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TRANSLATION ERRORS AND

FORGERIES* IN THE BIBLE

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Translation Errors:

The original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Unfortunately, relatively few adults in North America can read any of these ancient languages. So most of us have to rely upon English translations.

The reader cannot always trust the translators. Bibles contain many inaccuracies and errors. Some appear to be intentional.
bulletMost versions of the Bible are sponsored by one or more Christian denominations. Thus, translators tend to have similar belief systems. Some denominations have long standing prejudices against other religions, sexual minorities, etc. This sometimes affects the accuracy of their translation.
bulletTranslators are under economic constraints: if they translate some verses as they actually appear in the original Hebrew and Greek, then long held prejudices would be threatened and many potential readers might reject the translation. Some pastors have favorite passages that appear to condemn Wiccans, other Neo-pagans and homosexuals. If a translation appeared in which those verses no longer condemned Witches or homosexuals, it is unlikely that those clergy would buy it or recommend it to their flock.

Some of the most obvious mistranslations occur in passages related to
bulletWitchcraft where the word has so many conflicting meanings in modern English that (in our opinion) it should never be used by Bible translators. The English phrase "black magic" would be a much better fit in most locations.
bulletHomosexuality which some theologians believe the Bible uses to refer to a broad range of mostly criminal activities: homosexual rape, same-sex temple prostitution, group orgies, and child abuse of boys, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual activities. They believe that none of the passages seem to refer to gay and lesbian sex between consenting adults or committed partners. However, other Christians believe that these same "clobber passages" condemn all homosexual behavior.
bulletSame-sex emotional relationships that Ruth, David and Daniel were involved in.

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Forgeries* in the Bible

bulletMatthew 6:13: The Lord's Prayer traditionally ends: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." This seems to have been absent from the original writings. 6
bulletMatthew 17:21 is a duplicate of Mark 9:29. It was apparently added by a copyist in order to make Matthew agree with Mark. But Mark 9:29 also contains a forgery*; this makes Matthew 17:21 a type of double-layered forgery*. 5
bulletJohn 7:53 to 8:11: One of the most famous forgeries* in the Bible is the well-known story of the woman observed in adultery. It was apparently written and inserted after John 7:52 by an unknown author, perhaps in the 5th century CE. This story is often referred to as an "orphan story" because it is a type of floating text which has appeared after John 7:36, John 7:52, John 21:25, and Luke 21:38 in various manuscripts. Some scholars believe that the story may have had its origins in oral traditions about Jesus.
It is a pity that the status of verses John 8:1-11 are not certain. If they were known to be a reliable description of Jesus' ministry, they would have given a clear indication of Jesus' stance on the death penalty.
bulletMark 9:29: Jesus comments that a certain type of indwelling demon can only be exorcised through "prayer and fasting" (KJV) This is also found in the Rheims New Testament. But the word "fasting" did not appear in the oldest manuscripts. 5 New English translations have dropped the word.
bulletMark 16:9-20: The original version of Mark ended rather abruptly at the end of Verse 8. Verses 9 to 20, which are shown in most translations of the Bible, were added later by an unknown forger*. The verses were based on portions of Luke, John and other sources.
bulletLuke 3:22: This passage describes Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. According to Justin Martyr, the original version of this verse has God speaking the words: "You are my son, today have I begotten thee." Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and other ancient Christian authorities also quoted it this way. 1 The implication is that Jesus was first recognized by God as his son at the time of baptism. But a forger* altered the words to read: "You are my son, whom I love." The altered passage conformed more to the evolving Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God at his birth, (as described in Luke and Matthew) or before the beginning of creation (as in John), and not at his baptism.
bulletJohn 5:3-4: These verses describe how "a great multitude" of disabled people stayed by the water. From time to time an angel arrived, and stirred the waters. The first person who stepped in was cured. This passage seems strange. The process would not be at all just, because the blind could not see the waters being stirred, and the less mobile of the disabled would have no chance of a cure. Part of Verse 3 and all of Verse 4 are missing from the oldest manuscripts of John. 3 It appears to be a piece of free-floating magical text that someone added to John.
bulletJohn 21: There is general agreement among liberal and mainline Biblical scholars that the original version of the Gospel of John ended at the end of John 20. John 21 appears to either be an afterthought of the author(s) of John, or a later addition by a forger*. Most scholars believe the latter. 4
bullet1 Corinthians 14:34-35: This is a curious passage. It appears to prohibit all talking by women during services. But it contradicts verse 11:5, in which St. Paul states that women can actively pray and prophesy during services. It is obvious to some theologians that verses 14:33b to 36 are a later addition, added by an unknown counterfeiter* with little talent at forgery.* Bible scholar, Hans Conzelmann, comments on these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought. [within them]." 2 If they are removed, then Verse 33a merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition. Since they were a later forgery*, they do not fulfill the basic requirement to be considered inerrant: they were not in the original manuscript written by Paul. This is a very important passage, because much many denominations stand against female ordination is based on these verses.
bulletRevelation 1:11: The phrase "Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and," (KJV) which is found in the King James Version was not in the original Greek texts. It is also found in the New King James Version (NKJV) and in the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) The latter are basically re-writes of the original KJV. Modern English, is used, but the translators seem to have made little or no effort to correct errors. The Alpha Omega phrase "is not found in virtually any ancient texts, nor is it mentioned, even as a footnote, in any modern translation or in Bruce Metzger's definitive 'A Textual Commentary' on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994..." 7

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* Note re: forged and counterfeit writings:

We are using these terms with reference to today's value systems. For example, if someone wrote in 1999 an essay in the form of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII, and attempted to pass it off as an unknown work of the Pope, then we would consider it a forgery or counterfeit. If someone write today a speech in the style of George Washington and tried to publish it as if it were written by the first President, we would also consider it a forgery.

But things were a little different in the 1st and 2nd century CE. It was quite an accepted practice at that time for followers of a great philosopher or religious thinker to write material which emulated their leader. They passed it off as if that leader wrote it. This was not considered unethical at the time. We use the term forger and counterfeiter in this essay to emphasize that the passages were written by person or persons unknown. It does not necessarily indicate that the passages are any less valid than other texts in the Bible. The term means simply that the passages were added to the writings of the original  author(s) by an unknown person.

There were dozens of gospels, large numbers epistles, and even a few books on the style of Revelation that were considered religious texts by various movements within the early Christian church. When some of these were selected to form the official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), the main criteria was whether the book was written by an apostle or someone very close to an apostle. The canon was regarded as inerrant and as inspired by God. It still is by conservative Christians. Liberal theologians have reached a consensus that many books in the New Testament were not written by the authors that they claim to be written by. This puts their legitimacy in question. We also know that unknown persons later inserted their own writings into some  books. 

Some of the books that liberal theologians believe were written by authors different from the ones indicated by the Bible itself are:

bulletGenesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (a.k.a. The Pentateuch, the 5 Books of Moses, the Books of the Law, the Law, the Torah). These state in numerous places that they were written by Moses. But mainline and liberal theologians have long accepted the "Documentary Hypothesis" which asserts that the Pentateuch was written by a group of four authors, from various locations in Palestine, over a period of centuries. Each wrote with the goal of promoting his/her own religious views. A fifth individual cut and pasted the original documents in to the present Pentateuch.
bulletThe authors of the gospels claim to have been eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry. Yet liberal theologians believe that the gospels were written during the period 70 to 100 CE by anonymous writers who had only second-hand knowledge about Jesus.
bulletThe text of various Pauline epistles state that they were written by Paul. However, liberal theologians believe that Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus were written by persons unknown, mostly in the 2nd century, many decades after Paul's death. 
bulletOther epistles of unknown authorship, according to religious liberals, are Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, and Jude.
bulletReligious liberals have concluded that Revelation was written by an unknown author - perhaps a Jewish Christian whose primary language was Aramaic.

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References used:

  1. Adrian Swindler, "The Flat Earth: Still an Embarrassment to Biblical Inerrantists," at: http://www.infidels.org/
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:33: http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/
  3. Bruce Metzger, "Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, Second Edition," United Bible Societies, New York NY, (1993). Available at: http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/joh05v03.htm
  4. John, Chapter 21: http://www.bibletexts.com/
  5. Mark, 9:29: http://www.bibletexts.com/
  6. Matthew 6:13: http://www.bibletexts.com/
  7. Revelation 1:11: http://www.bibletexts.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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