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Humane Religion Magazine

November - December 1997 Issue

Beware of Translators

Although variations in phraseology, or the choice of one word over another on the part of a translator, does not always affect the meaning of a biblical text, there are far too many instances when these choices do make a difference. An enormous difference.

This is true of the ninth chapter of Genesis which begins with the description of a human race that had become the scourge of all creation. "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all that moveth upon the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. (Gen. 9:2)

Rather than translating the last phrase as "into your hand they are delivered," an accurate rendering of the meaning of this text would be "they will fall victim at your hand." This verse of scripture is describing a human race which had become so degenerate that it would prey on every other species. Yet by their translation, biblical scholars have implied that the God who restricted man's diet to earth's produce had changed his mind; had decided it was all right for men to kill and consume other beings.

In the next verse of scripture, Genesis 9:3, scholars continued this effort to turn what is the indictment of a debased humanity, into something which could be construed as God's blessing on man's carnivorism. The King James translation reads: "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things." But the word "things" does not even appear in the Hebrew manuscript at this point. It was added to the translation so it would fit in with what scholars were trying to prove: that God told man to eat the flesh of other creatures. Even the phrase "I have given" is misleading. It should read "even as the green herb [which] I have made." This is the way the same phrase is translated elsewhere in the Bible, but this did not fit in with the message that the translators wanted to convey—so they changed it.

They also changed the word-order of the text. It should read: "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you, even as all the green plants I have made." The correct translation makes it clear that this was a statement of fact, not a command. Man had restricted his eating to earth’s the green plants God had provided, but now he had regressed to the point that he would also eat the flesh of other creatures.

Although the King James translation of Genesis 9:3 is misleading, modern translations have taken even greater license with the text. Since the 19th century, and the formation of vegetarian groups in the western world, the right of human beings to consume the flesh of other creatures has been increasingly questioned. So modern translators of the Bible have tried to counter this questioning with an even further corruption of the text.

The New International Version of the Bible (NIV) has become the standard text for many ministers and laypersons and it not only changed the wording and the word-order of the scripture in order to make its point, it also made two sentences out of the one which appears in the Hebrew text.

There is little hope of abolishing the manifold cruelties to animals which disgrace our society until men give up the habit of eating flesh. While they think it is necessary—a matter of life or death to themselves—to prey on animals, the very suggestion that animals have rights and feelings similar to their own sets up a defensive reaction which effectively pushes those rights out of sight and masks any cruelty that may be involved.

Rev. Basil Wrighton, Roman Catholic priest and author.

 The NIV translation of Gen 9:3 reads: "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything." There is no room for doubt in this translation. The somewhat nebulous wording of the King James translation provoked some questioning among Bible readers but in the NIV, the verse has become such a definitive pronouncement that not even the scholarly reader would find a reason to question its veracity.

Because biblical scholars, like most people, still refuse to admit that it was man, not God, who made the decision to consume other species, they have obscured the meaning of the scriptures. And whether this was done un-consciously, or deliberately, the result is the same. They have provided an excuse for themselves, and for others, to continue feeding on the flesh of the animals whom God created to be man's companions. (Gen. 2:18,19) #

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