There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of translations of the Bible. In English alone, there have been more than 100 published translations of the Bible in the last ten years (see www.biblereadersmuseum.com for a list). In general, the differences between the translations are largely about style of language and whether the translation is more word-for-word or more thought-for-thought.

However, there are some differences between the translations which might be considered contradictions. These arise for at least two reasons:

  1. Different ancient manuscripts of the Bible vary slightly, and one translation might prefer one family of manuscripts whereas another translation might be based on a different family of manuscripts.
  2. The underlying text may be ambiguous and one translation may interpret it one way, and another translation may interpret it differently.

An example of the first cause is Proverbs 18:24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (ESV)
A person who has friends may be harmed by them, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (NET)
A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (NKJV)
There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (RSV)

The variations here are have quite different meanings and are the result of different manuscript readings. The ESV and NET follow the Masoretic text, although the NET is a little more interpretative. The NKJV and RSV follow some Greek manuscripts, Targum, Syriac and Vulgate, although they interpret the passage differently.

An example of the second cause is seen in Romans 9:5 which is ambiguous in Greek due to the punctuation (or lack of it). In the ESV it reads

To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:5 ESV)

But in the RSV it reads

to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:5 RSV)

The RSV translation is almost certainly what was intended as Jesus is never described as “God over all” anywhere else in the Bible and it is inconsistent with him being subject to God (e.g., John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28). In cases like this, the Bible translation tends to reflect the beliefs of the translators.

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