r m p




Jason David BeDuhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. University Press of America. 2003.

Reviewed by Robert M. Price

This marvel of clarity (both in thought and in expression) is perfect for use as a textbook, but its perspicacity isn’t going to hurt anyone else, either. It immediately struck me how this book is a natural companion piece to Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Ehrman demonstrated that numerous scribal “errors” in early New Testament manuscripts were actually instances of Christological redaction on the part of scribes who thought to improve scripture by making it heresy-proof, cutting the proof texts out from under any who might appeal to them in service of Brand X Christologies.  But it is too late to fudge texts in the copying process ever since the advent of printed books. What one can do to improve the Bible theologically, though, is to smuggle one’s theology into one’s translation. And BeDuhn shows how often this very thing has happened, again, usually in the interest of protecting “high” Christology from the Bible. Yes, Virginia, the New Testament, as near as the lexical evidence can tell us, does call Jesus Christ “a god” (John 1:1) and “the first-born of creation” (Colossians 2:15-20). People are said to have bowed before Jesus, not to have worshipped him. What he declined to do in Philippians 2:6-11 was to usurp equality with God, not to sit on it. It should say, as the despised New World Translation and Living Bible have it, “I existed before Abraham did” (John 8:58). The notion that the Johannine Jesus made reference to the “I am” self-revelation of Exodus 3:14 is a fantasy; the accent in all the “I am” sayings must be the various predicates. Do various (Deutero-)Pauline passages mean to extol “the great God and our savior Jesus Christ” or “our great God and savior Jesus Christ”? BeDuhn admits we cannot know. He thinks it unlikely that Hebrews 1:8 means to address the exalted Christ thusly: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” preferring “God is your throne for ever and ever,” though I think he ignores the lingering influence of the ancient Divine King ideology on the original Psalm, picked up by the author to the Hebrews, whose high Christology allowed him to rediscover the (polytheistic) slant of the Psalm quote.

I am making it sound as if the author has definitively settled these issues, which are surely still going to be debated till Doomsday. But I don’t mind leaving such an impression, for BeDuhn’s arguments seem refreshingly cogent, clear, and comprehensive. He puts out to pasture various bogus grammatical rules that almost seem, like the grammar of Koranic Arabic, to have been fashioned to protect the text from heresy. He is forthright in expressing the obvious but ecumenically correct explanation: most Protestant translators work under the gun, pressured to make the alleged source of their doctrines reflect those (post-biblical) doctrines after the fact. The two most neutral, Greek-faithful translations turn out to be the Roman Catholic New American Bible and the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation, a reworking of the American Standard Bible. BeDuhn speculates that Catholics can be freer with the details of the text because they don’t have to pretend to find their theology in it in full-blown form. He suspects that the Witnesses had similar freedom because they had cast off the baggage of orthodoxy and approached the text with fresh eyes. That certainly seems to be true of Charles Taze Russell, their founder. On the other hand, BeDuhn turns right around and shows the arbitrariness of the New World Translation’s importation of the name Jehovah into the New Testament, and the theological bias implied in their refusing to do so in the case of Old Testament quotes where using “Jehovah” in a passage applied to Jesus would imply a higher Christology than they accept. BeDuhn confesses that he, too, has a bias, and that is to try to let the ancient texts speak for themselves, stripping away biased theological mistranslations. Bravo! May we all be so “biased”!



Copyright©2009 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design