Top 10 Mistranslations In The Bible

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Mistranslations In The Bible

When reading the Bible, as with any text that is quite literally 2000 years old, context is important. The Bible was written in many parts over centuries. The connotations of the words changed, the interpretations changed, and overall, the translations all said different things. 

It’s difficult to get an accurate translation of the Bible, mostly because few, if any, exist. It is too cumbersome, too dangerous a task for most translators to undertake. However, in academic circles, some translation errors are widely accepted. Here are 10 of them:

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live – Exodus 22:18 

This mistranslation originated in the King James Version of the Bible. The original translation from Hebrew was – thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live. Poisoner meant murderer. However, King James himself was terrified of witches. 

So, he changed the translation to thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. 

This gave divine justification to the killing of thousands in the witch inquisitions. Not to mention that the word witch has gendered connotations, as it refers to a female magic practitioner. 

Thou shalt not covet – the tenth commandment

The words for ‘desirable’ and ‘take’ in Hebrew come from the same root. That is, they are spelt similarly. So, the tenth commandment – thou shalt not covet was supposed to be thou shalt not take. However, translators had a different idea, and so thou shalt not covet was born.

The virgin or the young woman – Isaiah 7:14

The Hebrew Bible was translated into a Greek version called the Septuagint, and from this Greek version, we get the English translations. Most young women were virgins at the time of translation, so there is no differentiation between young women and virgins. They are referred to interchangeably. 

However, in Hebrew, Isaiah 7:14 refers to a young woman giving birth to a son named Emmanuel. This is then translated into Greek as a virgin giving birth to a boy. 

While the translation errors are widely accepted, they have not been corrected. This is because the virgin birth of Jesus references Isaiah, and people probably don’t want to change that. 

The lord is my shepherd – Psalm 23

Sometimes the Bible is mistranslated simply in the interpretation of its metaphors. The shepherds in the Bible were supposed to be symbols of might, ferocity, and grandeur. However, in the modern world, they are considered passive and peaceful leaders. 

This has led to an inaccurate interpretation of Psalm 23.

The song of Solomon – my sister, my bride

Other contextual misinterpretations include the song of Solomon, where Solomon says, ‘my sister, my bride’. In Hebrew, references to kinship structures were meant to indicate power hierarchies and not actual familial relations. This meant that Solomon was saying his wife would be his equal and not that she was his sister. 

So, the Bible has thankfully forward-thinking ideas of relationships. 

love, mercy and compassion – the mixup

Another mistake with the Hebrew to Greek translations. The Greek translations did not differentiate between words with similar meanings, as we saw above. 

But this has trickled down into the common age with love, mercy and compassion often used interchangeably throughout the Bible. 

To have the respect of a person is not good – Proverbs 28:21

A confusing line to read. This is, thankfully, another mistranslation. You see, the respect of a person meant ‘to be partial’ and not the common definition of the word. 

So, in reality, the line is advising against partiality and not telling you to mess up your good relationships. 

God so loved the world – John 3:16

By far one of the most popular Bible verses, this has remained untouched by translators for a very long time. However, the translation is wrong. To be more specific, the word so is wrong. It’s more accurately translated as, ‘this way. God loved the world this way; he gave his only son. 

Of course, that does not change its meaning much, but it is a pointed change nonetheless. 

The withered hand – Mathew 12: 9-14 

The parable of the withered hand in Mathew 12: 9-14 uses the Greek word Anthropos. This has been translated to English as ‘man’. However, the word Anthropos means both human and man in Greek. So, when reading Greek, the translation shifts from ‘man’ to ‘all people’. 

This means the parable was not only speaking of one person who had been slighted but rather the similarity between all people.

Arsenokoitai and malakoi- paedophiles not homosexuals 

Possibly the most contentious and the most publicized of all translations. The Bible does not refer to homosexuals in 1 Corinthians 6:9; it relates to paedophiles or ‘boy molesters’. Arsenokoitai and malakoi were the original Greek words used in the Greek translation of the Bible. World over, it was translated into boy molester or child molester. 

However, in 1946 the Revised Standard Version of the Bible published the mistranslation of the words to homosexual. This served their purposes of considering homosexuality a perversion. But you can rest knowing the BBibledid not originally see it that way. It’s just the people that translated it.