Snyder, George L Snyder, Lenore Snyder, God, ethics, morals, religion

The Elephant Speaks
One Man’s Elephant book II


            For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.              John 3, 16 - King James

            For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.                  John 3, 16 - New Revised Standard

            The King James Version of the Bible has the word begotten in this verse. The primary reference work for the King James Version was the Geneva Bible published in 1560. Much of the King James Bible also came from the Greek - Latin version put together by Erasmus who used some old manuscripts he had acquired. His goal was to correct errors he found in the Latin Vulgate. Modern scholars consider his translation to be as full of errors as the Latin Vulgate.

            I believe that these translations were made by people who really were interested in preserving the Word of God as God spoke it; as God inspired it so there was no wrong intent.

            You know the Pope was not about to lend the earliest manuscripts to the ‘heretics’ who wanted to corrupt the word by translating it into English so they did the best they could with the material they were able to find and use.

            The Latin Vulgate also has the word begotten in it. When translators later decided to translate the Bible for modern readers, there was freer access to older documents. They found that begotten is not there.

            How did this extra word get added into the translations? Saint Jerome was given the task of translating from the source documents for the Latin Vulgate. It was very important at that time to emphasize the deity of Jesus. Jerome probably felt that he had to clarify a statement that seemed vague to him. Perhaps the original language has subtle implications. The Church taught that Jesus was the Son of God, and this would make that special relationship obvious. It was important to the church that Jesus was the only son of God. Jerome was a Biblical scholar and surely knew about the references to the Sons of God in Genesis 6 and in the beginning of Job. If the word begotten was added, that might distinguish Jesus from these others.

            I still believe that each person whether their task was translation or only transcription, had every intent and desire to keep the word of God intact and correct.

            The Nicene Creed was written around the same time that Jerome was translating from Greek to Latin and uses the terms only and begotten when referring to Jesus. The council of Nicaea insisted that Jesus was begotten not made and of the same substance of the Father.

Is substance a valid term for a spiritual entity?

            When in the 20th century, scholars wanted to have accurate translations, they checked the oldest available manuscripts. This word was not there, so they did not put it into their final document. After all, accuracy now has priority over custom. The later translations are all more accurate and more closely follow what is considered the inspired word of God. I believe there is some direction that indicates you should not change the inspired word of God.

            Did translators and transcribers corrupt the word of God? Or, did God inspire them to put that word into the translation? I am sure they thought it was the right thing to do.

            As the source document was only a copy of a copy done by hand by fallible humans, perhaps the real original did have the word begotten in it. In one of the copying processes it may have been inadvertently skipped and left out. This we can never know as the real first original document rotted away centuries ago.

            Was the adding of the word begotten inspired by God for clarification? Was the adding of this word inspired by God to correct a copy error?

            Does it really make a difference in your own personal faith?

            We need to read any Holy document for the message put there by God, and not confuse ourselves with stupid arguments over individual words or even phrases.

Used at WPC Men’s Prayer Breakfast - Jan 7, 2009

            So, why did I concern myself with this one word that is or is not there (depending on the version) in our holy writings? I suppose I noticed this difference and decided to find out for myself. So I did some research.

The original writings of John:

            As far as I can tell, we do not have any of the original documents. They have probably rotted away centuries ago. But, in the oldest copies of this document, The word begotten is not there as far as I can determine.

The Latin Vulgate produced by St. Jerome:

            The word begotten is there.

The King James version of the Bible which used other sources, some traceable back to the Latin Vulgate for much of it’s content:

            The word begotten is there.

Most of the later translations of the Bible:

            The word begotten is not there. Probably because the oldest available documents do not contain it.

What is the value or purpose of the word begotten?

            At the time that the early church was assembling what was to be the Bible and determining what was true and what was not true, it was important that Jesus was the Son of God. This, it was believed, meant that there had to be an actual physical connection between Jesus and God. How to do this? If the text contains the word begotten then that makes it clear to the reader that there is a special relationship present. There probably were a lot of people who had trouble accepting the deity of Jesus without it. If begotten is there, then no one can question this fact! It also differentiates it from the references to the Sons of God in Genesis and in Job.

            If the word begotten was added by the leaders of the church, I cannot believe it was done lightly. It would have only been after extensive consultation and study that this ‘clarification’ would have been inserted. The decision would have gone all the way to the Pope. The final decision would have been that this was not a change in the wording, but a clarification that was required to keep the text true and accurate. Besides, the original language may have had some connotations or meanings that may have suggested this word be inserted into the Latin translation. This is a problem that all translators run into when translating from one language to another. Besides, the reason to put it into Latin was that the Greek was changing in the three hundred years since Christ, and therefore the meanings of the original would be lost just due to the gradual changes that effect all languages. Even if you have a doctorate in Biblical Greek, how sure are you that your interpretation is exactly as it was intended by the original writer?

            I have an example for English speakers. In another chapter I mentioned Chaucer and Shakespeare. They may have found it easier to communicate in Latin rather than English in spite of the fact that the native tongue of both was English. They were only seventy years apart. For these Biblical passages, we are talking about a time that was a couple hundred years after the original John put his words on paper. How much had the language changed in that time? A modern Greek would be unable to communicate with the people of that time. Are our modern translators even able to be sure the words they choose are accurate? Perhaps the original was written in some dialect that was only spoken in one location. There is much information that has been lost since this gospel was written. We are not sure who the John is that wrote it anyway.

            If it sounds like I am going back and forth about this one word, then you have it correctly analyzed. Look into your own belief. If it is important to you, then that is the way you should read the text. Do not change your faith because of one word, one inconsistency, one unimportant difference in the translations. Read any holy document in the way that makes your faith stronger and clearer. If anything, look at the entire thing as a message from God. A message that is to help you, not to confuse you.

The King James version of the Bible

was good enough for Jesus

So, it’s good enough for me!

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