Translation Hysteria

(The following is a helpful post by Larry Hurtado.  It also reminds us that it is possible for Evangelicals to look really stupid when they over-react to something without doing fact check first).

I’ve just been alerted to the latest hysterical reaction to translating the NT. (Of course, the week isn’t over yet, so we could get something else by Friday!) In the new translation called The Voice Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers), the choice was made to go for a more dynamic translation of some familiar words. The one that seems to have got some folks all worked up is the translation of the Greek word Christos as “the anointed one”. Hysterical people and some news outlets scream: “New translation takes Christ out of the Bible!” So, e.g., the lead scholar in the project, Dr. David Capes (Houston Baptist University), gets interviewed on CNN about why they’ve done this, and across blog-dom the hysterics spread.

So, for the record: CNN and USAToday have misrepresented the translation. Nobody’s removed Jesus from the NT. The translation “anointed” is simply what “Christos means. It’s not a name, of course, but a title.

The translation is from an avowed Evangelical Christian publisher, and Capes is a devout Christian as well as a fine NT scholar. But, because of the hysterical headlines, they’re having to spend a lot of time correcting and re-assuring. Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m not so sure. Hysterics can be dangerous, like shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre.

The translation choices of The Voice can be evaluated as to how effective they will be in the intended aim of trying to produce a Bible that can be engaged and understood by the average person who doesn’t go to church. But there’s no conspiracy to take Jesus out of the Bible or Christian faith. Whew! That’s a relief!

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  • Peter

    This kind of hysteria is embarrassing. Ignorant masses who choose to be ignorant give all evangelicals a bad name.

  • mba1225

    The same thing has happened recently with a Wycliffe Bible Translation issue, in which an evangelical radio program falsely claimed that a Wycliffe translation in a Muslim-majority country in Asia was taking out the reference to Jesus as the Son of God and thereby trying to accommodate to Islam. Of course the charge was false. No one is more passionate about the Bible than Wycliffe and SIL, who support thousands of missionaries translating the Bible all over the world, sometimes in situations of great danger. The particular translation involved was trying to use a word for “Son” in the local language that did not convey the message that God had had sexual relations with Mary. The result of these baseless and hysterical claims, however, is that some evangelical churches have reduced their donations to Wycliffe and some translators in the remote reaches of the world have had to stop their great work and come home. Words matter and careless unsupported charges about the motivations of fellow Christians can cause great harm to the Kingdom.

  • Ed

    As a friend of mine said recently, “people are stupid!”

  • Randall

    You can’t fix stupid! As one good ole boy said, “If that ain’t in the Bible, it oughta be!”

  • Josh

    As others have said already, the concern mentioned by Hurtado is ridiculous. I actually think it’s good to use anointed one instead of Christ in a lot of cases.

    There are, however, other interesting translation decisions in The Voice for which I have not seen a good explanation. (I’m happy to see one, if anyone knows of any.) For example, John 1:1 reads, “Before time was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God.” The whole of John 1:1-5 contains several phrases not found in the Greek text, most, but not all, in italics. Unfortunately, there are no translation notes to explain the decisions made by the committee. (Unless I’ve just been to lazy or negligent to find them.) It would be nice if translators would have included notes to justify their rendition of this passage.

    If nothing else, translations like these provide for lively discussion with my Greek Exegesis classes! (As I try to encourage them not to react hysterically!)

  • Mary Kehoe

    I love the name of Jesus. It provides a visual in my mind and heart.

  • Dr. John D. Abbott, Jr.

    I have not yet seen the new translation The Voice Bible and will check it out. It has always been disheartening to me when people with out proper understanding of the original language take shots at scholarly work in the area of Bible translations. I don’t have any problem with those who have a favorite translation and choose to stick to it. If a new translation makes it easier for unbelievers to understand and come to faith in Jesus Christ that is good.

  • John H.Guthrie

    Actually, the issue concerning the translation for Muslims is not a fabrication. Here is a link to a story containing quotes of those involved in the translation plus quotes from Christians from Muslim nations who are much opposed to the translation. The story originally appeared in the World Magazine blog, but I am not a subscriber, so I cannot provide the link. Portions of the article appear in Gene Veith’s blog. Both blogs are very reliable sources. The link I refer to is here:

  • Max

    The word ‘hysteria’ seems to imply mental imbalance, it is a useful loaded word like fascist, chauvinist or homophobe, but I am sure these dear people who protest this translation are not ignorant but rightly indignant and in fact have a valid, rational and reasonable argument against this removal of ‘Christ’ from their treasured scriptures.
    For a millennia we have used the wonderful name ‘Christ’ in our language, to remove it from our bibles is at best tasteless, and unnecessary, as these things can be taught in the bible footnotes. As for making things easier to understand for new believers, I don’t see how removing ‘Christ’ from the Book will enlighten them, more likely confuse them- “Why are the Christians ashamed of the name Christ? We have heard of Christ but where is he in the bible?” The sheer weight of our history and culture stands against it.
    Translating Bibles is not merely literal transliteration of words into the English from the Greek, it also has to do with the idioms of our own grammar and language, and our cultural reservoir. Our understanding of the word ‘Christ’ then must be moderated by the scriptures. What is easier to say: ‘Christ’, or ‘the anointed one’? This seems a ploddish use of the English. Best to leave it as a marginal comment, not inflict it on the whole New Testament. The word (Word?) ‘Christ’ has lived in our history for a thousand years- why change it?
    Christ said Mt 24:5 “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” He regarded the name of ‘Christ’ as his name. As Paul here: “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” St Luke says “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”, and, “Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” This enshrines the word ‘Christ’ for us as a proper noun, used by the apostles as such. They were called Christians in the Greek world, the Latin world, and the AngloSaxon. Surely to take the name of Christ and place the phrase ‘the anointed one’ in its place violates the principle here, and is a mangling of our language and a denial of our cultural history. Christ was not just a word but a name, like ‘Amen’, that transcends all languages.
    If they want to be consistent why don’t they replace ‘Jesus’ as well? ‘Jehovah is Saviour’ was born in Bethlehem. Or they could change the word ‘Amen’, or ‘Anathema Maranatha’ or ‘Hallelujah’. This is absurd. Or are the translators and publishers just ashamed of the Name, or have a hatred for it? Peter thought otherwise of the name of Christ- 1Pe 4:16 “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

  • Mitchell

    Sorry, Max. In Mt 24:5, the Greek text has the definite article before the word christos. Not a name.

    Don’t know how the KJV got “Christ” in 2 Ti 2:19, but the word is kurios (lord), not christos (annointed one).

  • Danny Dawson

    “For a millennia we have used the wonderful name ‘Christ’ in our language, to remove it from our bibles is at best tasteless, and unnecessary, as these things can be taught in the bible footnotes.”

    I disagree, I think cases exist for which the change is good. Christ is an untranslated word from the Greek and is so linked to Jesus that I can guarantee that many unfamiliar with it assume is simply a name given to Him. The important thing to ask would be “when our audience reads this, what do they hear, hwo do they understand it?” If you deal with people like my entire family, I would say that most likely none of them know that others were called the Christ or why they would be or what it even meant. For most, that word is inextricably linked to the particular characteristics of Jesus.

  • David Capes

    Thanks, Ben, for re-posting Larry Hurtado’s blog “Translation Hysteria.” I was the lead scholar on the project. I will be dealing with a number of these questions on the VOICE Bible’s blog:

    There will also be a book forthcoming tentatively entitled “The Story of The Voice” which will chronicle the process and talk about some of our translation decisioins.

    If people want to comment at our website, I can work through them in future posts.

  • David

    I have a copy of “The Voice New Testament”. I have to say I got it for a bargain price in “like new” condition at a rummage sale. I find it interesting, but paraphrastic. This is not a terrible thing as they are just trying to help people understand. I do read some paraphrases along side an actual translation from time to time. But I don’t see how using “anointed one” instead of “Christ”, or using “heavenly messengers” instead of “angels” really clears things up for the reader. In fact, I think they might be more confused by “heavenly messengers” than “angels” except possibly in Revelation 2 and 3 where they have “the messenger of the church in Ephesus” etc.

    However, they don’t like to make church officers’ titles easier to understand. In Philippians 1:1, they go ahead and say “and we greet the elders and deacons who serve with you” while at the same time they say “and those set apart by Jesus the Anointed” instead of “the saints in Christ Jesus”.

    In I Cor 1:14, they don’t bother to translate “baptized”, and they don’t translate “Crispus and Gaius”. They have the passage say, “Now I am thankful that I baptized only Crispus and Gaius …” If they were truly consistent, they would have the passage say, “Now I am thankful that I immersed only Curly and Jack…”

    When you start out to be “dynamic” can you really carry it all the way through?

  • Max

    I believe the Textus receptus is the correct version. Max contra mundum notwithstanding. I don’t know how you can say Christ is not a name, Christ is a name here in these two verses, what does “the name of” mean? I am sure there would be a church father or ancient lectionary that quotes this verse as the name of ‘Christ’:
    2Ti 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ (Christos) depart from iniquity.
    1Pe 4:14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

  • ben Witherington

    Max! There is no chance in a million that the textus receptus represents the originally text of the NT accurately. It is a polyglot combination of later texts, largely relying on the quite late Byzantine tradition. Aleph, B, and lots of papyri represent an earlier tradition for sure. Come on man…….


  • Max

    It is a polyglot combination of later texts, largely relying on the quite late Byzantine tradition. Aleph, B, and lots of papyri represent an earlier tradition for sure.

    What proof do you have for that to be so, or is this only a theory?

  • Ben Witherington

    Max I am not talking in theories here. P46 and P52 are papyri that date back to the second century A.D. Neither of them reflect the textus receptus form of those text.

  • Max

    You are talking about two ancient papyri. What about the vast, numerous and widely spread evidence of all the copies, versions, fathers all attesting to the Received text? They had access to older texts than we do. Versions in other languages, some of which predate Aleph et al- the Peschitto Syriac and the old Latin version (2nd century), (according to Ellicott portions of the Peschitto may have been in the hands of St John), two Egyptian translations , and the Vulgate revised Latin and the Gothic (4th cent) , the Armenian and possibly the Ethiopic (5th). The Received, with about a thousand copies is more numerous, most of them trustworthy, all represent far older copies than themselves, as opposed to 4 to 5 codices A B Aleph C and D from the 4th 5th and 6th centuries. The Received versions correct and check each other and two are more ancient by a couple of centuries than any sacred codex extant. A host of Fathers, bring contemporaneous evidence against the oldest codices A B Aleph C and D. The writings of Iraenius, Clemens Alex., Origen, Dionysius Alex., Hippolytus bring older evidence still.
    It stands to reason that we may safely reject any reading or theory which out of the whole body of available authorities– Manuscripts, Versions, Fathers, and the lectionaries of the early church finds support in only five codices (which often contradict one another) and a few papyri.
    A case in point: The agony and bloody sweat of Christ is in the Received Text but non existent in the four oldest codices yet it was first mentioned by Justin Martyr in 150AD. It is also recognised by over 40 famous Fathers throughout the remote parts of the old world. Antiquity, variety of testimony, respectability of witnesses and number all testify to the Received Text here.

  • Ben Witherington

    Max I suggest you read the Textual Commentary on the NT 3rd edition by Metzger. There are numerous reasons why this argument cannot hold up. We have to go with the earliest and best witnesses we have. For example, the Western text of Acts is some 20% longer than the earliest text of Acts, and we simply cannot go with its readings for all sorts of reasons: 1) its readings do not explain the basis of the other variants; 2) its not in our earliest manuscripts; 3) it does not represent the best geographical spread etc.


  • Max

    Dear Ben,
    Thankyou for your advice, I will keep an eye out for a copy re Metzger. But how do we determine or define what is ‘best’? Is it best because it is the oldest we possess? And if earlier fathers, lectionaries and versions that predate these codices B Aleph etc are using quotes that are in the vast majority from the Received, does it not stand to logic that they possessed the Received Text when they wrote? Therefore that text is the oldest and because they are using it it is the best? In fact they had a greater supply of originals than we see. Is it not remiss on our part not to take these external testimonies seriously?
    I was surprised to read how rough B and Aleph actually are in the original, notwithstanding all the omissions of words, phrases, even whole sentences when compared to the received text, but other kinds of errors as well, “with errors of the eye and pen to an extent not unparalleled, but happily rather unusual in documents of first rate importance” which would not be apparent to the scholar with his prepared Nestle Greek volume, who has not seen the originals. Even Tregelles pronounced the text as ‘very rough”? Codex B is disfigured with repetitions, the same words are written twice over, without the scribe taking notice with his pen of what he had done. And with Sinaiticus also letters and words, even whole sentences, are frequently written twice over, or begun and immediately cancelled, while that blunder whereby a clause is omitted because it happens to end in the same words as the clause preceding, occurs no less than 115 times in the New Testament.
    How can we trust a text like this? A scribe who repeats sentences, cancels them in mid sentence, and does not correct his errors?

  • ben Witherington

    One last thing Max. It is simply not true that the earliest church fathers largely site a version closest to the received text. I don’t know where you got that idea, but it isn’t true. Are we talking the Greek Fathers? It definitely is not true as a generalization about them. Take for example Clement in his letter to the Corinthians written in the 90s. BW3

  • Max

    I simply don’t know how you can say that, Professor. I understand that the early fathers did not always use an exactitude when quoting the Bible, they would often paraphrase readings quite loosely. My point is that the early church fathers did quote verses and wordings that are only in the Received text. Many verses regarded as spurious by the proponents of B and Aleph are quoted by the Fathers. For instance Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness to His murderers, “Then said Jesus, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. These words are found in every known uncial, and cursive copy except the four and in every known ancient version. It is attested by Hegessipus , Iraenius in the 2nd cent, Hippolytus, Origen, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Clementine homilies, Tatian and the disputation between Archelaus and Manes, in the 4th by Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory Nyss, Theodorus Herac, Basil, Chrysostom, Ephraim Syr., Basil the Great, Apocryphal Acta Pilati, the Acta Phillipi, the Syriac Acts of the App, in the 5th by Theodoret, by Cyril, Eutherius and so forth into other writers of the 5th sixth and seventh centuries.
    Another example is Os for theos in 1 Tim 3:16- God was manifest in the flesh in the received, or as opposed to ‘he’ was manifest in the flesh in a single uncial copy the Aleph? The received reading is God, and is attested by Ignatius ad90, Barnabus, in the 2nd cent Hippolytus ad190 twice, in the third, Gregory Thaumaturgus, the Apostolic Constitutions, Basil, the third cent Dionysius of Alexandria, in the fourth Didymus the teacher of Jerome, Gergory Bishop of Nazianzus, Diodorus the teacher of Chrysostom and so on. These all confirm the received reading of “God in the flesh.”
    One can multiply instances where the Fathers quote verses, words that are in the received text yet not in the B Aleph group.

  • Ben Witherington

    Thanks Max for this. Textual critics are right in saying that we have to go with the earliest and best manuscripts, not the majority text. We also must go first with primary evidence, texts themselves, and versional evidence or ancedotal quotes from church fathers are secondary sources, not primary sources. In regard to Hegesippus we have no idea what version he used since we have almost no primary source evidence about his texts… only indirect quotes, by among others Eusebius. One of the major reasons to reject the Textus receptus is because while the readings you are quoting don’t contradict other Scriptures, numerous of the other additions in the Western text and the later Byzantine text absolutely do this. Let me give you one example. In the Western text of Acts all the references to women teaching men, for example in Acts 18 involving Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos are deleted. This reflects, unfortunately later biases in the medieval church against women. Blessings BW3