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Dishonest Bible Translation

Translating the Bible is a tricky and imprecise process which allows ample room for translators and Bible publishers to insert their particular theological agendas.  The New International Version (NIV),  is particularly notorious for making tweaks in the translation that buttress Christian orthodoxy.  The tweaking is usually done in subtle ways so that the casual reader will not notice.  ( For years the NIV has been the single most popular translation in the evangelical community.)

For instance, here is Romans 9:5  according to the NIV:  “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised. Amen.”

It would appear that Paul is pretty clearly equating Jesus with God, a belief that is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.   But take a look at the same verse from another Bible–the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which I generally find to be a sturdier and more accurate rendering of the Greek text:

“To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.  God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.”

Same verse.  Same Greek text.  Yet the meaning of the English translation is totally different.   The RSV translators see the phrase “who is over all” as modifying “God”  and not “Christ.”

Just for fun let’s see what the Catholics say in their preferred version,  The New American Bible (NAB):   “Theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.  God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.”

So it looks like the translators of the NAB make essentially the same judgment call in this verse as the RSV.   They do not see this as a text declaring the equality of Jesus with God.   Yet the unsuspecting evangelical Christian reading his or her NIV would come across this same verse and naturally think that Romans 9:5 supports the orthodox view of Christ’s divinity, when in fact that is not the case at all.

Well that’s just the tip of the iceberg and this is probably enough to share for one blog post.  In my next post I’ll point out a couple other NIV passages where subtle translation decisions help create a more doctrinally orthodox Bible than the original texts actually allow.

One would think that a sacred text that is supposedly divinely-inspired and conveys the eternal Word of God would be a tad less ambiguous and a bit easier to translate.  Why couldn’t God write more clearly?  Another argument against Intelligent Design, I suppose.



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 17, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Your sentence “One would think that a sacred text that is supposedly divinely-inspired and conveys the eternal Word of God would be a tad less ambiguous and a bit easier to translate.” is a cheap shot. One only needs to go to internet pages where professional translators are debating various ways to best translate specific phrases from French to English or some other language pair, to know that translation is more art than science. Besides, no major doctrine espoused by Evangelicals depends only on one verse for its support. It is, therefore, much more likely that the NIV translators made their decision in good faith rather than making a tweak for the purpose of buttressing orthodoxy. After all, they did not need that passage to make a good interpretive point for the deity of Christ.

  2. February 25, 2012 at 2:34 am

    I don’t know of any book being translated from French to English, or being translated at all, that was dictated by an omnipotent being and included instructions for our eternal salvation. If there is a loving god, there should be no question.

  3. Shel
    April 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Well said, Roxie!

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