Theological Bias In Bible Translations Of Acts 20:28

In How to choose a Bible version : An introductory guide to English translations, a professor of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary, Robert L. Thomas gives English Bible readers four methods of detecting theological bias present in English Bible translations:

  1. First, the theological viewpoints of the translators may be a matter of general knowledge( a “translation sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church would reflect the views of that church body as the New World Translation would support those of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Translators unconnected with a large organization will have biases too.”(p.103)
  2. Second, theological bias can be detected through statement(s) made in introductory materials found in the translations themselves.(“Occasionally translators will disclose their viewpoints on certain doctrines in these opening comments” p.104).
  3. Third, notes that accompany a translation will often disclose doctrinal perspectives in the translation.(“often print notes at the bottom of the same page as the Bible text, but sometimes they may be in the margin beside the text”.p.104)
  4. Fourth, theological prejudice may lay in the text itself.(“All translators are not theologians, so they cannot always foresee the nuances of meaning conveyed by various English expressions.” p.105)

Thomas used Matthew 16:16, Romans 9:5, Acts 20:28, John 1:1, Philippians 2:6, and John 9:38, as a Christological testing ground of theological biases in English Bible Translations: On Acts 20:28 Thomas writes:

Acts 20:28 is another testing ground for gauging a version’s support of the deity of Christ. The Greek text reads as in the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB, the NASBU, the ESV, the NIV, the TNIV, the HCSB, and others: ‘the church of God which he purchased with his own blood’ or a close equivalent of that. The words ‘his own blood’ refer back to ‘God’, furnishing a direct statement of the deity of Christ. The RSV avoids that direct statement, however, by adopting another reading that gives ‘Lord’ in place of ‘God’, thereby avoiding a clear statement of the deity of the Son. The NRSV recognizes that ‘God’ is the best supported reading in that verse by changing ‘Lord’ back to ‘God’ in Acts 20:28, but it has another way of avoiding a statement of Christ’s deity. It reads ‘the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son’. In effect, it adds the word ‘Son’ to the text in order to find a way to avoid stating Christ’s deity directly. The REB avoids advocating that Christ is God in a way similar to the RSV, and the NJB, the NCV, the TEV, and the NET shun the doctrine in essentially the same manner as the NRSV.(p.110-111)

Bishop of Antioch’s, Ignatius (ca. 30-107 A.D), Letter To Ephesians, chapter 1 gives a supporting evidence that “his own blood” refers to “God”: Ignatius wrote: “Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.”

Thomas concluded that: “Most translators have striven to exclude their subjective opinions when producing English versions of the Bible. Hence, from any translation a person can derive a theology that is biblical in broad outline. Yet no translation has successfully excluded doctrinal bias completely, and it is doubtful that one ever could.”(p.120)

It is my hope that you will make use of Thomas’ four ways to detect some of theological bias present in your English Bible translation because some of them(e.g. the NWT’s) could lead us astray from the fellowship with the Holy Spirit, joy, delight, love and eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord and the glory and majesty of God the Father.

Bib:

Thomas, R. L. (2000). How to choose a Bible version : An introductory guide to English translations. Fearn, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (p.52). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. (The quotes are from the shorted version of Ignatius Letters, emphasis added)

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