Putting Translation Concerns to Rest

While working on the content for our up-and-coming class, “What the Bible Really Says“, two articles came to my attention that were quite timely and address a concern that a number of students have expressed to me, namely that all these newly discovered [mis]translations are designed to weaken our faith. The first article is actually a post that [I hope] lays to rest the fear that retranslating the biblical text will somehow do damage or run counter to our faith. Daniel B. Wallace, a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary has a new post about biblical mistranslations. In it, he offers some sound advice for many Christians, many of whom are nervous about this stuff. He writes,

The KJV New Testament, for example, was essentially based on seven Greek manuscripts, dating no earlier than the eleventh century. Today we have about 5800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including those that the KJV translators used. And they date as early as the second century. So, as time goes on, we are actually getting closer to the originals, not farther away.” (my emphasis)

More importantly, the variations in these manuscripts (errors, mistranslations, etc.,) are largely insignificant — like typos that sneak past the proof reader’s eyes.  Butthose that are significant have almost uniformly been found to support our faith. And that leads me to the second example — a case in which correcting the English translation, reinforces an important Christian doctrine about faith and faithfulness.

sacrifice-of-isaacThis second article (From the magazine, Biblical Hebrew – a publication for former students) concerns the sacrifice of Isaac. The author points out that Genesis 22:2 is rendered (and understood) as a command by God that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac. Here’s how most (all?) English Bibles translate the first few words of the verse like the RSV,

“He said, ‘Take your son, your only son…'”

But, the English words are not faithful to the actual Hebrew.  Of all the English Bibles I’ve examined (about 13) all omit the Hebrew word ‘na’, meaning please[1]. Observe that when each word is translated, the text actually reads,

He said, ‘Take, please, your son, your only son…’”

In other words, God is not commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He is only requesting that Abraham do so. How much more of a testament to Abraham’s faith is a willingness to honor not only God’s demands, but His requests – no matter how horrific.  Is it any wonder that St. Paul used Abraham as the quintessential exemplar of a faithful servant. Abraham obeyed, not because he had to, but because his faith was more important to him even than his son.

Now, go and study.


  1. [1]Translated, the actual Hebrew read, “Vayomer khach-na et-bin’kha…” (and-said-he, take-you-please, your-son…). For reasons as yet unknown to me, na is never translated. While I can not, as yet, say why the English translations uniformly ignore this word, some scholars argue that this, not the sacrifice of Isaac, is the real test. Namely, God sought to test whether Abraham’s faith was strong enough to overcome his love for his son?
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