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Bias in Bible Translation
Bible image
 NLT Translation Warning 
The work
of translating Holy Scripture deserves our admiration and appreciation.
But a translation remains a translation – a human attempt to convey the meaning of the original language of the text.
 
Two
Two Examples of Difficulty
Genesis 6:3
Genesis 41:40
examples from Genesis illustrate the understandable difficulty of translators in doing this –
1. 
The word translated strive / contend in earlier English translations, and as remain / abide in later translations of Genesis 6:3.
2. 
The word translated as armed / ordered / obey in earlier versions and as meaning be ruled / as you command in later versions of Genesis 41:40.
Errors which
deserve sympathy
1. Genesis 6:3 – yadon (ידון)  
This
unique word in the oldest part of the Old Testament has been translated in the light of medieval Mishnaic Hebrew as 'strive' and later in the light of modern Arabic as 'abide'. Neither are a reliable guide to understanding, as has been assumed. The international language of that time in which Genesis was written, the (Assyro-Babylonian) Akkadian language of the Middle East, has a word cognate to 'yadon' closer than the other two languages and more logical within the semantic context of this passage. This carries the meaning of shield / protect. This changes the meaning of the passage significantly and gives us a basis for understanding Noah's Flood as special but natural catastrophe and the 120-years as the period left until this rare but natural world-wide tragedy.
See:
Probable Cause
2. Genesis 41:40 – yishshak (ישׁק)  
When
understood from the Hebrew stem nashak, this word means 'to kiss', and so it has been assumed to refer to kissing the hand as a sign of submission or obedience. But a literal translation of the words of Pharaoh to Joseph would then read – "at your mouth all my people shall kiss", so the translators have taken the symbolic route in understanding it. But this does not fit the semantic context. However, when one looks at the ancient Egyptian language of the time in which the event described takes place, this word stem means 'to eat' and this is the very reason why Pharaoh is appointing Joseph to this position. In other words, it would be wiser to translate this as – "according to your word all my people shall eat." So, its original meaning of 'put to the mouth' (from which the much later Hebrew meaning of kissing developed) but in its primary sense of 'to eat'.
 (W Chomsky 1969:38)
Further,

Reformation
Without End...
human bias in translation is also a natural tendency that is to be diligently guarded against in the work of every translator, for to some degree it will inevitably rob the reader of a fuller understanding of the literature being translated. When it come to the translation of Holy Scripture this is even more important, for any imposition of the presuppositions or theological views of the translator within the translation not only misleads but it also hinders the ongoing and never-ending responsibility of the Christian church to continually reassess and reform itself in the light of the Bible.
 
Translation
of the Bible is a heroic history which includes significant martyrs for "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), such as William Tyndale, and others. Their cost adds to our responsibility today to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, the full meaning of every statement and teaching of Holy Scripture is available to all believers in this holy gospel of Christ.


The 'Spirit'  
 
An example of bias in the translation of the Old Testament (Hebrew T'nach) is the treatment of the Hebrew term 'ruach' (רוּח). It literally means 'spirit' either human or divine, yet the Contemporary English Version (CEV) translates this same word in Genesis 6:3 as 'life-giving breath' (as neshâmâh or nephesh could mean, which this is not!) as though it is simply life or a quality of life given to humans which is now in jeopardy at the time of the Flood rather than the direct personal presence of the Most High who brooded over the surface of the waters before the First Day of the Creation Week.
 
The
purpose of a translation is not to make the Bible culturally digestible but to bring us into the perspective–of–God (God's view point) to help us to then trust Him beyond our understanding, as Abraham came to understand.
"... My Spirit ..."
Is the better translation in the fuller context of the use of this term in Genesis, and with a capital initial letter in view of the term's direct association with the person of God, and not a small/lowercase 's' as in – the ASV; BBE; DRB; JPS; modern KJV; RV; Webster or Vulgate versions; and certainly not as the Good News Bible translates "allow people to live" (which assumes that 'spirit' simply means 'life').
 
Two
further examples of bias in our present day translations, in spite of best intentions, are the phrase 'son of man' and the word translated 'wise men'.
 
 
'Wise Men'
 
The word in our New Testament original language is 'magi' (μάγος).  
 
Those who came from the east to worship the new king of the Jews (Mat.2:1) and the favourite counselor of the Roman proconsul ruling Cyprus (Ac.13:6), are both described in our New Testament by the same word. But, whereas those who came to Jerusalem are translated as 'wise men', this Jewish advisor in the court of the Roman governor is translated as 'sorcerer'.
 
 
The first were supporters of God's work through Christ, the second was an opponent of God's work through Christ: hence the bias. The use of the term pseudo-prophet ('ψευδοπροφήτης') in the text supports this negative translation bias, but does not excuse it.
 
 
It is most probable, especially in view of his Jewishness, that this magon of the Roman court on Cyprus was a monotheist (at least as much as the 'wise men' of Bethlehem), and he probably won the confidence of the Proconsul by exposing the errors of polytheism to him, while mixing in his own self-advancing sayings in God's name; for the governor is specifically described as an intelligent man even before he had heard the gospel.
 
 
This magon is struck blind (temporarily) by God's judgment through Saul of Tarsus specifically because he was making the straight paths of the Lord crooked (Ac.13:10-11). Hopefully, the fact that this judgment was temporary held hope that he would repent of his jealous behaviour toward those who bore the true gospel of God.
 
  'Son of Man'  
This
phrase in our New Testament represents a poetic idiom for a 'human being' in the Semitic languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. Aramaic was the home language of Jesus and His first apostles, and Hebrew was the primary language of their Bible.
 
 
A theory that developed in modern Christian history, and generally accepted in theological circles of the last two centuries, was that 'Son of man' was a Messianic title derived from Daniel Seven, and so used by Jesus to claim messianic status for Himself. This has been shown by later research to be totally false, although some teachers are still caught up with this erroneous presupposition.
influenced by the fake
'parables'/'similitudes' chapter
in the Ethiopic Book of Enoch.
 
A comparison of the translation of John 5:27 and Revelation 1:13 where exactly the same phrase in used exposes inconsistency arising from theological bias associated with this view. Both texts lack the definite article 'the', yet one is translated "the Son of man" and the other is translated "a son of man". Both actually say and mean the same thing. Yet, one is translated as a title and the other is translated as simply meaning human.
 
 
For us to understand Christ's important explanatory statement in John 5:27 requires a full and accurate translation –
 
  "And He [the Father] has given Him [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because He is son of man." No definite article!
Christ
came in Adam's flesh to redeem the sons of Adam. The sinless man alone, in all creation, has the right to judge sinful men. It is Christ's humanity, not His messianic-anointing or His deity that is here declared to be the basis for God the Father giving Him the sole authority to execute judgment over humanity.
 
 
As much as this same phrase in Rev.1:13 is translated "a son of man" it should here also have been translated the same, so as not to hinder our understanding of God's word growing beyond the comprehension of a translator.
 
Yet, even the phrase "son of man" is an under-translation. It is too literal to convey the Semitic idiom which it represents. It would have been better perhaps to translate it as "this human" or "this human-being".
 
'What is Written'  
The
Apostle Paul addresses local church leaders in Corinth with a warning (after having used the complementary nature of his and Apollos' ministries as an example) – that leaders are not to go beyond what is written, no matter how 'right' it may seem. In this context the meaning is a reference to Holy Scripture, as the DRB, ASV, BBE, EMTV, ERV, ISV, KJV, MKJV, RV and ESV give for 1 Corinthians 4:6, and not what the CEV, and GNB give us).
1 Corinthians 4:6.
The
Good News Bible (GNB) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV) give us 'observe the proper rules' and 'follow the rules' respectively, implying that church ordinances are in mind – in direct contradiction of the very purpose of this passage in Holy Scripture; and for this their translators will give an account.


A Good Example for us  
The
pre-Christian Jewish translators of Isaiah in its Septuagint version (although influenced by the Arabic in translating Genesis 6:3 for Hebrew was no longer spoken in Palestine at the time, for Aramaic and Greek were used) were wiser because they understood the cultural context and insisted on translating a Hebrew word which literally meant 'young woman' (almah: עלמה) and idiomatically 'virgin' by the Greek word 'virgin' (parthenos: παρθένος), for they knew (better than modern Hebrew scholars) that pre-Christian Hellenistic Greek speakers (Jewish and others) would not otherwise understand the cultural idiom of the old Biblical Hebrew with its prophetic dual application in Isaiah's time.
 
It
is unusual but good that today our translators from the Hebrew have continued to follow their example in handling this particular text of Isaiah (7:14); to the serious chagrin of some modern Jewish Hebrew teachers.
See:
Isaiah's 'Virgin' Prophecy
 
It is here worth noting that modern Hebrew language is derived from the medieval Jewish Mishne and not from its much earlier Biblical Hebrew predecessor, which was itself originally derived from the old Canaanite language  (Chomsky) of Palestine.
 NLT Translation
Warning 
So, students
of modern Hebrew must not simply assume their understanding of the Biblical Hebrew, and need to proceed with caution as indicated above.
 
Further, God and Adam's 'naming' statements in Genesis One and Two do not imply that either God or Adam spoke Hebrew; for Semitically the term 'name' describes character (in Biblical Hebrew) and is not simply a word/term for an object; therefore to "praise the name of the Lord" does not mean to praise a word for God but to praise His character. Amen!

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