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Saturday, January 31, 2009

When My German Bible Said the Opposite of the KJV....

An embarrassing but instructive experience on my LDS mission in the Switzerland Zurich Mission occurred in my early days when I wanted to cite Job 19:25-26 to an investigator to support the concept of a physical resurrection. It was one of the first times I used my German Bible (the Luther translation) in answering a question. The KJV verse is a nice fit with LDS doctrine:
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

But when I opened my German Bible and began reading it, I found it didn't say the same thing at all. It was almost the opposite!. The Luther translation says that even though my skin and flesh will be destroyed, I will see God. Nothing about seeing God in the flesh - but apparently without the flesh:
Aber ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt, und als der letzte wird er über dem Staub sich erheben.

Und ist meine Haut noch so zerschlagen und mein Fleisch dahingeschwunden, so werde ich doch Gott sehen.

Turns out the Hebrew passage is actually quite difficult to translate. One can make a case that the text means "apart from" the flesh, or even "not in" the flesh.

Several nice KJV snippets that sound LDS don't always keep their flavor in translation, and that's not always because the other translations are necessarily worse.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's one:
John 5:39 is often quoted as an injunction to study your scriptures. "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (KJV) Note that "search" is used in the imperative (command) form.
But my Italian bible says (and I translate) "You search the scriptures because you believe they will give you eternal life. But these same scriptures testify of me." Jesus seems to be reproving the Jews because they can't get their nose out of the scriptures long enough to see that the salvation written about is standing before them.

radiobeloved said...

All the more reason to encourage missionaries and members to be familiar with the Bible. It's disingenuous when we use lexically difficult passages to defend our positions. (I'm thinking especially of using Paul's teachings on the body of the faithful to teach the Word of Wisdom, etc.)

SilverRain said...

I don't understand why they are "opposite" in meaning, since LDS belief is that we shall see God both before and after the resurrection.

"Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life."

What is problematic is when people try to use the Job verse to "prove" that there will be a resurrection. It is more accurately used, when placed within context, as an expression of faith that through the Redeemer, despite the appearance of mortal punishment, Job will stand before God again for the judgment, and he will be responsible to God only for his righteousness or lack thereof.

"All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. . . . have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. Why do ye persecute me as [if ye were] God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?. . . For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me."

SilverRain said...

And for Anonymous: I guess I'm not good at the subtleties of language, because both your English and Italian translation seem to mean similar things to me. It does not seem to be reproof that the Jews can't get their noses out of their scriptures, but that they claim to understand and know the gospel, then they deny Christ, when it is that very gospel they claim to be experts on that testifies of Him.

In other words, ironically, he is condemning the wresting of the scriptures to "prove" or conform to your own personal convictions, without humbly and prayerfully seeking understanding from God.

Anonymous said...

Silver Rain,

In Italian, it is a different form of the verb when it is imperative (search!) or making a statement (you search). The Italian verse of John 5:39 is not the imperative form. I would wager that the original language of John did not have such a clear distinction between imperative and non-imperative forms of the verb (like English).

bwebster said...

I'm not a Greek scholar (I don't even play one on TV), but from what I can see by poking around on Google, there is some genuine disagreement whether the underlying Greek (eraunate) is imperative or indicative, to wit:

The form here can be either present active indicative second person plural or the present active imperative second person plural. Only the context can decide. Either makes sense here, but the reason given "because ye think" (oti umeiv dokeite, clearly indicative), supports the indicative rather than the imperative. (see here).

Frankly, I tend towards the indicative, but John's record of Christ's comments often contains plays on words (cf. John 3:8, where you can read "pneuma/phone" as either "wind/sound" or "Spirit/voice"). The ambiguity in John 5:39 could be deliberate, either on John's part or on Jesus's part. ..bruce..

Eileen in Chicagoland said...

Jeff,

This was a very thought-provoking post.

I think it is very eye-opening to study the Scriptures in other languages and translations. There are subtle and not-so-subtle differences in meaning, some of which expand one's understanding, and some of which confirm that the scriptures are the word of God AS FAR AS THEY ARE TRANSLATED CORRECTLY.

I served my mission in Germany in the mid-1970's, and was like you a little chagrined the first time I opened to 'Hiob' (Job) to show scriptural support for the doctrine of resurrection. And I didn't notice until later when I carefully reread that chapter in my apartment, that in my German bible (from the Württemburgische Bibelanstalt Stuttgart, no LDS connection, copyright 1972), there is this interesting footnote regarding Job 19:25:


Kapitel 19,25: Luther . übersetzte: Ich weiß, das mein Erlöser lebet, und er wird mich hernach aus der Erden aufwecken. Und werde darnach mit dieser meiner Haut umgeben werden und werde in meinem Fleisch Gott sehen.

This translates as, "Chapter 19:25: Luther translates: I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will wake me after from the earth. And after this I will be with my skin surrounded, and I will in my flesh see God. >> "


Interesting, eh? I do not know much about the German translation of the bible we used (I thought it was the Luther translation, but what's with this footnote?), but for some reason the editors felt they wanted to include Luther's take on that particular verse. That made the point to me that editors and translators can include/add/omit items that support or do not support their own understanding of doctrine, ie, they translate the scriptures through their own filter of understanding.

dave d said...

I had the same experience with the Louis Segond (french) translation on my mission. This french version reads (roughly):

But I know that my redeemer is living and that he will raise up the last on the earth.

When my skin will be destroyed, he will raise up; When I will no longer have flesh, I will see God.

This is quite the opposite of what I was trying to show.

Kevin Barney said...

I was going to do a post on the Job passage about a month ago, but I got distracted and never wrote it. I may still take a shot at it at some point.

On the John passage, that form of the Greek verb in the second person plural is ambiguous and can be either indicative or imperative. You can only tell the difference by context. To my eye it is clearly indicative, which virtually every modern translation follows. But there was a guy who used to be in my ward who understood the issue and still claimed it was imperative. I disagree with him.

Patrick said...

I don't consider myself to be an expert on the translation of the bible. I served a mission in Peru and spent a few months reading the Old Testament from cover to cover just trying to learn Spanish. No gift of tongues here.

A while back I became intrigued by our concept of the Bible being true as long as it was translated correctly. I was reading books on the apostacy and they were mentioning the translation process through the centuries. I eventually read "How the New Testament Came to Be" from the 35th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. In that book they mentioned Bart D. Ehrman quite a few times. I decided to give him a read.

Bart D. Ehrman brings the whole translation process together. A favorite concept explained by Ehrman is that there are more variations in Bible manuscripts then there are words in the Bible. I recommend reading "Misquoting Jesus" and "Lost Christianities".

Anonymous said...

Here's one that has really irked me. Isaiah 24:22:

And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.

This is widely used by the Church to support the doctrine of missionary work among the dead (in spirit prison). However, in the Reina-Valera (Spanish) Bible, the word "visited" is translated as "castigados" (punished). Indeed, it is common in the KJV to use the verb "visit" in the sense that we use "punish."

Another example is the use of Jeremiah 1:5:

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

This supposedly supports the doctrine of premortal life, overlooking equally sensible interpretation that it is simply evidence of God's foreknowledge.

I find it rather embarrassing when such incredibly weak scriptures are relied upon so heavily in defending true doctrine.

Mormanity said...

Right - the "visited" thing threw me for a while, too, until I noticed other translations had more of a punishment theme. Think of it as a visit from the IRS.

Scott said...

I had similar experiences on my mission in Finland (a Lutheran nation...perhaps why).

Job 19:25:26 in the current version that the Lutheran Church of Finland uses reads:
25. Mutta minä tiedän lunastajani elävän, ja viimeisenä hän on seisova multien päällä.
26. Ja sittenkuin tämä nahka on yltäni raastettu ja olen ruumiistani irti, saan minä nähdä Jumalan. (When I'm separated from my body, I will see God)

The interesting thing is that the above version was accepted in 1992, but all of the older Finnish LDS members would complain about how the older edition was more in line with the KJV. I saw older editions that verified this; however, now when I look online at the 1933 edition, it matches the 1992 wording. Fishy.

Carey said...

What this really illustrates is why we need and have modern prophets so we can really know the doctrine as the Lord intends instead of quibble over linguistic anomalies.

Mike Parker said...

The King James Version is notable for numerous translations of a dubious nature, primarily driven by theological bias. Here are two of the biggest whoppers:

Isaiah 26:19aThy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.

"Together with my dead body" was the translators' attempt to get the resurrection of Jesus into the Old Testament. But the Hebrew doesn't say this; even being generous, there's simply no way to honestly render it that way.

Compare the same passage with these other translations:

NIV — But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.

NASB — Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise.

NRSV — Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.

NET — Your dead will come back to life; your corpses will rise up.

Another significant one for Latter-day Saints comes from the story of the three men in the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar's servant looks into the furnace and says:

Daniel 3:25Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

Hence the LDS painting showing Jesus Christ standing in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Except that the passage doesn't say that. This portion of Daniel is in Aramaic, and it actually reads "like that of a son of the gods." These are words spoken by a Babylonian pagan who is seeking to explain things from his own polytheistic frame of reference; it would be totally illogical for him to make a pre-Christological assumption about the person in the furnace. For him the phrase "like a son of the gods" is equivalent to "like a divine being."

And so other, modern Bible translations more properly render it thus:

NIV — He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."

NASB — He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!"

NRSV — He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

NET — He answered, "But I see four men, untied and walking around in the midst of the fire! No harm has come to them! And the appearance of the fourth is like that of a god!"

Anonymous said...

...we need and have modern prophets so we can really know the doctrine as the Lord intends...

I don't really see how the Prophet is inherently more reliable than a translation of the Bible. In the end, it's the Spirit that verifies (or not) the teachings of both.

Señor Dangriga said...

Problematic passages aren't limited to Biblical passages, either. I, for one, have difficulties with the whole "Atonement/at-one-ment" explanation. First of all, it's a problematic etymological breakdown of the word at best and, I'd hate to be the guy who has to translate it into Spanish: expiacion doesn't break down that way, you'd have to do some fancy verbal gymnastics to get the same thing.

I'd love to see a General Conference talk or a KBYU program use the NIV as source material. The language is so much more accessible to those who don't speak (pseudo) Elizabethan English, even as a Sunday-only language, and isn't any more problematic than anything already laid out above. (But then, I have my own ideas about how to improve Conferences anyway.)

Carey said...

I don't really see how the Prophet is inherently more reliable than a translation of the Bible. In the end, it's the Spirit that verifies (or not) the teachings of both.

Here's how it works. Prophets (true ones, that is) are called by God to teach his gospel. The prophets of old had many of their teachings written down which has formed the Bible we know today.
If God calls a prophet in our day, and commissions him to teach his gospel as he did in days of old, then modern prophets have just as much authority to declare doctrine as do the prophets of old. Since prophets of old are not available to clarify their writings, God has provided modern prophets that have the same authority to declare doctrine and settle debates about biblical teachings. This is why God has blessed us with continuing revelation rather then leaving us feeling in the dark with language translations.

It is true that we have the Spirit to help us discern truth from error. But if that were the only standard, anyone can and often does make up whatever they want to pass for doctrine and call it revelation from the Spirit. This is why we have thousands of Bible based churches.

But since God is a God of order, He has established organized and authorized patterns and structures by calling prophets to teach and administer the true principles and ordinances of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

I say again, the Prophet is not inherently more reliable than a translation of the Bible. Our diligence is required in all things.

Robert Boylan said...

Just to add to what Mike Parker wrote, another example of the KJV translator's (Reformed Protestant) bias seeping into the KJV translation appears in Hebrews 6:4-9. In the KJV, we read as follows:

*For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain
that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is
rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.*

Notice that "if" appears, making a loss of (true, not superficial) belief and salvation only hypothetical. Notwithstanding, the Koine Greek is not in the conditional, but the *aorist*, indicating that this is not hypothetical (contra Spurgeon et al.) but that the author of Hebrews was referring to people who had indeed been regenerated (born-again) but had lost their salvation. The KJV translators, subscribing to the Perseverance of the Saints (the "P" in the TULIP of Calvinism) changed the tense to cover up an overwhelming pericope of the New Testament that refutes their soteriology.

See http://uk.geocities.com/irishlds87/burning_in_bosom.pdf.

Robert Boylan

Sergius said...

I don´t know what Luther's Bible you quote, but in his 1534 translation this text reads so:

Aber ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebet; und er wird mich hernach aus der Erde auferwecken; Und werde darnach mit dieser meiner Haut umgeben werde, und werde in meinem Fleisch Gott sehen..."

No worms...! It is closer to a more "modern" reading of this text, in which Job speaks about his trust in God who will heal his sores

Excuse my poor English