly as possible the original text of the Bible -- with nothing subtracted from it or added to it --  and translate it in a way that can be understood.
     Every major English translation that you're likely to get your hands on is useful and can be trusted. Don't fall for posts by people who, at best, don't understand the nuances of a very specific field of study. 
     Let's thank God for Scripture, and for the people who help to make it more accessible and understandable. And let's read it often -- whatever translation you choose!