Do modern translations of the Bible change verses so dramatically that they end up with a meaning that is in direct opposition to the King James Version?
We all know the common phrase that highlights the odd truth of romantic love. Opposites attract. However, those who march to the beat of the King James Only ideology are adamant that this isn’t so. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. (Psalm 10:4-5 KJV bold mine)
The word in bold is where our problem lies. Here is the NIV’s iteration.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies. (Psalm 10:5 NIV bold mine)
Is the NIV telling us that the ways of evil are good because they’re prosperous? Not exactly. There are a few keywords in the context that gives us an idea about who this evildoer is.
The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor….For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth….The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God….He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity….. (Psalm 10: 2-6 KJV bold mine)
Those few examples should give us an idea of the kind of person David is talking about. This person persecutes the poor, boasts of his hearts desires, walks with a prideful countenance, and sees no need to ever seek the face of God. We’re looking at an incredibly wealthy person who holds great power. His ways are grievous precisely because they are prosperous. How many times have we looked to God and said, “Lord, look at the evil they are committing, how can they be living such a trouble-free life?” Isn’t it the bad ones that always seem to get away with it while the righteous have to go through hardship after hardship? This was David’s line of thinking, so rather than having two contradictory interpretations we have two interpretations that shed light on one another and bring us a picture clearer than what they give on their own.
And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity. (Ecclesiastes 8:10 KJV bold mine)
The next oft-quoted example is this lament in Ecclesiastes. The KJV says that the wicked were forgotten in the city where they had committed their crimes.
Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 8:10 NIV bold mine)
The NIV, on the other hand, says that the wicked were praised. Critics use the same objection here as they did with the example in Psalms. Is the NIV calling evil good or worthy of praise? This one takes a little more digging but, like the example in Psalms, the translations give us a more transparent picture if we read them together. Firstly, it is assumed that what is forgotten in this verse are the people themselves, but this isn’t correct. Some commentators believe that there are two groups present in this passage: the wicked who are buried with praise, and the righteous who are forgotten (vs. 14). Vs. 10 speaks primarily of the burial of the wicked but having vs. 14 in mind can help us determine what it is that is forgotten and why the writer finds it so grievous. It is not the people themselves who are forgotten, what is forgotten is their former wickedness. The passage sees the writer lamenting over injustice, not rejoicing that they themselves were forgotten. The New Living Translation actually paints the clearest picture here.
I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 8:10 NLT)
From the viewpoint of the righteous, it’s all too confusing and sad that society chooses to remember those who committed evil in an honourable way without any sense of retribution. It goes to show how corrupt our society can be. It’s a place where the wicked are praised and the righteous are either forgotten about or hailed as the wicked ones themselves. In summary, because the wicked frequented the temple and obeyed its rules, whatever evil they committed was forgotten in favour of the small amount of good they did do, but as the writer is quick to point out, this is meaningless. The interpretation that it was the people themselves who were forgotten misses the entire point of the passage for the wicked would end up getting what they deserved instead: a dishonourable burial where they are wiped from memory. That is certainly not something to lament about!
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 KJV bold mine)
The NIV renders this verse thusly,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV bold mine)
At first glance, it’s easy to miss the contradiction completely. Indeed, I had to read them multiple times myself before I had an idea of where the problem lied. The portions I highlighted in bold are simply my own guess so feel free to let me know if there is something I’ve missed! Moving forward, if my deduction is correct, one appears to be saying that we are alive while the other says we aren’t. This contradiction only works if Paul were talking about our life in the flesh. Paul argued that, although we live in a physical, fleshly body, it is Christ who now lives in us and our lives are now lived in faith in Him. The KJV is saying that we live, however, this is immediately followed with “yet not I,” which agrees with Paul’s statement about us no longer living for selfish, fleshly desires. The NIV condenses the “nevertheless I live; yet not I,” into the much simpler “I no longer live,” so these two translations do not contradict.
Two more examples that I’d like to briefly mention are the ESV’s translation of Genesis 3:16 and the NIV’s translation of Hosea 11:12.
In Genesis 3:16 the ESV translates “Your desire shall be for your husband” as “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” This is a contradiction that I agree with, however, once the publishers were contacted by a number of Old Testament scholars they acknowledged that it was an honest mistake, apologized, and immediately corrected the error (see here.) Admittedly, websites like Bible Gateway still use the outdated version, however, all physical copies in print now translate it correctly (as my ESV copy can attest to!) so this needn’t be a problem anymore.
The verse in Hosea is a mighty complicated one. The NIV translates “But Judah yet ruleth with God” as “And Judah is unruly against God.” The problem exists because the exact meaning of the Hebrew word (rd) has been lost to time and only a general meaning remains. As a result, it can have many legitimate interpretations and this, unsurprisingly, leads to scholars being somewhat divided on how to properly read it. The article below can explain it better. For what it’s worth, I believe the context supports the NIV reading, however, I’ve seen sound arguments for the opposite too, so it depends on what readers find most reasonable. We don’t have to be lost in the dark on this one and neither should it leave us divided. This same sentiment is what I’ve hoped to share throughout this series thus far. Bible translations and/or interpretations should never divide us.