The Christian Faith, Lesson 2

The Language, Tampering, Translation, and Canon of the Bible

Introduction

The goal of this lesson is to provide data from which people can make informed judgments of the Bible's content. There's no point in debating the meaning of a text before determining what words are in it. When people argue over the meaning of various parts of the Bible, they typically base these arguments on translations. But as even the KJV translators put it:

the very meanest translation of the Bible in English… containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God.1

So translation is an issue of its own, but the original languages those translations come from are of the utmost importance. Yet even here we must proceed with caution, because what many think are original aren't necessarily so, and there is evidence of tampering.

Please understand that this in no way undermines the integrity of the Bible. The fact that we know of tampering proves that the truth is discoverable, and that the tampering was not perfectly concealed. This comes under the general principle that it isn't enough to claim something is tampered with, we must docment and demonstrate each instance of tampering.


Section Footnotes

  1.  1611 KJV The Translators To The Reader, §13-1

Language

As far as anyone can reasonably prove, the Bible was written originally in Hebrew, Greek, and a smattering of Aramaic. What most know as the Old Testament was first written in Paleo-Hebrew.1 There's nothing nefarious or sneaky about any of this; it's just how languages and alphabets change over time. So the time of the writing is very important to know. Yet it seems that Bible skeptics only consider such details important for non-Biblical writings such as the Sumerian Tablets. No skepticism is aimed at those; they're just blindly accepted as ancient and true.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint or LXX, was translated by Israelites around the 3rd century BC during the reign of one of Alexander the Great's generals by the name of Ptolemy Philadelphus. This was the Bible of the first century AD, the one Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted from and considered the very Word of God,2 even though something is always lost in translation, as you'll recall from the quote of the KJV Preface.

It should, but can't, go without saying that since languages and alphabets change, any alleged codes or hidden messages have also changed. So unless someone has the full, perfect, unaltered, Paleo-Hebrew text of the Old Testament in its original order, it's impossible to determine if there were any divinely-inspired coded messages in it.


Section Footnotes

  1.  ancient alphabets
  2.  The Septuagint

Tampering

The Masoretic text or MT, from which most Old Testaments have been translated, was written during the 10th-11th centuries AD, but it differed little from the Dead Sea scrolls written centuries earlier. However, it introduced vowel pointing, which compensates for the lack of vowels in the original alphabet. Yet this very addition became a commentary as much as a translation, since they could significantly change the meanings of words without technically altering the words inspired by God. This is very sneaky and subversive, but it didn't stop with the Hebrew scribes and sages. More about that shortly.

Now this MT differed from the LXX and quotations by historians, and it shows evidence of altering/obfuscating Messianic prophecies to counter Christian claims. And we should be aware that the Masoretes were formerly called Talmudists.1 An example can be seen here.2

I mentioned a bit ago about ongoing tampering. Check out these exposés of more modern tampering with the New Testament.3, 4 Footnote 4 is about a woman named Junia who was held in high regard by the apostle Paul in Rom. 16:7. Junia was changed to Junias (masculine) without any manuscript support. The deliberate error was quietly corrected decades later, again without the required attestation. Keep in mind this is the text from which all translations were made, so the error was multiplied in many languages for many years.

Though I could find no working links of better repute than Wikipedia, the entry on Junia5 shows the same sneaky practices as those of the vowel pointers, by the addition of an accent on the end of Junia's name, though the earliest manuscripts had no accents. The entry also mentions another desperate attempt to erase a woman apostle from scripture, that being that she was simply known to the apostles rather than being prominent among them, but grammatically this couldn't hold up. Another I've seen is that she was a non-authoritative apostle— a term not found in the Bible, even by implication.

So we see that the dictionaries or lexicons, and other tools such as concordances, are also part of the tampering. (A concordance is how one translation uses a given word; it is not a dictionary.6 Strong's Concordance, the most popular, is based only on the KJV.) Now look at the entry for the Greek word toxon in Strong's as opposed to the Mounce Greek dictionary.7 Notice that if you click on the base word tikto, it means to beget, bring forth; how did anyone get apparently the simplest fabric from that? It all has to do with something bent in an arc, as is the case for the shape of a pregnant belly, or a stick bent into a bow for shooting arrows.

As for original language text families for the New Testament, please see my video on the subject.8 The gist of it is that no point of doctrine rests on a disputed reading among the various Greek texts, and that no text families omit verses on ideological grounds. Charges that they did so must be substantiated and not merely presumed or suspected, or based on personal prejudice. Every criticism I've seen against them, and I've seen plenty over many years, has come from either ignorance of this highly technical topic, or failure to grasp the concepts involved. God preserves the scriptures through many manuscripts in many languages and places, the preponderance of evidence. And when that tactic fails, critics of modern translations resort to ad hominem attacks on the people who either assembled or copied the documents.

In the next section I'll show you how a comma and a paragraph break can completely reverse the meaning of a passage. Keep in mind that the earliest manuscripts were giant walls of text: All caps, no punctuation, no paragraph breaks, no chapter or verse markings.9 But the point here about language is that whether by punctuation, omission, addition, or formatting, both translators and the keepers of the earliest manuscripts have dared to alter the Word of God on technicalities. Yet we could never have discovered their tampering without objective evidence and consistent application of standards. We must be vigilant in overseeing the scribes and Pharisees who invalidate the Word of God with their traditions (Mark 7:6-13). There is also material referenced here for those concerned about the debunked JEDP theory of authorship.10


Section Footnotes

  1.  The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament
  2.  vowel pointing shenanigans (621-622)
  3.  More Phantom Pharisees
  4.  UBS tampering with NT Greek, Better Bibles, under Part 1 From a review of Epp’s book
  5.  Junia
  6.  why Strong's Concordance is not a lexicon
  7.  Mounce Greek dictionary entry for toxon, as opposed to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance
  8.  TruthFinders - 10: Which Bible version is the best?
  9.  Verse and chapter numbers
  10.  Tektonics JEDP theory link collection; Christian Thinktank search results

Translation and Paraphrase

A paraphrase is a rewording in one language, pure and simple. For example, the Living Bible reworded the ASV to modern English, but both were English, so it was a paraphrase. But the New Living Translation had Hebrew and Greek as the source languages, so it's a translation. How good a translation is a completely different question, but one of degree rather than kind. One language = paraphrase; two or more languages = translation; nothing more, nothing less. Beyond this, the waters become much murkier, as you can see in the first footnote.1

But to find out what God approves we need to look especially at the LXX, which you'll recall from the section on Language was what Jesus himself quoted as scripture. So what approach did those translators use? The short answer is It depends upon whom you ask. According to one informal debate,2 it was likely a formal equivalence translation, which weighs meaning more heavily than a strict literalism (a rigid mechanical approach). We see this in specific passages such as Gen. 1:1, where the Hebrew has Elohim and the Greek has Theos. Both were generic terms for deity in their respective languages and cultures. Had the LXX translators used strict literalism, they would have transliterated Elohim into roughly equivalent Greek characters, as they would any other formal name.

This is a very important concept, so I want to take some time to illustrate it with a hypothetical story. Do you see how people get so misled by sounds and letters, and not knowing the difference between translation and transliteration? There are awake people today who think they're doing research when they're really only playing anagrams, or confusing free association3 with the study of etymology4, and jumping to wild conclusions.

Now since Jesus himself approved of a thought for thought translation, and since even the strictest literal approach always includes some degree of that in order to be readable in the receptor language, then interpretation is impossible to avoid.5 So the differences in various translations are more of a sliding scale than sharp distinctions. But since Jesus was here, there has been no such thing as a perfect, divinely-sanctioned translation, and not even the KJV translators claimed divine inspiration for their work. In fact, the presence of marginal notes for uncertain words or phrases stands as indisputable evidence for their being flawed human beings trying to do their best.

So what exactly makes a translation good or bad, and by what standard? The answer to that question is seen in the sheer number of translations that have been done, even within one language. Language is a tool of communication, not something people must follow slavishly. It's in a continual state of change, so translations need to change as well. And since there are no divindely-mandated rules for translation, beyond deep respect for the words of God and mastery of both the donor and receptor languages, translators have differing ideas on how that should be done. And God allows it to be that way. No matter how strong anyone's personal convictions may be, they don't override other people's strong personal convictions. To call other people's convictions into question simply because they differ from your own is to lose the debate before it starts.

If translators are competent in both languages, and if they respect the text more than their personal preferences, the only remaining factor is for them to decide where the balance is between accuracy and readability. Every translation is done by fallible, biased people with agendas, and also sponsors in most cases. I have disagreements with practically every translation I've read, but usually at different places in the text. Some, like the KJV, are pro-monarchy; some are Cavlinistic; some are Roman Catholic; some are politically hard left or hard right; some are universalist. But beyond the NWT and the Message, all faithfully present the Bible's words with the best translation they could make. Again, to say otherwise is to charge real people with malice, and for that you'd better have plenty of evidence.

Having said all that, there is still one bias that has cut across time and culture and is found in practically all translations at the same spots: The relegation of women to secondary status. To even point this out is to be labeled what I call the Christian F-word, feminist, which has changed in meaning from simply acknowledging that women are human beings, to all sorts of twisted gender perversion and leftist political ideology. It's a trigger word that shuts down all communication and rational discussion.

Remember I said in the section on Tampering that I would show how a comma and a paragraph break can completely reverse the meaning of a passage? The most notorious of those is on this topic, and it's found in Eph. 5:18-33.6 Either support/submission is mutual (to each other), or it's some to others; it can't be both. I have a whole book on the topic, as well as a commentary, if anyone wants my full examination of that and related passages.7 But the point here is that punctuation and formatting alone can materially affect the meaning of a passage, and promote any agenda desired by the translators. This is why it's vital to consult the original language text instead of relying upon translations.


Section Footnotes

  1.  Translation and paraphrase
  2.  Greek/Latin forum
  3.  free association (psychology)
  4.  etymology
  5.  KJV marginal notes
  6.  Ephesians 5:18-33, TGNT vs. NIV
  7.  my book and commentary

Canon

First, the TL;DR version: If a document on spiritual matters was written by or quoted from a prophet or apostle, it qualifies to be in the Bible canon. This is something I observed in research, not something I invented. So since

  1. 420 b.c. to Christ was a time of no prophets (apocrypha, Enoch)
  2. 100 a.d. to present is a time of no apostles (gnostic gospels)

then documents from sources during those times are ineligible. Now before we look at the long version1, 2, 3, understand that those long documents are the kind of research that real truth seekers must read if they consider themselves qualified to critique the Bible canon. The canon is not closed because some council or leader decided it, but because the qualifications for speaking with divine authority can no longer be met.


Section Footnotes

  1.  Tekton Apologetics
  2.  Christian Thinktank
  3.  The Intertestamental Period, esp. para. 3 & 4 under The Literature of the Intertestamental Period

Conclusion

As Mark Twain is alleged to have said (though for anti-theistic reasons), It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. Objections to the content of the Bible stem largely from an a priori rejection of its teachings, not from lack of evidence or standards. For whatever reasons, God has chosen to put his words into the hands of us jars of clay1, despite our imperfections.

But as stated in the Introduction, there's no point in debating the meaning of a text before determining what words are in it. If nothing else, I hope to have presented a case for the Bible as we know it being intact, trustworthy, and settled. From this point on, every dispute over interpretation must first agree on content, or else any preferred wild card (e.g. gnostic works) can be invoked to override unpleasant scriptural teachings.

Whether I'm right or wrong about all this is up to each person to decide, but no one can say I didn't at least do research and analysis to reach my conclusions, and that's all I ask of those who disagree with me.


Section Footnotes

  1.  2 Cor. 4:7-9

Other Resources