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Defending the Deity of Jesus Christ with Modern Bible Translations


    By Ben Rast

    Contender Ministries

    August 13, 2004


Central to the Christian faith is the belief in the deity of Jesus Christ.  This is inescapable, and few things pose such an affront to Christianity as those who attempt to deny our Savior’s deity.  He is one of the three persons of the triune God, and Christians are compelled to counter any belief that He was simply a good man – a prophet.  Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, but they reject His divinity.  Baha’is believe Jesus was one of many manifestations of God, just as Isaiah, Buddha, Muhammad, and others.  Mormonism teaches that Jesus was a God, but separate from Father God and the Holy Spirit (non-Trinitarian).  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was a god, and a lesser god than Jehovah. 

 

Attacks on the deity of Christ are nothing new.  Early in Christian history, a heretic named Arius spoke out against the deity of Jesus.  Arius gained a following, and was effectively debated by a staunch defender of Jesus’ divinity – Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria.  So important was defending Jesus’ deity, that the Council of Nicea pounded the point home in the Nicene Creed in A.D. 325:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made...

You’ll seldom find me arguing more passionately than when I am arguing in defense of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus.  Typically, I do so with the aid of my NIV Bible.  It seems ironic that those who believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true Bible in the English language will argue that the NIV and NASB try to hide the deity of Christ.  It’s hard to read a King James Only (KJO) book or website without finding such a contention.  For example, the King James Bible Handbook says, “The KJV exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. The true scriptures should testify of Jesus Christ (John 5:39). There is no book on this planet which exalts Christ higher than the King James Bible. In numerous places the new perversions attack the Deity of Christ, the Blood Atonement, the Resurrection, salvation by grace through faith, and the Second Coming. The true scriptures will TESTIFY of Jesus Christ, not ATTACK Him!1 It is not my purpose in this article to malign the KJV or even the KJO activists.  Rather, I will demonstrate that this argument is baseless.  In fact, I will demonstrate that the NIV and NASB actually provide a clearer picture of the deity of Jesus than the KJV. 

 

The Modern Translation “Conspiracy”:

 

KJO proponents always accuse the modern translations of “deleting” words, phrases, and whole verses from God’s Word.  They frequently use tables comparing the wording of the KJV (also known as AV1611) and modern translations such as the NIV and NASB.  This can be an effective tool in their effort to show a conspiracy on the part of modern translations.  The following table is similar to some you might find in KJO works to show that modern translations attack the deity of Jesus:
 

Passage

AV1611

Modern Translations

Matthew 4:18

Jesus

OMIT

Matthew 12:25

Jesus

OMIT

Mark 2:15

Jesus

OMIT

Mark 10:52

Jesus

OMIT

Luke 24:36

Jesus

OMIT

Acts 15:11

Christ

OMIT

Acts 16:31

Christ

OMIT

Acts 19:4

Christ

OMIT

Acts 19:10

Lord Jesus

OMIT

1 Corinthians 5:4

Christ

OMIT

1 Corinthians 9:1

Christ

OMIT

1 Corinthians 16:22

Jesus Christ

OMIT

2 Corinthians 4:10

Lord

OMIT

2 Corinthians 5:18

Jesus

OMIT

2 Corinthians 11:31

Christ

OMIT

1 Thessalonians 3:11

Christ

OMIT

2 Thessalonians 1:8

Christ

OMIT

2 Thessalonians 1:12

Christ

OMIT

Hebrews 3:1

Christ

OMIT

1 John 1:7

Christ

OMIT

2 John 1:3

The Lord

 OMIT

Revelation 1:9

Christ

OMIT

Revelation 12:17

Christ

OMIT

 

Looking at a comparison like this can be troubling, and it’s easy to believe that modern translations are subtly erasing Jesus Christ from the Bible.  However, comparisons such as the one above are dishonest.  First, by using the word “omit”, they are suggesting that the KJV is the standard, and any deviation from it is a deviation from the only true Word of God.  As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the modern translations follow older and better manuscripts than those available to the KJV translators, so the variants in modern translations are based on variants between ancient texts, not from taking “White-Out” to the KJV.  There are places were even the KJV translation differs from the majority texts upon which it is based.  Yet the KJO proponents maintain the KJV as the standard by which other translations (including the Greek) must be measured.  Second, the table above only presents part of the picture.  Let’s recreate this table, but this time put the variant readings of the NIV/NASB: 

 

Passage

AV1611

Modern Translations

Matthew 4:18

Jesus

He*

Matthew 12:25

Jesus

He

Mark 2:15

Jesus

He

Mark 10:52

Jesus

He

Luke 24:36

Jesus

He

Acts 15:11

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

Acts 16:31

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

Acts 19:4

Christ Jesus

Jesus

Acts 19:10

the Lord Jesus

the Lord

1 Corinthians 5:4

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

1 Corinthians 9:1

Jesus Christ

Jesus

1 Corinthians 16:22

The Lord Jesus Christ

the Lord

2 Corinthians 4:10

Lord Jesus

Jesus

2 Corinthians 5:18

Jesus Christ

Christ

2 Corinthians 11:31

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

1 Thessalonians 3:11

our Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus our Lord

2 Thessalonians 1:8

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

2 Thessalonians 1:12

Lord Jesus Christ

Lord Jesus

Hebrews 3:1

Christ Jesus

Jesus

1 John 1:7

Jesus Christ

Jesus

2 John 1:3

The Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ

Revelation 1:9

Jesus Christ

Jesus

Revelation 12:17

Jesus Christ

Jesus

* Whenever the pronoun “He” is used in this chart, the passage makes it clear that “He” refers to Jesus

 

As you can see, by putting a little more context in this chart, the modern translations haven’t eliminated Jesus from these verses as the original chart implies.  Rather, the modern translations list less expansive names and titles for Jesus.  The ancient texts that form the basis for the modern translations have slightly variant readings in these verses from the later texts upon which the KJV was based.  For some time, textual critics have understood a tendency on the part of scribes to inflate sacred names, especially in the case of Jesus Christ.  James R. White referred to this as “expansion of piety.”2 It would have been highly unlikely for a scribe to take away from Jesus name as written on the source document from which they copied, but it wasn’t uncommon for them to add to it, in a subconscious effort to afford the Lord all the worship and honor that is His due.  This view was put forth by the father of modern textual criticism, an 18th century German scholar named Johann Jakob Griesbach.  Among his canons of textual criticism, Griesbach wrote, “The shorter reading (unless it lacks entirely the authority of the ancient and weighty witnesses) is to be preferred to the more verbose, for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit.  They scarcely ever deliberately omitted anything, but they added many things; certainly they omitted some things by accident, but likewise not a few things have been added to the text by scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgement.”3

 

A clearer translation:

 

As I said earlier, I almost exclusively use my NIV Bible when debating the deity of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t because it’s easier to read, or because it has really nifty maps of the Holy Land.  I use the NIV because it is a better translation than others, and provides a less ambiguous view of the deity of Jesus.  In The King James Only Controversy, James White listed a dozen verses of Scripture that are most central to the deity of Jesus.  He then lists whether the reference to Jesus’ divinity is most clear, clear, least clear, ambiguous, or absent in the KJV, NASB, and the NIV.  The results may surprise you. 

 

Comparison Chart of Passages on the Deity of Christ4

Reference

NIV

NASB

KJV

John 1:1

Clear

Clear

Clear

John 1:18

Clear

Clear

Absent

John 20:28

Clear

Clear

Clear

Acts 20:28

Clear

Clear

Clear

Romans 9:5

Clear

Ambiguous

Ambiguous

Philippians 2:5-6

Most Clear

Clear

Least Clear

Colossians 1:15-17

Clear

Clear

Clear

Colossians 2:9

Clear

Clear

Ambiguous

1 Timothy 3:16

Absent

Absent

Clear

Titus 2:13

Clear

Clear

Ambiguous

Hebrews 1:8

Clear

Clear

Clear

2 Peter 1:1

Clear

Clear

Ambiguous

 

Some of the verses above are of the same clarity in each translation.  Let’s take a moment to examine the passages for which there is some disparity among the translations. 

 

John 1:18

NIV

NASB

KJV

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

 

The first eighteen verses in John are perhaps the most compelling testimony to the deity of Jesus.  Verse one speaks to the eternal deity of Jesus.  Verse three explains that Jesus is the Creator of the universe, and verse fourteen speaks of God taking on flesh in Jesus to live among us.  The New World Translation (the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) corrupts verse one by saying that the “Word was a god.”5 However, the Christian translations are all a wonderful witness to Jesus’ deity.  The primary difference between the KJV and the modern translations is a textual difference.  The oldest and most reliable manuscripts have “God” where the Textus Receptus (the Greek Bible that formed the translational basis for the KJV) has “Son.”  In this, the modern translations provide a much clearer view of the deity of Jesus by explicitly referring to Him as God.  The other difference comes from a KJO misunderstanding of the word “begotten.”  This word is present in the KJV and NASB, but absent in the NIV.  Some KJO writers have leveled charges of heresy toward the NASB for suggesting that God could be begotten.  This betrays a misunderstanding of the meaning of “begotten,” and illustrates the danger of viewing 17th century English through a 20th century lens.  The Greek word monogenes means “single of its kind, only” (according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon) in relation to an only child or to Christ.  The NIV translation provides the meaning of monogenes in this context as “one of a kind, unique.”  KJO proponents view “begotten” only in the context of someone that is created, as in offspring.  This is a narrow view that is not supported here.  John 1 tells us of a God who is unique, and only the unique God in Jesus Christ has seen God the Father.  By following the KJV rendering of “begotten Son,” Jesus is separated from God in the first clause of this verse.  The KJV reading makes it sound like God the Father is God, but Jesus Christ is only a created Son.  With regards to a clear demonstration of Christ’s deity, the NIV and NASB are clear in John 1:18, and the KJV seems to confuse the issue.

 

Titus 2:13

NIV

NASB

KJV

while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

2 Peter 1:1

NIV

NASB

KJV

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:

 

In the verses above, the NIV and NASB agree textually on the phrase, “our great God and Savior.”  With one possessive pronoun (‘our’), the phrase is clear that both “great God” and “Savior” are titles give to Jesus.  This is very clear in its support for the deity of Jesus Christ.  Yet in both verses, the KJV inserts another possessive pronoun “our” before “Saviour.”  With this reading, it can easily be argued that our Savior Jesus Christ is a separate entity than God.  Of course, anyone who knows the KJV will know such an assertion is absurd, yet this is exactly the kind of argument KJO proponents make about the modern translations!  In fact, KJO activist Barry Burton mentions the NASB reading of Titus 2:13 above, overlooking the implications we discussed, and has this to say, “LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!  Here they changed it from the ‘glorious appearing of Christ’ to…  the appearing of ‘the glory’.  What kind of ‘glory’ are we supposed to look for?  If that isn’t CHANGING the Word of God, I don’t know what is!!!6 Mr. Burton puts a period in his NASB quotation where one doesn’t belong, fails to include the rest of the verse, ignores the fact that the NASB provides a better testimony for the deity of Jesus than the KJV, and actually wants people to believe that the modern translations are part of a conspiracy!

 

John 14:14

NIV

NASB

KJV

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

 

In this passage, Jesus is speaking of things yet to come, after his sacrifice and resurrection.  How can we ask things of Him when He is in heaven?  Through prayer, of course.  In the KJV, the verse is not explicit as to whom we should petition.   Common sense and a safe assumption say God, but the wording in the KJV separates Jesus who spoke the words, and God who is the hearer of prayers.  Yet in the NIV, Jesus is clear that we are to ask HIM.  We are to pray to HIM.  Who can hear prayers and grant requests save God himself?  No one, so there is no alternative in interpreting this verse than to understand that Jesus is God.  Yet the KJV remains ambiguous at best.  It follows only a portion of the Majority Text, while the inclusion of “me” is found in a great deal of the manuscripts, including the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel.  The KJV also reads the same as the NWT of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I mention this not to ascribe guilt by association, rather to demonstrate how easy it is to hint at collusion or conspiracy, even when none exists.

 

Colossians 2:9

NIV

NASB

KJV

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

 

While we could go on much longer assessing these verses, let’s conclude with Colossians 2:9, one of the clearest verses regarding the deity of Jesus.  While the NIV and NASB refer to the “Deity” in Jesus, the KJV uses the more archaic and less clear term, “Godhead.”  Imagine witnessing to someone, and having to take the time to explain what is meant by Godhead.  The Greek word in Colossians 2:9 is theotes, which means “deity, the state of being God,” according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon.  This word is very strong, and is found nowhere else in the New Testament.  Yet the KJV also uses Godhead in Romans 1:20 for theiotes, which means, “divine nature” according to Strong’s.  It also uses Godhead in Acts 17:29 for theios, which means, “The Divine Nature”.  The KJV translates theios as “divine” in other verses.  What this means is that the KJV use of the word “Godhead” is not only prone to confusing the issue, but also waters down the power of theotes in Colossians 2:9. 

 

For the sake of brevity, we’ll leave off here with our individual examples.  For demonstration purposes, I’ve shown at times how easy it would be to accuse the KJV of bias, when indeed none exists.  Yet KJO proponents will be shrill in their accusations that the modern translations deny the deity of Jesus.  By now it should be abundantly clear that this is simply not true.  I pray the day will come when my KJO brothers and sisters will give more honor to the living Word of God than they do to a single written translation of His Word. 

 

1.  It’s ironic that KJO proponents will make the absurd claim that modern translations attack the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, when Mormonism (perhaps the most prolific works-based pseudo-Christian cults) only uses one translation of the Bible – the KJV. 

2.  James R. White, The King James Only Controversy (Bethany House Publishers: 1995), p. 43.

3.  Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd Edition (Oxford University Press: 1992), p. 120. 

4.  The King James Only Controversy, p. 197. 

5.  The NWT is a translation in name only.  No one on the translation committee knew Greek or Hebrew, much less possessed the ability to translate from those languages into English.  In actuality, the NWT is a cult corruption of the Bible. 

6.  Barry Burton, Let’s Weigh the Evidence (Chick Publications: 1983), p. 35.