Tag Archives: Acts

Influence of One Bible Translation

The Influence of the Good News for Modern Man translation on other translations of Acts 9:25

The longer I have been observing textual variants in the Greek New Testament, the more I am convinced that the cause of some corruptions in the Greek text, was back-flow from the early important translations into other languages, and from the writings and commentaries of the Fathers.  Because if you lived in a region where the Greek text was not your native language, and the New Testament text you were familiar with was in another language, (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, etc.) but you were charged with re-copying or reproducing the foundational Greek text your church had received, when you did produce it, you would be highly influenced by the memories in your mind of your native language text, which is what you heard repeated all the time, and not the Greek text.  Much of this back-flow could happen unconsciously and not deliberately.  However, some of this could have happened deliberately, for the sake of uniformity of the text among all your churches.

I have a current-day example of this, not of back-editing of the Greek text, but of the influence of one important English translation onto many new translations into other languages.  The principle is the same.  The translators and editors were conscious of the fact that they were deliberately departing from their main source text, in order to effect uniformity of the NT text among all the regional churches.

My example occurred in Papua New Guinea, where I was born and raised.  I discovered this while translating the Acts of the Apostles from Greek to English.  I found that an alarmingly high number of English translations in Acts 9:25 add words to the text that are not in the Greek, any Greek source text; they are not in the Textus Receptus, not in the Nestle-Aland text, and not in the Majority Text, not in any Greek manuscript.  They add the words “an opening in.”  That is, “they lowered him down through “an opening in” the wall.”

The Greek text is straight-forward.  The enemies of Saul were watching the city gates day and night in order to capture Saul and kill him.  So, λαβόντες δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ νυκτὸς διὰ τοῦ τείχους καθῆκαν αὐτὸν χαλάσαντες ἐν σπυρίδι.  So, “the disciples took him at night by way of the wall instead.  They lowered him down in a basket.”

It is not hard to understand.  The gates were not an option, therefore they used the wall to escape.  It says nothing about a hole in the wall, or a window in the wall.  The point was simply that they did not use the gates, but used the wall.  They lowered him down from it in a basket.  The preposition δια here means “by way of”  or “by means of.”  They took him out of the city by way of the wall.  It does not even say they lowered him by means of the wall as some of the translations say.  The verb involved is λαβόντες, they TOOK him by way of the wall.  They lowered him by means of a basket.

I called my father Tom Palmer to find out how he rendered Acts 9:25 in his translation into the Hamtai language of Papua New Guinea.  He said they went with the same addition I mentioned, something about letting Saul down through a window in the wall.  I asked him why in the world the Hamtai translation says a window, when that is not in the Greek, and that is not in the King James Version?  His answer is what I am talking about: back-flow from one very important, early, influential translation used in Papua New Guinea: the Good News for Modern Man.  You see, the country of Papua New Guinea has 700 different languages; not dialects, but 700 languages, with different dialects among those.  But the official language of Papua New Guinea is English, since it was at first a British colony then an Australian colony (though the NE part where I was born was a German colony prior to WW1.)  Many New Guineans therefore can speak some English.  So pretty much all churches in Papua New Guinea, whether Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, SDA, etc., they all were influenced by the same Bible, the Good News for Modern Man, which was produced by the United Bible Societies (UBS).

When I was a child growing up in Papua New Guinea, I read mainly the King James Bible, but for more modern English, I also read the Berkeley version, and the Good News for Modern Man.  The latter was produced by the United Bible Societies, and quickly became the most influential modern English translation in the entire world, including in Papua New Guinea.

So also, for all the indigenous Christians in New Guinea, no matter what denomination, their church was highly influenced by this Bratcher/UBS work, which says in Acts 9:25 there was a hole or opening or window in the wall of the city of Damascus.  So, when my father, or any other translator, was producing a translation into one of the tribal languages there, they had to keep this in mind, that the Bible which the people already had, and had always had in the history of their church, no matter what denomination, was this UBS-produced Good News Bible.  Therefore, for the sake of uniformity, and not disturbing the people too much with too large a departure from what they were familiar with, the wording of the Good News for Modern Man was retained.  Including this corruption of there being a hole in the wall of the city of Damascus.  (Though the Tok Pisin Bible, the translation done by the UBS into the Pidgin English spoken in New Guinea, reads “Tasol ol disaipel bilong Sol i kisim em long nait na ol i bringim em i go antap long bikpela banis i raunim taun. Na ol i tokim em long sindaun long wanpela bikpela basket, na ol i slekim basket i go daun long ausait bilong taun.”  This does not add the words about an opening or window.)

One of the acknowledged causes of corruption in the text of the Greek New Testament is the phenomenon of “harmonization to the familiar.”  This goes hand in hand with the example I gave, but some translations of Acts 9:25 may also be influenced by the account of Rahab helping the spies escape in Joshua 2:15: “Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.”

Simon the Zealot or Canaanite?

In Mark 3:18 and Matthew 10:4, the the King James Bible has Simon as a Canaanite.  However, in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, the KJV has Simon as a Zealot.  These are not really compatible to be mutually co-existent, since Jesus would not have appointed a Gentile to be one of the Twelve, or one of the names on the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:14.  In teh Matthew passage, in the very next verse, Matt. 10:5, Jesus tells the twelve not to go down any Gentile road, but to go “only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  Jesus surely would not tell a Gentile that.  Moreover, since the KJV admits that Simon was a zealot, this is also unlikely, that a Gentile would be a Zealot, one of the factions of Judaism.  The earliest manuscripts of Matthew and Mark say Simon was a καναναῖος, which word was derived from the Aramaic word for Zealot.  And the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine text have Simon a Κανανίτης.  Strong’s Concordance for this word, G2581, says this word also is derived from קנּא kan-naw’, “Jealous.” Canaan in Greek consistently starts with the letter Χ :

Canaan (ie., Genesis 13:12) Χανααν; Canaanite: Χαναναίων (Genesis 10:18) Χαναναίους (Genesis 15:21)  And in the NT, for the Canaanite woman, Matt 15:22, Χαναναία

BDAG Lexicon: “Κανανίτης, ου, ὁ man from Cana, Cananite. Acc. to Strabo 14, 5, 14 one of the two Stoics named Athenodorus received this name to distinguish him fr. the other Ath.; ἀπὸ κώμης τινός (Cana near Tarsus) was added. Numerous mss. replace the apparently unintelligible Καναναῖος with this term.” Under Κανά it says the home of, “according to many, also of Simon, Mt 10:4 (s. Καναναῖος). – Heinz Noetzel, Christus und Dionysus ’60. – EDNT.BBHW II 926. M-M.”

The bottom line is that both variants apparently mean the same thing: someone from Cana.  The KJV saying Canaanite is simply rendered incorrectly in English.

I have updated my footnotes on the pertinent passages in Matthew and Mark.  They are linked for downloading.