Author’s Note: This is a repost of an article I posted in 2022 in an earlier version of Dunebat Country.
I tend to speak about or refer to religion — specifically my preferred religions, Judaism and Christianity — quite often. In the process, I will often quote various scriptural passages. However, you might notice at times that my Bible passages may not look exactly like your Bible passages (if you are reading along with me, that is).
In his 2021 article about the top ten most popular Bible versions, Thom Rainer — founder of the Church Answers website — cites June 2021 data from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. According to that data, the three most popular Bible versions in recent years are the New International Version, the King James Version, and the New Living Translation.
While I still read (and quote from) at least one of those three translations, that Bible — the always-reliable King James Version (KJV or “Authorized Version”) — is no longer in my personal list of default Bible translations. I still read and listen to the King James Version on occasion for its Renaissance Era poetry and wit, but it isn’t the Bible version I read anymore when I want something closer to what the original authors of the biblical texts intended. Instead, when I read or quote from Scripture, I tend to read or quote from either the International Standard Version (ISV) or the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).
To give you an idea of the seemingly minuscule differences in verse, here’s a comparison of my favorite biblical verse, Psalm 8 (which I’ve already expounded upon before).
- King James Version (verses 3-5): “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
- Complete Jewish Bible (verses 4-6): “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place — what are mere mortals, that you concern yourself with them; humans, that you watch over them with such care? You made him but little lower than the angels, you crowned him with glory and honor…”
- International Standard Version (verses 3-5): “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you established — what is man that you take notice of him, or the son of man that you pay attention to him? You made him a little less than divine, but you crowned him with glory and honor.”
Right away, we can see some stark differences in the way each translator renders the text.
In the Complete Jewish Bible, all the verses are shifted down to their proper places, as the Hebrew version of the Book of Psalms includes notes for the musicians about each psalm, as the psalms were originally songs. In the original text (as rendered in Jewish editions of the Book of Psalms), the first verse is “For the leader. On the gittit [a stringed instrument akin to a harp]. A psalm of David.” Christian editions often add this to the top of the psalm like liner notes for a modern song and render the first actual verse of each psalm with a numerical designation, but Jewish editions give these notes numeric designations as well. The Complete Jewish Bible’s translator — David H. Stern, PhD, one of the early voices of the Messianic Jewish movement — wanted the CJB to retain the lyrical flavor of the original Hebrew texts as closely as possible, so he rendered his translation of the Tanakh texts closer to the traditional Jewish translations than their Christian consanguinity.
A caveat, though: Dr. Stern uses Hebrew phrases (transliterated into English) throughout the Complete Jewish Bible, and this can make casual reading a trifle difficult at times. If you’re someone who doesn’t know Hebrew at all, either you’re going to flip over to a different Bible version to “translate” those phrases for yourself, or you’re going to spend some time Googling those phrases to figure out what they mean. I primarily recommend the Complete Jewish Bible as a study aid; if you don’t already know Hebrew or have no interest in learning it, then reading through some verses in the Complete Jewish Bible may leave you utterly confused.
As for the International Standard Version: note how the ISV renders verse 5?
“You [Adonai] made him [humanity] a little less than divine…”
Remember my discourse on Psalm 8? (I briefly mentioned it above.) The International Standard Version actually renders the full meaning of the verse closer to the source text, as the word translated as “divine” here is “Elohim”.
Anytime you see me quote a biblical verse that doesn’t look like it came from the King James Version or any other version you’re immediately familiar with, I’m probably either quoting from the Complete Jewish Bible (meaning any verse I quote from this version will take on a slightly more Jewish flair) or from the International Standard Version.
My reasons for choosing the Complete Jewish Bible are plain: I want to read a Bible that harkens back to the original Hebraic meaning of the text. Even so, the Complete Jewish Bible isn’t perfect, and I tend to use it when I want to express a more Jewish mindset in Scripture, as we tend to forget that the Bible was a Jewish work of literature long before Gentiles ever got their hands on the text.
Very simple: accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
In my opinion, the International Standard Version renders the meaning of the original text more accurately than other Bible versions. Aside from Psalm 8 — whose various translations I ascribe to religious politics regarding what spiritual concepts may be considered “heresy” to one governing religious body or another — I have two other verses I use as “system check” verses, verses you can use to check the accuracy of any Bible translation you come across. I jokingly refer to these verses as my “error check” or “checksum”1 verses.
The Checksum Verses
To determine how well any given Christian Bible version was translated by its Gentile translators, refer to the following New Testament verses:
Why do I use these specific verses to check the accuracy of a biblical translation?
I’ll begin by using the second verse, Acts 12:4, as my first illustration.
The King James Version renders Acts 12:4 as follows:
And when he (King Herod Agrippa I) had apprehended him (Simon Peter), he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
Notice any problem with this English translation of Acts 12:4? The most glaring problem: the term “Easter” didn’t exist when these events occurred.
Remember: the events described in this verse occurred in ancient Israel shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus. King Herod Agrippa I — grandson of Herod the Great, but not the same “Herod” (Herod Antipas) who was involved in the trial of Jesus — is mentioned in this chapter, and he died soon after Jesus ascended into the heavenly realm. Wikipedia’s sources place these events around 44 AD / CE.
“Easter”, as a distinct nomenclature from “Passover”, didn’t exist until at least the eighth century (600 – 700 AD / CE), when the word is first documented in a Medieval Latin treatise called The Reckoning of Time by Saint Bede. According to Bede, the festival was tied to a West Germanic spring goddess named Ēostre at some point during the Christianization of Medieval Europe. Its inclusion in Acts 12:4 in the King James Version — and in all Bible versions based on the King James Version — is indicative of the anti-Jewish mindset of its translators (something readily evident by the translators’ near-virulent anti-Jewish translations of other verses throughout the New Testament).
I’ve always found this mindset paradoxical when reading through the New Testament works. Keep in mind: the authors of the New Testament were all Jews, including Saint Paul, and they all loved and served a Jewish messianic candidate. Why would they write such anti-Jewish statements in their epistles, especially in epistles directed toward Jewish audiences (like the Epistle to the Hebrews)? They wouldn’t; obviously, the notorious “antisemitism” of the New Testament isn’t a product of its Jewish authors, but of the antisemitic Gentile Christian translators who inserted their own mindsets into their renderings of the New Testament long after Gentile converts had transformed Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect into the Gentile hodge-podge it became later on.
Prior to this, the festival of Easter was still tied to the original Jewish Passover celebration. More recent Bible translations render the original Greek word pasch in Acts 12:4 as “Passover”, as it should have been rendered in the King James Version.2
The first checksum verse, Mark 7:19, is actually part of a parallel story to Matthew 15. Let’s examine Matthew 15:10-11 & 15-20 in the wildly popular New International Version:
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.
11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.
17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?
18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.3
Pretty straightforward lesson, isn’t it? Washing hands was part of ritual cleanliness in Judaism; Jesus’ disciples, who were working-class men, often ate without washing their hands first, and this angered the deeply religious Pharisees. Jesus was commenting on how we religious folk may care more about keeping our religious rituals than about being the kind of people God would want representing Him on Earth by comparing a simple religious ritual — washing hands before eating, something likely codified into Jewish religion in Moses’ day to prevent the Jewish people from dying due to eating with filthy hands — to something just as elementary: the careless things we say on a daily basis.
Now, let’s look at Mark 7:18-19, which essentially restates what Jesus said in Matthew 15:17:
18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?
19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
Wait a minute… What was that about Jesus declaring “all foods clean”? Why is that sentence in parentheses?
This bit is not included in the original verse but is ancient commentary from fairly antisemitic translators — the same antisemitic “scholarly” sources that have interpreted Peter’s vision in Acts 10 as nullifying Judaism’s kosher restrictions4 — that still haunts some Bible translations. Jesus is obviously not nullifying the kosher restrictions or declaring “all foods clean” in these verses. The original verses in this chapter of Mark’s gospel were simply restating the same story from Matthew’s gospel, which mentioned nothing about Jesus declaring “all foods clean”. This story is about spiritual purity through one’s words and thoughts, and not about ritual purity through ceremonial actions.5
Again: Jesus was a deeply religious Jewish man. Would a devout adherent of Judaism — one so devout that some considered Him their Messiah — say anything against the kosher restrictions? Would He have done so in an easy-to-misunderstand parable, or would He have done so more blatantly? Wouldn’t there be stories of Jesus eating pork instead of casting demons into it?6
Moreover, Jesus is specifically discussing digestion, and He speaks about it in very plain terms: food goes “into their stomach, and then out of the body.” In the King James Version, it’s rendered this way: “…into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats”. In other words: eating, then pooping. Some translations even refer to this process using modern phrases such as “elimination” or “into the latrine”.
This is making “all foods clean”? Pooping?7 Obviously not! This ancient commentary must be incorrect, so why do so many popular Bible versions — including some versions loved by Messianic Jews, like the Names of God Bible or even my beloved Complete Jewish Bible — retain this incorrect commentary?
This terrible commentary can only have been retained for three reasons: out of valid fear of altering Scripture for either religious or historical reasons; out of misplaced respect for “sacred” tradition; or because some anti-Semitic mindsets still linger within the halls of Christendom, so much so that scriptural passages often viewed as “anti-Jewish” or poorly translated by antisemitic scholars (like those interpreted as “attacking” aspects of the Jewish religion, such as the kosher dietary restrictions) are allowed to lurk about our Bibles like scriptural serpents ready to bite the unwary reader.
I still read the King James Version because I love its Rennaissance Era poetry. I still read both the Complete Jewish Bible and the Orthodox Jewish Bible translations for their unique and more accurate cultural views on scripture. I even read and employ other Bible translations for comparison or for clarity, and I will continue to do so until the day I perish.
Going by the research I’ve done thus far, however, the International Standard Version is one of several Bible versions that no longer include the illogical anti-kosher commentary in Mark 7:19, nor does it include the erroneous mistranslation of the Greek pasch as “Easter” in King James-influenced versions of Acts 12:4. This respect for scriptural accuracy is why I read and quote from it. I will continue to do so until someone presents a logical reason — specifically a logical contextual, historical, spiritual, or translational reason — why I should refrain from using it as my primary Bible translation in the future.
- Wikipedia defines a “checksum” as “a small-sized block of data derived from another block of digital data for the purpose of detecting errors that may have been introduced during its transmission or storage. By themselves, checksums are often used to verify data integrity but are not relied upon to verify data authenticity.” The techie site Lifewire explains that a checksum “is the outcome of running an algorithm, called a cryptographic hash function, on a piece of data, usually a single file. Comparing the checksum that you generate from your version of the file, with the one provided by the source of the file, helps ensure that your copy of the file is genuine and error-free.” Curiously enough, generating a checksum involves assigning numbers to letters, a process also used in the unrelated spiritual practice of Hebrew Gematria, the practice of assigning a numeric value to a name, word, or phrase according to an alphanumeric cipher for the purpose of deriving deeper spiritual meanings from a given scriptural text.
- Even the Geneva Bible — which predates the King James Version — renders pasch as Passover.
- I feel it important to specify that Jesus is speaking of spiritual defilement here. Eating with unwashed hands could definitely “defile” you medically. Wash your hands!
- You’d be surprised how many people still defend this interpretation!
- Larry Walker, an Elder in the United Church of God, has written an awesome missive on Mark 7 that expounds upon the same points I’ve illustrated in this essay.
- See Matthew 8:28-34.
- It must be, in the minds of some Bible translators! The New King James Version even specifically refers to the digestion process as “purifying all foods” in Mark 7:19! So, pooping is how you “purify” food? Does that mean it’s good to eat again? It’s purified now, right?