Showing posts with label #Translations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Translations. Show all posts

Present or past verb tenses?

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

So, somebody finally noticed.

Whenever I study the bible, I don’t study an English translation; I look at an original-text version, like the Biblia Hebraica or Masoretic Text; the Novum Testamentum Graece or Textus Receptus or Tyndale House GNT or Codex Sinaiticus. (Yeah, I own a lot of Accordance modules.) And in order to best understand the original, and best convey what I think it’s saying, I translate it myself. I’ve written before about why I do this—and for those people who get paranoid about anyone other than “official” translators, why it’s okay for me to do so.

A correspondent recently noticed in my translations, I use the present tense most of the time. It’s not “Jesus went to synagogue and sat up front,” but “Jesus goes to synagogue and sits up front.” He wanted to know: Why’d I choose to “alter the text” this way? Was I trying to create an artificial sense of urgency, or remind us Jesus’s actions and teachings still apply to the present? Well, whatever my reasoning, he didn’t figure it was at all appropriate to rejigger the bible so I could make my points.

I wasn’t actually trying to make a point by my choice of verb tenses. I use present tense because the writers of the gospels used present tense. Wasn’t my idea.

So why do most bibles not use the present tense? Because for the longest time, English-speakers didn’t understand how to translate the aorist tense. It’s not a verb tense we have in English, and most Greek translators simply make it past tense.

English verbs always indicate when the action takes place. Past tense indicates it happened before now (“I drank my coffee”), present indicates it’s happening right now (“I drink my coffee”), future indicates after now (“I will drink my coffee”), and all our other verb tenses are just nuances of past, present, and future. Time is always, always, a part of English verbs. Can’t get away from it.

In today’s Greek, the aorist tense is a past perfect tense: “I have drank my coffee.” But in ancient Greek it was time-neutral. The word ἀόριστος/aóristos means “no boundary”—not determined, not defined, not certain; it indicates nothing. The action takes place… but when it takes place is not inherent in the verb. Could be past. Could also be present. Or future.

It’s a timeless verb tense. No that doesn’t mean it exists outside of time, like ancient philosophers imagined God exists. Everything in creation exists inside time. Aorist simply is, like I said, time-neutral. Ancient Greek-speakers didn’t care to indicate when something happened or happens or will happen. They were only speaking or writing about something which exists. Came in handy when the Greeks shared myths about “long long ago and far far away.”

So if you have a writing which is full of aorist-tense verbs, how do you know when it took place? Well if it’s history, like the gospels, obviously it’s stuff which happened in the past. And that’s why nearly all translators tend to turn Greek aorist-tense verbs into English past-tense verbs. The life and teachings of Jesus did happen in the past, so it’s not wrong to turn the verbs which describe ’em into past tense.

But is it accurate? And there, I’d disagree with these other translators. Aorist tense doesn’t automatically mean past tense. It’s neutral.

How then do we un-neutralize it? Context: We look at the other verbs in the writing which do indicate time, and we apply those verbs’ tenses to all the aorist verbs in the sentence or paragraph. And as you can probably guess by now, most of the non-aorist verbs in the gospels are (drumroll, please)… present tense.

The Geneva Bible: The first really good English bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 May

The English-language bible of William Shakespeare, of John Bunyan, of John Donne, of the first colonists who founded the future American states—namely the pilgrim fathers who traveled aboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth and Massachusetts—was not the King James Version. And no, this isn’t a knock on the KJV; it didn’t exist yet. It was first published in 1611, and this stuff predates it.

And some of it doesn’t. Despite the publication of the KJV, many people held onto that previous English translation and used it instead. Like Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan parliamentarian who overthrew King Charles Stuart in 1649, who published an assortment of 150 bible verses, called The Souldiers Pocket Bible, for his troops: The verses didn’t come from the KJV.

It’s called the Geneva Bible because it was translated in Geneva, Switzerland, by a team of Protestant scholars who fled England during the reign of Mary Tudor (as Queen Mary 1, 1553–58).

Geneva Bible title page
A Geneva Bible title page, published in London by John Barker in “1599.” That’s the date Barker put on all Geneva Bibles published after King James banned their production in 1611. Houston Baptist University

Tudor was a Roman Catholic. In part for political reasons, since her legitimacy as queen was based on it; in part for personal reasons, as she had been convinced by her Catholic family members she had to save England from the “heresy” of Protestantism. So Tudor started persecuting Protestants, particularly Protestants who had dared to translate the bible into English without Catholic permission. The persecution began with John Rogers, who had dared to revise the Tyndale Bible; he was burned to death in 1555. Protestant scholars decided it was safest to go into exile in a good Protestant country.

Since most educated Englishmen spoke French, where better than a French-speaking country? And since many of ’em were Calvinist, where better than the city Jean Calvin himself governed, Geneva? Several hundred Protestants thus became refugees in Geneva.

There were English-language bibles at the time, but not good ones. John Wycliffe's bible was only partially complete, and many Protestants still considered him heretic. William Tyndale made a pretty good translation of the New Testament, but he was also considered heretic, and executed for it in 1535. Myles Coverdale, who was neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar, borrowed Tyndale’s NT, cobbled together an Old Testament from German bibles and the Vulgate, and published the Coverdale Bible in 1535; parts of it are still used in the Book of Common Prayer. And there’s that unfortunate John Rogers I just mentioned: He’d borrowed Tyndale’s NT, parts of Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s OTs, published it under the name “Thomas Matthew” in 1537, and it came to be called the Matthew Bible.

So since these refugees had time—and the resources of a whole lot of Protestant scholars who’d moved to Geneva under persecution—they decided to tackle a new bible.

Versions, translations, paraphrases, and padded texts.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 March

Most English-language bibles have the word version in their title: The King James Version, the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and so on.

It’s a popular way to indicate your bible is different from other bibles: You got a different version. Just like the fifth edition of a textbook might be a little different from the fourth edition: Still the same book, but a little different. It doesn’t tell a different story from other bibles, nor communicates different ideas. There should be exactly the same stories and ideas. But the way one bible puts it into English, isn’t gonna phrase it the same way as another bible will. The KJV will use 16th century English, and the NKJV won’t.

More recently, bibles are starting to be titled translations—like the Good News Translation, the New Living Translation, the New English Translation, the God’s Word Translation. It’s a more precise word than version, ’cause “version” can suggest a different point of view, and bible versions had better not present a different point of view from one another. All should be accurate translations of the original text. And all bibles are translations.

Well… unless they’re not. Sometimes they’re paraphrases.

The King James Version: Its history and worshipers.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 January

Most of the verses I’ve memorized were in the King James Version.

Hey, it’s my upbringing. The hundred English translations of the bible that exist nowadays? Weren’t around back when I was a kid. (’Cause I’m old.) There were maybe a dozen in the Christian bookstores.

But my church used the KJV, so that’s largely what’s in my brain. I later got a Good News Bible, then a first-edition New International Version, but when it came to memory verses my Sunday school teachers drilled us in KJV.

In adulthood, for a lot of years I memorized verses in NIV. (Which they’ve updated three times since, so sometimes my memory verses won’t match the current NIV. Thanks guys.) After I learned biblical languages I translated the verses myself, and memorized ’em that way—which makes it particularly tricky to look up memory verses in my bible software. Google isn’t so picky.

Still, I quote KJV a lot, which surprises a lot of people. They assume I’m more postmodern than that (whatever they mean by that term; I know what I mean by it) and supposedly a with-it guy like me should think the KJV is old-timey, or out of date, or not reliable. That once I left my Fundamentalism behind, I also abandoned the KJV.

Nope. I still like the King James Version. It’s a good translation.

Not infallible, of course. None are; there’s no such thing as an infallible translation. Yeah, there are people who insist the KJV is the only God-inspired infallible bible; not just the only reliable English bible, but the only reliable bible, period. I’ll deal with them in a bit.

But y’notice whenever I write about the scriptures and use my own translation, I usually compare my translation to the KJV. For four main reasons:

  1. I am not declaring my translation superior to every other translation. We’re supposed to compare multiple translations when we study the bible. So since I gotta use some translation, why not the KJV?
  2. For better or worse, the KJV is still the English-language standard for bibles. Including for pagans—if you don’t use proper KJV “bible English,” they’re gonna think you’re paraphrasing.
  3. Loads of Christians, especially Evangelicals, still consider it the authoritative translation of the bible. Even when they like other translations better; even when they think it’s out of date.
  4. Nearly every translation has, when in doubt or whenever possible, deferred to the way the KJV originally put it. They’re not gonna stray too far from that version.

Which bible translation’s the best?

by K.W. Leslie, 21 January
HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?”
ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.”

As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation. Sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me.

Well, this question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. Or judge you. Whatever.

So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.”

Sometimes, but rarely, they realize I’m kidding. The rest of the time, a look of horror and despair comes upon their faces: “What, learn ancient languages? That’ll take years!

Yes it will. It took me years. But that’s the scary alternative. Now for my much nicer—though admittedly long—response.

As for which version of the bible I use, it depends on why I need it.

  • BIBLE STUDY. I go with the original languages. Always. I have Accordance on all my devices, ’cause it’s inconvenient to carry around a print copy of the original-language bibles. I got the Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament, the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (and the United Bible Societies’ GNT, the Tyndale House GNT, the Textus Receptus, and the Codex Sinaiticus for comparison).
  • TEACHING. When I work with new believers and kids, New Living Translation; it’s easy to understand. When adults—as y’might notice from reading this blog—my own translation, frequently with the King James Version for comparison, although if they have a favorite translation, I don’t mind switching over for their convenience. Having a bible app makes this easy.
  • AUDIO BIBLES. I have several. Including original-language audio bibles. (Yes they exist.) On my iPhone is my fave, The Bible Experience in the now-defunct Today’s NIV.
  • CASUAL READING. English is my first language after all, and Accordance comes with English translations, like the ESV and KJV. Either I read one of them, or another translation from Bible Gateway, or I have an ESV pocket-sized bible which I bought about 20 years ago at a now-defunct Christian bookstore. (The cover’s thrashed, so I re-covered it in black duct tape. Hey, it works.)

And of course my bookshelf has lots of other “analog bibles” (y’know, books which don’t require charging). Some are what I call big-ass bibles; others were the result of the years before I went digital, when I collected bible translations. Yeah, they get dusty: I read my phone, Kindle, tablet, and computer.

But lemme go back to the NLT: I encourage people to read that one because it’s easy to understand. That’s the most valuable asset of any bible translation. When any bible is hard to understand, it means the translators did a poor job, and their number one job is to remove the language barrier. Too many translators forget to do that.

  • They’re trying too hard to follow the original text “literally” and word-by-word.
  • Or it’s not even about translation; they were commissioned to update another popular translation, like when the NIV comes out with another edition. They’re expected to fix it, but not change it too much.
  • Or (as with many a bible paraphrase) they’re trying too hard to be clever, and make it sound different from all the other versions… and there’s nothing wrong with the way the other versions translated it.

Basically if your interpretation needs an interpretation, you suck as an interpreter.

Now, which one’s the best translation? Um… whichever one gets you to read your bible.

Targums: Pharisee translations of the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August

The original New Testament was written in Greek. That’s because in the eastern Mediterranean, where Christianity originated, Greek was what Latin became in medieval Europe, and what English now is worldwide: Everybody’s second language, used because it’s everybody else’s second language. (Unless it’s your first. Greek’s my third.) When Alexander of Macedon took a shot at conquering the world in the 300s BC, he Grecianized everything he could find, left Greek colonies everywhere, and Greek became the language you needed to know for commerce and diplomacy.

But before that, it was Aramaic, the language of the Assyrian Empire and the neo-Babylonian Empire, both of which conquered northern and southern Israel in the 700s and 500s BC. The Hebrew-speaking Israelis were scattered throughout these empires, and when their descendants returned to Palestine, they spoke Aramaic. (And, after Alexander came through Palestine, Greek too.) Only scribes knew Hebrew.

Okay, but their bible (our Old Testament), with the exception of a few chapters here and there, was in Hebrew. If only scribes knew Hebrew, how were the rest of the population to know what was in the bible? Obviously the same way we do: Translation. The scribes’ usual practice was to read the bible in the original, then translate as they went, clause by clause.

And at some point, certain Pharisees decided to transcribe the scribes’ translations. Hey, if you don’t know Hebrew, and don’t always have a scribe around to translate bible for you, stands to reason you’d want your own copy available.

The scribes discouraged this. They didn’t want their off-the-cuff translations to become permanent translations, or to be considered official translations. Especially since they were in the bad habit of paraphrasing—adding details to the scriptures which aren’t in the text. Sometimes to clarify things, like when you’re telling bible stories to children or newbies… and sometimes to bend the text to suit their theology. I’ll explain that practice in more detail in a bit. In any event scribes didn’t want their alterations recorded for posterity.

But they were, ’cause we got ’em. The first written copies of these Aramaic translations appeared in the mid-first century. We call them targums, or targumím if you prefer the proper Aramaic plural ending. The Aramaic and Hebrew word תִּרְגּוּם/targúm simply means interpretation.

Aramaic-speaking Jews in Yemen still refer to targums because, duh, that’s their language. Aramaic-speaking Christians prefer the Peshitta, an Syriac translation of the Old and New Testaments first produced in the second century. But Christian scholars refer to the targums for two reasons: We wanna know how first-century Pharisees interpreted bible; and, like the Septuagint and Vulgate, we wanna compare ancient translations to the ancient texts to see how they interpreted it.

But because targums are Pharisee paraphrases, we study them with a certain amount of caution. You recall Jesus didn’t always agree with the Pharisees’ spin on the scriptures. Neither should we.

The first English-language bible: The Wycliffe Bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July

English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Partly ’cause of the British Empire; partly because of American multimedia, including the internet. There are a lot of useful resources in English, and it’s otherwise generally useful, so most of the people in the world learn English as their second language.

English is my native language, so that’s mighty handy for me; though if it weren’t I’d obviously have learned it instead of Spanish and French. Although a lot of my fellow Americans take this circumstance for granted, cretinously don’t bother to learn any other language, and get annoyed when multilingual people can’t speak English as well as they’d personally prefer. But let’s not talk about them.

Obviously there was a time when English wasn’t everybody’s second language; it was French. And before that, Latin. And the reason it was Latin was ’cause the Vulgate. The Latin-language bible was “the bible,” as far as western Christians were concerned, so if you wanted to read the bible, or understand any of the bible quotes or prayers your preachers used, you oughta learn Latin. And people did. It wasn’t as widespread as English is today—for that matter, neither was education and literacy—but everybody knew some Latin, ’cause church.

Which is why few people bothered to translate the bible into local languages: What’s the point? Everybody who could read in those countries, already knew some Latin; they could read the Vulgate. Or they could go to church, where the priests knew Latin and could interpret the Vulgate for the locals. You don’t need local translations.

But every once in a while somebody didn’t wanna go to church. Or they felt Roman Catholicism was the wrong church, and people shouldn’t have to go to its priests to get the bible interpreted. So they’d take a stab at translating the bible themselves. Problem is, before the United States, no nation had freedom of religion: You were automatically a member of the nation’s official church, and you weren’t allowed to quit the church. If you did, you were an illegal. They’d prosecute. (Which meant you wound up with a nation full of hypocrites—which explains why they’d get downright savage in their prosecutions.)

And that’s exactly what happened with the first guys to translate the bible into English. That’d be John Wycliffe (1324–84) and Nicholas of Hereford (?–1420). Nicholas did the Old Testament; Wycliffe did the New; and both their translations are bundled together as the Wycliffe Bible, WB for short.

The Textus Receptus: The first popular western Greek NT.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March
TEXTUS RECEPTUS 'tɛks.təs rə'sɛp.təs, properly 'teɪk.stus reɪ'seɪp.tus, noun. The medieval western Greek New Testament, edited and first published by Desiderus Erasmus in 1516. (Latin for “received text.”)
2. Any of the Greek NTs published by Erasmus’s successors before 1831; most often Stephanus’s 1550 edition.

We don’t have the original Greek-language copies of the New Testament anymore. Wish we did; it’d be nice if Christians had preserved them. Then again Christians would wind up worshiping the books… about as much as we already do.

But ancient Christians, like most ancient peoples, figured if you made copies and spread ’em around, that was just as good. And that’s what they did. They made copies, didn’t worry about the originals, and when the originals wore to pieces, no problem—they had lots and lots of backups! There are still thousands of ancient copies of the NT; it wasn’t just a best-seller in the present day. Copies of individual books, copies of the whole NT, and let’s not forget all the bible quotes in ancient Christian writings. In fact if all the ancient bibles were to vanish, we could piece them back together with the ancient Christians’ bible quotes.

And so the originals wore out. The first-generation copies wore out. The second-generation copies wore out. The third-generation copies wore out. And so on, and so on. The New Testaments we see in Greek-speaking churches are commonly copies of copies of copies—times a hundred. Or more.

Meanwhile, in Latin-speaking western Europe, they stopped using Greek bibles. Once the Vulgate was translated, they now had the bible in a language they understood, and that became “the bible” to them. There were still Greek bibles around, ’cause libraries might get one from eastern Christians and stick it in their collections, but like most people, they gave more attention on the translations they understood: Latin bibles, and the occasional local-language bible.

And like the Greek-speaking churches, they didn’t keep St. Jerome’s originals of the Vulgate. They likewise made copies. Then copies of the copies. Then copies of the copies of copies. And so on.

As you can guess, this process of copying the bible is gonna introduce errors into the copies. Humans make mistakes, y’know. Textual variants creep in. And if you’re a serious bible scholar, you don’t want variants to lead you, nor any other Christian, astray. Nor would you want any omissions—any missing words, missing verses—to do so either.

Textual criticism is the science of trying to determine what the original text is. It’s done by looking at the very oldest copies of any text we have. If they all match up, it’s pretty likely this was what the original had in it. If they don’t—

  • One copy says “he.”
  • Another, “Christ.”
  • Another, “Jesus.”
  • Another puts the two variants together: “Christ Jesus.”
  • Another flips ’em: “Jesus Christ.”
  • And yet another has, “Larry.”

—you gotta reasonably determine which of these variants was what the apostles actually, originally wrote. Based on the oldest evidence, historical support, grammatical context, and commonsense. And just to keep your decision-making process transparent, you need to include all the variants in your apparatus, which is a fancy way of saying “extremely important footnotes of all the variants.”

Thing is, Christians didn’t invent this science for quite a few centuries. They did what your typical uneducated Christian does with English-language translations: They pick the variant they like best. The one which most supports what they wanna teach. Or the one which sounds like the way they have it memorized… regardless of how they memorized it. If one of their favorite Christian songs uses that verse as a lyric, and the song goes “Christ Jesus,” that’s the variant they pick. Doesn’t matter that this variant didn’t show up in any ancient bibles at all, and doesn’t appear till the 1980s: If you leave it up to them, they’ll “fix” the bible till it matches all their favorite songs.

That’s kinda what the Textus Receptus is. It’s the first attempt by a western bible scholar to put together a Greek New Testament for popular use. Problem is, it’s pre-scientific. And the other problem… is Christians who don’t believe in science. To these people the Textus is the original Greek New Testament, period. Any other Greek NT produced in the last 150 years—especially one which states their favorite verses are textual variants!—must be part of some devilish plot to undermine the bible.

The bible “in the original Latin”: The Vulgate.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 January

Every so often, when I tell people I study the bible in the original languages (not that I go round bragging I can read the original languages; it’s just they ask me how I do bible study, so I tell them) they comment, “Ah, in the original Latin.”

Nope, not Latin. I can stumble through Latin, but the bible’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The very few Latin words in there, were transliterated into the Greek alphabet.

Most accept the correction. A few foolhardy few—you know the sort who’ve always gotta be right?—actually try to stand their ground. “But didn’t Jesus speak Latin? He did in The Passion of the Christ.” Yeah, that movie’s not as historically accurate as you think. The fact a white gentile plays Jesus—no matter how good a job he did—should usually tip you off.

Latin was the language of the western Roman Empire—and Greek the language of the eastern. Which includes Israel. Which includes Jesus and his apostles. When Christianity was legalized in the 300s, the western Romans of course wanted a bible in their language—just like the eastern Romans did, for the Septuagint and New Testament are both in Greek. Most of the bible had been translated into Latin already, but some parts were well done… and some parts sucked. Some OT books were translations of the Septuagint (the Greek OT), not the Tanakh (the Hebrew/Aramaic OT) —so, translations of a translation. There was no consistency throughout.

In 382 Rome’s bishop Damasus (they weren’t yet called popes), tasked his personal secretary, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus—whom we nowadays call St. Jerome—to fix the Latin-language bibles by doing a fresh retranslation of the gospels. Jerome did way more than that: He went to Israel, learned Hebrew and Aramaic, translated the entire Old Testament, and updated other parts of the New Testament. He’s largely responsible for the Latin translation we call the Vulgate 'vəl.ɡeɪt, from the term versio vulgata/“common version.” It was the bible of the western Romans—and after the Roman Empire receded to the east and historians relabeled it the Byzantine Empire, the official bible of the Roman Catholics. Until 1979, when Catholics came out with the New Vulgate.

Calling the Vulgate “the original Latin” is just as inaccurate as assuming the King James Version is the original. (Or as good as the original.) But for pagans, and newbie Christians who know nothing of church history, they don’t know any better, so of course they’re gonna make that mistake. Correct them kindly.

The meaningless virtue of literal bible versions.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

There’s a discussion group I belong to. Every so often, one of the newer members of the group will ask us our favorite bible translations. Happens every other month. Y’see, the newbies don’t know we already had this discussion, so they bring it up again. And again and again and again.

Predictably some of us are ESV fans, NIV fans, NKJV fans, NASB fans, and so forth. I like to announce I’m a KJV fan, ’cause KJV fans should represent—but I feel obligated to include the disclaimer I’m not a KJV-only kind of fan. ’Cause those people are awful. And every so often one of the KJV-only folks see this, object, and wind up proving my point about them being awful.

Oh, speaking of awful: We also get a few people who wanna mock the bible versions they don’t like. Somebody’ll disparage The Message, loudly denounce The Voice, or mock the NLT. Won’t just be the KJV-only folks either.

My advocacy for the KJV aside, the new members who bring up the what’s-your-favorite-translation question don’t really care about, nor care to use, the KJV. They’re only interested in recent translations. They wanna know which of them the group considers good and reliable. Especially if they already have a favorite translation, and many of ’em totally do, and are hoping we’ll justify their selection.

Plenty of the group’s members don’t just state their favorites, but defend and advocate for their favorites as the best bible translation. I run into this behavior particularly among NASB fans. They love the NASB. Because it’s so literal.

How do they know it’s so literal? Did they learn Greek and Hebrew in seminary, compare the original languages to the NASB, and come away impressed by its literalness? Not even close. Somebody told ’em the NASB was the most literal. Usually that “somebody” is the person at Thomas Nelson Publishers who wrote that on the book jacket. And hey, the NASB is frequently so wooden and stiff, it has to be because it’s a literal translation, right?—it can’t simply be because the translators at the Lockman Foundation, the NASB’s sponsors, suck at English.

In any case they’ve swallowed the marketing spiel whole, and love to burp it up for anyone who’ll listen.

And for those of us who know multiple languages, it makes ’em sound naive and ridiculous.

The gender-inclusive bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.

Textual variants.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April
TEXTUAL VARIANT 'tɛks.tʃ(əw.)əl 'vɛr.i.ənt noun Form or version of a document which differs in some respect from other copies or editions of the same document.

Before the printing press was invented in the 1400s, books were copied by hand.

Sometimes this was done carefully and conscientiously. The Masoretes, fr’instance, were Jewish scholars who wanted to be certain they got exact copies of the scriptures, with super-duper anal-retentive precision. So they invented a very careful procedure, including a system of checksums, to be sure every copy of the bible was an exact replica. It’s why, when you compare the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls with 10th-century copies of the Old Testament, you find astonishingly few differences. Dudes knew what they were about.

Other times, not so much.

Even when they knew this was a very important book. (Heck, back then most books were considered important. Hand-copying meant publishing was crazy expensive.) Copyists had a bad habit of duplicating books in a rush. Popular books were occasionally copied in a group: You get a roomful of scribes, one of whom slowly dictated the “original,” and the rest of whom wrote it down en masse. Naturally mistakes would happen.

Which was no surprise to any literate ancient: People make mistakes. An ancient Christian would assume if this was a verse they’d never heard before, or one they’d learned differently, it must be some scribe’s mistake. Fr’instance the Egyptian commentator Origen (185–254), in his commentary on John (my translation):

203 “These things happened in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” Jn 1.28 204 Yes, it’s indeed printed in all the copies, “These things happened in Bethany.” We’re not ignorant it’s like this, and got this way long ago: We’re well aware it’s “Bethany,” according to Irakléon. But we’ve come to the conclusion it shouldn’t be “Bethany” but “Bethabara”—we’ve been to these places, following the history of the footsteps of Jesus, his students, and the prophets. 205 This evangelist declares Bethany is the hometown of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, about 15 stadia [2.8 km] from Jerusalem. There isn’t any same-named Bethany in the area of the Jordan. They pointed out Bethabara, by the Jordan’s banks; our inquiries found that John baptized there. Origen, John 6.24

Yep, Origen went to Judea, and his tour guides told him there wasn’t any Bethany near the Jordan, then pointed him to Bethabara, convinced him this was the right place, and probably sold him a few souvenirs. I once had some folks in Israel try to similarly convince me about the location of Jesus’s sepulcher, among other “biblical” sites they built churches atop.

So was Origen right? Nah. Thanks to archeology, we know there was another same-named Bethany on the east bank of the Jordan. (Today it’s called al-Maghtas, Jordan.) Hence our current editions of the Greek NT stuck with the Βηθανία/Vithanía, “Bethany,” which Origen groused was in all his copies of John. Most of our current translations follow suit.

The few who don’t are going off the Textus Receptus, which has Βηθαβαρᾷ/Vithavará (KJV “Bethabara”). That’s because Origen managed to convince some folks he was correct—and the editor of the Textus, Desiderius Erasmus, was one of ’em. Since the King James Version used the Textus as its baseline, that’s what we find in the KJV and NKJV. Jn 1.28 NKJV

So there y’go: Two ways variants happen. Copyists, in their haste, slip up; and know-it-all interpreters rejigger the original to suit themselves.

Good and bad bible translations.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 January

I realize people are gonna find the title of this article through Google or one of the other search engines, and are gonna be vastly disappointed I haven’t provided an easy-to-use chart establishing, “These translations are good and holy and inspired of God… and these translations are the product of an international conspiracy of devil-worshipers,” or some other such extreme. You want fear-ridden nutjobs, you’ve come to the wrong blog.

Nope; today’s rant is about the bible translations I wind up reading through—and getting irritated by—when I do my bible in a month thingy every January. That’s right; I don’t merely suggest you do it, and leave you with a big pile of reading material. I do it too. I pop over to Bible Gateway, pick a translation I’m not all that familiar with, and get to readin’. Sometimes I start in December, while it’s still Christmas. Sometimes later in January. Still tend to get it read within 3 to 4 weeks.

Most of the time it works out okay. I pick an unfamiliar translation, read it in its entirety, and now I can experientially tell you what it consists of… unlike some nimrod who reads a few passages and jumps to a conclusion; usually an angry one. Fr’instance a decade ago I read the Message back to front. So now, when people ask me what I think of it, I can say, “I read it,” and not just mean a book or two, or assorted chapters; I read it. And…? And I like it. It’s good. I don’t agree with all the translation choices, but I’m never gonna agree with all the translation choices. But it’s good. Feel free to use it for casual reading, devotional reading, or even in church. It’s not gonna bite.

It’s not infallible. No translation is. When you do serious bible study, do not use only one translation, the Message included, without double-checking it against many other translations. (Even when you know biblical languages: Make sure your interpretation isn’t too far afield from all the others!) But again: Casual, devotional, church, Twitter: Use it. Have fun.

Then there are the translations I don’t care for. And yeah, even if you found this article for other reasons, you’re probably gonna be curious about my take on them. You’re looking (in vain) for a perfect translation, and you wanna eliminate a few contenders. Or you’ve already convinced yourself it’s the King James Version, but you spitefully wanna know why other translations suck, just so you can bash ’em a little more. I don’t wanna enable you, but at the same time I don’t wanna encourage publishers to crank out bad bible translations. So I’ve got mixed feelings… but I’m plowing ahead anyway.

Translating it myself. (And why that’s okay.)

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

During my church’s services, in between worship songs and sermon notes, sometimes I’ve put bible verses on our video screens. Not as part of the service; just as something to have on the screen in between the other stuff. Something other than a blank screen.

A few weeks ago I got asked,

SHE. “Which translation is ‘KWL’? What’s that stand for?”
ME. “Me. K.W. Leslie. I translated it.”
SHE. “Why’d you use your own translation instead of an official translation?”
ME. “What do you mean, official translations?”
SHE. “Well, like the Authorized Version. The NIV, the New King James…”
ME. “Those aren’t official translations. They were produced by publishers. The bible’s the most popular book in the world; there’s good money to be made by owning your own translation. So publishers hired scholars, and now they have their own translations. But none of them are official.”

(I should clarify: Some churches have made the KJV their official translation, and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced their own officially-approved translations. But neither our church nor denomination has an official translation.)

SHE. “Well, they were done by churches.”
ME. “They were not. They were done by publishers. Who did hire actual scholars to do the translating, so they’re not bad translations. But they weren’t done by any one church; they wanna sell bibles to every church, y’know.”
SHE. “But why do you do your own translation?”
ME. “As part of my bible study. When I’m studying a verse, I wanna really understand it, so I read it in the original, and translate it. I’m not trying to produce ‘the KWL version of the bible’; I’m just trying to understand it better. Sometimes I’ll use different words than other translations. But I’m not too far different than any of the other translations. In fact if I were too far different, it’d mean I’m doing it wrong.”
SHE. “But why use your translation instead of one of the official translations?”
ME. [letting go the fact she still insists there are official translations] “Certain words I used, which I like better than the words other translations used.”
SHE. “Well I would be nervous about that. Aren’t you changing the words of the bible to suit yourself?”
ME. “I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to stay true to the original language, the original authors’ intent.”
SHE. “But why do you think you’ve done a better job than the official translations?”
ME. “Because sometimes I did do a better job. Certain translations bend the meaning to fit how popular Christian culture interprets the bible. The new edition of the Amplified Bible does it all the time. The New Living Translation does it a few times. The New International Version tries to hide all the bible difficulties. I tend to compare my translation with the King James Version because I’ve found that translation bends it least. But translators aren’t infallible. Everybody makes mistakes. Myself included.”
SHE. “So how can you put your translation up there like it’s authoritative?”
ME. “’Cause it’s just as ‘authoritative’ as those other translations. Which is to say, don’t take any one translation’s word for it. Compare it with other ones, just in case one of us made a mistake.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her, though. When you grow up thinking of certain bible translations as absolute authorities… it kinda bothers you to discover they’re not the work of extra-special anointed creatures, but ordinary women and men. Especially once you personally know any of those ordinary women and men.

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

I know; I already wrote an article about the history of the King James Version—and the people who worship it. But two years ago I wrote a different article, and was asked to repost it. I was a little reluctant to, ’cause it’s largely based on a Chick tract.

Some of you already know who he was: Jack T. Chick (1924–2016) was a conspiracy theorist who believed the devil was behind everything he doesn’t like. Seriously everything—and Chick didn’t like much. In order to prove it, he played really fast and loose with the truth. He’d misquote bible, mangle history, and apparently just make stuff up from scratch. ’Cause for some of his claims, I can’t find confirmation anywhere—well, other than books Chick himself published.

Primarily his company publishes evangelism tracts. Nearly all of them lack fruit of the Spirit: They’re loveless, impatient, unkind, joyless (his humor is the ironic, mocking sort), graceless (any little slip-up on our part sends us to hell), and fearful. I needn’t remind you they likewise make up any facts he needed to prove his points… and hopefully scare you into the waiting, loving judgey arms of Jesus.

His tracts are controversial, because many Christians love love LOVE them. Believe it or not, some of them actually aren’t bad. But most of them are. Christians justify using them ’cause “Chick tracts work!”—but that was just Chick’s marketing slogan. If they win anyone to Christ, chances are you wind up with just another Chick-style conspiracy theorist.


Yep, someone’s supposedly burning the One True Bible. Attack 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on the website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So I’m loath to use him as an example, ’cause the man doesn’t need any more publicity. Then again, he was mighty typical of what a KJV-worshiper believes. Not only that: You’ll find more than one KJV-worshiper actually turn to Chick’s publications as their “historical” justifications for believing as they do. So if you wanna go straight to the source of the madness, Chick’s got a river of bile flowing out of him.

Chick’s tract, “The Attack,” is his alternative history of how we got the King James Version, and the devil’s conspiracy to deny it to us. You can read it, in its entirety, on his website. As with all his “historical” tracts, a fraction is true. The rest is out of context, hyper-compressed, reinterpreted, whitewashed, or pure fiction.

It uses two sources. One’s David W. Daniels, whose book Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible? is published by Chick Publications, and where “The Attack” got its secret history. The other’s Alberto Rivera (1937–97), a con artist who claimed he used to be a Roman Catholic bishop, whom the Jesuits sent to infiltrate and undermine Protestant churches. In the 1970s, Rivera “outed” himself, told all sorts of wacky tales about how the Catholics are secretly behind Islam, Communism, the Masons, the Ku Klux Klan, the Mafia, the Mormons… and pretty much every boogeyman Chick feared. Rivera was debunked years ago by Cornerstone, Christianity Today, and Walter Martin’s Christian Research Institute. But Chick Publications still produces Rivera’s books, and plenty of anti-Catholics still believe his every word.

The bible in “the original Greek”: The Septuagint.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 January
SEPTUAGINT sɛp'tu.ə.dʒɪnt noun. An ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.
[Septuagintal sɛp.tu.ə'dʒɪnt.əl adjective.]

When you read the New Testament, and one of the apostles quotes the Old Testament, most of the time they’re not translating it from the original Hebrew. They’re quoting a Greek translation.

There wasn’t just one translation. Same as English versions of the bible nowadays, different translators had taken different shots at putting the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Some Greek-speaking Jew in Jerusalem might put together something like a “King Jonathan’s Version,” or KJV; some Greek-speaking Jew in Egypt might’ve cobbled together an “Egyptian Standard Version,” or ESV; some curious gentile in Laodicea might’ve put together a “New Laodicean Translation,” or NLT… I could come up with more hypothetical reasons for these familiar initials, but you get the gist. But over time, copyists smooshed all these different Greek bibles together into one sorta-kinda-the-standard copy, and we call it the Septuagint.

Why’s it called the Septuagint? Funny story. According to a Pharisee legend, told in the Letter of Aristeas, King Ptolemy Philadelphius of Egypt wanted a copy of the bible for his famous Library of Alexandria. So he asked Jerusalem for translators; they sent him either 70 or 72 scribes, who cleverly answered Ptolemy’s test questions and got the job. Each were given their own room, got to translating, and when done all their translations miraculously matched, word-for-word. Therefore this is an inspired, inerrant translation of the bible. (Oh, and septuaginta is Latin for 70. It’s why people tend to use the abbreviation LXX, the Roman 70, for the Septuagint.)

Yeah, it’s as bogus as the myth KJV-only adherents have for their favorite translation. Because if it really were an infallible version of the bible, the New Testament authors would’ve quoted it, and only it, for their scriptures. Instead some apostles quoted it. And others translated the Hebrew for themselves. Paul went back and forth. Seems sometimes he just didn’t care for the way the Septuagint put it, and decided to phrase the original Hebrew in his own way.