Today I chose a random selection of Scripture by opening my Westminster Reference Bible (KJV) and without looking, pointed at a verse and then chose the nine verses after that. My finger landed on Acts 7:1, so let’s compare Acts 7:1-10 in the KJV with the same passage as it occurs in the ESV
Acts 7:1-10 (KJV)
Then said the high priest, Are these things so? 2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, 3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. 4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. 5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. 6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. 7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. 9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, 10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
Acts 7:1-10 (ESV)
And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. 6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
First, I think it is important to note the striking similarity between the two texts. They are so identical or similar in so many places that it is hard to wonder why the ESV is even necessary. Before the mud starts flying just consider for a moment that the KJV has been on the ecclesiastical scene for over 400 years while the ESV was published in the early 2000’s. If our passage above is indicative of the overall progress of the modern version movement it appears that said movement has add nothing or nearly nothing to the “sufficient reliability” of the Bible.
Second, there are some peculiar differences but I’m not going to make the claim that they affect major doctrine right now. I’m going to make a more modest claim that the differences between these two texts do and will precipitate changes in how we interpret the text in light of the rest of the Bible going forward. But before we look at those hermeneutical issues consider a peculiarity in verse 2.
Both the UBS 4th Rev and the TR have “Andres adelphoi kai pateres” (Men, brethren, and fathers). As you can see in verse 2, the KJV translates it as such, but the ESV wholly omits “Men” from the translation. While for many it is hard to understand why the omission of “Men” would affect the doctrine of Salvation, there is an equally potent question to ask, Did God given Andres by inspiration? If He did, and it appears both the CT and the TR attest to that fact, then the omission of such a seemingly small or insignificant word is not merely the omission of a human word but an omission of God’s divinely ordained authoritative word. And why? Why was the word omitted? Was it because of a mistake in translation, an accident or was it intentional? If the latter than an unique divinely ordained word given by the Creator of the universe as an act of revelation to fallen creatures was intentionally omitted at the behest and will of some finite man or group of men. How is that not doctrinally significant and of the highest order?
Regarding the hermeneutical elements, consider the following pairings from the texts above where the first is the KJV and the second is the ESV: country vs. land, not so much as to set his foot on vs. not even a foot’s length, seed vs. offspring, in a strange land vs. in a land belonging to others, serve vs. worship, begat vs. became a father, moved with envy vs. jealous, and in the sight of vs. before.
There is much to observe here but for now let’s focus on three of the above: seed vs. offspring, moved with envy vs. jealous, and in the sight of vs. before. Concerning the first, it is easy to see why folks would think seed and offspring mean the same thing, but the connotations of these two words differ greatly. While trees reproduce after their own kind we don’t often refer to seedlings as the offspring of the tree. The word is most often reserved for the progeny of animals and men.
Seed on the other hand is used as a metaphor and metaphors are often flattened in the new translations and often to something merely technical and even mechanical. It can be seen in our third example above (i.e., in the sight of vs. before) and also in the pairing “not so much as to set his foot on” vs. “not even a foot’s length” where the metaphor was reduced to a literal measurement. What is more, seed is hermeneutically proximate to man as a creature of dust, made from the dirt of the earth. In this way, in a metaphorical way, man’s existence, reproduction, and progeny bears significant similarity to that of the earth’s existence, reproduction, and progeny. All are of the dust and all shall return to dust again, says the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.
So where offspring is generally related to the progeny of animals and man, seed interrelates and interpenetrates notions of man’s origins as being made of the dust, and his role as Kingdom steward of the earth as well as harkening back to Adam the first man from the dust from whose seed all men of earth have come. Which is the right word, seed or offspring, is not my point. My point is that there is significant hermeneutical difference between the two words thus the immediate interpretation of the text and the interpretation of the canon as a whole has shifted depending on your translation, and this shift is meaningful especially if measured across a thousand years.
Our second pairing is “moved with envy” vs. “jealous”. This one is far more potent than the first in that no where in Scripture is God said to be envious, indeed it is a work of the flesh in that love does not envy according to I Corinthians 13:4. Jealousy on the other hand is something God manifests regularly: Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:25; 5:9; 6:15 among others. Furthermore, Paul is said to manifest a godly jealousy in 2 Cor. 11:2. My point is that envy is always wrong while true jealously, that expressed by God and Paul, is not. In this sense envy and jealousy are not synonymous either morally or in meaning.
Again, I’m not making the argument here as to which is the correct translation, but it is worth noting that the latter rendering would have immediate or at least oblique bearing on the doctrine of God which again is a significant hermeneutical difference between the two words (i.e., envy and jealousy) thus the immediate interpretation of the text and the interpretation of the canon as a whole has shifted depending on your translation, and this shift is meaningful especially if measured across a thousand years.
Our final pairing (i.e., in the sight of vs. before) is also a flattening of a metaphor on the part of the ESV as if more technical language is somehow automatically more precise. Here the KJV rendering (in the sight of) is proximate to all the passages of Scripture which employ the metaphor of God shining His countenance upon the faithful, or not turning His face away from the faithful, or God not looking upon sin, and even Christ’s plea on the cross, My God My God why have you forsaken me. Being in the sight of someone is being before their face. You have their countenance, it is said. “Before” is merely a preposition denoting more prior or in front of, but one may be in front of a king while the king turns his back on that one. In this case, being “before” the king while his back is turned on you is not a position of delight but a position of shame.
In conclusion, after choosing a random passage of Scripture we have a blatant omission of the inspired word, “Andres“, followed by a series of pairings between the two versions which gives rise to interesting hermeneutical differences, flattening, and interpretive shifts if left to float in the ecclesiastical ether. We could do this same exercise a thousand times and the results would be the same or nearly the same. Thus to claim that two different versions mean the same thing is simply false both in the immediate context and the interpreted meaning of the canon as a whole. Indeed in these few words we have the omission of an inspired word, a difference is moral meaning, and a loss of substance and precision because of the flattening of metaphors.