Translations translated: the Mark 7:19 test

Recently, I’ve run into a spate of posts on Facebook by a familiar crowd: those folks who believe that the King James Version of the Bible is not only divinely inspired, but the ONLY divinely-inspired translation of the Bible. This is a particularly Christian obsession and not a strong concern generally within the Messianic Judaism community, where we know that for serious study, one must seek out the original languages of the Torah, the Tenakh as a whole, and especially the HaB’rit HaChadesha.

Other than their general tone-deafness to all other translations, the KJB-Only crowd are particularly damaging due to the fear tactics they employ, calling any other translations “Satanically-inspired.” Which is just beyond silly.

Yet it got me thinking about how to demonstrate the viewpoint I generally hold to, which is to not worship or hold as holy any translation, but only to regard the God who inspired His word through human scribes into existence as holy. As Rav Sha’ul might say, worship the Creator and not the created thing.

So let’s take a look at why I regard nearly all English translations as reliable enough for personal devotional and enjoyment reading, but none of them as sufficient for serious study. Especially considering how seriously some modern Western believers take their personal choice of Bible translation, I feel it’s worthy of some comment.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve had personal exposure to many translations, including the KJV, NKJV, NIV, CEV, RSV, NRSV, TLB, NLT, and the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB, often cited as “the Stern translation” after its author). Yet the ones I’ve spent the most time with remain, in chronological order, the RSV, the NIV, and the CJB.

I still use the CJB for personal devotional reading. Yet when it comes to dedicated study, I don’t find any English translation to be more than a starting point. Especially more modern translations, and due to the level of textual critique of which I’ve become aware.

For B’rit HaChadesha (New Covenant) critique, one of my text tests is what I refer to as the Mark 7:19 test.

In the NIV and most translations from the mid-20th-century forward, there is a parenthetical statement that’s been added for almost 100 years now, but is a modern addition not originally in the text. It reads this way in the NIV:

(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Even my personal devotional favorite, the CJB, contains its own version of this modern addition:

(Thus he declared all foods ritually clean.)

Stern chose to tackle the issue of the parenthetical statement in his New Testament Commentary, rather than by attempting to buck the by-then prevalent rendering head on by not including it.

Yet this phrase is purely a modern addition, and a relatively recent one then you consider the latest B’rit HaChadesha writings are nearly 1,900 or more years old. The parenthetical is meant solely to further distance Christianity from Judaism and declare victory over the Jews on the kosher/clean/unclean debate.

The original Greek manuscripts, however, contain no such verbiage.

The main body of the verse is reflected more accurately in older texts, including KJV:

“Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?”

Phillips’ translation captures a truer intent of the text, and I quote from that translation a lengthier passage to contextualize the entire topic. Mark 7:18-23:

“Oh, are you as dull as they are?” he said. “Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean? You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough. But,” he went on, “whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common’ or unclean. For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise—lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance and folly! All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!”

The Phillips, as you can read, doesn’t insert the newly-invented parenthetical phrase as a whole. It renders part of it more benignly, and in a way that fits the context of the passage.

You see, in Mark 7, the context is a debate between Yeshua and the Pharisees about ritual hand-washing, a tradition that is not a written Torah command. Yeshua was engaging in a common theme of His. Namely, that the written command is more important than Oral Torah. The Oral Torah are a collection of human traditions surrounding written Torah commands, which are not always bad in and of themselves, but which should not be more highly regarded than the written Torah commands, according to Yeshua.

So, the parenthetical is revealed as a modern invention because it bears no contextual relevance to the original topic actually being debated in Mark 7: Does eating food with unwashed hands make you ritually impure? Ritual purity was, at the time, an important requirement for entering into the Jerusalem Temple for high holy days and other festival celebrations, so it was a major part of first-century Judaic life.

Instead, the modern parenthetical incorrectly jumps at the opportunity to twist the debate to an entirely different subject: Do the kosher laws from Deuteronomy (written Torah commands) still apply? Which is an entirely different topic and not what was being discussed at all in Mark 7.

Yet modern Western minds have adopted the anti-Semetic mindset of Constantine and latched onto this addition to the text in order to justify Easter ham dinners and other anti-kosher traditions of modern western faith expressions, found primarily in Christianity.

Many pastors have even formed entire sermons around “Mark’s intent” in “clarifying Jesus’s meaning” in “overturning kosher laws.” And it’s all based on this modern parenthetical, an addition to the text that’s not there in any of the Greek manuscripts. All of those well-intended sermons are fighting a battle that shouldn’t exist, because Mark never wrote it.

Now, in honesty, some modern translations still get it right. For example, the 2000-2001 translation known as the Jubilee Bible offers their Mark 7:19 rendering this way:

Because it enters not into his heart, but into the belly, and the man goes out to the privy and purges all foods.

The 1995-2014 International Standard Version agrees with the Jubilee Bible in its rendering:

Because it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then into the sewer,[a] thereby expelling[b] all foods.”

So in this rendering, the correct intent of “thus purging all foods” is reflected: Yeshua was making a reference to a bowel movement ridding the body of consumed food … a far cry from declaring non-kosher foods kosher.

But, see, the parenthetical fits the modern Western anti-Semetic dialog: Christians are right, Jews are wrong, and the (twisted) text proves it. So people embrace the false teaching.

Some modern translations, especially paraphrases, go even further in their hostility. Take, for example, the 2011 Expanded Bible. Giving the appearance of scholarship, they render the parenthetical as part of the text in this way:

19 [Because] It does not go into the ·mind [heart], but into the stomach. Then it goes ·out of the body [L into the sewer/latrine].” ·(When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.) [or, (In this way, Jesus cleansed all food.)]

They double-down on the error by making it appear the fictional parenthetical has been rendered multiple ways, which continues the lie that it exists in the Greek at all. (It doesn’t.)

The worst version is probably the much-revered Amplified Bible (1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987), which goes like this:

19 Since it does not reach and enter his heart but [only his] digestive tract, and so passes on [into the place designed to receive waste]? Thus He was making and declaring all foods [ceremonially] clean [that is, abolishing the ceremonial distinctions of the Levitical Law].

The sheer amount of translator hubris here clearly reaches the point of adding interpretation slant to the pure translation, which taints it with modern bias.

Again, the original debate is about whether skipping the Oral Torah tradition of hand-washing before meals becomes a source of ritual impurity if one then consumes their otherwise kosher meal with unwashed hands. NOT whether “pork is good to eat, and good for you.” That was not even a tenable starting point, or in debate among first-century Jews. They simply did not consider pork or other non-kosher meats to even be food.

It would be akin, in the American mind, to suggesting that dog and horse meat are yummy. Most Americans don’t consider dog or horse to be edible meat; in the same way, Jews of the first century didn’t consider pork edible, so it’s not even a topic they would broach. And Yeshua and his talmidim were ALL first-century Jews.

Even so, the parenthetical fits the modern Western, Constantinian-influenced dialogue that Yeshua came to render Torah invalid, rather than to fulfill it. Yet Yeshua is the Living Torah … he’d be doing away with the very words He, as the Memra of Adonai, spoke into existence, under that way of thinking. It makes no sense.

How prevalent is the embrace of this false translation, this modern insertion? Well, as a quick-n-dirty measure of it, let’s look at Bible Gateway dot org.

There are 50 English translations currently included in Bible Gateway’s web resource as I write this.

Of those 50 English translations, 40 of them contain the parenthetical addition to the Mark 7:19 text.

Some of those place it in parentheses, indicating it as an addition or “contested phrase.” Many go even further into deception by not setting it off, and represent it as part of the text in its entirety.

For the purposes of this study, I did not include any translation that only contained the phrase “thus purging all food,” or permutations of that wording, even if they rendered it as “cleansing.”

I did include any version that had the interpretational wording of explaining what Jesus meant, whether rendered parenthetically or as part of the main text.

By this standard, in my count, I came to the total of 40 out of 50 English translations failing the Mark 7:19 test. Is it any wonder then that, for deeper study purposes, I prefer to dig into the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to the best extent I can, given that I’m not an expert in those languages?

When 80 percent of the English translations fail at properly translating one verse, that’s a pretty poor batting average and calls into clear question the reliability of that translation for deeper study.

General reliability for devotional reading? Nearly any translation is good enough to get the job done.

Serious study? Gotta go to the original texts, even if it means looking up every single word in a concordance, if that’s what’s necessary.

The Mark 7:19 test isn’t the only way to test the reliability of a Bible translation. There are others. And while KJV passes this test, it does fail others. The point, however, is to remember that one single text can show flaws in 80 percent of English language Bible translations, so it’s important not to get hung up on any particular translation.

Worship the Holy God, read His Word, but do not worship a translation. It’s a created thing.

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