As we saw in the previous post, “What is the Best Bible Translation?”, there is no useful English translation for the Noachide, and there is certainly nothing designed for counter-missionary work. But what would be the best bible translation? Something you can trust theologically, for one. Something that reads well — similar to the KJV, maybe, but with some of the better RSV, JPS/Kaplan or Berean turns of phrase. Maybe, something to use while you’re learning Hebrew? If so, how much Hebrew reliance is desirable? Should we use a lot of Hebrew words in the commentary?
Also, why not just use one of more ‘Jewish’ bibles?
JPS1917 and JPS1987
JPS1917 appears to be a copy of the KJV with important passages edited for theological accuracy; compare Isaiah 7:14 between the two:
|KJV||Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold,||a virgin||shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.|
|JPS1917||Therefore the L-rd Himself shall give you a sign: behold,||the young woman||shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.|
|JPS1987||Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look,||the young woman||is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.|
The problem with JPS1917 becomes the unreliability of the underlying KJV translation. Some parts are slightly out of focus as is the case with Isaiah 7:14 in JPS1917.
What about JPS1987? While the 1987 version is much more accurate, there are still some passages which suffer from over-reliance on the KJV. Here is one example from Genesis 10:
|KJV||He was a mighty hunter||before the Lord:||wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter||before the Lord.|
|JPS1917||He was a mighty hunter||before HaShem;||wherefore it is said: ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter||before HaShem.|
|JPS1987||He was a mighty hunter||by the grace of the LORD;||hence the saying, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter||by the grace of the LORD.|
So what’s the issue here? Clearly JPS1987 has changed the meaning here; and in fact that is the crux of the problem. If you look at the commentary by Rashi it states: “before the lord — intending purposely to provoke Him to His face.” So where did JPS1987 get “by the grace of the LORD;”? It is difficult to say; the phrase does not seem to be from any existing English translation I could find. In any case, the meaning appears discordant with Jewish commentary on the verse. We would also have liked to see a better take on ‘mighty one’ from a Jewish translation; Rashi writes, “mighty one — Mighty in causing the whole world to rebel against the Holy One,” and we see much of the same from modern-day commentators as well:
The word “Nimrod” means “let us rebel,” and so Nimrod’s hunting was a form of rebellion, not by the grace of God, but rather against God (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai 2:2).Rabbi Yonatan Cohen | October 24, 2014
Even the Christians say the same thing (ex. https://christiananswers.net/dictionary/nimrod.html) — and a reasonable search of the internet shows no known source for JPS1987’s translation error. Leaving it as it is, it appears the JPS1987 is a great version of the KJV but in some places continues to suffer from it’s KJV roots.
The Case against Interlinear Hebrew (Strongs Exhaustive Hebrew Concordance)
One common problem is that interlinear bibles usually don’t care about the quality of the English translation. For example, biblehub’s text for Isaiah 7:14 mentions ‘virgin’ despite linking directly to Strong’s concordance (which lists virgin as a secondary meaning; and for which there does not appear to be a source).
Also consider the interlinear’s take on Genesis 10:11 as follows:
|interlinear||(from) (land) (that)||(he) (went) (to) (Assyria)||(and built) …|
|KJV||Out of that land||went forth Asshur,||and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah,|
|JPS1917||Out of that land||went forth Asshur,||and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-ir, and Calah,|
|JPS1987||From that land,||>Asshur went forth,||…|
|Kaplan (bible.ort.org)||Asshur left that land||and he built…|
|ASV||Out of that land||he went forth into Assyria,||and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah,|
The NIV, WEB and NET bibles also show the same as the ASV, but the big shocker is that the ASV shows “he went forth into Assyria…” in the first place, which is clearly a mistake. How do we know? Because as Rashi writes, “out of that land went forth Asshur” means “As soon as Asshur saw that his sons listened to Nimrod, rebelling against the Omnipresent by building the Tower, he went forth out of their midst” (Genesis Rabbah 37:4). So one must even be careful of these errors in the ASV (which I enjoy as a translation, although not nearly as much as the RSV).
In any case, leaving things as they are, interlinear bibles are useful for checking word order and some possible vagaries of the underlying Hebrew, but can not be considered 100% reliable sources for English word choice.
Can we use proper Jewish Bibles (Stone, Kaplan, Etc.)?
At first glance it looks like these are your best bet. However, there are subtle problems. First again is that many of them use the KJV as a base text. In Genesis 10:9 Kaplan writes “He was a mighty trapper before God. There is thus a saying, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty trapper before God!'” Of course, this is a problem with all English translations, which source from the KJV translation family.
Also consider the story of Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4:15 “God said to him, ‘Indeed! Whoever kills Cain will be punished seven times as much.’ …” this is somewhat troubling because it again conflicts with what Rashi writes, “Sevenfold (means) God says, I do not wish to take vengeance on Cain now, but at the end of seven generations I will execute my vengeance upon him, that Lamech, one of his descendants, will arise and slay him. The end of this verse which states, “vengeance shall be taken in the seventh generation”. Although it is true that some other commentaries disagree, Lamech’s plea to his wives seems to show that the generational interpretation is more accurate. In any case, most bibles do not explain this point and so it would be useful to have it pointed out for the Noachide.
It would also be useful to provide commentary specifically for a Noachide audience. In Genesis 4:26 we read “… It was then initiated to pray with God’s name.” This is an ambiguous translation considering the large amount of commentary on the verse. Rashi and others clarify that men began to engage in idol worship and/or profane God’s name at this time, by calling people and idols by the name of the Lord. This is of course not the only possible translation; others state that it simply means men began to pray at this time. However it is important for the Noachide to have some discussion of what represents idolatry in pre-Sinai terms. This might be considered less important for a Jewish reader given the post-Sinai teachings on the matter; but those teachings would have less relevance for a Noachide audience.
Thus the ‘problem’ with Jewish translations is that they are written for a Jewish audience. This isn’t really a problem per-se, so long as the Noachide is aware of the issues surrounding ‘Ger’, ‘Ger Toshav’, ‘Convert’, etc. [to put it one way], but these are complex issues and it would be useful to have them pointed out for a Noachide audience. It is also important to point out that many commandments and lessons are only valid for a Jewish audience. For example, may a Noachide keep the sabbath like a Jew? Or even, at all? A Noachide may find himself in hot water if he keeps laws as if he was Jewish, or keeps laws intended only for Kohen (priests), etc! What is even more confusing is that while some laws may have a basis in pre-Sinai Torah (such as tallit or tzitzit) the rememberance and practice of these laws are only given to the nation of Israel.
So, these translations which reflect Jewish needs may at times be confusing to a Noachide audience. For example, in none of these commentaries do we find an index of where the Noachide laws are in Genesis. This would be of vital importance in a Noachide-themed bible, but might be considered superfluous in a Jewish bible. Nowhere is it discussed what the non-Jew must do to behave like Abraham; except possibly in commentary, which again may or may not apply solely to a Jewish audience. It can be doubly confusing when one realizes that just because one is a son of Noah, one is not necessarily a son of Abraham, let alone Israel! One must not assume that one is a descendant of Abraham or a member of the house of Israel, and pointing out the relevant verses is going to be of immense value to a Noachide audience.
So while a Jewish bible is your best bet, you must keep aware of certain issues revolving around the different covenants made with different groups of people, and which ones apply to you and which ones do not. These can vary from minor snags to major issues.
I think the best bible translation for the Noachide would be a bible intended for a Noachide audience. I’m going to consider this issue deeply and write more about it in the next post.