There is a widespread belief among Jews, that Chrstian translators routinely falsify their translations of the Hebrew Bible to create “proof texts” that indicate the Hebrew Bible predicts or substantiates Christianity.
At Messiah Truth, where I am known as “Proteus,” I recently made some remarks on that question; that the participant Ezekah wound up quoting, and questioning himself. I have chosen to respond here.
It seems to me one misleads oneself by saying xians made any changes in the Bible. That in itself would be quite impossible. The Chrstian translations — I have to speak carefully. NRSV and some other Chrstian translations merely, at some places, translate the text differently than do Jewish translations.
I think we can rule out the notion that, in the Chrstian translations in question (which notably do not include KJV), these differences display a consistent pattern of seeking to substantiate Chrstian dogma.
This quote from Proteus is quite astounding. The Christian bible is so different from the Hebrew bible. And yet, Proteus believes that no changes have occurred. I’m having trouble understanding how the poster can believe or even substantiate this.
Every proof text is a change from the Hebrew. We have multiple examples of new words appearing in the Xian bible that don’t appear in the Original bible. How are so-called “mistranslation differences” different from changes? What is it called when the xian bible translates the identical Hebrew word the same in multiple places but changes the word in just one sentence that happens to support their man? How can that possibly be a “translation difference” when they translated it correctly everywhere else?
And I’d be fascinated to learn how Proteus has ruled out that all the differences made by xians in their bibles have absolutely nothing to do with supporting Xian dogma.
This may be easier than I first supposed. There is still a need to speak carefully, and this may not be the perfect presentation.
We need to sort out a very large kettle of many different kinds of fish. A series of logical steps may make this feasible.
(1) I think we can all agree that TaNaKh nowhere anticipates Jsus. At least, that will be my position here.
(2) We need to separate what the translators did from what the GT authors themselves did. The GT quotes from TaNaKh in numerous places, normally via LXX. Sometimes the quotation accurately reflects the Hebrew; I have never seen a dispute about the passages Paul quotes in Romans 3:10-18. (There are some interesting remarks about this, under “Pulpit Commentary,” here.) Other times the LXX is defective in ways the GT authors found convenient, as in Isaiah 7:14. The question there will be how the Chrstian translators handle the original.
(3) I will not engage here in any debate over how or when the LXX became defective. That question is completely off-topic.
(4) Still other times — Ezekah said, “Every proof text is a change from the Hebrew.” This is not at all necessarily so. The Gospels use Daniel 7:13-14 over and over as a powerful proof text, putting those words in the mouth of Jsus; and I’ve never heard a dispute of the accuracy of those quotations. However, I think we can all agree that the original has no pertinence to Jsus.
(5) In general, where the GT itself uses a quotation from TaNaKh for its own ends, the accuracy of the quotation itself is often not in doubt, but we can agree that the quotation is usually misapplied. (Compare the above references to Romans 3 and Daniel 7.)
(6) So far we have not touched anything pertinent Chrstian translators.
(7) I will deal only with Chrstian translations made during the 20th and 21st centuries, including specifically the NRSV, NAB — and I guess I may as well admit the NET Bible.
(8) I specifically dismiss or disown the KJV. I will not be accountable for anything it does. Sunday night, doing research for this post, I got a look at the NIV; I’m not going to defend that one, NIV, either.
(9) For various reasons, different renderings in English can all be equally faithful to the Hebrew.
(10) First, a given Hebrew word may have several different meanings in English. There may or may not be a good reason to prefer one over another. In the recent discussion of Melchizedek, I had to look at Genesis 14:16-21. Here, the Judaica Press Tanakh translates nephesh as “soul,” whereas the NRSV translates it as “person.” Here, “soul” may be an archaic and possibly Anglicized reading, and potentially misleading to 21st century Americans. Either word, however, is equally faithful to the Hebrew.
(11) Second, at times the Hebrew is specifically ambiguous, and there can be no certain single right way to translate it. At Genesis 12:3b and again at Genesis 21:18, G-d promises Abraham that his descendants will somehow bless all nations. However, (a) different forms of the Hebrew word meaning “bless” are used in the two verses, and (b) in each case, the form used is specifically ambiguous as to its stem. Different translations can render it different ways; they can hardly avoid doing so; yet they’re all equally faithful to the Hebrew.
(12) As to the verses we’ve examined lately, there is no evidence that the NRSV deviates from the Hebrew in a way that creates a Chrstian proof text.
(a) Psalm 110:3: We don’t know where that very strange reading came from. I have a query in to the translators.
(b) Isaiah 7:14: NRSV correctly reflects the Hebrew.
(c) Psalm 2:12: “Kiss his feet” is thus far inexplicable. However, in the 25 years since NRSV was released, we have no evidence that any Chrstian has ever used this as a proof text. I am also not inclined to second-guess the translators every time they deviate from the Hebrew.
(d) As I’ve remarked several times already, the greatest concentration of deviations from the Hebrew is most likely to be found in Hosea, where the translators explicitly indicate a textual issue in almost every verse. No one has yet taken me up on the project of finding out which if any of these deviations create proof texts.
(13) Ezekah said, “What is it called when the xian bible translates the identical Hebrew word the same in multiple places but changes the word in just one sentence that happens to support their man?” To the best of my knowledge, this has not been shown with respect to the NRSV.
(14) Ezekah said, “And I’d be fascinated to learn how Proteus has ruled out that all the differences made by xians in their bibles have absolutely nothing to do with supporting Xian dogma.” That’s a lot of superlatives. I am focused on solely one or two or three translations. We would need to examine each one verse by verse throughout the whole, to demonstrate whether or not there is such a pattern. As to the translations on which I’ve focused, the evidence so far is that there’s probably not.
As I was compelled to post at Messiah Truth this morning (This may not be word for word. The post has not yet been released.): “Ezekah, the evidence available to me now indicates that, in general, your suppositions are correct. Most Chrstian translations are as you say. There are exceptions, however, including that translation which is in most widespread use in my own congregation.”
Originally posted 2015-04-07.