Summary: Third in a series on the reliability of the Bible, this messages deals with the debate about Bible translations. If the words of Scripture mattered to Jesus, they should matter to us.
DISCLAIMER: The material in these three messages come from others who are better scholars than I! Contact me if I can credit anything in this series to its original source.
Only One Translation?
(Third in the series Our Still Point with God: The Reliability of the Bible)
Introduction: In the 1988 film Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman’s character is based on a real-life autistic man named Kim Peek. Peek has total recall of more than 9,000 books. When he attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, he stood up near the end and loudly ordered, “You’ve got to stop it, stop it, stop it!” The actor had skipped the second to the last verse of the play. Caught in his mistake, the actor apologized, saying, “The verses are so much alike, I didn’t think it would matter.”
Peek responded, “It mattered to William Shakespeare, and it should matter to you.”
Let’s face it right up front: there have been notorious mistakes in the Bible.
• The “Judas Bible” (1611): Judas (rather than Jesus) came with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, even though the previous chapter reported that Judas had already hanged himself.
• In The “Basketball Bible” “Hoops” were used instead of “hooks” in the construction of the Tabernacle.
• The “Sinners Bible” had Jesus say in John 5:14 “sin on more” instead of “sin no more.”
• The “Vinegar Bible” (1717) earned this sour name because the chapter title for Luke 20 was printed as “The Parable of the Vinegar” instead of the “Parable of the Vineyard.”
• In a 1792 printing, it was Philip rather than Peter who denied his Lord three times in Luke 22:34.
• The “Murderer’s Bible” (1795) declared, “Let the children first be killed” instead of “Let the children first be filled.”
• An 1807 Oxford edition of the Bible had Hebrews 9:14 say, “Purge your conscience from good works” instead of “Purge your conscience from dead works.”
• A 1964 printing of the KJV said that women were to “adorn themselves in modern apparel” instead of “modest apparel” in 1 Timothy 2:9.
• The 1653 edition—known commonly as the “Unrighteous Bible”—said “the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God” in 1 Corinthians 6:9.
• But the big booboo prize goes to the 1631 edition, the infamous “Wicked Bible,” which rewrote the seventh of the Ten Commandments as “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
Until the advent of modern printing, errors in the text of the Bible (or any other book, for that matter) were rather commonplace. In some instances, the scribe would even acknowledge blunders, whether they were omissions or variant spellings, with humorous annotations.
In one manuscript, for instance, a scribe left out two or three sentences. Realizing his error, and unable to insert the sentences once the page was completed, the copyist wrote the omitted sentences at the bottom of the page. He then drew a box around the sentences, added handles on the box and sketched two small elves pulling ropes attached to the handles, complete with blocks and pulleys, attempting to lift the box up the page. In the margin where the sentences were missing, a squirrel pointed his finger in the direction of the absent text.
Proposition: If the words of Scripture mattered to Jesus, they should matter to us.
1. God wants to communicate with us in our language, Deuteronomy 4:1–14
It is clear that God took great effort to connect with this special community. Rather than uttering indecipherable noises or symbols, God chose to create words that were part of everyday communication, even inscribing these instructions into a permanent record, as in the Ten Commandments.
This helps us to appreciate the manner in which God chose to form the first parts of what would become the Bible. In the world of ancient Israel, the Hittites had standardized and widely distributed a written contract form that became normative between kings and their subject nations. Today this document template is known as the Hittite “Suzerain-Vassal covenant.” Usually it consisted of six parts:
• A preamble which declared the identity of the royal authority initiating this covenant
• A historical prologue that described the reasons for this covenant
• Stipulations that sorted out the demands of the covenant on both parties
• Curses and blessings that told the consequences of breaking or keeping this covenant
• A list of witnesses who confirmed the enactment of this treaty
• A document clause which told of the ratification, copies, and renewal ceremonies of the covenant
The text of Exodus 20–24 is formed exactly in the character of a Hittite Suzerain-Vassal covenant document. It has
(1) a preamble (20:1–2);
(2) a historical prologue (20:2);
(3) stipulations (20:3–23:19);
(4) curses and blessings (23:20–33);
(5) a list of witnesses (24:1–3, 9–18); and