Testing the Texts (2):
The Person and Work of Christ
Having quantified the extent of variation between the traditional Ecclesiastical Text of the New Testament and the modern version, we now begin to study particular doctrines which are affected by these changes. Where better to begin than with those relating to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ?
"If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psa. 11:3).
THE anxiety expressed above is a natural one; just as a grand edifice which lacks a stable grounding is destined to come crashing down at length, so the true believer must have a sure basis for his faith - an inerrant Scripture. We note that the Psalmist speaks in the plural, "foundations"; there is nothing more fundamental that we rely on for salvation than the truths which are revealed concerning our Saviour.
Leaving aside at present those passages which treat more directly the central doctrine of the deity of Christ, some textual changes affecting fundamental truths relating to the Redeemer are shown below. The Authorised (King James) Version (AV) represents the Traditional Greek Text of Scripture and the New International Version (NIV) (1984 edition) the Modern Text. (N.B. In some places the NIV does not follow the UBS Text, and footnotes in the NIV sometimes give alternative readings.)
(AV) But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
(NIV) But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
We begin in fact with a vital verse from the Old Testament (partly quoted in the New – Matt. 2:6; see also John 7:42). Apart from indicating that problems of text and translation are not confined to the latter Testament, this prophetic verse is foundational to our understanding of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth: our perception of its contents will colour our view of the N.T. evidence concerning the Messiah. There is a world of difference between what is affirmed by these two versions here. The AV clearly teaches the eternal generation of the Son of God, Israel's King, by referring to His "goings forth" and defining these as "from everlasting"; the NIV by contrast gives the Son an origin or beginning, as though He were a son of God by creation, like the angels: God's Son is merely "ancient" – yet the same word the NIV renders "everlasting" when referring elsewhere to God's being and attributes.
In the AV this text is reflected by the description of Jesus Christ as "the only begotten Son" in the N.T.: the NIV abandons this precious phrase, replacing it with the ambiguous "the One and Only" (John 1:14,18) or "one and only Son" (John 3:16,18).
(AV) And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
(NIV) We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
The Lord's challenge to the twelve upon the departure of many of His erstwhile followers, "Will ye also go away?" produced Peter's blessed confession of faith, repeated later in Matthew 16:16. Peter proclaims the apostolic confidence that Jesus is "that Christ," i.e., the Messiah foretold in the O.T. Scriptures: this Messiah is uniquely the Son of God; to affirm one is to affirm the other. How much is lost by the amended reading of the NIV!
(AV) Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
(NIV) Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?
It was Jesus' positive reply to the questions, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" and "Art thou then the Son of God?" that brought the charge of blasphemy (Mark 14:61-64; Luke 22:67-71) – not His claim to be the Son of man. It was confessing Him as Christ that led to excommunication from the synagogue for the man born blind (John 9:22). When Jesus posed the above challenge to this brave soul, two verses later He acknowledged that this indeed was His own identity: an indirect proof of the deity of Christ is lost in the NIV.
(AV) And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
(NIV) The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.
The sinlessness of Christ was secured by His extraordinary conception in the womb of the virgin Mary: there was no human father involved. It is true that Scripture does refer to Joseph as Christ's father, but only when recording the view of those who mistakenly termed Him such, e.g., in Luke 2:48; our Lord corrected Mary on that occasion by His words in the next verse – "wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (When Joseph and Mary are referred to as Jesus' "parents" the idea is that together they were His legal parents, not necessarily His natural ones.) The NIV breaks this rule and weakens the testimony to the most necessary doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
1 Timimothy 3:16
(AV) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(NIV) Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
By substituting the equivocal "He" for the explicit "God" the textual critics and the NIV translators have destroyed the value of this verse as a proof-text for the Incarnation, the essence of which is: "that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion." (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 8, paragraph 2).
(AV) I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
(NIV) "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work."
The Lord Jesus Christ was given by His Father, and willingly undertook, a unique commission: the office of Mediator between God and men. His miracles, performed in His own Name, by His own authority, attested that office. In contrast the apostles did signs and wonders only through Christ's Name (Acts 3:7; 4:10). Jesus often referred to His own special work (John 4:34; 5:19,36; 17:4). He intimated that what was about to happen to the blind man would be "the works of God" (v.3); not only would his natural eyes be opened but also the eyes of his soul Ÿ Christ would send His Spirit into his heart. He is aware of His impending sufferings. During His earthly stay His works of healing and conversion show Him supremely to be "the light of the world" (v.5). The variant followed by the Modern Text, by placing Christ and the disciples on the same level, removes a reference to the Messianic Commission.
(AV) But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
(NIV) "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered.
What a graphic description the Lord gave of His approaching death – a baptism of blood! The blood that would dye His own garments red would also "sprinkle many nations" for their salvation (Isa. 52:15), for "without shedding of blood is no remission [of sins]" (Heb. 9:22). It is a pity, to say the least, that this vivid indication of the atoning character of Christ's death is lost by tampering with the Greek Text.
(AV) And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
Countless prophecies were accomplished on the very day of Jesus' death, each one combining with the others to create in the believer's mind the solid conviction that this is the Christ of God. The removal of this verse which confirms the fulfilment of the prophet's words in Isaiah 53:12, and a similar change at Matthew 27:35, can only but weaken that conviction.
1 Peter 4:1
(AV) Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
(NIV) Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.
A person reading or hearing this verse as given in the NIV would be excused if he failed to understand that Christ's sufferings were of a vicarious nature; a believer would lose precious comfort. A similar omission is found in 1 Cor. 5:7.
(AV) Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week...
(NIV) (The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.)
This section, which in fact has overwhelming manuscript evidence supporting it, contains details of Christ's resurrection appearances which are not found elsewhere in the Gospel narratives, particularly His rebuke of the disciples for their "unbelief and hardness of heart" in rejecting the testimony of the believers who had seen Him alive. It is perhaps significant that one of these unbelieving disciples, Luke the beloved physician, later writes of "many infallible proofs" by which Jesus showed Himself alive during the forty days (Acts 1:3); the NIV and other modern versions prefer only "many convincing proofs": the former has a reassuring objectivity about it, whereas the latter is ultimately subjective – one may or may not be convinced!
(AV) For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
(NIV) for we are members of his body.
What statement could emphasise more plainly that Jesus arose with the same body in which He died? The spiritual union of the church with her risen Head is as real and inseparable as the physical union of His literal body, which uniquely did not see corruption in the grave (Acts 2:25-28).
(AV) A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
(NIV) "In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me."
The Received Text, followed by the AV, has Christ speaking in a threefold way of His death, resurrection and ascension: thus there is a clear, logical explanation of Christ's resurrection appearances – they form a brief episode prior to His ascension, for the encouragement and strengthening of the disciples (vv.20-24). The NIV leaves the Lord in a kind of limbo, resurrected but not ascended, and yet as the disciples discuss their Master's words in the next verse they include the missing phrase (v.17, NIV)!
(AV) After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat on the right hand of God.
(NIV) (The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.)
While the NIV provides witness to the Ascension elsewhere, the denial of the authenticity of this passage spoils the church of the only verse in the Gospels that records what happened immediately afterwards – He "sat on the right hand of God." (v.19).
(AV) (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
(NIV) but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest for ever.'"
We readily grant that this phrase comparing the priesthood of our Lord with that of the mysterious O.T. figure is found earlier in the epistle and is included in the NIV text. This reference though is the only one in which the verse from Psalm 110 is quoted in full, with the prefatory oath, and applied in its entirety to Christ. Because of this we may indeed be sure that, like Melchisedec of whose death there was no record, Christ living for ever is making continual and effectual intercession for His people.
On a related theme, modern versions of the Bible make an assault on our Lord's teaching regarding prayer and fasting. The entire verse Matthew 17:21, "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting," is missing from the text of the NIV, as is the phrase "and fasting" from Mark 9:29. This is despite the fact that Jesus laid upon His people the duty of solemn fasting on occasions (Matt. 9:14,15). Could this sowing of the seed of doubt help to explain why the church has neglected this powerful spiritual weapon to her disadvantage?
(AV) Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
(NIV) "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
The return of Christ is described as His "revelation" (1 Pet. 1:13). This is to occur at the consummation of the age, the exact time of which is kept hidden from men. The beautiful parable of the ten virgins, serving as wedding attendants, tells how the foolish five were caught unawares when the bridegroom finally came and so were shut out of the marriage celebration: they did not watch. How sad that the Modern Text ruins the application Jesus Himself makes at the conclusion of the parable, by removing the one phrase which indicates plainly that the story is teaching about Himself and His return – and the imperative need of sinners to be made ready by the grace of the Holy Spirit! "For he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." (Psa. 96:13).
It would be quite wrong to say that the NIV bears no testimony to these truths, as a systematic survey of its complete contents will show. Yet no man reads, teaches or preaches the whole text of the Bible at once, and at the level of the exposition of individual verses or passages there is a dangerous undermining of the truths of God. The fact that these alterations go unnoticed by many makes the matter all the more serious.