Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

What’s In a Word?


I’ve seen raging debates all across the internet and even in my facebook newsfeed about which version of the Bible is the correct one.  Which translation meets the criteria for being categorized as divinely inspired and which ones don’t.  These debates are usually surrounding the Authorized King James Bible of 1611.

Proponents of the King James Bible of 1611 usually hold that it is the only divinely inspired translation. Though there are multiple translations into the English language that have come after, most of which claim to be closer to the original Greek.  Just one tiny problem.  We don’t have the original manuscripts.  In order to maintain divine inspiration we’re told it doesn’t matter that we don’t have the originals.  There were many copies, all close enough in edit, that we can know what the originals said.  Any discrepancies are likely copyist error.

But did you know that the original King James Bible of 1611 was full of marginal notes?  Marginal notes that indicated there could be several meanings of a word translated into English from Greek?  Somewhere along the way someone decided that those marginal notes were unnecessary.  They picked the most likely meaning and went with it.  Because much prayer and thoughtfulness went into the original KJV of 1611 that the translators didn’t want to mislead, they thought it prudent to include those side notes. Huh.  How about that.  They didn’t think they were the purveyors of all truth and wisdom.

And what about these other translations?  There’s the NIV, NLT, ESV, NAS, GWT, KJV, AKJV, ASV, BBE, DBY, DRB, WEB, and the YTL.  I’m sure I’ve missed a few. That’s eleven, count ’em, eleven translations.  Apparently there’s a lot in a word.  Apparently we don’t know what the words are.  Because, if we did, we wouldn’t need eleven plus translations to convey them.  Then there are individuals who have Bibles.  There’s the Scofield Study Bible, The MacArthur Study Bible, and The Ryrie Study Bible.  That’s just to name a few.  Because apparently these folks have it all figured out.

You and I are supposed to be convinced that God somehow preserved his word over thousands of years?  Which one?  Proponents of various translations think theirs is the best, just like their particular brand of Christianity.  The original Hebrew was translated into Greek and Aramaic. Not a chance something went wrong there. ::sarcasm::  Then all of this was translated into Latin.  Nope, no way there could be an error. ::more sarcasm::  Then this was all translated into English and various other languages.  I don’t see how anything could possibly go awry. ::dripping sarcasm::  None of this even accounts for the fact that, as far as the English language goes, there are nuances to the original terms that we can’t possibly even express.  Still, I can’t get away from that tiny little problem of not even having the originals.

And what of copyist errors?  And what of forgeries and interpolations?  We’re told to believe that minor copyist errors don’t change the original meaning of the text.  Don’t we all know that even changing one little letter in one single word in a sentence can change the entire meaning? Here’s an old joke that’s been around for ages:

A man sends a letter back to his wife while he’s on a business trip in a tropical locale saying, “The weather’s nice and I’m having a great time.  Wish you were her.”

What’s in a word?  You tell me.


10 thoughts on “What’s In a Word?

  1. Out of curiosity, are you a fan of Bart Ehrman's books on the origins of the Bible?


  2. I haven't read any of Ehrman's works yet. I'm working my way through The Human Faces of God. I used to devour books, but lately have been basically forcing myself to read them. 😦


  3. The funny thing about KJVO people spouting their 1611 stufff is that most of them use the 1769 update of the 1611 which is different in hundreds of places.It seemed all so consistent years ago and now I look at it and say "wow, I believed that? " 🙂


  4. As it happens, I can still read Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic sufficiently well to know that we do have the "originals" in the many Torahs used in Synagogues and Temples everywhere in the world every Saturday. Allowing only for very minor copyist errors (Yes, these are still hand copied), what we may read in Synagogue is precisely what was read in the time of Jesus and by Jesus, for that matter, if we are to accept the New Testament accounts. I can tell you that there are significant and sometimes "critical" differences between these Torahs and The King James version of the corresponding old testament.It is astounding that alledgedly educated Christians cannot see that the belief that only "my version" is correct, let alone that version is not in the original language that supposedly was used between God and Moses, or that the parables and sermons attributed to Jesus would have been spoken in the Aramaic which was the vernacular at his time, etc., etc. makes blind adherence to such exclusivity virtually certain to be wrong. And… we are not here even beginning to discuss the clear facts that most of the accounts in the Torah are neither historically nor scientifically possible, except as allegories.Harvey


  5. Harvey,In what way are you using the word originals?I suspect that word might mean different things depending on the religious context.In many Christian circles originals is code for the words that directly came from God. Word for word, perfect, without error. Of course such originals don't exist and if they did how would we know that they are really the originals? (unless God signed the originals and then we would argue over the signature) :)I suspect, and I am not an expert of Judaism, that for Jews originals are always viewed in the context of what's been handed down within the community. In the Christian church, because of the importance placed on certainty the Bible becomes a book of truth that must be defended and sadly the methods of defense are not only irrational but harmful to Christianity as a whole.The world would be a whole lot better off if Christians viewed their religious text as allegory or awesome stories to live by rather than a word for word monologue from God.


  6. "Don't we all know that even changing one little letter in single word in a sentence can change the entire meaning?"You've heard about the Catholic priest, of course? The poor man was doing research on the oldest Church documents, and then he just stopped coming into work. His superior became worried, and eventually tracked him down. When the supervisor found the priest, the priest was in bed with two you women and a bottle of wine on the nightstand."What is this? How could you betray your vows!?" demanded the older man.But the priest just looked back at him, laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. "It was right there in the texts. All along… right there… It says, 'Celebrate!' And all these centuries, we've had it wrong! We left out the 'R'!"


  7. Bruce:By "originals" I mean the Hebrew texts that the translators of the King James Version would have used. These would also have included the so-called "HafTorah", which are readings from what is generally referred to as The "Old Testament", but separate from the Five Books of Moses (which are the entire Torah). My point, of course, is that if one believes that God dictated or inspired the early Hebrew scribes, how does this carry over to later writers who wrote in Aramaic, Greek, and/or Latin. Since I am a Jew by birth and upbringing, but am presently an atheist totally at peace with my lack of any God, none of this is of more than academic interest, but I thought my experiences with the "authenticity" of the original two languages might be of some interest to other bloggers.Harvey


  8. Thanks Harvey.I am an atheist too. In the Evangelical world I was a part of "originals" meant the texts that were actually breathed out (inspired) by God. The writers were just God's mouthpiece.(some even believe in the dictation theory, where God dictated and man wrote) Key to this way of looking at the texts is that God not only breathed out the texts he also, through time, preserved them so we can know, for certain, that what we call the Bible, is the inspired word of God.This view is quite unsustainable intellectually but millions of American Christians believe it. Years ago I remember one man in the church I pastored asking me where he could go to "see" the originals. He was certain that there was a place where the exact manuscripts breathed out by God could be seen. I have been asking that question ever since. Exactly where are the "originals?" It seems they have been misplaced.


  9. I've never heard that little joke. How appropriate!


  10. @Bruce,Exactly. Either they don't know or aren't bothered by the fact that the original KJV of 1611 had all these side notes. Doesn't that mean that they weren't all that certain that they had the correct translation and that the particular word or passage could be translated in a different manner? It seems to me that they didn't claim to have a monopoly on divine truth.===============================================@Harvey:As always your insights are welcome and educational. I think it would be fantastic to be able to read Hebrew and Aramaic. I'd think that the inconsistencies in interpretation and translation would be very interesting.================================================@MM,Thanks for the joke. I racked my brain trying to think of a bible joke to use. But the point remains the same and yours just added the punctuation.================================================@Bruce & Harvey:Thanks for the exchange. It's always good to get varying perspectives on things. 🙂


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