Should you ditch your ESV, NIV, and all modern Bible translations?

Today I was on the website of a Christianimagesministry that suggested that your ESV, NIV, and other modern Bible translations are part of a Satanic conspiracy to corrupt the word of God as accurately found in the King James Bible published in 1611. The charge included the accusation that modern translations water down the Bible and alter parts of the Bible that uphold the Deity of Christ. In addition, according to this website, our new modern translations even delete verses from the Bible to obscure God’s truth. One example they give is Acts 8:37. As a matter of fact, if you have a modern Bible translation, turn right now to Acts 8:37. What does it say?

If you have a modern translation there is no Acts 8:37! It goes from verse 36 to 38!

This section of Scripture recounts the story of Philip evangelizing the Ethiopian eunuch. In verse 36 the Eunuch asks, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” In modern translations there is no verse 37. And in verse 38 he gets baptized.

So what happened to verse 37? Well, the one Bible that has verse 37 is the King James Bible. And what does verse 37 say in the KJV?

Well, after the eunuch asks “What prevents me from being baptized?” Verse 37 in the KJV says, “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

imagesThis website charged modern translations of being part of a Satanic conspiracy to delete this and many other verses from the Bible. This website is part of a larger movement known by some as the King James Only movement. King James Only Christians are not simply Christians who love and prefer the KJV. No. They go much further and level charges like those above and teach that all of us should get rid of our modern translations and get back to the KJV and use that only. To use any other Bible is wrong.

Occasionally I will get questions from Christians about the King James Version of the Bible. Is the KJV the best and most legitimate translation? Do modern translations change or water down the Word of God?  Why are there so many different translations? And, what translation of the Bible is best for me to use?

Because these questions are not uncommon for Christians, I will be dedicating a series of posts on the blog exploring these matters.

For starters I will discuss the KJV in particular but as this series progresses I’ll expand and discuss Bible translations in general. Along the way I’ll point you to a few resources you’ll want to look at for further study. So consider this post just part 1.

imagesI want to say plainly that I have a great appreciation and respect for the King James Bible. It has a rich heritage.  It has stood the test of time.  And it is still one of the most beloved translations of all time.  Indeed, it is one of the most important translations in the history of translations! I have members of my own church that love and use the KJV as their main Bible and that’s great.  I am not interested in going to war over translations and it saddens me when Christians do. I will say upfront that this is an unhelpful distraction to God’s Church, and equipping ourselves (which I hope to help you with in this series of articles) with the truth will help us from getting sucked into a needless war.

I have no doubt that folks in the KJV-only movement are good people who love Jesus and are doing great things for the Kingdom. Any KJV-only person or church that is accurately preaching the gospel brings me joy. Now again, I want to make clear that when I refer to KJV-only people, I am NOT referring to people who simply love and prefer the KJV. I am referring to people who believe it’s the only legitimate translation and all others fall short of it and that it is wrong to use modern translations.

Before we address the specific concerns of the KJV only movement and the Acts 8:37 problem, I think we need to step back and gain some historical perspective. Are you ready? Here goes!

imagesAs we consider the history of English Bible translations it is important to go back in history before the King James Bible even came into existence. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) along with some bits in Aramaic. One of the most ancient translations is the Septuagint (LXX for short.) The LXX is a translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The LXX is so old that it would have been familiar to Jesus and His contemporaries.

In the early fifth century A.D., Jerome provided a fresh translation of the Old Testament imagesinto Latin. What made his work different than the other translations at that time was that this translation was not based on the LXX but upon the actual Hebrew of the Old Testament. (He was one of a handful of Christian scholars who could read both Greek and Hebrew) As he translated the Bible from the Hebrew, his version actually varied a bit from the LXX as it was a more accurate representation of the Hebrew in some parts. Therefore it had some slight variations compared to the LXX that people were familiar with. He also did not share every interpretative translation found in the LXX. Jerome’s translation became known as the Latin Vulgate.

Believe it or not, despite the fact that Jerome provided a good translation that in some respects improved upon the LXX translation, he took a lot of heat for it. Even the great theologian and Bishop of Hippo, Augustine, was troubled.

James White, in his book, “The King James Only Controversy” explains that,

“One aspect of his work that caused consternation among the people was that he did not use the traditional translation in the book of Jonah regarding the gourd. The Hebrew is difficult here, and Jerome decided not to follow the Septuagint’s identification of the plant as the gourd but instead followed the Palestinian Jewish understanding and identified it as the caster-oil plant. In any case, there was a near riot when this passage was read in Carthage.”

Augustine, in a letter written to Jerome in 405 AD explains why. He wrote,

images“[M]y only reason for objecting to the public reading of your translation from the Hebrew in our churches was, lest, bringing forward anything which was, as it were, new and opposed to the authority of the Septuagint version, we should trouble by serious cause of offense the flocks of Christ, whose ears and hearts have become accustomed to listen to that version..”

“That version” was the Septuagint. But interestingly, the heart of Augustine’s argument was not that Jerome’s translation was inaccurate. His concern was that it was unfamiliar to Christians and feared it would offend and disturb the flock, because by this time, the LXX translation was considered by most to be the ultimate authority and the only true word of God for folks. Jerome’s translation caused a great stir because it was a departure from what people had been familiar with and had relied on for a long time. This angst led to the near-riot in Carthage.

imagesJerome’s translation should not have been judged based on whether or not it was familiar or if it was different from another translation that was dearly beloved. What the crowds in Carthage should have asked was not “How does this new translation compare to the LXX?” Instead they should have asked, “Is Jerome’s translation more faithful to what is found in the prophet Jonah? Is it most faithful to the Hebrew language in which it was written?” Both the LXX and the Vulgate and any other translation should be held up to that sort of scrutiny.

So you see, controversies over translations are nothing new. Many of the concerns that people had about Jerome’s Latin Vulgate are similar to what some “KJV Only” groups have.  Just like some of these groups charge modern translations with changing the Bible, so people felt like Jerome was changing the Word of God. The LXX became, through traditional usage, “The Bible” for believers. And so a departure from the LXX was seen as a departure from the Bible.

imagesNow here is where the plot thickens. Fast forward 1100 years. Ironically, despite its controversial start, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate has now become the most popular translation in all of Europe! The Vulgate has become every Christian’s Bible. And it was held in the same lofty position that the LXX was held to hundreds of years prior. Once the new kid on the block, the Vulgate was now the standard. And just like Jerome did with the LXX centuries ago, a bright new scholar arose on the scene and caused the same exact stir as his ancient predecessor by introducing a new translation. That scholar was Desiderius Erasmus. And this man is very important in the history of the King James Bible. Stay tuned…

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer