Frequently Asked Questions

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TRANSLATIONS: WHY ARE BIBLE VERSIONS SO DIFFERENT?

Q:    Why did the NIV (New International Version) Bible take out the word “begotten” that the KJV (King James Version) has in John 3:16?

A:    The original Greek word used in this passage is "monogenes" which means "sole-begotten" or "only-begotten". The NIV translators chose to use the phrase "one and only" to translate this word. But it also includes a footnote which reads "or his only begotten Son".  

The phrase "one and only" is what we call a "dynamic equivalent". The translators assumed the literal term "only-begotten" would be mysterious and confusing to their readers, but the term "one and only" would present the same point in a way that would be more clear and understandable for their readers. The literal translation “only-begotten” takes us closer to how the original audience understood it- that Jesus is truly God, having received His divine nature from God the Father.

 When translating the Bible from its original languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) the translator has to decide between these two options- should I translate the passage literally ("only-begotten" in this case) or use dynamic equivalents ("one and only")?  It might sound preferable to always translate it literally and be closer to the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic thinking, but not if a literal term wouldn't mean the same in the new language. 

 For example, in Jesus' Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:5, Jesus describes seed which fell on "rocky ground."  What kind of ground do you picture in your mind when you read that phrase?  To me (and most people I have ever taught this passage to) rocky ground is ground that has a lot of rocks in it.  Jesus said, "the seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched."  That made no sense to me- because I pictured my uncles' farm fields filled with rocks.  No matter how many rocks there were, there was always plenty of soil for those plants to spread their roots around and beneath the rocks. 

But here the literal translation was misleading.  To a Jew or a Greek, the word for "rocky ground" describes a shallow layer of top soil- maybe an inch or two deep- over a solid layer of rock. So in this case a dynamic equivalent like, “the seeds fell in shallow ground” would make more sense. The reader would understand the shallow ground heats up more rapidly in the Spring, so those seeds are the first to sprout and look like they will be the best crop of all the seeds.  But that thin layer of soil soon loses its moisture and the plants are scorched and die.  In this case the literal translation "rocky ground" is misleading, while a dynamic equivalent like "shallow ground" would reveal Jesus' meaning more clearly. 

Most translations which give a dynamic equivalent in the main text will provide the literal translation in the footnotes.

BIBLE WRITERS: EYEWITNESSES or CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY?

Q:    Are you claiming the gospels were written by eyewitnesses? Even the church does not accept that teaching any more.

A:    It is a false generalization to claim the whole Church does not accept that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. True, many denominations do not accept that any longer, but those are the ones who put human reason above the revelation of God and believe we should be the ones to judge which accounts in the Bible are authentic, historical events and which are not. There are still many denominations within the Christian Church that reject that viewpoint and indeed hold that the Gospels were inspired by God and written by eyewitnesses- as the Bible itself claims (2 Peter 1:20-21)).

Our belief that these writings came from eyewitnesses and not the Christian community several centuries later is based on historical writings from early church leaders like Irenaus (who died ca. 200 AD). He saw and heard Polycarp (born ca. 69- died ca. 156) who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John and Revelation. In his writings, Irenaus deals with the main points of the Christian faith and discusses which of the writings of the apostles circulating at the time were genuine and which were not.

 

IGNORANT SHEEP HERDERS?

Q:    Isn’t the Bible a collection of stories made up by ignorant sheep herders? (Ignorant because they lived in a time when so much of science and the world was unknown to them.)

A:    That is a common notion. But actually many of the writers of the Bible were extremely well-educated men. Moses (writer of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) was raised as an Egyptian prince and trained in all the wisdom of Egypt; Solomon (writer of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon) was raised as a prince in David's palace and was given an extraordinary gift of discernment and wisdom by God; Luke (writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts) was a trained Greek physician; Paul was a well-educated Pharisee and tradesman (he wrote 13 books from Romans-Philemon). In fact, Paul’s level of education was so high that the Roman governor Festus said, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” (Acts 26:24).

But whether they were well educated or simple fishermen, shepherds or farmers, they had a simple job to do. They were to serve as eyewitness. They didn't invent a religion, but simply passed along the things they had heard and seen. Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

 

More FAQs:

“The Bible” FAQ’s from The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

 

“The Reliability and Inspiration of the Bible” answers provided by Dr. Gary R. Habermas of Liberty University: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1352&context=lts_fac_pubs