First Principles under Challenge

The previous article identified doctrinal problems arising either from the original language text itself or from the ‘dynamic equivalent’ interpretations of that text. A by-product of this interpretive philosophy was seen in the ‘gender inclusiveness’ of some more recent versions such as the Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the Good News Translation (GNT).

An additional by-product of this translator initiated interpretive philosophy lies in the reduc­tion, if not the deletion of some traditional words and phrases. Although products of the King James and previous English versions, these words and phrases underpin, and have become part of our First Principles vocabulary and teaching. The re­placements offered by most of these contemporary versions are unsatisfactory substitutes. In fairness, their translators do not understand the significance of these words and phrases. The same of course could be said of the King James translators, except that they left well alone. This trend constitutes a greater challenge than the objections previously considered. These objections which are considered in this article set us apart from ‘pro’ King James groups in general. The attached list summarises the situation. This table will not be found in any glossy brochure promoting any of the contempo­rary versions. Interestingly, these key words and phrases (in their vernacular) are also found in early foreign language Bibles such as Luther’s German Bible (1534), De Reina’s Spanish Bible (1569), and Diodati’s Italian Bible (1607).

(1) Flesh

The Hebrew word normally used is basar (Strong 1320) and the Greek is sari (Strong 4561). Both words mean just that: in its literal form, flesh: what we are literally made of. Because our flesh is the source of sin, the Scripture often gives it a figura­tive use (metonymy). We read for example, that Jesus was “made sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), a nonsense and a contradiction in terms, if taken literally. In the section in Elpis Israel on ‘The Constitution of Sin’, Brother Thomas deals with the scriptural use of the term “flesh”.1 In most of the quotations he uses in that section, where “flesh” is used in the KJV, the NIV uses other terms such as “sinful nature”, “sinful man”, or “sinful mind”. It therefore takes away the teaching that the source of sin lies in our fleshly mortal bodies. That is why Paul writes concerning “the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23).

The KJV uses “flesh” 15 times in Romans 7 and 8 (actually 18 times as the words “carnal” or “carnally” are translated from the same Greek word). But the NIV avoids using the word “flesh” at all in these chapters. Of all the chapters to avoid it! In fact, as indicated in the table, the NIV only translates the Greek sari and the Hebrew basar as “flesh” in 30% of occurrences. The comparable figure for the KJV is 97%. This trend is not an English language phenomenon: it is also found in the ‘newer’ Spanish and Portuguese versions of the NIV tradition. By extrapolation, one would assume that this is char­acteristic of many other ‘new’ foreign language versions. If so, this has dangerous implications for overseas preaching. Why do the NIV and other contemporary versions seemingly avoid using “flesh” wherever it can? We need to look at their mindset. The translators of those versions would of course believe that the source of sin, our “sinful nature” (to use their terminology) lies not in the body of flesh, (that to them is a nonsense) but in the sup­posed immortal soul, which allegedly meets its due reward either in heaven or in hell. To them, the body, called by them the ‘mortal coil’ is neither punished nor rewarded. It simply rots away in the grave. The translators are, in their view, only doing their job in ‘clarifying’ or more correctly interpret­ing, the meaning for their readers. Needless to say, it becomes a rather hopeless exercise, to expound properly and fully Romans 7 and 8 using the NIV. The above mentioned section in Elpis Israel quotes from Romans 7 and 8 some five times. Brother Thomas may well have had problems had he used the NIV and relied solely on its English text.

Listed are a few examples of verses familiar to us where the NIV has effectively changed the meaning : Gal 5:16-17,24; 6:8; Col 1:22; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 2:14 (the New Century Version gets rid of “flesh” and substitutes “bodies”); Heb 5:7; 10:20; 1 Pet 1:24; 4:1-2; 1 John 4:2-3 (the New Living Translation uses “real body”: what is an unreal body?).

The issue is so serious that even an orthodox theologian of the ‘old’ school stated: “Paul associ­ates sin with the physical members of the body; and although he is not advocating a view that the physical body is inherently evil, we must not miss the point that the physical members of the body are involved intimately in man’s sinning”.2

How he squares that correct idea with his pre­sumed belief in the immortality of the soul and a supernatural devil must be a conundrum.

The King James Version explicitly identifies the source of sin as our flesh: our physical being. The contemporary versions on the other hand are at best ambiguous, at worst misleading, as to the source of sin, and confusingly identify it with our “sinful nature” (whatever that might be), which really avoids the point. Romans 7:18 (KJV): “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing.” You cannot read “my immortal soul” into that verse. By contrast the NIV: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is my sinful nature”. That is a superfluous comment. It is a given that nothing good lives in “the sinful nature”. It might refer to our flesh, and then it might just refer to the supposed immortal soul; quite ambiguous, even elusive. That verse can be made to read whatever the reader wants to make of it. Not a good rule for studying the Bible.

(2) Seed

There are, in Scripture, three Covenants of Promise: the Edenic, the Abrahamic and the Davidic. In each of them reference is made to the “seed”: seed of the woman versus seed of the ser­pent, seed of Abraham, seed of David. This is First Principles material (Gen 3:15; 13:15; 2 Sam 7:12).

Why use the term “seed”? The word “seed” nearly always translates either a Hebrew word zera, or its Greek equivalent, sperma, both of which mean just that: something put into the ground. That partly answers the question but there is more to it.

Why not “son” (Hebrew ben or Greek huios) or “offspring” (Hebrew tseetsaim or Greek genos)? All these words are used figuratively in the Scriptures so, in theory, the use of them should not create a problem. Does it really matter anyhow? Except the Spirit chose “seed.” The translation committees of most of the contemporary versions don’t seem to think that it matters. They see no significance in the Spirit’s use of the word “seed”. Why should they anyway? Their committees would probably argue that the use of the word, at least in its figurative sense, is largely obsolete and it is well past time to move on from the 17th to the 21st century. The promises mean little to them: fulfilled, supposedly, already by Christ and implemented in heaven upon death. Even the most literal of the contemporary versions, the New King James version, translates the Hebrew and Greek words as “seed” on 36% of occasions (versus 98% for the KJV). The NIV (1978) comes in at a mere 19%, the English Standard Version (2003) 17% and the New Living Translation (recommended by Billy Graham) at 10%. These versions use “seed” only where the mean­ing is obviously literal.

Consider Galatians 3:16: Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” As God is one (v20), only those in harmony with Him can inherit the promises. Christ is the seed of Abraham so only those two inherit the promises. But others can be fellow heirs by belief and baptism into Christ (v26,29). There is nothing new in that: First Principles. We, coming into Christ, make us one in him: “we, being many, are one body in Christ” (Rom 12:5). The concept of seed singular is a cru­cial element of the Abrahamic Covenant. Brother Thomas writes, “Deny this and there is an end to all understanding of the truth”.3 In spite of the stress laid upon the singular nature of the “seed” by Paul (read the Spirit), most contemporary versions (eg RSV, NEB, NASB, NKJV) use “descendants” plural (eg Gen 13:15). This means that the very point the Spirit is so careful to emphasise is lost.

Consider also Genesis 22:17: “… and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies”. That is cor­rectly translated in the KJV. In spite of all this, some of the contemporary versions (including the NIV) render it as “their enemies” (see Table 2 in the previous article). How can you teach or learn the Truth with renditions like that?

Importantly, the word “seed” as translated in our KJV is a key word full of doctrinal importance. It cannot be substituted by the seemingly innocuous use of other words such as “descendants”.

(3) Lord Jesus Christ

The term and its variants (eg Jesus Christ our Lord), occurs 103 times in the KJV. It first occurs in Acts 15:11, although the three words occur in Acts 2:36. Importantly, the phrase is never used in the Gospels. While the name “Jesus” occurs in the narrative of the Gospels (eg “Jesus wept”), never do the disciples address him as “Jesus” and neither does the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42), NIV notwithstanding. Commenting on John 13:13, Brother John Carter writes: “The incidental refer­ence to the mode of address used by the disciples is noteworthy; ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’ expressed the position he held in contrast to theirs of pupil and slave. They did well to remember it and to use the titles. Too much familiarity in their address was not good: respect and reverence became his posi­tion. This is a feature which can be obscured by a too familiar reference in our speech and prayers. In the Gospel narratives – historical records – the Son of God is simply Jesus, the name given to him by God’s appointment. In the epistles he is Jesus Christ, or the Lord Jesus, the few occurrences of the simple name ‘Jesus’, having some particular purpose”.4

In Acts 2:22, Peter speaks of Jesus of Nazareth, which was part of the inscription on the cross (John 19:19). In verses 23 and 24 he is spoken of as being crucified and then raised. In verses 31 to 33 he is described as being resurrected and exalted. Then comes the pivotal conclusion in verse 36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” This is the first occurrence of “Lord”, “Jesus”, and “Christ” in the one verse. This now becomes almost exclusively the Lord’s full title. Another key verse in this consideration is Philippians 2:11: “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Table 1 indicates the reduction in the use of that title in the contemporary versions.

(4) Only Begotten

The Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenes, meaning, literally, “one beginning”. To obtain its Hebrew equivalent, refer to Hebrews 11:17 which speaks of Abraham’s “only begotten” son Isaac. Here monogenes is used to translate “only begotten”, and it refers back to Genesis 22:1-2 where “only” comes from the Hebrew yachid, which means exactly that. Jephthah’s daughter, for exam­ple, is described (Judges 11:34) as his only (yachid) child. As if to emphasise the point, the record adds “beside her he had neither son nor daughter.”

The use of the term “only son” in Genesis 22:1-2 creates a conundrum that contemporary version translators cannot understand. Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. Ishmael was born 13 years before Isaac. But the conundrum is explained in Genesis 22:18-19: “In Isaac shall thy seed be called”. Whilst there are blessings in store for the descendants of both Ishmael and the sons of Keturah, the promises made to Abraham and his seed, Jesus Christ, are valid or tenable, only through Isaac. Whilst this is First Principles teaching to our­selves, it is small wonder that contemporary version translators fail to understand this principle: they do not understand the promises made to Abraham.

The Greek word monogenes is used by Luke to describe various only children healed by the Lord (7:12; 8:42; 9:38). More specifically it is used by John in both his Gospel and in his Epistles to de­scribe Christ’s relationship to his Father. If the word “only” was all that was intended, then the Greek word monos could adequately have been used, as it is to describe for example “the only (monos) wise God our Saviour” (Jude 25).

Some of the contemporary versions eliminate not only the term “only begotten”, but “begat”, “be­get” etc as well. For example, John 3:16 (NIV) reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son …” Why the deletion? Because the term is an embarrassment to Trinitarians, as being begotten by very definition requires a beginning, as we have often pointed out to our Trinitarian friends. A member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation recognises this conundrum. Commenting on the term “only begotten Son”, he states: “If it has to do with origin, derivation, or descent, how does that square with the Son’s eternality?”.5 A co-eternal begotten Son is a con­tradiction in terms.

The term “only begotten” is an essential part of the relationship between God, the Father, and His Son. That the only begotten Son of God was also the only person who did not sin, is no coincidence. Clauses 9 and 10 of our Statement of Faith sum­marise this relationship well.

To Conclude

There are other words and phrases which have undergone similar treatment, such as “faith of” versus “faith in”, and the deletion of “broken” in 1 Corinthians 11:24 (“broken” is now deleted and replaced in Hymns 224, 226, 229 and 243). Would Brother Thomas have found the Truth had he used the NIV? What Bible should we use? To answer is to ask:

  • What original language texts were providen­tially preserved by God?
  • What Bible translation was undertaken by people who actually believed in its divine in­spiration?
  • What Bible translation actually teaches Bible doctrine?

It is true that the King James Version can do with some updating of its language. However, this must not be done at the expense of accuracy of translation. Until such a version comes (and how simple that should be), the best advice is to be aware of the limitations of the King James, as expressed in the first article. Certainly, more contemporary versions can supplement our understanding of Scripture but, to date, these can neither match nor replace the King James Version for its accuracy.

 

Table 1:
Version Rendered
“Flesh”
Rendered
“Seed”
Rendered
“Lord Jesus Christ”
Rendered
“Only Begotten”
KJV 97% 98% 100% 67%
RV 98% 97% 77% 67%
NKJV 78% 36% 100% 67%
KJ21 98% 99% 100% 67%
RSV 53% 19% 75% 0
NASB 74% 23% 75% 67%
ESV 70% 17% 73% 0
NRSV 64% 16% 74% 0
NLT NIV 10%

30%

10%

19%

74%

76%

0

0

You will not find this in the glossy brochures: key words diminished or deleted by version.

Notes:

Flesh: Based on a composite of Hebrew basar and Greek sarx.

Seed: Based on a composite of Hebrew zera and Greek sperma.

Lord Jesus Christ: Occurs 103 times in the King James Version.

Only Begotten: The Greek monogenes; occurs nine times in the KJV.

 

References

1 Elpis Israel, John Thomas, p136, xv edition

2 Accuracy of Translation, Robert Martin, P 56 1989 edition, ‘Banner of Truth Trust’

3 Elpis Israel, John Thomas, p246, xv edition

4 The Gospel of John, John Carter, p 148, first edition, 1980 printing

5 The AVIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation. KL Barker (Ed), Ch 11, ‘The One and Only Son,’ Richard N Longenecker, p120, 1986, Zondervan/Academic Books.

Footnote: Which translation should you use?

This series of articles has highlighted a number of arguments to support the use of the King James Version of Scripture. While this translation has its strengths, weaknesses are also acknowledged. The intent is not to provide prescriptive advice regard­ing the selection of a translation as no translation is perfect. Readers are encouraged to make an informed decision and to be aware of the limita­tions that each translation has.                                                  The Lampstand Committee