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TRANSLATING TRUTH AND TRUTH IN TRANSLATION
Let’s begin with a truly genuine translator’s philosophy and what the inspired apostle John said in the book of Revelation. We will begin with John first. What John says is a repeating of what Moses wrote in the book of Deuteronomy and Solomon wrote in Proverbs. So, the principles apply to all of God’s 66 Bible books, the Bible.
Revelation 22:18-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.
John explicitly states that in no way are we to add to his word nor take away from his word, which is, in essence, God’s Word. This does not just mean the original Greek or Hebrew. It means willfully adding or taking away anything in any way. If a verse is to be translated correctly in a certain way because that is what the Hebrew and the Greek call for, one does not alter it just for the sake of strengthening a doctrinal view. Briefly, we will get the thoughts of five prominent NT commentators in four commentaries. Thereafter, I as a textual scholar and a translator of God’s Word, who has also written a hermeneutic book and commentary volumes will offer more insight. You will want to read what I have written.
The urgency of the final command is supported by the solemn testimony of Christ Himself concerning the sacred character of the prophecy given, with a very sober warning attached. Though frequently in the Bible there are other warnings against tampering with the Word of God, this is among the most solemn (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 1:3). No one can dare add to the Word of God except in blatant unbelief and in denial that the Word is indeed God’s own message to humanity. Likewise, no one should dare take away from the words of this Revelation, which is also an insult to the inspired Word of God. What a solemn warning this is to critics who have tampered with this book and other portions of Scripture in arrogant self-confidence that they are equipped intellectually and spiritually to determine what is true and what is not true in Scripture.
Kendell H. Easley,
22:18–19. Before concluding, John is compelled to insert a personal warning from himself as the one who penned the words of the prophecy of this book. It is not directed to future scribes who will be copying the book and might be careless in accidentally adding or deleting words. (In fact, this happened often down through the centuries.) Rather, the warning is for everyone who hears—the ones in the seven churches who will have the book read to them (1:3); by extension all hearers or readers down through the ages are included. The one who adds to the prophecy of this book or who takes words away from this book of prophecy is the one who hears and then deliberately distorts the message of Revelation. This is extraordinary evidence that John was aware that what he had written had scriptural authority. The apostle Paul had warned the Galatian Christians that those who deliberately “pervert the gospel of Christ” risk being “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7–8). Centuries earlier, Moses had warned similarly, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deut. 4:2).
So now John notes that those who falsify Revelation face serious dangers. On one hand, the risk may be stated positively: God will add to him the plagues described in this book—those who add will be added unto themselves (chapters 15–16). On the other hand, the risk stated negatively is that God will take from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city—those who subtract will be subtracted from themselves (chapters 21–22) To tamper deliberately with the Word of God is a sign of unbelief, and is a dangerous matter indeed.
“hear the statutes … you shall not add to the word … nor take away from it” (4:1–2; likewise 12:32); “and it will be when he hears the words … every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and Jehovah will blot out his name from under heaven” (29:19–20).
“I testify to everyone who hears the words … if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that have been written in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book …, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city.…”
Grant R. Osborne,
The formula here is probably based on Deut. 4:2 (“Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you”) and perhaps 12:32 (“See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it”). There the formula indicated that the Torah came directly from Yahweh and must not be “supplemented or reduced” (Craigie 1976: 130). In other words, it must be accepted and obeyed in its entirety. This is the key to the meaning of ἐπιθῇ /ἀφέλῃ (epithē/aphelē, adds/takes away) here. As in Deuteronomy, Christ is warning against false teachers who distort the meaning of the prophecies by adding their own teaching to it or removing the meaning that God intended. As Beale (1999: 1151) points out, Deut. 4:3 alludes to the Balaam incident (used of false teachers in Rev. 2:14), and Deut. 12:31 in the MT and Targums is actually the first verse of Deut. 13 that discusses false prophets. Beale applies this verse specifically against idolatry, and certainly John would have that in mind due to the Nicolaitan heresy described in chapter 2, but it should be expanded to include other types of false teaching like the libertine proclivities of that same group (see 2:14b, 20–21). The difficulty for us is how to apply this ban. It can hardly restrict differing interpretations regarding the meaning of the book. The key is to apply carefully the meaning of a “false teacher” or heretic. That is not just someone who differs from one’s own understanding (such as pretribulation or posttribulation views, premillennial or amillennial interpretations) or even someone who tries to compute the return of Christ via a “Bible code” or mathematical equation derived from the book. It refers to someone who uses Revelation to restructure the Christian faith, like some of the cults (on the question of heresy, see also Osborne 1991: 311–14) as well as the Nicolaitans in John’s day. At the same time, the use of παντὶ τῷ ἀκούοντι (panti tō akouonti, everyone who hears—similar language to 1:3) demonstrates that it is directed to every reader. In John’s day it was especially meant for the seven churches for whom the visions were intended. For our day it must be directed to every person in the church who “hears” this message. It is an awesome responsibility to write a commentary on this book or to preach or teach a Bible study on it. But this warning is meant not just for official church teaching but for every person who reads or hears this message (see Michaels 1997: 259). We are all responsible to make certain we interpret the book in accordance with the message God intended.
Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen,
Jesus most likely is the speaker because the personal pronoun I harmonizes with verse 16, and the verb to testify appears in verse 20 where Jesus is the speaker. In the introductory part and the conclusion Jesus directly addresses the readers and hearers, but for the rest of Revelation he sent his angel. His address to the person who hears the words of the prophecy of this book repeats similar wording in verses 7 and 10. Hearing must be accompanied by understanding (compare 1:3).
The solemn warning not to add to or detract from the words of this book is common in ancient literature. For instance, Moses warns the Israelites not to add to or subtract from the decrees and laws God gave them (Deut. 4:2; 12:32). This formula was attached to documents much the same as modern manuscripts are protected by copyright laws. In addition, curses were added in the form of a conditional sentence, “If anyone adds or takes away anything from this book, a curse will rest upon him.” Paul wrote a similar condemnation when he told the Galatians that if anyone preached a gospel which was not the gospel of Christ, “let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:6–8). Now Jesus pronounces a curse on anyone who distorts his message.
What are these curses? The plagues written in this book include not only temporal penalties but also eternal separation from the living God and exclusion from eternal life and the holy city. They are applied not to anyone making a clerical error in copying the manuscript but to the one deliberately distorting the text. Copyists who unintentionally made errors of the eye or ear are not addressed. If this were the case, I venture to say that no one would have dared to make a copy of the Apocalypse.
Twice in this passage the word prophecy occurs, which signifies that the words recorded in this Apocalypse are being fulfilled in the course of time and point to fulfillment when Jesus returns. What he has promised he will certainly fulfill in the time set by the Father (Matt 24:36; Acts 1:7). Note that the word prophecy appears seven times in Revelation, and four of them are in the last chapter (1:3; 11:6; 19:10; 22:7, 10, 18, 19).
What the apostle John is talking about is exactly what early Christian copyists did with 1 Timothy 3:16 and 1 John 5:7 for example. They literally added words or altered words to strengthen the Trinity doctrine. John said, cursed is anyone doing so. Imagine that there is the exact same grammatical construction in the Gospel of John 15 times with similar contexts. Say all translations follow the Greek grammar rule 14 times. But when they get to the 15th time, they violate that rule to theologically strengthen their doctrinal view or the view of their readers.
Literally, millions of Christians are on very large apologetic groups, textual criticism groups, Bible translation groups, and Bible or biblical study groups on Facebook. They all believe that they are fighting for the truth in God’s Word and that they will follow the truth regardless of where it leads. But they, in one way, are like the liberal progressive socialist politicians who believe in free speech as long as it lines up with what they believe to be true. You see conservative speech to a liberal progressive socialist is not free speech, it is hate speech. In this sense, the same is true of the Christian. If I were to ask on any of these Facebook groups, ‘should anyone alter God’s Word by adding to it or taking away from it in any way?’ They, like the liberal socialist progressives, will resoundingly say, “no!” However, if one of their theologically biased verses falls into that equation, they will now call it heresy, and the translator(s)/publisher heretics like the liberal calls conservative views hate speech.
What is the fight for the truth worth if the person misrepresents (alters by adding to or removing from) God’s Word when the textual reading or the translation does not favor the theological position of a textual scholar or the Bible translator/publisher or an interpreter or a Christian reader. Do we prefer outright lies in the translations? Would Jesus want that?
When Paul said do not be getting drunk with wine, he also meant things like these, such as beer (which existed in his day), whiskey, bourbon, and brandy (which did not exist in his day), and really any use of mind-altering drugs as well (Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc.). So too, when John wrote his words, the adding and taking away can come in the form of text, translation, interpretation, and application. Moreover, a copyist could have added words later and then we have absolute proof this is so, and translations ignore the textual evidence and keep the interpolation because their readers will think they are removing words because older translations had the words. Therefore, for the sake of sales, the publisher of the Bible will retain what they know very well to be an interpolation. Moreover, the readers will ignore any evidence that disagrees with their desired outcome. Let me inform you now, to retain what you darn well know was added, is adding to the Scriptures and to willfully ignore the evidence, the Father is going to take away life, that is eternal life, and Jesus is going to declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:23) Below are three rules that if obeyed, we will have not violated Moses, Solomon, or John’s words, i.e., God’s Words.
TEXTUAL, TRANSLATION, INTERPRETATION, READER, AND APPLICATION RULES
- Be honest in all things
- Follow the truth regardless
- Obey God not man
If textual scholars and translators obey all three of those principles; then, if the text, translation, or interpretation supports our specific doctrinal view, fine, if it does not, fine. A so-called major doctrine does not hang in the balance based on one Bible verse.
 Walvoord, John. Revelation (The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 423–424.
 Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Book of Revelation, vol. 20, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 593–594.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 795–796.