Translators, Be Not Proud

While translations of the Word, the holy writings of old as inspired by God's own spirit, appeared to have fared pretty well for 1900 years, Thomas Nelson & Sons did a rights grab in 1901. They filed a copyright for the Revised Version, Standard American Edition. Why would they do that? "It's to ensure that the Word of God is transmitted faithfully over time and distant lands," so says Carl Moeller, CEO of Biblical, owner of the NIV translation and some 80+ others. 

Translators, be not proud.

In John 12:30–33, the NIV translates John's Gospel this way:

Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for the judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (NIV, all rights reserved worldwide.)

Notice how the word from informs both Jesus' statement and John's redemptive voiceover. From tells us that Jesus is speaking about his death, being hoisted up on a cross in between heaven and earth (who hasn't heard that sermon?). It's from this cross that he somehow "will draw all people to [himself]." Read this way, John's voiceover is more or less a "Righty-O," adding nothing to what Jesus just said. 

When you pull back the veneer of translation, you see that the Greek word for from isn't what you'd expect. It isn't άπο (apo), the usual word for "away from." It rather is έκ (ek). Does that make any difference? Read Rotherham's translation and you tell me. 

Jesus answered, and said—Not for my sake, hath this voice come, but, for your sake. Now, is there, a judging, of this world,—Now, the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And, I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw, all, unto myself. But, this, he was saying, signifying, by what manner of death, he was about to die. (REB, public domain)

Yikes! is right. Jesus wasn't talking about being hoisted up on a cross. He was talking about his resurrection, when the Father would raise or lift him out from among the dead, out from the earth. This, frankly, makes a whole lot more sense given the context. When Jesus died, the scriptures demonstrate that he died absolutely and uniquely alone. There is no record of anyone being drawn to him as he died on Golgotha's hill. But there certainly is when he was resurrected. In fact, he is still drawing people today.

Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9, NRSV)

Okay, but what about John's voiceover? Doesn't he say that Jesus was speaking about his death, not his resurrection?

Yes, and this is where you come face-to-face with the genius of God's inspired Word and his dazzling plan of redemption. First off, John doesn't write that Jesus was speaking "of his death." He writes that Jesus was speaking "of the kind of death he was going to die." The horror of the cross doesn't lie in its physical brutality, but how it fits in the context of Israel's holy scriptures. 

Both Jesus and John were Jews. They were well aware of Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 and what it laid out for those "hung on a tree." It prescribed that if anyone (read: "if any Jew") was convicted of a crime worthy of death, and hung on a tree (by Israel), that man was cursed of God. So, what did that mean for the tree-hung man? He would be lifted up in abject humiliation and exiled from God's blessing and presence. The Old Testament says he'd be be flung out and swallowed up by the abyss. This is why John explains, "He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die," after hearing Jesus saying he'd be lifted up out of the earth. Jesus had said as much when he identified Jonah as a type of himself. 

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NRSV)

What a big difference a little preposition makes, huh?

There might be some good reasons for copyrighting a Bible translation (none come to mind at the moment), but "ensuring that the Word of God is transmitted faithfully over time and distant lands" isn't one of them. 

Note: The closest English translation we have to the original Greek is Rotherham's. If you don't have a copy of that translation, you ought to pick one up. You'll be glad you did.