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A Finn’s View of Bible Versions

By Gary F. Zeolla


In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

>Dear Gary, Thanks for a great, sane, balanced web site on the Bible versions issue!!!<

You're welcome.

>Although my native tongue is Finnish, I have read solely English Bible translations for more years than I can remember, one of the reasons being that the Finnish translations do not match the English ones in accuracy. You are probably not interested, but we have three major translations: one from the 17th century based probably on the TR, one from 1938 and the newest one from 1992. I don't use the 17th century translation for the same reasons that you don't recommend the KJV. On the other hand the 1992 translation is an extremely unreliable translation even though it is nowadays used even in many conservative churches such as Baptists. The 1938 translation is based on a mixture of MT and CT, as far as I can see, and it is mostly accurate, but I know of at least one passage where instead of a translation a dubious interpretation is given.

It just so happened that as a young Christian I contemplated that very passage a lot when making one of life's biggest decisions. Years later, "scraping" myself at the ruins of my life after blowing it BIG time, I was one day shocked to find out that my NIV gave a totally different reading. I have checked six other English translations (the NKJV among others) and only one, the RSV gives a similar reading as the Finnish translation. (In case you're interested, the verse in question is 1 Thess. 4:4. Of course I realize that I was led to make a wrong decision only because I interpreted the verse based on my then immature conception of God's plan. But I also realize that it is HIGHLY unlikely that a literal translation could have had the same effect.)<

I find all of the above very interesting. I am sorry for the traumas that the mis-translation of 1Thes 4:4 caused you; but I thank you for relating your story as it confirms four points I try to emphasize on my site:

1. Using an accurate, word-for-word (i.e. "formal equivalence") translation is extremely important.

2. Translators should do just that, translate. Interpretations should be left for commentaries.

3. Comparing more than one version of the Bible is very helpful in Bible study.

4. Christian's should never base a doctrine, practice, or (as in your case) a life decision on ONE verse of the Bible.

If you had been taught these things when you were a "young Christian" it might have saved you much heart-ache.

>I have mostly read the NIV, but a few years ago I stumbled on the KJV-onlyist heresy in the web. For a few weeks I was sucked in, but thank God, He led me to go through one of their KJV - NKJV verse comparison lists with the aid of an interlinear NT and a good dictionary. I found out that save for maybe one or two unclear verses, the NKJV was the more accurate translation in every case. I had already personally discovered that reading the KJV was no piece of cake. My experience was that you can never be SURE whether a given word means what it seems to mean or whether it is used in some obsolete meaning.

Very seldom do I have to resort to a dictionary even when reading the NKJV, but when reading the KJV I ended up spending more time consulting the dictionary than the Bible itself. As a matter of fact, I had to buy a new dictionary, the two-volume New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, just to be sure what the KJV words meant. Normal dictionaries simply label some words or meanings "archaic" or "obsolete" (if they list them at all) but the NSOED also tells WHEN a given word or meaning has been in use. And judging from some KJV-onlyist writings, not even native English speakers seem to naturally possess that information!<

All very good comments; and again, confirms much of what I say on my site.

>The encounter with the KJV-onlyist heresy has been one of the most traumatic events in my life. Initially its implications were so shocking to me that I literally thought that I was going to die shortly. It took me more than a year to recover. For a long time I went so far in the opposite direction that I didn't even consider the KJV to be a real Bible. I went back to reading the NIV, and not reading at all for a long spell.<

Again, you're confirming points I make on my site. First, the KJV-Only position can cause much "trauma" for people. Second, the difficulty of the KJV can lead people to read less reliable versions like the NIV (as compared to the NKJV) or to abandon Bible reading altogether.

> Lately I have started to reconsider the manuscript issue again, and I consider myself fortunate to have found your web site! However, I have a QUESTION concerning the (N)KJV reading of Romans 8:1 and I would REALLY APPRECIATE it if you could shed some light on it. My question stems from Dennis McCallum's book Walking in Victory. (For excerpts of McCallum's book and other writings of his see www.xenos.org.)

In a footnote on page 100 of his book McCallum writes:
We should be aware that the KJV has a different reading for [Romans 8:1]: 'There is therefore now no condemnation for those ..., who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.' The last phrase puts a condition on the promise, giving it a completely different meaning. If this reading were correct, our acceptance would depend on our ability to walk after the Spirit and, apparently, would be removed if we walked after the flesh. ... ... The NKJV has correctly noted that this reading is an error. The truth is, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

My 16-year Christian walk is a history of struggle with the law. It took me seven years after my conversion before I dared to call God my Father and be reasonably assured of my salvation (ironically, only after having sunk lower than I had ever imagined I would.) McCallum's book has given many critical issues considerable clarity, and I find the (N)KJV reading of Romans 8:1 a bit troubling. My life attests that I have been VERY unsuccessful in walking after the Spirit!<

First, I need to mention that the NKJV footnote does not indicate "this reading is an error." It simply indicates that the Critical Text does not include the second half of the verse.

That said, I will agree with you somewhat here. When I first switched from the NASB to the NKJV I did find the "addition" to Rom 8:1 somewhat troubling. I also had found the proclamation, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" to be very reassuring. But the addition of, " who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" seemed to lessen the promise.

However, checking the textual evidence, it does not seem that on MT principles excluding the latter phrase can be justified. So how to interpret the verse with the phrase?

I will quote from the original Geneva Bible notes on this verse:
8:1 [There is] {1} therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who {2} walk not after the {a} flesh, but after the Spirit.

(1) A conclusion of all the former discussion, from # Ro 1:16 to this verse: seeing that we, being justified by faith in Christ, obtain remission of sins and imputation of righteousness, and are also sanctified, it follows from this that those who are grafted into Christ by faith, need have no fear of condemnation.

(2) The fruits of the Spirit, or effects of sanctification, which are begun in us, do not ingraft us into Christ, but declare that we are grafted into him. (a) Do not follow the flesh as their guide: for he is not said to live after the flesh that has the Holy Spirit for his guide, even though he sometimes takes a step off of the path (copied from the Online Bible).

So the full verse is not saying we need to be perfect to have "no condemnation" but simply that the Spirit is the "guiding principle" in the life of a Christian, even though we may stray at times. And note, that without the second half of the verse it could be said that the verse could lead to an "easy believe-ism" attitude, i.e. the idea that one can accept Jesus Savior without also accepting His Lordship.

>Also, I have lately considered acquiring some Bible study helps, such as the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament and the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis to Deuteronomy (see Century One 1 and Century One 2). I am aware that you recommend certain other commentaries in one of your web pages, but I would be interested in hearing your opinion also on these books. It's hard for me to evaluate them since they are not stocked by local Christian bookstores and I would have to order them sight unseen.

Thank you in advance!


Sorry but I am not familiar with the Bible Background Commentary series. But since it is published by IVP there is a good chance it is based on the NIV. Most books by them seem to be. And, as I am sure you're aware, I am not too fond of the NIV. Better commentaries can be purchased from GCB or CLW. The latter even has reviews of commentaries (and other Christian books) on its site. You might want to check their Web sites out.

For a follow-up to this exchange, see Another Finn on Bible Versions.

Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site June 3, 1998.

Bible Versions Controversy: General Comments
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