When I was working with my friends David Fredrickson and Bob Humphrey on our video series Church Outside the Walls, one of the things that was a bit rattling was realizing that when scholars approach scriptural texts, the way they interpret them is at times influenced by the people and/or organizations that are paying them for their work. This isn’t to say the scholars have evil motives or are purposely twisting texts. But what it does mean is when they come to a word or phrase that’s meaning is either unclear or can lean one of two or more directions the interpreters will choose the interpretation that is most satisfying to those who are paying for the work to be done.
Dr. Stephen Crosby illustrates how challenging translating texts can be in his book, How New is the New Covenant by relating it to our use of “hot dog.” He points out that when one says “hot dog” he could be referring to something we eat, an overheating animal, a person performing dangerous stunts, or he could simply be making an excited exclamation, “Hot Dog!” The interpretation depends entirely on the context and one’s understanding of our culture. This is why you can have one scripture but depending upon the translation, two different interpretations.
Let me give you an example of this. One scripture where this can be seen is Hebrews 10:25. In the King James Version it reads, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Notice the phrase “the assembling of ourselves together.” The NKJV and the NASB also use similar phrasing. Looking at the verse at face value in these translations, what does the writer seem to be saying? I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “assembling of ourselves together” I immediately think of an assembly. You know, those large meetings we had to attend in high school held in the cafeteria or gym? So the writer seems to be saying we need to attend large scheduled meetings in which most of us are spectators.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible also upholds this point of view, “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” So there you have it! Make sure you don’t skip out on attending worship meetings. Got it!
That sounds correct until we turn to the 1599 Geneva Bible which says, “Not forsaking the fellowship that we have among ourselves, as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another, and that so much the more, because ye see that the day draweth near.” Wait a minute! Hold the phone! What is this business of, “the fellowship we have among ourselves”? That doesn’t sound like an assembly type meeting at all but rather relational connections. The NIV says, “not giving up meeting together…” That one can go either way. It can be an assembly type gathering but it can also be simply getting together with others. The New Living Translation has similar wording. While The Voice says, “not forgetting to gather as a community…” That sounds similar to the Geneva Bible.
What’s up with the mixed messages? Why do some seem to be saying “attend assemblies” while others seem to be saying, “stay relationally connected with other people?” Well, it hinges on what the translators want the Bible to be saying. Take the KJV, for example. Can you think of any reason why on Earth the translators commissioned by a Protestant king who wanted to maintain law and order in his country would prefer the phrase, “assembling of ourselves together” over “the fellowship that we have among ourselves”? Can you think of any reason why churches with leaders whose salaries depend upon the faithful contributions of members would feel the same?
So next time you pick up your Bible and are tempted to say, “The Bible clearly says!” Stop and realize that is not the case. You are reading an ancient collection of writings that has been painstakingly translated into your language by passing through the filters and “biases” of the translators and publishers.