Which Bible? Which Version?
DOES THE BIBLE CONTRADICT ITSELF?
A STUDY IN BIBLE TRANSLATIONS
Back in my High School days, an agnostic fellow student attempted to undermine my faith in the Bible by insisting that the good book contradicts itself and therefore cannot be accepted as of Divine authorship. He gave me an example from the popular King James Version, and indeed the contradiction he pointed out was true:
KING JAMES VERSION:
"So shall it be at the end of the world." - Matthew 13:49
"throughout all ages, world without end" - Ephesians 3:21
According to this, something is to occur at the "end of the world," which is a "world without end."
FERRAR FENTON TRANSLATION:
"Thus it will be at the completion of the period." -Matthew 13:49
"during all the generations of the ages of the eternities." -Ephesians 3:21
This is certainly more correct, but how can there be several eternities? Let us instead compare these verses in literal Bible translations, even more accurately:
YOUNG'S LITERAL TRANSLATION
"So shall it be at the full end of the age." -Matthew 13:49
"to all the generations of the age of the ages." -Ephesians 3:21
ROTHERHAM'S EMPHASIZED BIBLE
"So will it be in the conclusion of the age." -Matthew 13:49
"Unto all the generations of the age of ages." -Ephesians 3:21
CONCORDANT LITERAL NEW TESTAMENT
"Thus shall it be in the conclusion of the eon." -Matthew 13:49
"for all the generations of the eon of the eons!" -Ephesians 3:21
INTERLINEAR GREEK-ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT (BERRY)
Sacred Greek Original: "sunteleia ton aionos"
"Thus shall it be in the completion of the age." -Matthew 13:49
Sacred Greek Original: "geneas ton aionas ton aionan."
"to all the generations of the age of the ages" -Ephesians 3:21
Obviously there is no contradiction between the two Bible passages being compared here. The difficulty in understanding lies solely in the translation. The translations most literal and therefore closest to the original Greek of the New Testament, as you can see, are the YOUNG'S, ROTHERHAM, CONCORDANT, and the INTERLINEAR GREEK-ENGLISH versions. Note that the Concordant Bible uses the word, "eon" for "age." In fact, this is the most exact translation of these verses because the English word, eon, is actually derived from the Greek word, aion, used in the biblical text, and meaning the same thing: an "age," "a period of time of indefinite duration."
Young's Concordance lists the following other Greek words with variant meanings which are improperly translated "age" in the King James Version: teleios, "complete or perfect," (Hebrews 5:14); helikia, "maturity" (Hebrews 11:11); and genea, "generations" (Ephesians 3:5, 21). In addition, the King James Version translates the Greek word "aion" using eight different and contradictory meanings: forever, never, evermore, forever and ever, ages, world, eternal, and generations. Whether translators did this for poetic phraseology, or to uphold cherished church doctrines, it is plainly inaccurate. The fact remains that with such a contradictory assortment of potpourri, only confusion can result. How can the same original Greek New Testament word mean "forever" in one place and "never" somewhere else? It is no wonder that Bible readers are confused!
This is certainly not an isolated example, as can easily be seen by a look through a Greek and Hebrew word study concordance.
Another unfortunate problem with the King James Version is that spoken English is a living language in which words have become obsolete or changed their meaning over 400 years, sometimes radically. For example, in the English of 1611 the term, "bring again" meant to "lift off" or "remove," not the exact opposite: "I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah saith the LORD." (Jer. 30:3) There is no question that this version is a literary masterpiece, but it was written in Elizabethan-Jacobean English during the time of Shakespeare. Have you ever read one of Shakespeare's plays and noticed the footnotes at the bottom of each page explaining the meaning of the archaic words used? In school, I would not have understood much of Shakespeare without the explanatory footnotes!
What does all of this teach us, in addition to the fact that the original text of the Bible does not actually contradict itself? The "age of the ages" is a Biblically designated term for a definite period of time, a specific age also referred to as the "new heavens and new earth" in Revelation 21:1. This period extends from the Great White Throne Judgment after the Millennium (Revelation chapter 20), until the consummation of all things referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:28. However, the truth of this is obscured by improper English translations of the original New Testament Greek. The non-literal Bible versions instead usually translate this Greek phrase as, "forever and ever." Do they think that "forever and ever" is a longer period of time than "forever?"
It is also sad, but true, that a number of false beliefs have arisen from inaccurate and even deceptive translations of the Bible. It seems that nearly every church denomination has their favorite Bible version; and some of these they have composed themselves. The Jehovah's Witnesses produced their New World Translation to uphold their own doctrines, especially their unsound theology concerning the Messiah found in the Gospel of John 1:1. The Roman Catholic Church published the old Douay-Rheims version and the more recent Confraternity, Knox, and New American Bible translations in order to uphold some of their unbiblical doctrines. For example, Roman Catholic Bibles include the Apocrypha, some of which is historical material, while other parts are abysmal (e.g., Judith; Bel and the Dragon). The Apocrypha was not declared inspired by Rome until the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent. Its inclusion in the Bible canon was for the express purpose of upholding their teachings (such as the practice of selling "indulgences") which were facing heavy criticism by the Protestant Reformation. Tobit 12:9 supports the practice, stating, "…almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin."
Similarly, in the Catholic New American Bible the Greek word "metanoeo," meaning "to change one's mind or to repent," is purposefully mistranslated, "reform," meaning "to change into a new and improved form." Thus, Luke 13:5 in the NAB reads, "you will all come to the same end unless you reform." Chapter titles are employed to reinforce Catholic doctrine: Luke 13 has an editorial heading of "Providential Calls to Penance."
Another popular seller is the Scofield Bible, comprising the King James Version with explanatory footnotes by Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield, a retired Confederate soldier with minimal theological training, originally published in 1909. This is the Bible version that promoted and popularized the cultic teachings of modern Dispensational Futurism. In his notes to Ezekiel 38:2 on page 883, Scofield states that "all agree" that Russia would be the prophetic nation to persecute the Jews, which was soon proven wrong by Hitler's Germany. In fact, a majority of mainstream Christian scholars most certainly did not hold to Scofield's opinions on this or many other matters. It is also ironic that the Christian Fundamentalists who champion the Scofield Bible are strong opponents of evolution, while Scofield upholds the "geologic ages" of evolutionism in footnote 2 of page 3 of his Bible. There is much that is troubling for Bible believers in Scofield's teachings. The definitive in-depth study of the Scofield Bible and its curious and error-filled theology is, "The Incredible Scofield and His Book," by Joseph M. Canfield (Ross House Books, 406 pages, 2005).
Finally, it is true that many Messianic believers understandably prefer to use Hebraic or Sacred Name Bible translations, of which one of the best is The Scriptures, published in 1998. It is not, however, a strictly literal translation and so a good Bible dictionary or concordance would be helpful to use along with it for in-depth Biblical study.