Thursday, September 1, 2011

Verse Abuse - Translation Misinterpretation

While most of the abused verses in the Bible lie on the laps of tradition, and personal misinterpretation, there are a small group of verses that have been misinterpreted by the various translation committees of a particular Bible version. A number of these are well known, and some others are not. We will be looking into a number of them in this series.

Today, we will be looking at Exodus 20:13 which has been translated by the King James Version as, "Thou shalt not kill." What is telling, is how the modern translations have rendered the Hebrew word "raw-tsakh" ("kill" in the KJV). A brief survey of the translations I use the most (English Standard Version, New American Standard, New International Version & New King James Version) shows the Hebrew has been rendered as "murder". The reason why this is important to look at is that this verse has been used by certain Christian sects and cults to justify a pacifist view regarding war in general, and what is called "just war" in particular (I will not be exploring this issue in this entry, however the reader is free to "Google" that topic). This verse has also been used to justify opposition to the implementation of capital punishment.

I believe that the following are fair definitions of "killing" and "murder":

  • Killing is the taking of the life of a human being.
  • Murder is the taking of a the life of an innocent human being without just cause.
This is why many criminal codes divide homicide into a number of different categories that reflect this main distinction.

That said, we must look into the broader context of the Mosiac Law in order to understand what God was demanding from the people He called His own. The main reason for the Mosaic Law is that Yahweh wanted His people to to be unique from the nations that surrounded them. Therefore, killing motivated by hatred or anger was distinguished from unintentional killing, from capital punishment, or from just war. The key factor being intentional deliberation as opposed to emotional reactions.

This misinterpretation by the translation committee of the King James Version is one of the few that modern translations have addressed. There are a couple of others that modern translation committees have not had the courage to touch because of the tradition laid down by the King James Version. We will be addressing some of these in future posts.

Of course the exposure of this verse forces us to ask the question of whether or not a person can a particular version of the Bible. To this I say that a person can trust the vast majority of the English translations available. There are a couple of notable exceptions, with the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation, being the most notorious of mistranslated Bibles. The reason I say this is that while other English translations have translation errors, these errors do not affect  historical essential Christian doctrine, such as the deity of Jesus and the Trinity. The New World Translation deliberately mistranslated verses that demonstrate these doctrines to support their own heretical views regarding these doctrines. So what is the best way to ensure that you are not getting a mistranslated Bible version? Very simply, use a number of Bible translations in your Bible study. 

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