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Translation Principles

For those of you who are a little more familiar with the terminology of Bible translation, I’m going to start out with this: I’m trying for a formal equivalence, single source, and non-scholarly translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Formal equivalence is probably the hardest part of this to explain to the uninitiated. The two directions in terms of translation style are formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. This has to do with how you translate a given phrase from one language to another. I like to think of this in terms of a scale of one to ten, with the smaller numbers being more dynamic, the bigger numbers more formal equivalence. So if you take the Hebrew sentence, “נֹחַ בֶּן־חֲמֵשׁ מֵאֹות שָׁנָה” a 1 might translate it as “Noah was 500.” A 3 might translate as “Noah was 500 years old.” A 5 might translate as “Noah was five hundred years old.” A 7 would translate it as “Noah was a son five hundred years.” A 9 would translate it as “Noah [was] a son five hundred years.” A 10 would be an interlinear along the lines of “Noah (נֹחַ) [was] a son (בֶּן) five (חֲמֵשׁ) hundred (מֵאֹות) years (שָׁנָה).” Using this scale, I aim to be somewhere in the five or six range.

Single source is a little easier to understand. In every place where I make a translation of God’s Holy and Inspired Word from a source language into English, or an interpretation of any sort, I assume one single source to be correct and preserved in absolute and trust it above all others. However, I do not use a single source to the exclusion of other sources input. I assume one source to be correct, but other versions or translations or interpretations which agree with that source can be used to extract nuance or clarity not found in the original. In Book 18 of City of God, Augustine of Hippo discusses some of these same matters in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures compared to the Septuagint.

In selecting a source, I’m going to start by saying I try to select God’s source. To explain this, I need to start out in a way that, even to those who agree with me in believing there is a supernatural realm, might sound superstitious, but trust me, where I land I’ll be pretty concrete and down to earth.

The Holy Word of God is God’s Own Self. It is immortally immutable. It has no beginning, no end, and no alteration. It forms what we know as reality, although it is more real that anything we can experience with taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell. This immortally immutable word both formed the world, and entered the world. It entered the world in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In parallel to this (because to this word, there is neither before nor after nor during) it entered this world through the tongue and hand and ear and eye and nose of those whom God would call to deliver a message. In special cases, God would enter through his word in a special way, which he would through his purpose preserve in his way through his people. In such a case, each transcriber would, in a sense, be freshly inspired to copy what he had before himself. The result is that there are copies that accurately reflect what God says. The power of each new transcription comes from the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self, transferred from the previous copy, and so on. I think for some of it, it might be helpful to read Plato’s Ion. His rings are in one aspect a well description, with the single exception that in the case of a transcription each new transcription holds all the power of the previous.

I must be careful when I say this to say what I mean. I do not exclude the possibility of mistakes. However, I do deny the ability of these mistakes to compound over time. Mistakes will be limited in scope, and in the cases of these inspired copies, they will be of a nature akin to a typo. It is not these copies which I seek to understand and connect with. It is the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self I hope to connect to.

Now here is where things start to get tricky, so try to follow me. This theory does not exclude the possibility that a translation might be preferred over the original. In some cases, for example, I might choose a Greek translation of an Old Testament book. If I do choose something odd or obscure, I’ll try to say why.

It does mean that the source I use will have to represent a source which has been available through men of God (as opposed to the craft of men.) The source should also represent, for the most part, what people have understood God to have said. If I have a translation that radically alters some tenant of the Christian faith, I’d be concerned about my own salvation, and check it very carefully before choose to an alternate translation, switch to another version, or some more drastic action.

As to the non-scholarly in my translation principles, I’m a layman. I didn’t go to school for this. I’m doing this for one simple reason: I intend to strengthen my own connection to God through a deeper understanding of his Holy Word. For example, I’m not capitalizing pronouns unless other grammar rules require it. (You may already have noticed this, dear reader.) It has been variously explained to me that the reason people capitalize pronouns in relation to deity is because it is what they used to do for kings and such, or because they wish to emphasize the difference between God and others. In the original text, there is no difference between “he” when referred to God and men, so I will not render it differently. I live in the USA, we don’t have a king, and I use a lowercase “he” in relation to the president, so I guess that means I should use a lowercase for God as well.

I am not trying to say I’m “better” than any other. If anything, I’m trying to inspire others to seek original language studies of the scriptures because I believe pretty much anyone can do it. God is a great guy, and the closer you get to his original words, the better off you’ll be in understanding his purpose for your life, in my opinion.

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A Mediation on Scotsmen

When my father turned twenty one, he decided to meet his cousins on the Kennedy side of the family. He had close relationships with some of the cousins on the Buchanan side, but the split between my grandfather and his family had been very hard. As a result, my father had never met those cousins. My father traveled to the home of his aunt, who introduced him to her kids by saying, “At the beginning of The War (WWII) your Uncle Tom ran off to Canada to enlist. There he married an English woman, and this is her son.” My grandmother is Scottish.

Then when I was fourteen, my great aunt organized a family reunion. I was excited to meet my second cousins. They didn’t disappoint. It was an amazing experience. However, one thing was a little disappointing. At the main dinner for the reunion, “Tom’s kids” (my immediate family and first cousins) were given our own table… in our own room… in our own building. You see, my great aunt had an announcement for the family, and since we weren’t really Irish, we wouldn’t understand. (It turned out some of my Irish second cousins didn’t feel the full impact of the announcement either.)

Logic is the philosopher’s hammer and chisel. With the same zeal and precision that a builder guides his tape and saw, a philosopher cuts his interlocutor’s arguments back with known logical fallacies. One of these fallacies is known as The No True Scotsman. The idea is that some people will claim someone isn’t part of a clarification based on something that’s actually irrelevant. Of course, figuring out what is and is not relevant can become a point of contention.

I remember once, when I was teaching Kung Fu, a visitor came into the club demanding to know if I was a certain person’s martial arts teacher. I said that I was not. The person we were discussing had taken one class, we had discussed my expectations of my students, and they admitted that they were not up to my behavioral standards. I never heard from them again. Then this visitor laid into me about what kind of a person I had as a student. I’d taught the person in question a couple stances, a block, and a few stretches. I don’t feel any responsibility for the actions of this person. I don’t claim this person as my student. If this person claimed me as their teacher, I’d go so far as to call that a lie. That took us to a very relevant question, though: When is a person my student? Two classes? A month? A year? I had an answer at that time. Someone was my student when they were living according to the standards of the club, and their tuition was up to date. That seemed simple enough to me. It wasn’t for my visitor. Then again, people don’t always recognize who is and who is not even an employee of an organization. There is even a satire page devoted to stories of people misidentifying customers for employees.

Identity is complicated. Anyone who doesn’t think so has never spent much time with the Ship of Theseus problem. Typically, when you say someone or something “is” of a category, you mean one of three things: either you mean it has a set of qualities, has a particular history, or is intended for a particular purpose. A room is a space with the quality of being enclosed. A criminal has a history of crime. A knife is a single blade meant for cutting. Sometimes in common usage, these end up being by analogy. It’s a coffee mug because it’s intended for hot beverages, but it’s fine to call it a cup because you can put a cool beverage into it. And no one is really able to define the difference between a toy and a game, but Tic Tac Toe is definitely a game not a toy, and a top is definitely a toy not a game.

So am I Irish? I have the property of a parent with genetic material originating in the Irish people. I also have a parent with no such genetic material. In fact, out of four grandparents, only one had genetic material from the Irish people. So by that count, I’m more not-Irish than Irish.

I also was not born on the island of Ireland, not a citizen of any of the various governments that exist on that island, and have only the faintest connection to the traditions of the people of that island. All of these qualities would apply equally well to those contrasted their Irishness against my lack of Irishness. I think we can all see that “Irish” is going to mean different things to different people, and different things to the same people at different times or in different contexts.

Sometimes it’s really important to identify what something means in a context. I’ve written before about how the word “God” has had different meanings at different times. I try, to whatever extent is prudent, to live within the definitions of those I’m communicating with. It’s more important to get to the substance of the conversation than to die on the hill of a definition. There have been times when someone has defined the god they don’t believe in, and I just say, “Oh. I don’t believe in that either.” If I’m in a place to defend the existence of God, I’m not going to defend the existence of a god I don’t believe in.

It’s also a good way to defuse some aggressive people. I once had an aggressive friend-of-a-friend that tried to shame me by saying, “Real men hunt.” I simply shrugged and said, “Okay, I’m not a real man then.” Incredulous, he asked, “And you’re okay with not being a real man?” I smiled and said, “I care for my child (I only had one at that time) and work hard to provide for my wife. I’m respected for my intellect and my work ethic. I’m in control of my emotions and not controlled by them. I own a small business that I’m building year by year. I don’t know what you call that, but that’s what I aspire to be. Remind me again, what are you?”

This does get into the reality that, when definitions are important, it is often easier to set minimum requirements for inclusion than to build finite sets of categories and expect everything to fit into them neatly. If we divide passenger vehicles into “cars” and “trucks,” then SUVs don’t fit nicely into either. If we divide plants into trees and flowers, where do you put grass? If you add grass to the list, where do you put moss? These classifications and their problems in the various stems of life could be dealt with in more detail, but then I would call this “Biology 102” and expect you to read it over four months instead of less than an hour.

This is one of the problems with our political system: we build a small number of political parties, and expect that people with a wide range of needs and concerns will neatly fit into them. Then, because we are close to those in our own political party, we recognize the nuance in our own side, but falsely imagine that there is not similar nuance in the other side.

For too long I think we’ve fallen into the trap of letting people define if they are a Christian or not for themselves. I think there’s a noble purpose behind this. We don’t want to tell anyone, “You’re damned to Hell for eternity!” We’ve tried that, it didn’t build stability, connection, or cooperation. I’ll leave God to judge your eternal destination. He’s better at it than I am. Instead, we’ve let “Christian” become a quasi-political title. If you support this or that thing that lines up nicely with our understanding of God’s expectations or political values on our end of the spectrum, then you’re a Christian. I’m not overly inclined to argue with that, although this sort of definition has left me saying a few times, “Oh, then I’m not a Christian. I believe in the Bible.”

Other times we had let anyone who wants to call themselves a Christian. By that standard, the Nazis were socialists. The Nazis weren’t socialists, but they did use a lot of twisted socialist vocabulary and called themselves socialists. A socialist is one who advocates or practices socialism, which is any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. Nazis practiced fascism, which is a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. While the two are not mutually exclusive, an examination of Hitler’s rise to power and the way they ran the government makes it clear that it’s the fascism, not the socialism, that guided them. But if we can so clearly identify who is and is not a socialist regardless of what they call themselves, I think we can do the same with Christians.

This doesn’t mean there’s no room for doctrinal disagreement. Saying someone isn’t a Christian because their Calvinist or Arminian, because of a different view of eschatology, or even a different view of which books belong in the Bible is out of bounds. The question is, “Do they follow Christ?” not “Do they follow some particular idea of Christ?” A little humility goes a long way. Always remember in a debate about interpretation, you could be the one that’s wrong. When trying to decide how much weight to put on different statements in scripture, you could be the one that’s wrong.

There is one point that I think we’ve let slip through our definition of “Christian.” Ironically, it is the very thing that Jesus himself said we would help us know who his disciples were: John 13:35 “By this shall everyone know that we are Christ’s disciples, that we love each other.” I think that we need to take the charge that we aren’t acting in a loving way much more seriously when someone makes that claim against us. Sometimes, defining what love is can be complicated. I’m not going to say that every time someone says something to you that is hard to hear it’s unloving. Certainly, though, we can agree that the activities of some who claim to be acting in the name of Christ have acted in a way that is unloving, and as Christians, we should be the first to say, “No, those aren’t acting according to the precepts of Christ. They are not living up to the only quality that Christ gave to identify his followers. If we allow Christ to define his followers, they aren’t his followers.” And just like anyone can claim to be my student but it’s meaningless if I’m not also claiming to be their teacher, anyone can claim to be a Christian but if they can’t do the one thing Christ identifies his followers by then it’s meaningless. This is not a matter of building a finite set but rather setting a minimum requirement, and this is not a minimum requirement set by me, it is a minimum requirement set by Christ.

Who Was Theophilus

I love reading about early church history. It’s amazing that some of the names that get a passing reference in Paul’s letters actually get named by church historians. Clement (sometimes Clemens, depending how we’re transliterating today) from Philippians 4:3 was the first Bishop of Rome to survive past the death of Peter and Paul, according to Jerome in Lives of Illustrious Men and Eusibius in the 15th chapter of the third book of his Ecclesiastical History. Onesimus was the Bishop of Ephesus. Philemon was married to the Apphia mentioned in Philemon 2, and the two of them were prominent leaders in the Colossian Church, then later rose to be the Bishop of Gaza. Tertius, who helped Paul write Romans according to Romans 16:22, went on to become Bishop of Iconium. It’s worth remembering that our religion was founded 2000ish years ago, not finished 2000ish years go. The web of our history begins with Christ, but it extends through bishops and pastors and martyrs and philosophers and reformers right down until today.

Yet for all that, there are some names which get a very prominent placement in the New Testament and then vanish from history. The prime example of this is Theophilus, to whom Luke addressed both his Gospel and The Acts. There are people named Theophilus in history, but none of them are directly correlated with the Theophilus that Luke addressed. Ambrose of Milan speculated in his Exposition on the Gospel of Luke that the name is actually a description of the type of person that Luke was writing to, instead of being the name of an actual person. Given how quickly the people mentioned by the New Testament writers tended to ascend the hierarchy of the Church, I think I like Ambrose’s theory.

I’m well known among my friends for my belief that Matthew was written in Hebrew. To the better educated that get to know me, this can sometimes get me lumped in with those who try to demonstrate that the entire New Testament was written in a Semitic language. (Hebrew or Aramaic) Since I come to the conclusion that Matthew was written and preserved in Hebrew through my study of Church History, I have a hard time taking seriously the claims that the rest of the New Testament must automatically have been written in a Semitic language. Focusing in on the writings of Luke, there can be a lot made of the fact he was born and raised in Antioch of Syria, where the specific dialect of Syriac was spoken all through the Apostolic Age. I think it’s clear that Luke would have been fluent in Syriac, but analyzing the question gets you into all kinds of trouble.

There have been a few different versions of Luke in Syriac. The Old Syriac Gospels are different from the current Peshitta Syriac edition of the New Testament. There doesn’t seem to be any such problem with the Greek edition of Luke’s Gospel. (Although there are a number with a minority reading of Acts that include extended sections.) I think it’s likely, perhaps even probable, that Luke was drawing on a written record from Mary herself for the first few chapters of his Gospel. The Greek here is much closer to Aramaic in style than the rest of the book.

For me, the biggest evidence that Luke wrote in Greek, though, is the addressee. Since Theophilus drops out of history entirely, I think the best understanding of Luke 1:3 is “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent lover of God,” and of Acts 1:1 is “The former treatise have I made, O lover of God, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” I think that if you love God, these books are addressed to you.

I’m also not aware of anyone named Theophilus before the end of the first century. It would seem odd for a Greek or Roman to be named Theophilus. The Greek and Roman concept of the gods was so at odds with our current understanding that no one god in their pantheon was simply called “God.” For example, the city of Athens was named in honor of the goddess Athena.

Even Plato, when speaking in a manner that might be considered monotheistic in tone, separates his concept of God, The God, from the pantheon of his city in Timaeus. In fact, he claims that the gods of his people were created by the great God. In fact, when discussing the origin of his own native deities, he says, “To know or tell the origin of the other divinities is beyond us, and we must accept the traditions of the men of old time who affirm themselves to be the offspring of the gods-that is what they say-and they must surely have known their own ancestors. How can we doubt the word of the children of the gods?” A statement which is somewhat less clear than his statement regarding the great father creator God, “Now that which is created must, as we affirm, of necessity be created by a cause. But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out; and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible.” Plato was not the first to describe the philosophical God (which is what most apologetic Christians, Muslims, and Jews really believe in these days.) Before the Church was founded, most people who were named for their parents’ love of a god, were named directly for that god.

So it seems to me that the name Theophilus carries a different significance than simply the phonetic value. However, this message gets lost in the Syriac Peshitta. The books are still addressed to Theophilus in the Syriac edition of Luke’s writings, but since those are Greek words their meaning disappears with them. Luke and Acts were written as though they were addressed to a specific person, but I think the intention was for them to be read by anyone who loves the God of the Bible as though it was written directly to them.

As I finish up my Corrected King James version of Luke and Acts, I’ve had to struggle with how much I can change the text of the translation. Overall, my goal has been to make my best guess what the original translators of the King James Bible would have said if they were using my favorite base text instead of the Textus Receptus. I was very tempted to change the name of “Theophilus” in the text to “lover of God.” However, it’s clear that when the King James Translators were making their translation, their text said the same thing as mine in those places. I don’t have to guess what their decision would have been. They made the decision. To that end, I’m leaving the name unchanged. However, I wanted to include this preface so that you can know that you, O lover of God, are Theophilus.

Thoughts from The Lion King

Warning! Spoilers for the new The Lion King movie.


My son loved the new Lion King movie. I’m not really sure what to call the genre, though. It’s not live action. There’s nothing live there. It’s all computer animated. That said, it doesn’t feel right to call it computer animated. It looks so real that there were a few points in the movie where I actually caught myself thinking, “How did they get a lion/meerkat to do that?” before realizing that they didn’t.

I will warn people that this is a good movie, but don’t go if you’re hoping to see the deeper version of The Lion King. While it’s not a shot-for-shot remake, it’s pretty close. I think a creative editor could take the audio from the 1996 version and the video from this version and create a third version that’s not really missing anything. In fact, if someone does that, tell me. I want to see it.

In the whole movie, there were only two changes that actually affected me. The first is that they took out Rafiki’s speech about the past hurting and Simba never took away his stick. I think the movie would have been better with that left in, but only slightly. If they’d left that in but taken out The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the movie would have suffered from it. (Even though I didn’t feel moved by the new version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, it was still pretty good.)

The second difference was a line spoken by Timon. When Simba tries to explain the circle of life, Timon replies that it’s “not a circle. It’s a meaningless line of indifference.” Later, when Timon joins the fight for Pride Rock, he is confronted with this analysis, and he replies by saying, “Well, maybe it bends a little bit.”

That’s when it hit me: Timon and Pumba stand for the same thing as Scar and the hyenas. Both of them want to consume without consequences, to think only of their own feelings, and live their best version of their lives. For Timon and Pumba, that means relaxing in the jungle and eating bugs. Their oasis has no real predators, and the population of grazers is low enough that they are not in any danger of eating through the reserves they have soon. They see no reason to live any differently.

In the case of Scar and the hyenas, it means killing and consuming at will in an already delicately balanced system. After only a few years, it’s clear that the system cannot support that philosophy.

I think there’s a deeper message there. Trying to determine morality can be difficult. Calling Timon and Pumba villains doesn’t feel right. At the same time, it’s clear that Scar should have been thinking ahead. If thinking ahead is a virtue, why does it feel so uncomfortable to say Timon and Pumba were wrong to live in the moment?

One thing I don’t think anyone will deny is that Timon and Pumba would have lived better if they had lived a life of care and attentiveness instead of carefree inattention. Even though there was plenty, that plenty would have lasted longer and been even more plentiful if they had been attentive. There may be a point of seemingly vanishing returns: the plenty they experienced was going to outlive them no matter how inattentive they were. At some point, it’s hard to convince someone that planning and prudence is beneficial, when the system will support them for the foreseeable future. Think of how many people laugh at Elon Musk for wanting to have a contingency plan for when Earth is gone.

Watching The Lion King reminded me that it’s important to call the bad things what they are even when, in the current system, they aren’t hurting anyone. I approach things from a different angle than some. I think that things end up hurting people because they’re bad, not that things are bad because they end up hurting people. The good is the thoughtful, the careful, the prudent, the connected, the considerate — in a word, Love. The bad is the absence of that good, which ends up being the thoughtless, the carefree, the impulsive, the isolating, and self-serving. (Not exhaustive lists, btw. Just the lists inspired by the movie in question.) Calling the bad what it is even when the ones perpetrating it don’t mean any harm, aren’t hurting anyone, and are actually kind of likeable will ultimately be better for us all.

On Things That were Never in The Bible

There’s been a lot of ink, electronic and physical, spilled in the last few decades over things “missing” from the Bible in newer versions. Translations of the Bible made in the last hundred years or so often have these gaps. Sometimes, you’ll even see a verse number completely missing or the number standing alone in the middle of the page with no text following it. Acts in particular has several of these.

These verses pull particular weight in the King James Only believers, who sometimes seem to think that the editors selected by King James (V)I were better suited to declare God’s words than the Apostles themselves. They’ll point to a verse containing no text in a newer translation and ask why the Apostles would leave a verse blank, ignoring that verse numbers weren’t added to the text until the middle ages.

Should these pieces of text be included, or excluded? I’m going to answer that question in one simple way: if God intended them to be there, then they should be there. If God did not intend them to be there, then they should not be there. I want to point out that I didn’t say, “If the Apostles approved them,” but I put that decision back on God. I don’t have a problem with the idea that God could lead a scribe to fix the text. However, to find that answer, we need to follow the evidence.

I think it’s worth observing that these text fragments are missing from the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, and then included in the vast majority of Latin manuscripts. However, I think we can zero in on one of them to get a sense of what to do with these.

In 1 John 5:7, the King James Version has exactly the verse all we Trinitarians want the Bible to contain: a clear, undiluted proclamation that the Father, Word, and Spirit are three and one. It’s not going to be in my translation, though. The verse is so rare in the Greek tradition that it was once believed to have been added only to Greek manuscripts after Erasmus printed his edition. Not every fragment is so sharply divided, but having one that gives us a criterion by which to start building a framework to judge these by. Be that as it may, there is a statement in Jerome’s preface to the Apostolic Epistles that indicates Jerome liked this verse.

Then the plot thickens. The oldest Latin Bible to contain Jerome’s preface to the Apostolic Epistles does include the note that this text fragment is something Jerome believes in, yet the Latin Text of 1 John 5:7 is missing in this manuscript.

Now, here we can make three binary cuts. Either the text we’re looking at was originally part of the text, or it wasn’t. Then, either it was part of Jerome’s Bible, or it wasn’t. Finally, it was put there by God, or it wasn’t. So often people want to jump to the last one first. They assume that because it was there (or wasn’t there) in the Bible they read as a child this settles the question. They’ve always read things a certain way, so it must be right. For me, that takes a certain amount of hubris to hold to. I mean, I get the initial shock. But with a little thought, a few questions should start to come in. Remembering that your Sunday School teacher can be wrong is an important first step. If you could be wrong, you could be wrong about this.

So let’s assume that it was a part of the original text that John laid down. That would mean that it almost completely disappeared from the Greek tradition very early. It’s not in any Greek manuscripts, and no one in the Greek-speaking community talks about a controversy here. The only people who talk about this controversy before Erasmus are people in the Latin speaking community. I’ve often said that in an infinite universe anything is possible and everything that’s possible actually happens, but we don’t live in an infinite universe. It seems unlikely that the text could have disappeared from the Greek tradition without a trace other than the Latin tradition.

So was it in Jerome’s Bible? Here the conundrum gets stickier. It has been my general experience that traditions have a way of working themselves towards truth, so I’m not like some who want to dismiss Jerome’s preface because it goes against what we see in the early Latin manuscripts. Although my Hebrew and Greek are improving, I don’t have much experience with Latin. I realize this means I’m just trusting the translation of Jerome’s preface, but no one is discussing translation ambiguity there. My experience with Greek and Hebrew is that when there’s an ambiguity, it usually gets talked about. (Especially when it is this big of a deal.) Yet the text of the Latin Bibles from that period excludes the text we’re looking for in John’s letter directly.

It looks to me like the text was not in the final version of Jerome’s Bible. Jerome himself may have included it, but if so his own generation took it back out. Jerome seems to have liked the text, though. Either he regretted that he needed to take it out or he put it in and his own generation corrected him.

We know that God’s people hear God’s voice. If God’s people took these words out at least once (when John first distributed the letter) and possibly twice (when Jerome inserted them into his translation) and the objection was nearly nonexistent, then I think we can safely say that these words are not inspired.

We can contrast this with another section attributed to John: the woman taken in adultery. This section is missing from many witnesses to John’s Gospel, but it’s there in many more. Examining this text follows a similar trajectory, except instead of later generations silently omitting the section there are complaints that the text is missing. No matter if the text was not original to John’s pen, it’s clear that God’s people were drawn to the text anyway. I do believe it was original to John’s pen, but that’s a secondary point to did it come from God.

At one point, I tried to track all of these down and build a conclusion for each one. At some point, I realized that my answer was going to almost by definition end up being a critical majority text reading. This is why I decided to follow the Robinson-Pierpont Greek text.

Yes, this means that there are a few things taken out of the Corrected King James Version. Verses are missing. They’re missing because they were never actually there.

Handling Rare Words

I am absolutely a product of my generation, and one of the things that means is Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. This show and its spinoff Angel were something my wife and I bonded over when we were dating. One of the things that I really enjoyed about the shows were their abuse of the English language.

Many have studied how Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, abused English grammar rules to create new words to carefully construct the narrative of the story where budget constraints and effects technology failed. Statements like, “I’m the thing that monsters have nightmares about,” and “when you tried to be head cheerleader, you were bad. When you tried to chair the Homecoming committee, you were really bad. But when you try to be bad… you suck,” and “Just because you’re better than us doesn’t mean you can be all superior” are examples that are easy to get, while statements like “It’s entirely pointy,” and “Edge Girl” take a bit more context to be intelligible to most people.

There are some places in the Bible where something like this seems to be at play. The most famous example is Genesis 11:9. The name of the kingdom is Babel, and the Hebrew word for scattering is “balal.” So God balaled Babel.

Then there are rare words in the Bible. Words that only show up a few times, and only in the Bible. Bohu, the word translated as “void” in Genesis 1:2, only appears in three places in the Hebrew Bible. All three times, it’s close and connected to the Hebrew word tohu, which itself only shows up about 20 times in the Hebrew Bible. (Although I’ve read that this second word is better attested in extra-biblical Hebrew literature.)

One of the best ways to get a sense of what a word means is to see how it’s used. This is even better than looking up the definition, most of the time. Consider the words ‘afraid’ and ‘frightened.’ It’s easy to say that these two words are synonyms. Yet if I tell you, “I was only afraid, but he was frightened,” you know what that means. Conversely, if I were to say, “I was afraid, but he was only frightened,” suddenly this sentence makes less sense. You’ll need to know more about the situation to know where to put the ironic sense into that second sentence. Seeing how these two words are used gives you that sense, but looking them up in the dictionary will not.

What if you were watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer as a non-native English speaker and trying to make sense of Joss Whedon’s imaginative expansions on the language? It might be difficult to determine when a rare word was something made up just for the situation or something playing off a rare use of the word. Maybe he’s playing off something in Spanish or Latin or some fictional language. How can you know with such a rare word?

In the case of the Bible, there are tools to check. Lexicons and commentaries will sometimes tell us why are rare word assumed to have the meaning it does. The word might be rare in the Bible, but common in later rabbinical literature or always connected to a common Greek word in the Septuigent. For example, the word for hare or rabbit in Leviticus 11:6 and Deuteronomy 14:7 only occurs in those two places, but there’s more evidence for the Greek word that it’s connected with in external literature.

Some translators do their level best to find a translation for every word. When I make my translation, I’m taking it from another angle. For every word, I’m going to make a page with ten usage examples for the word, and it’s synonyms in English and the biblical languages. If there aren’t ten usage examples from the Bible or the Septuigent, but the lexicons and commentaries are able to give good reasons to think we know the meaning of the word, I’ll give my references. If the lexicons and commentaries can’t convince me that the definition is well established, I’ll transliterate it.

Joshua Davidson and Rocky Johnson

Sometimes, when I was teaching middle schoolers, I had to find ways to keep them interested. One day, when no one was interested in the curriculum lesson, I offered to tell them the story of Joshua Davidson and Rocky Johnson instead of their lesson on how the Apostle Peter was forgiven for denying Christ at his execution.


I’m going to tell you the story of the first martyr for the Christian cause and his best friend. Joshua Davidson was the first charismatic speaker at the very beginning of the Church. His best friend, Rocky Johnson, was a bit of a bull-headed wonder. Rocky was a fisherman before joining the Christian movement. Joshua found him working hard one night, and asked to borrow his boat to give a speech. After the speech, Joshua blessed Rocky. It’s hard to say what Joshua saw in Rocky, but there was something.

Rocky wasn’t called Rocky before Joshua met him. His mom and dad called him Simion around the home. But when Joshua met him, Joshua saw how bull-headed he could be and said, “I’m going to call you Rocky, and this is the stone I’m going to use to build this movement from.”

Then, one night, the authorities came for Joshua. They were tired of his preaching and teaching that love is the way to God. Rocky wasn’t going to have any of it, though. Rocky took out his sword and swung wildly through the crowd. Imagine the laughter as the trained guards easily parried and dodged as this fisherman hurled his sword through the air from near miss to near miss.

Then Rocky laid eyes on the only guy there who didn’t have a sword: the clerk in charge of making sure all the paperwork was in order. Rocky doubled up, and swung with all he had right at the clerk’s head! The clerk dodged and managed to get away. He had a pretty deep gash, though. Joshua yelled out, “Enough! Rocky, now is not the time for you to fight. Put your sword away. If this is really how you think the Kingdom of God will come, then by daybreak you’ll have abandoned me.”

All the Christians ran away. The guards took Joshua, and they presented him to the authorities. They wanted to get the execution order signed as quickly as possible. If it waited too long, then the cracks in their case might start to show through.

Hanging back from the procession was a shadowy figure. Rocky had run away when the guards had taken Joshua. Now that the moment was passed, Rocky wanted to try again, though. Joshua was the leader that the Church needed, and Rocky knew that. He crept behind the procession, making sure to keep out of sight.

Along the way, Rocky bumped into another of the early Christians, Jonathan. Jonathan was quick to remind Rocky that if they were caught, it probably meant hanging right along with Joshua. Rocky didn’t care. He pushed through the crowd and kept right on the heels of the guards.

Johnathan had family connections when they got to the execution house, so he went to find help for Rocky and himself to get in. As Rocky tried to get himself ready for what he was sure to see, people asked him if he was here for the execution. Rocky denied it. He just needed to get in, and then maybe he could stop it. But when the sun came up over the horizon, Rocky realized what he was saying. It was just like Joshua has said. He had abandoned Joshua trying to find a way to free him.

The guards led Joshua out to be hung. They put him on the rack, and then hung him there until he was dead. That’s not the end of Joshua’s story, though. Joshua was such a powerful leader in the Church that God didn’t keep him dead. After three days, Joshua woke up and came out of his grave. He went to Rocky, and Rocky broke down and cried when he saw his friend alive again. Rocky admitted that he had denied being there for Joshua in the end.

Joshua forgave him and told Rocky to take heart. Joshua told Rocky that someone needed to take over the leadership of the new Church. Joshua was only returned to us for a short time, and then would be taken up to Heaven. Rocky agreed and understood. He spent the next days learning at the feet of Joshua, God’s Own Son.


A funny thing happened when I started translating the Book of Matthew: I had to rethink the way I thought about the name of The Chief Apostle. I knew all about the connection between the name Peter and the Greek word for rock and that Cephas was the Aramaic version of the name. I didn’t learn anything new. Still, it was kind of jarring to go from reading Peter in all of my Bible stuff and then to see Kepha as I was translating. The wordplay in Matthew 16:18 jumped off the page in much more stunning contrast than ever before. It felt very much like I was coming into Jesus’s inner circle, sitting down among the apostles, and hearing Jesus’s deepest thoughts.

But I’m a stranger in their world. My Hebrew is good enough to get by with a dictionary and a grammar in hand. I have the constitution to visit their world, but not to live there.

Reading The Chief Apostle’s name as Peter once again whenever I would have to return to my English translations was just a reminder that I’m living on the outside. I thought to myself, “His name was never Peter!” (I’ll come back to that in a moment. Just hang on.) “His name was Kepha. It was Simon! Never Peter!”

Even the Apostle John reminds us in John 1:42 that Jesus called him Kepha. (Cephas when you come through the Greek to English.) Only those who don’t really know him call him by a foreign word. Here we are, two or three languages distant from the Apostle, and in our language ‘Peter’ and ‘rock’ don’t even go together. That’s why I’ve decided to translate The Chief Apostle’s name as ‘Rocky’ when I’m making my translation, except in places where the text is borrowing his name from a language foreign to the bulk of the text.

There are two such places I want to talk about in this article. One I’ve already said something about. In John 1:42, we are invited into Jesus’s inner circle, to call The Chief Apostle by the name that Christ gave him directly. The other is 1 Peter 1:1. See, as I’ve prayed about it, I’ve been led to think that 1 Peter is written by Peter in Aramaic and that the Syriac Peshito best preserves these words for us. But when I started looking into that document a little more closely, it surprised me to see The Chief Apostle sign his name not as Simon, nor as Kepha, but as Peter. He signed his name with the Greek version, even when writing in Aramaic. Someone will say this is evidence that the letter was originally in Greek, and I’m not going to pretend that this line of logic is unsound. I’m following answered prayers, so your mileage may vary. Still, for my own presuppositions, it was a pretty hard hit. (And if 1 Peter was written, inspired, and preserved in Greek, this may be the reason that God led me down this path. I’ll trade a little truth for a bigger one any day.) The Chief Apostle did, at some point, embrace the name as it was translated into Greek for correspondence with his gentile congregation.

So when I make my translation, it’s going to be Rocky most of the time, then Cephas in John 1:42, and then Peter in 1 Peter 1:1, both because it accurately reflects on the original, and also because it is a reminder to me not to be so sure of myself all the time.

I’ve decided to translate The Savior’s name as Jesus, and not Joshua or Yeshua or any of the other myriad of options out there. Part of me wants to be really obtuse and translate his name as “Salvidor,” to keep the connection to salvation. There are definitely places in Matthew where the connection to salvation are pretty clear, such as Matthew 1:21. If I translated his name as Salvidor, the last half of that verse would come out something like, “you shall call his name Salvador, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Or something like that.) This would really grasp at the tones in the original. However, the Savior only ever appears with one name consistently throughout both the Simitic and Greek traditions of the text, which we have typically translated into English as Jesus.

How Many are You?

Language evolves. We don’t speak the same way now that we did in King James’s day. Because of this, there are a lot of new translations that change the language in our bibles. Gone are the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s of the King James Version and American Standard Version, replaced with the modern ‘you’ that we all use today.

As someone getting deeper into the original languages of the Bible, there’s something kind of ironic about this. There are several words in the Bible that have adopted a Christian aora and stuck with us, even though they aren’t used in daily speech any more. Some of them have taken on a ritual significance. ‘Baptism’ is now only used in English to refer to a ritual dunking or sprinkling of water. I think it’s interesting to think that the original word had a much wider frame of use than we use today: βαπτίζω meant dipping something in water. In fact, in Mark 7:4, refers to washing your hands with this same word. It would be as though we were to assign a rigual meaning to taking a shower, and then in another language they imported the word “shower” to mean the ritual even when the ritual had stopped spraying water on your body.

Another example is the word “grace.” When was the last time you used the word “grace” in a sentence outside of a Christian setting? What does “grace” even mean? Yet you’ll find this word all over your Bible. It would be very hard to find a bible that doesn’t have the word “grace” in it more than three dozen times. If we look at verses where it appears in the King James Version, such as Genesis 32:5, Numbers 32:5, and Ruth 2:10 (just to pick a few at random) we can see that it was originally a term of somewhat mild endearment. Your cat has your grace when you pet it for catching a mouse. In the NIV and ESV, they use the word “favor” instead of “grace” to talk about Noah’s standing before God in Genesis 32:5. In Ruth 2:10, they use a meaning close to “take notice of.” (And because someone will ask, I like these translations in these places, and they both translate the same Hebrew word, חֵן.)

The word “faith” has taken on a life of its own in some circles, both Christian and non-Christian. It used to mean trust. If you trust someone, you have faith in them. It’s really not more complicated than that. Somehow, we’ve assigned some sort of magical understanding to faith, though. Along with this magic power comes definitions that are further and further from the original meaning.

Overall, I’m in favor of making updated changes to the language. I’m also in favor of keeping the old translations around, just because sometimes taking things from another angle is helpful. If you’re going to read the Bible on a daily basis, though, I think you should know what it’s saying. I’d much rather have a term like “take notice” or “find favor” than the word “grace” in my Bible. Somehow, though, these sticky words stick in our bibles.

There is an area where modern English has taken a hard left turn and our Bibles would have done us a bit of service to keep the original English terms, though. Somewhere along the line, we stopped using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in everyday English. Sure, we’ll break them out when reading Shakesphere or the King James Version, and we’ll use them mockingly when we want to show that someone is being old-fashioned and out-dated. But they aren’t used on a regular basis, and a lot of people have forgotten what they mean. I once had a conversation with a friend where he thought that ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ were a reference to Deity, and ‘ye’ and ‘you’ were a reference to humans. This is wrong.

In the archaic English of the King James and American Standard Versions, the ‘th’ second person pronouns were singular, and the ‘y’ second person pronouns were plural. Here’s a handy table.

Singular

Plural

Subjective

thou

you

Objective

thee

ye

Possessive

thy/thine

your

So, for example, if the person or people you are speaking with is the subject of the sentence, it’s “Thou hit the ball” for one person, or “You hit the ball” for multiple people. If the person or people you are speaking with are the object of the sentence, you say, “I’m bringing thee” for one person, and “I’m bringing ye” for multiple people.

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much if our new bibles dropped the “thee” and “ye.” No one uses ‘ye’ anymore. But sometimes valuable information is lost when we fail to distinguish how many “you” denotes. The times are few and far between, but there are times when it might be easy to miss something.

Let’s look at an example. John 3:7 in the World English Bible reads “Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’” Seems straightforward enough. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he needs to be reborn in order to enter Heaven. Or is he?

Fortunately, languages continue to evolve. After losing our singular/plural distinction in the second person pronoun, we realized how useful it was. Different vernacular groups have approached the problem and tried to find solutions. Some of these have ended up with hilarious results.

I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but I once heard a skit where the comedian was talking about the second person pronoun in vernacular speech in Texas. According to the skit, in Texas east of Houston, “you” referred to one person, “y’all” two people, and “all y’all” to three or more people. West of Houston, “y’all” was one person, “all y’all” was two people, and “you” was three or more people. Within Houston, “you” was two people, and “y’all” was everything else. And if course, everywhere that isn’t Texas, “you” is singular and “y’all” is plural.

As I’ve been working on my translation of the Bible, I’ve wrestled with this a little. I’m trying to avoid the archaic English when there’s a better way to put it in modern English. I’m keeping “baptize” a lot of the time, but I’m trying to avoid “grace.” I don’t want to use ‘thou,” but I do want to keep the distinction between singular and plural second person pronouns.

One solution would be to use a varient on “y’all.” That table would look something like this:

Singular

Plural

Object/Subject

you

y’all

Possessive

your

y’all’s

Another solution would be to use “you guys.” That table would look something like this:

Singular

Plural

Object/Subject

you

you guys

Possessive

your

you guys’

I’m tending toward the “you guys” model for two reasons. First, I don’t know how much truth there is to the skit I referenced above, but if “y’all” isn’t very standardized, then using it isn’t helpful to anyone except me, and I don’t use “y’all” in my daily speech. I use “you guys” quite a bit, though. Second, I’m afraid someone is going to accuse me of making fun of Jesus, making him a Texan or something. I’m just trying to convey the original as faithfully as possible.

Still, it’s worth giving a reading of each, just to see how they roll off the tongue. Taking John 3:5-8 from the World English Bible and then applying the following tables to it, we get:

John 3:5-8 with “y’all”

Jesus answered, “Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘Y’all must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:5-8 with “you guys”

Jesus answered, “Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You guys must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I’m not going to go so far as to say this changes the whole meaning, but I think there’s a noticeable shift in the interpretation. We can debate if Jesus means that the nation of Israel needs to be born again, or the church, or if Jesus is speaking to us as individuals, but it’s clear that he’s not speaking to Nicodemus alone any longer. Yet he is definitely only talking to Nicodemus again when he talks about not knowing which way the wind is blowing.

I’m open to thoughts on the subject. I’m still reviewing my translation of Mattew, and I’m still getting my Greek up to snuff to start putting the hard work into translating the other three gospels. Which way do you think is the best way to denote the difference between the singular and plural in the second person pronoun?