Sean McDowell and Mark Ward: 7 Bad Bible Translations


Today I listened to Mark Ward talk on “7 Bad Bible Translations” in Sean McDowell’s channel. I posted some thoughts on X and copied/reworded some of those thoughts in this post.

Mark Ward’s 7 “Bad” Bible Translations

First off, are “bad” translations an issue in the Church? Ward doesn’t seem to think so. However, he has a passion for disseminating knowledge on how translations like the KJV can be misused, particularly since he grew up in the KJV-only sphere. Thus, he has dedicated some time discussing “bad” translations.

So, what are bad translations? Ward classifies them into “sectarian” bibles and “crackpot” bibles. There is a third category that I think he implicitly uses and that is that of “misused” translations, those that, while there is nothing sectarian or “crackpot” about them, can still be used to forward unorthodox theology. So, the 7 “bad” bible translations, according to Dr. Mark Ward, are:

New World Translation

Ward says that this translation inserts its own sectarian beliefs (for example, the belief that Jesus is not God, but rather a created deity in John 1:1).

“Certain translations for Muslim nations”

Ward talks about translations that try to downplay Jesus’ deity in order to be more palatable for a Muslim reader. He doesn’t name specific translations, though.

The Passion Translation

This is the first translation that Ward calls a “crackpot” translation, for the following reasons: (1) The purpose of the translation is to “reveal God’s passion”, (2) the translation philosophy and source texts are unclear, the translator claims to use the “original Aramaic” texts, which could mean the Syriac Peshitta (or maybe the English translation of the Peshitta), and (3) the belief that when Hebrew homonyms appear in the text, that every meaning of the word is applied to it. Ward goes on and seems to have a lot of reasons to include this translation in his list.

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

This is a surprising inclusion. Ward would classify the NRSVue as a “sectarian” translation. A specific example he gives is the translation of ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites), where he believes that the NRSVue gives a very general translation (“men who engage in illicit sex”) to adapt to Mainline Protestant views on homosexuality.

Tree of Life Version

Ward notes that this translation overemphasizes Jewish traditions, for example, inserting “Adonai” where the original manuscripts have “YHWH” (in keeping with the Jewish tradition that the divine name should not be spoken out loud). He also says that there are too many Hebrew transliterations, pushing the belief that the Hebrew language is somehow more sacred than others. Case in point is when New Testament words (which were written in Greek) get a Hebrew transliteration.

The Message

Ward caveats that this paraphrase is not bad and the translator was well qualified to write it. He says the problem is when Christians take this paraphrase and treat is as a study or preaching Bible. It is NOT a translation, rather a “fresh paraphrase” and the issue is that a “fresh paraphrase” is meant to reflect the culture of the day. Even now, just a few decades after its publication, we can find some of the language outdated, defeating its purpose. This is one of the versions that is neither “sectarian” nor “crackpot”, but rather “misused”.

King James Version

Another surprising inclusion. Ward states that the KJV was an excellent translation in the common language of the day. But that today, no one speaks Elizabethan English natively. The evolution of the English language makes this translation a difficult one to use for the average person because of the many archaic words and “false friends”. Ward gives some examples of these false friends, and how in is own experience, he grew up interpreting some verses in a way, only to realize later that he was misunderstanding them. Ward says that if the KJV translators were alive today, they would ask us to revise and update the language of the KJV so it can be more understandable.

My thoughts on the video

I appreciate his neutral and charitable tone. I think that the label “Bad Translations” is not a good one to use, but Ward makes it clear when his criticism is aimed at translation philosophy, theology, bias, etc., without leveling criticism at the translators themselves, which other Christian scholars usually fail at. I was surprised at seeing the NRSVue and the KJV in the list of “bad” translations, but understand why in the context of how these translations can be misused today. Overall, I agree with Ward’s thoughts on most of the translations on the list. But I did find it funny that he claims that the TLV’s usage of “Adonai” in place of the Divine Name is bringing “Jewish superstition” into the translation, when almost every widely used English translation used today follows that same trend, using small caps LORD to replace the Divine Name, continuing the superstition. I know there are good arguments for omitting YHWH from English translations, but I find it odd that Ward considers it “superstition” in this particular translation and not in all others. But I do agree with all his other comments on the TLV. Another complaint I’d have is the use of the term “Bad Translation” and “Crackpot Translation”. I think there can be better ways to label these translations. Regardless, this was a leveled and fair assessment of 7 Bible translations, and it left me wanting to read some of Dr. Ward’s works.

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