Bogus Bible Translations

People are strange, and they do weird things.  But, as they said at Watergate, when nothing makes sense, follow the money.  See where it goes from, and who it goes to, and that will tell you what’s really going on.

There are people out there who have created, deliberately, and at some expense, faked “translations” of the bible.  Truly there are.  Obviously you can’t believe that what you are doing is honest, or that the product of your scissors is in any way the word of God.  You must, indeed, believe that there is no god – only guns, girls and gold, and that you want them.  The history of religion is not lacking in examples of clergymen who thought in precisely those terms.

Marcion was an early exponent of this approach to the bible.  Faced with a nascent New Testament that did not say what he wanted, he took out his knife and chopped out all the bits that he didn’t like.  Tertullian pointed out, in reply, that, from even the passages that Marcion had not excised , the falsity of Marcion and his claims could be shown.

Nor is this a purely ancient trend.  In Nazi Germany, one of Hitler’s slaves demanded that the bible be purged in a similar way, to eliminate the Old Testament and to revise the New Testament “in accordance with the principles of National Socialism”.  This was too much, even in Nazi Germany, and the Reich authorities were obliged to disown the over-eager flatterer.

These days we know better.  We can simply “adjust” the translation into English, and pretend that the text is “uncertain”, even though nobody ever was uncertain about what it meant.

The best known example of this is the New World Translation, produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This mistranslates John 1:1 as “and the word was a god”.  Of course nobody outside of that harmless cult pays any attention to this.  It is entirely possible that the leaders of the cult got themselves sincerely confused; but on the other hand, they profit from it.  It helps to shore up their organisation.  The cult arose among US Protestants, who revere the bible, so there is an obvious motive to have your own bible version, in order to muddy the waters as to what the bible says.  This can hardly be done honestly, unless those leaders were truly ignorant, but of course maybe they were.  Let us hope so.

Most cultists, however, do not go this far.  Instead they produce supplementary texts, such as the Koran or Book of Mormon.  This requires far less effort.

I wonder what other faked translations exist?  There must be others!  A list would be a useful thing to have.

A few weeks ago I heard of a new one.  Again produced in the USA, this calls itself the “New Revised Standard Version – Updated Edition” (NRSVue).  It’s based on the respected NRSV, but edited, according to the preface, with the following principles:

The NRSVue extends the New Revised Standard Version’s (NRSV) purpose to deliver an accurate, readable, up-to-date, and inclusive version of the Bible. … The NRSVue continues and improves the effort to eliminate masculine-oriented language when it can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture. … Only occasionally has the pronoun “he” or “him” or other gendered language been retained in passages where the reference may have been to a woman as well as to a man, for example, in several legal texts in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. …. In the vast majority of cases, however, inclusiveness has been attained by simple rephrasing or by introducing plural forms when this does not distort meaning.

One of the editors states, with a curious lack of self-awareness:

To avoid defining a person by a disability, the NRSVue makes a good faith effort to adopt person-first diction. Thus, Matthew 4:24 in the NRSVue speaks of “people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis.”

Likewise, to make a distinction between a person’s identity and a condition imposed on that person, the NRSVue of Galatians 4:22 uses the expression “an enslaved woman,” as opposed to a “slave woman.”

In the tradition of the NRSV, the NRSV tries to avoid what famed translator Bruce Metzger called “linguistic sexism,” which means “the inherent bias of the English language toward the masculine gender” (see the “To the Reader” preface in the NRSV). So, in Romans 16:1, the NRSVue retains the word “deacon” for Phoebe as opposed to the belittling “deaconess” terminology found in a few other translations. Going beyond the NRSV, however, the NRSVue replaces the belittling “servant-girl” expression in Mark 14:69 by referring to the woman of that text as a “female servant.”

Finally, the NRSV regrettably had used lowercase letters to describe some Jewish calendrical observances. Lest doing so be interpreted as disrespectful, such observances as the Sabbath and Passover are now rendered in capital letters. Accordingly, in John 5:9, the NRSVue reads “Now that day was a Sabbath,” which replaces the NRSV’s reading: “Now that day was a sabbath.”  …

The goal all along was to be as gender diverse and ethnically diverse as possible and to welcome teams of translators that were both ecumenical and interfaith in their composition.

Few will be very impressed by any of this.  This is no way to produce a translation.  The purpose here is the same as with the JWs – to take advantage of those with an inherited respect for the bible, and abuse it in order to advance their own, and quite different, ends.  As might be expected, the new “version” makes some improvements on 1 Cor. 6:9.  This reads in the NRSV:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

but in the NRSVue:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes,[a] men who engage in illicit sex,[b] 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

With the footnote in both places “Meaning of Gk uncertain”.  I’m sure the authors laughed as they wrote that.

It is slightly sinister to find that Bible Gateway has removed the real NRSV in favour of the faked version – I had to use the “Anglicised” version.  But we need not spend more time on this mendacious exercise, although doubtless some people will have to.  The contempt of posterity, and the hell in which they do not believe, awaits its authors.  The production also highlights a deep-seated intellectual corruption affecting the humanities in US universities.

But … can anyone name other, deliberately falsified, versions of the bible?


38 thoughts on “Bogus Bible Translations

  1. Roger,
    One should look at Thomas Jefferson’s bible. He pretty much did a similar excising as Marcion.

  2. There’s the Queen James Bible. And then, there are those miserable paraphrases (e.g. The Message).
    Thomas Jefferson had his cut-and-paste version.
    Joseph Smith made his own edited version of the Bible.
    There was some so-called “Good as New, a radical retelling of the Scriptures” which was recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
    Conservapedia also had their “translation” to make things more “conservative.” They allegedly made Stephen Colbert a Bible character.

  3. Greeks have been reading, studying, copying and writing commentaries on the New Testament since the beginning. There is also a plethora of Greek literature available including lexicons and popular texts such as letters surviving in papyri.
    To claim that the meaning of a Greek word in the New Testament is an insult to us (and a bit racist).
    Even Erasmus was smart enough to go to Venice and learn Greek from the Greeks there before he went off to print the first New Testament in Greek!

  4. Sorry to double dip but I have a great example of a bogus bible – the Jefferson Bible. A bit like Marcion, Thomas Jefferson cut out the miracles, mentions of the supernatural, the resurrection, etc to present Jesus as a moral philosopher.

  5. But after reading the NRSVue, I imagine we may still be able to say along with Tertullian (for Scripture is difficult to change): “Marcion, I pity you; your labour has been in vain. For the Jesus Christ who appears in your Gospel is mine.”— Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.43.9

  6. Scheesh Roger, you disappoint me with the bitter cynicism leveled at JWs. “Cult” is an inaccurate pejorative label. How much “profit” is there when bibles are printed at substantial cost but given to the public free of charge?

    Let me give you a more constructive ‘motive’ behind some translations — restoring the divine name (YHVH, Yehovah in Hebrew) in the approximately 6800 places in the Old Testament where most other translations have replaced it with “LORD.” Likewise, NT quotes from the OT likely contained some representation of the tetragrammaton before later copyists replaced it with Kurios/Lord.

    As far as John 1:1, I’m not a fan of “a god” either since I believe John was making a qualitative statement about “the Word.” Thus Goodspeed translates John 1:1 “and the Word was divine.” As far back as Origen, who natively spoke Koine Greek, John’s omission of the definite article (when describing the Logos/Word) was noticed. Relevant excerpts from Origen’s Commentary on John, Book 2:

    “We next notice John’s use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God…”

    “The true God, then, is “The God,” and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father, and not continuing to be God, if we should think of this, except by remaining always in uninterrupted contemplation of the depths of the Father.”

  7. Luther added “alone” twice in his translation of the Bible as a qualifier for “faith”.
    I’m told that’s a feature of the German language–but when used to confirm an idiosyncratic doctrine of grace, I propose that it reaches “bogus” levels.

  8. JWs can claim they restored the divine name in the New Testament but the thousands of manuscripts in Greek (and every other early language) have kyrios (lord) and nothing else like Jehovah. It is just JW wishful thinking.
    As far as I’m aware there isn’t a single textual variant in the New Testament that has the tetragrammaton.
    Does anyone know any different?

  9. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are indeed a cult. There are worse cults out there, but they do all the standard cult things, like making people donate huge amounts of time and money, cutting people off from family and friends, changing their tenets and trying to make people forget previous versions, cutting off contact with anyone who leaves the group, cutting off contact with anyone who has a good argument with their proselytizers, and so on.

  10. There’s a supposed translation of the Aramaic version of the Bible, which deliberately mistranslates the Bible to be unitarian and various other weird things.

    It’s by George Lamsa, from back in the 1930’s. “Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Texts.” But it’s not really a translation. He just changed the wording at various places to whatever he wanted, and it has nothing to do with the Peshitta or whatever.

    So beware of that one. A lot of people signed onto it, in all good faith, not knowing any better.

  11. Ah thank you – not heard of that one.

    I’m getting much less tolerant of those US hucksters creating heretical groups, since I find them working hand in glove online with secularists to attack the church.

  12. First of all, the oldest copies of the NT we currently have are attributed dates 100-150 years after the autographs were penned — that’s true for the vast majority of NT authors. Look no further than the Septuagint (LXX) to see what happened during that intervening time. While 4th century Uncials like Codex Vaticanus/B do not contain the divine name in the Greek OT, in recent decades more ancient LXX fragments (including from 1st century) came to light and these ALL contain some form of the tetragrammaton — whether Hebrew characters or the Greek transliteration IAΩ.

    So in 1 Cor. 3: 20, why would Paul—himself a native Jew and educated Pharisee—not accurately quote Psalm 94:11 when both the Hebrew and Greek LXX copies of his time contained the tetragrammaton? There is no reason. Therefore the evidence suggests that the removal of ‘the name’ in both the Greek OT and NT coincided with the subsequent invention/adoption of ‘nomina sacra’ abbreviations (“KY” et al. for Kurios).

    Well before the above Septuagint evidence was known, some translators reasoned that, at least in the case of OT quotations, the divine name would have appeared in the original text. For that reason, centuries before the organization of JWs existed, numerous translations restored the divine name in the main text or at least in the margins of their NT translations. Certainly not a JW-only subject for reasonable inquiry/discussion.

  13. Getting rather off-topic here, but there is a certain interest. Can you give the papyri of the LXX that use the Hebrew? Which “translators” do you refer to?

  14. Papyrus Fouad 266 is a nice example of Hebrew character tetragrammaton entered into the Greek LXX text. Dated to first century B.C.E. Peter actually quotes this verse in Acts 3:22.

    Christian publishing house has a webpage about that text along with images. I’ll try to post one here. List of translators that have used some form of the divine name in NT is a pretty big list, but one conservative example (marginal references to “Jehovah” in NT) is by scholar Thomas Newberry in the late 1800s.

  15. Scholar Emanuel Tov has espoused the Greek transliteration IAΩ as original, with the use of Hebrew characters (including ancient Paleo-Hebrew) coming later — perhaps to discourage any verbalization of the sacred name.

    Interpretations vary but one fact remains — ALL extant first century and earlier LXX examples contain some form/representation of the tetragrammaton and NOT Kurios where ‘the name’ appears in the corresponding Hebrew.

  16. No Where does Vasileiadis claim the divine name was changed in the New Testament. Steve is speculating that because a few examples of papyri of the Septuagint have the tetragrammaton then that was the original. The article by Vasileiadis is interesting but relies on a small amount of information for a big claim.
    The Nahal Hever Minor prophets scrolls (which is not from the Qumran Community) is cited as evidence by Vasileiadis but he glosses over that it is universally seen as a revision of the LXX.
    Like all scholars with an agenda Vasileiadis fails to mention that none of the fragments of the LXX found in the Dead Sea Scrolls have the tetragrammaton and they are just as old as Papyrus Fouad 266..

  17. Roger,

    The Dead Sea Scroll find that is from the Cave of Horrors that Randall Price indicated was from the Greek text of Nahum 1;5-6 included the Tetragrammaton in Paleo-Hebrew. See the following links;

    There are other links, but the above should be sufficient.

    One thing that stands out is that the Intertestamental Period did not pronounced “HaShem.” Of course, you know of the ongoing debate as to how the Tetragrammaton should appear or even translated.

  18. Roger,
    I would also add that the Naher Hever Nahum 1:5-6 passage (cf. 03/16/2021 announcements) that has the Tetragrammaton in “Paleo-Hebrew” would pre-exist any NT autograph; although I fully understand that all we do not have the autographs. I also understand that “absence of evidence does not necessarily mean evidence of absence,” i.e. an argument from silence.

    One final thought that should go into this discussion is the different translation philophies that are used: Fornal Equivalent (Literal word-for-word), Functional Equivalent (Dynamic), Paraphrase, etc. I suspect that you have seen different philosphies in translating the Latin into English. The different philosophies also are used in the OG/LXX.

  19. If I may quote from A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion (OUP, 2003):
    “This name is usually translated in English as ‘the Lord’, following the Greek translation as kyrios. All this goes back to the Jewish practice of never pronouncing the name as it is written but as Adonai, ‘the Lord’. In printed texts the vowels of this word are placed under the letters of the Tetragrammaton. (Hence the name was read erroneously by Christians as ‘Jehovah’, a name completely unknown in the Jewish tradition.)” I thought this was generally known. See also, for example, the article on the Tetragrammaton in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and the literature cited there. This was already the practice long before the Christian era, so there is no question of the early Christians pronouncing anything other than ὁ Κύριος or ὁ Θεός when reading either the Hebrew scriptures or the nascent New Testament.
    Reverting to the original subject of the post, I would suggest that one ought to distinguish between deliberate falsification of the scriptures and well-meaning, if misguided emendations. And in fact, at Rom. xvi 1, “deacon” is the better translation of διάκονος, which is an epicene noun and can refer to persons of either sex. Only if you speak a variety of English in which the word can only refer to a man would you need to avoid it. (This is not impossible: I can remember a time when Scottish firms had to advertise for “a clerk or clerkess”, lest an advertisement for “a clerk” were understood to mean that only men need apply.)

  20. Thank you. I agree that innocent paraphrase – things like the Message bible – is a different thing to tampering.

    What a lovely thought about “clerkess”!

  21. The point about the JW version of the Bible is not that they change LORD to Jehovah, but that they insert the Name whenever they feel like it. Over 200 times, IIRC. Also, they insert the Name in an attempt to prove that Jesus is not God.

    They do have an interlinear (on their own website) that shows their Name inserts in brackets, but that’s not the normal version that people read.

    Re: the Chinese thing in the “ethics of the law” textbook — It turns out that it was a quote from a fictional book in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, in which Card’s fictional writer tells three different versions of how one might handle the situation of the Woman Caught in Adultery. He has two rabbis doing different things (the Chinese plagiarized quote is Rabbi 2) before referencing Jesus’ solution to the problem. I think I pointed this out already, but it still blows me away.

  22. Caveat Lector is good Latin advice. Better yet the mindset of the Berean Christians (Acts 17:10-12).

    Suburban banshee talked about JWs: “MAKING people donate huge amounts of time and money.” How an organization that does NOT practice tithing or ever pass a donation plate (as many religions do) can ‘make’ people donate huge amounts of money is beyond me. They can’t ‘make’ people donate a penny.

    Bryant already corrected the inaccurate comment that “none of the fragments of the LXX found in the Dead Sea Scrolls have the tetragrammaton” but I would like to add Qumran fragment 4Q120 (aka 4QpapLXXLevb). Robert Wilkinson characterized 4Q120 as “an irreproachably Septuagint text from the 1st century B.C. which bears no trace of having been subsequently conformed to the Hebrew text.”

    See its transliterated Greek “Iaw” (Iota, Alpha, Omega) here:

    Finally, Nehemia Gordon is the Hebrew scholar to go to — he thoroughly debunks the oft-repeated misinformation about the history of Yehovah/Jehovah for YHVH, as compared to the “scholarly guess” (Anchor Bible Dictionary) Yahweh.

    RP: slight edit.

  23. Mmm. Thank you for this. I’ve never looked into the question of whether the LXX originally contained the tetragrammaton, rather than kyrios, so I can’t really comment.

  24. This evening I have done a little reading around the LXX and the tetragrammaton. It seems that the original LXX was produced in the 3rd century BC. We have patristic testimony of Jewish revised translations, e.g. those of Aquila and Theodotion, from the 2nd century AD onwards. These came into being to bring the Greek translation more into line with the Hebrew text. This demonstrates that the LXX originally – known as the “Old Greek” – underwent revisions designed to bring it closer to the Hebrew. The discovery of a scroll of the 12 minor prophets from Nahal Hever, dated to the 1st century BC, shows this process already underway. This means that papyri from Jewish sources such as Qumran is liable to represent texts modified in this way. One such way is the tetragrammaton. Possibly.

    That’s as far as I have read, or will read tonight. But even this much means that we can’t simply appeal to the papyri.

  25. Hi Roger,
    I have had some discussions with JWs over the issue of the tetragrammaton and I have reached the same conclusion as you have in the above post. That there are a few examples with the tetragrammaton like Papyrus Fouad 266 and the Nahal Hever Minor Prophets Scrolls (which is not a Qumran text) and other with IAO like the Leviticus fragment mentioned by Steve shows there were rival editorial practices in process.

    As you said in an earlier post about Papyrus Fouad 266, the spacing is clearly enough to fit KYRIOS in uncial script but the scribe left in blank and the tetragrammaton was inserted later. This is a dead giveaway that the manuscript the scribe was copying had kyrios in the text.

    Despite all this fuss about the Septuagint it detracts from my original statement that no manuscript copy of the New Testament in any ancient language has either the tetragrammaton or IAO so the JW insertion is arbitrary and motivated by sectarian bias.

  26. I wrote
    “Like all scholars with an agenda Vasileiadis fails to mention that none of the fragments of the LXX found in the Dead Sea Scrolls have the tetragrammaton and they are just as old as Papyrus Fouad 266” meaning the texts associated with Qumran Community.
    I do acknowledge in a broader sense that the Nahal Hever Scroll is sometimes lumped in as a Dead Sea Scroll.
    I do stand by the claim that there is no tetragrammaton in the Qumran fragments but there are some Aramaic OT paraphrases that have it.

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