Taking “Jesus Christ” Out of the Bible

A new translation of the Bible called “The Voice” (no, Cee-Lo makes no appearances in this one), published by Thomas Nelson, has created quite a buzz. The discussion is not so much around what is in the newest version, but rather what’s left out.

According to a recent article on the Huffington Post, the words “Jesus Christ” do not appear anywhere in the New Testament. And for some, this is tantamount to heresy. The publishers point out, however, that “Christ” was not, in fact, Jesus’ last name.

According to the article, “angel is rendered as ‘messenger’ and apostle as ‘emissary.’ Jesus Christ is ‘Jesus the Anointed One’ or the ‘liberating king.’” David Capes, the top scholar working on the translation, says that the phrases used to describe Jesus actually are more accurate than the use of “Christ,” (which means “anointed” or “messiah”), particularly given the common misunderstanding about the etymology of the word “Christ.”

Another stylistic difference in the new version is in how dialogue is presented. Rather than including “he said, she said” verbiage, the interactions are presented more like a screenplay. A sample from the Huffington article:

Disciple: “It’s a ghost!”

Another Disciple: “A ghost? What will we do?”

Jesus: “Be still. It is I; you have nothing to fear.”

The intent is to engage and draw in readers who might otherwise get bogged down in the text itself. Like many other modern interpretations and translations (not the same thing, mind you), the goal is to present the essence of the scripture in a format that can help readers connect with it as a living, breathing document, and not just a relic from our ancient past.

Where we get hung up is when we start debating what it is that’s essential and what isn’t. For so-called Biblical literalists, everything is essential. And in general, the translation referred to as “the Bible” is the King James version.

But it’s easy to forget, as the King James Bibles have become the default traditional translation, that even the translators of that version had a specific human agenda. James, King of England at the turn of the seventeenth century, wanted to ensure that the translation supported the existing structure and authority of the Church of England.

It’s easy to forget that all English translations of the Bible mean that we’re bound to depend on the agendas of the people who translated it. Now, just because they had agendas doesn’t mean those agendas were bad, but it’s worth knowing what those angles were they were using in approaching the original texts.

Or at least what we think are the original texts. After all there’s no guarantee that the scriptures in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic we’re working from haven’t been transcribed and reinterpreted from original writings forever lost. We assume – perhaps on faith – that the ancient scriptures we’re translating are the original, unaltered documents.

And even if they are, it’s necessary to understand the agendas of the authors of those first texts. For example, why in the world does the book of Matthew start out with a mind-numbing list of names, like some verbal literary family tree? Because the author of Matthew was particularly concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ fulfillment of earlier prophecy, portending the coming Messiah. So the “begats” were a sort of line traced from Abraham to King David and then to Jesus.

This is my understanding anyway. I’m hardly a Biblical scholar. But each Gospel (as well as every other text in the Bible) had a particular purpose or agenda to present to readers. Does this mean the content is no good if there’s a human element at play? Hardly. But if we go into Biblical study without this understanding – or if we simply accept that the Bible is a transcription from God’s mouth to paper through human hands, eliminating all human agency – we miss a critical element of Biblical understanding that diminishes our experience of it.

What’s worse, if we assume our understanding of the texts is “the understanding,” that’s the stuff of religious warfare, dehumanizing subjugation of others and deeper division.

It’s easy to forget that the authors of scripture never sat down in a big room together with the intent of writing “The Bible.” It’s a collection of stories, historical accounts, songs, prayers, letters, laws and prophecies that were recorded and collected over thousands of years.

For some, these agendas folks brought (and bring) to scripture are problematic and should be eliminated whenever possible to get down to the “real meaning” of the text. For me, the agendas are, in many ways, as important as the words on the page. They speak to humanity’s longing to better understand The Divine.  Yes, there are cases where authors or translators aim use the power of human faith to their own advantage.  All the more reason to approach all texts with a critical eye.

Like comedian Dennis Miller used to say, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “That’s just my opinion; I could be wrong.”

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://lifebeforethebucket.blogspot.com/ Adrian Waller

    I love “The Voice” translation. We’ve been using it at school this year, and it really updates what The Message was trying to do. I don’t see anything wrong with that, as long as we understand that this isn’t literally how the manuscripts we have are laid out. 

    And as for the “Jesus Christ” issue, I tend to agree with how they went about it. After all, neither “Christ,” nor “Messiah” are English words. They’re simply transliterations that we’ve adopted.

    Whenever we had to translate stuff in my Greek class, I always chose to translate the word christ as “the anointed/chosen one.” It also made my translations sound more like The Matrix, which was a plus. =)

  • http://nitecaravan.blogspot.com/ Br. Jay

    This sounds like a great version.  I will have to get my hands on a copy.  Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/MarkBordeaux Mark Bordeaux

    Thank you for sharing your personal views so honestly. Accuracy is of utmost importance in translation. Thankfully, it is true that the Holy Scriptures are the most accurate ancient manuscripts in existence. If you doubt, simply do the research. 

    Where Christos (Christ) is translated directly as “Christ” it is accurate, but is  it understandable? This is where it may also be accurately translated as “Anointed One,” which is exactly what the Greek means. Since many may not understand what “Christ” means, it is helpful as well as true to the text to translate it as “Anointed One” or “Chosen One.”

    The word “angel” (angelos) is literally translated “messenger” and the word “apostle” (apostolos) is translated “one sent with a message.”

    Similarly, the word, “baptize” is not a translation, but a transliteration. The translation of the Greek word baptizo is “to dip” or “to plunge.” Of course there are other examples, but the point is again, accuracy.

    The science of textual criticism enables scholars to examine the text, compare the many (emphasis – many; actually more manuscript copies than any other ancient manuscript) manuscripts (MSS) and determine if a copyist omitted or changed a text, whether by accident or intentionally. This is especially true since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran. Even where man’s errors or anterior motives have threatened to change the biblical message, God has preserved His word. 

    Some of copies of the documents from the New Testament that have been discovered  have been dated to within years of the events. The accounts were written with names and details that could easily have been refuted by living witnesses if they were not true. Again, the sheer number of copies and their dating give us great confidence in their integrity.

    Currently, there is less than 2% of manuscripts that are questioned by serious scholars. The areas in question do not relate to any major doctrine or contradict other texts.

    Incidentally, one of the most amazing evidences of the accuracy of Scripture is that there has never been an archeological find to disprove anything in the Bible. Evidence from digs has proven that people and civilizations mentioned in the Bible that were once thought to be fictitious were indeed literal and historical. 

    For those wishing to examine the Scripture, one may prefer a translation that is easier to read and translated more like our modern, American style of speaking (i.e.New International Version, 1984). Those who wish a more literal translation will find the English Standard Version and the New American Standard to be helpful. One of the newest and best translations is the Holeman Christian Standard Bible. 

    A translation that is truly literal to Greek or Hebrew text may be somewhat challenging for most readers as the word order in other languages differs from ours. Today, we may enjoy the word of God with confidence that the latest and best translations are the closest we may come to the actual text itself without investing years of study in the original languages. 

    While these are just a few simple points many more supporting evidences supporting the veracity of Scripture have been documented and may be found through research. There are a number of volumes, that offer evidence with supported documentation, available to the layman who wishes to examine the evidence.

    I hope that this is helpful.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Bordeaux
    http://markbordeaux.com

  • Mroge

    Thank you for this article. It is a fair assessment of the wonderful work being done to clarify the message of the Bible. There are so many fundalmentalists who are in hysterics over these newer translations, convinced that there is some evil satanic plot to destroy the Bible.  What are they afraid of? Our understanding of the Bible should be fluid and dynamic, not caught in a cosmic time warp (the seventeenth century).  We are now able to go directly to the ancient manuscripts to decipher the exact meanings. I am assuming (someone correct me if I am wrong) that the KJV version was translated from Latin.

    Some people might find this offensive, but I often pray, “Lord save me from the (fundamentalist) Christians.” LOL


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