In Part 1 we saw that English translations of the Bible vary a lot. While all are reasonably reliable, they are not equally reliable. The King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) came out ahead if, as I argued, the majority of manuscripts do carry the correct readings.
We also looked at two New Testament texts that are important to Free Grace theology: Jas 2:14 and 1 Cor 5:11. We found that the best translations based on the actual text of Jas 2:14 (which is not in dispute in these passages) were the KJV, NKJV, and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). The best translations based on 1 Cor 5:11 (again, there is no textual problem here) were the KJV, NKJV, and the English Standard Version (ESV).
In Part 2 we consider two other texts from the New Testament, Gal 1:8-9 and Rom 8:1, and one from the Old Testament, Gen 15:6.
Let Him Be Accursed: Galatians 1:8d (and 1:9d)
KJV “…let him be accursed.”
NKJV “…let him be accursed.”
NASB “…let him be accursed!”
ESV “…let him be accursed.”
HCSB “…a curse be on him!”
NIV “…let him be eternally condemned!”
NET “…let him be condemned to hell!”
Four translations have “let him be accursed” and one has a similar rendering, “a curse be on him!” Those four are literal renderings of the Greek (anathema estō) and the fifth captures the sense well. These translations are admittedly ambiguous and could refer to a curse in this life, or in the life to come, or both.
The last two translations, the New International Version (NIV) and New English Translation (NET), are not really translations at all. They are interpretations. The word condemned is not found here. Nor are the words eternally or hell. The translators have allowed their theology to color their translation. Evidently they believe that there is no such thing as a regenerate person who at some later point actually promotes a false gospel. I would say that there is a lot of evidence in Paul’s writings and even in Galatians (see 2:14) that some genuine believers fall doctrinally and actually preach false theology and even a false gospel.
Additionally, practically speaking, how would a believer in Corinth “let” someone be “eternally condemned” or “condemned to hell”? Would this mean that they weren’t to witness to them? Would it mean that they were to pray that they never came to faith (since under this view they must be unregenerate)?
If we leave the translation as vague as the original, then the practical application is simple: treat these people as people who are cursed, like people who have the Black Plague. Do not support their ministry financially, prayerfully, or with your time and talents. People who are proclaiming a false gospel, which in Galatians is any gospel other than justification by faith alone (Gal 2:15-16), whether they are Christians who have fallen or unbelievers who never knew the truth, are ones we are not to aid in any way.
It’s easy to see why people who hold to Reformed theology consider us who proclaim the Free Grace message to be bound for hell whereas we consider many of them to be errant believers who are nonetheless bound for the kingdom along with us.
There Is Therefore Now No Condemnation: Romans 8:1
This example deals not so much with differences in how the verses were translated, but in which words were translated. Two of these versions contain an additional phrase at the end of the verse that potentially changes the way it is to be understood.
KJV “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
NKJV “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
NASB “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
NET “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
NIV “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
HCSB “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus…”
ESV “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The reason the KJV and NKJV have a longer reading is because the majority of manuscripts of this verse contain the longer reading.
The NET has a footnote here that is instructive as to why it excluded the longer reading:
The earliest and best witnesses of the Alexandrian and Western texts have no additional words for v. 1…Later scribes…added the words…‘who do not walk according to the flesh,’ while even later ones…added…‘but [who do walk] according to the Spirit.’ Both the external and internal evidence are completely compelling for the shortest reading. The scribes were obviously motivated to add such qualifications (interpolated from v. 4), for otherwise Paul’s gospel was characterized by too much grace. The KJV follows the longest reading found in Byz.1
I’ve always found these types of arguments to be extremely subjective. Might it be that those who adopt the shorter reading have misread the text? After all, if the same idea is found in verse 4, why is it so antithetical to the context to have it in verse 1 as well?
In addition to the longer versus shorter reading, there is one word in this verse whose meaning none of the seven translations got right, at least in my opinion. That key word is the one translated condemnation in all seven translations. It is the Greek word katakrima. According to Moulton and Milligan it means “penal servitude,”2 that is, slavery to sin.
In his commentary on Romans, Zane Hodges shows that katakrima is not the normal word for condemnation and that the other two uses of the word in Romans (5:16, 18) and the context in Romans 8 show that it means servitude to sin.3
Might not Paul’s point in verse 1 be that those who walk according to the Spirit do not experience slavery to sin? After all, this verse is part of Paul’s sanctification section in Romans. The verses which follow clearly deal with sanctification and not justification. Paul spent much of chapter 6 showing that believers are no longer slaves of sin and challenging them to no longer live in their experience as slaves of sin. In chapter 7 he shows that a legalistic mindset will not free the believer from sin’s bondage, but will increase it.
The very last verse in Romans 7, the one immediately preceding this one, alludes to slavery to sin! It says, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin” (emphasis added). Does it not make sense that the next verse would build on this idea of serving God or serving sin based on whether we live according to the Spirit or the flesh?
Then in chapter 8 Paul shows how it is the Spirit of God that enables us to live in our experience as we are in our position: as those free from slavery to sin.
Regardless of how you understand Rom 8:1, it is vital that you are looking at what Paul actually wrote. Readers of English translations should realize that the issue is not merely how the translators handled the Hebrew and Greek text, but also which text they translated.
Abraham’s Justification: Genesis 15:6
We will now look at one famous Old Testament passage dealing with grace issues to see how these translations handle it.
KJV “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
NKJV “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
NASB “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
NIV “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
HCSB “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
ESV “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
NET “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith worthy of a reward.”
Here we find six translations in near agreement. But why is the NET translation so radically different? The word righteousness, found in all six of the other translations, is missing here. Instead we have the word reward. Where the others speak of belief as being counted or accounted or credited, the NET Bible has considered worthy.
Since this text is quoted twice in the New Testament by Paul, each time with the Greek representing the idea of being accounted righteous, it seems especially odd to put forth a translation that essentially makes Paul’s use of this text illegitimate (see Rom 4:3-5 and Gal 3:6).
The NET does have four separate notes explaining how it arrived at this translation.4 The first explains that “believed” refers to “‘consider[ing] something reliable or dependable.’ Abram regarded the God who made this promise as reliable and fully capable of making it a reality.” This is outstanding.
The second note explains why they changed the third singular pronoun he to the Lord. There is certainly no problem with this, though it is really an unnecessary change.
The third note says, “Heb ‘and he reckoned it to him’…In this case one might translate ‘and he reckoned it to him—[namely] righteousness.’” That is fine. Why then doesn’t the text put it that way?
The fourth note starts, “Or ‘as righteousness.’” Then an extremely odd reference is made.
“The verb translated ‘considered’ (Heb ‘reckoned’) also appears with tsedaqah (‘righteousness’) in Ps 106:31. Alluding to the events recorded in Numbers 25, the psalmist notes that Phinehas’s actions were ‘credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.’ Reference is made to the unconditional, eternal covenant with which God rewarded Phinehas’s loyalty (Num 25:12-13). So tsedaqah seems to carry by metonymy the meaning ‘loyal, rewardable behavior’ here, a nuance that fits nicely in Genesis 15, where God responds to Abram’s faith by formally ratifying his promise to give Abram and his descendants the land.”
For a translator to jump from a famous text in Genesis that is oft cited in the New Testament to an obscure text in Psalms that is never cited in the New Testament is an odd thing to do.
Frankly, I am delighted to find someone in print who takes my view of Ps 106:31. So in this sense I’m happy this note is in the NET Bible. But it would have been better if this note and translation had occurred for Ps 106:31 only.
While there are some common words in the two contexts, the differences far outweigh any similarities. Besides, Paul translates and explains Gen 15:6 for us and his translation and explanation don’t match up with “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith worthy of reward.”
The translation suggested in the four notes in NET is fine. But the one actually printed in the text changes the key Old Testament text on justification into a text on rewards. That’s a shame.
How I’d Rate the Seven Translations
I rate them on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) on the question of whether they are literal in their translation choices or whether they seek to interpret the text for the reader. This is based on our five test passages in which there was clear diversity of translation (Jas 2:14; 1 Cor 5:1; Gal 1:8-9; Gen 15:6). I will put after each how many of the four test passages they got right in terms of a careful rendering of what it says.
Rating Test Passages
KJV 9.5 5 for 5
NKJV 9.5 5 for 5
HCSB 8 3 for 5
ESV 8 3 for 5
NASB 7 2 for 5
NIV 5 1 for 5
NET 3 0 for 5
We are blessed to have scores of different Bible translations in our language. I have merely picked seven of the most popular ones to evaluate today.
While there are differences between these translations, and while I have a preference for the NKJV, I am convinced that a Christian can grow and mature using any of these texts.
Having said that, it is vital for believers to know enough about translations to know that you can’t trust every nuance of every word in every translation. Sometimes translators interpret for the reader and put in words not found in the text like “so-called,” “claims,” “this kind of,” “let him be eternally condemned,” “let him be condemned to hell,” “Christian,” “believer,” “worthy of reward,” and so on.
My favorite version, the NKJV, is not perfect. I would prefer a translation that better reflects the Majority Text. But the NKJV does the best job of that, so I use it. And it does less interpreting and paraphrasing too.
I would think that Free Grace people would want to avoid translations that fairly often introduce Lordship Salvation interpretations rather than simply translating the text. Thus I would recommend against the use of the NET Bible and the NIV for pew Bibles or for the Bible the pastor primarily uses.
Along with the NKJV, I think that the KJV, ESV, and HCSB would be quite helpful.
Whatever version you choose as your primary Bible, realize it is a translation and that no translation is perfect. Compare translations. If you can use tools that help you with the Greek and Hebrew, do so. But do not assume that your favorite translation always gets it right. It doesn’t.
Whatever version you use, including the NET Bible and the NIV, I hope you use it! That is the key. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).
1. NET Bible, 2127, fn. 9. Accessed February 2, 2015, http://net.bible.org.
2. J. H. Moulton & G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 327-28.
3. Zane C. Hodges, Romans: Deliverance from Wrath (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2013), 206-209; see also 152-55.
4. NET Bible, 57, n. 19, 20, 21, 22. Accessed February 2, 2015, http://net.bible.org.