Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or Sabbath days, things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)
Mere – When you read the word “mere” in this verse, does it communicate the idea that those things which Paul has just described as of lesser importance? We see that Paul lists those activities that would be part of Torah observance, but when the translators introduce the word “mere” into this verse, they change the emphasis, don’t they? Since there is no Greek equivalent for the word “mere”, the translators put the word in brackets. They better! What they have done is alter the text so that it reads according to their theological bias. It makes the text appear to discount Torah observance. Try reading the verse without the word “mere” and you will get a different message. The NASB is committed to a two covenant theology, and the translation puts it into this verse without giving the reader any explanation or justification.
The NIV is worse. The translators of the NIV actually change the tense of the Greek so that this verse reads, “These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” This is blatant theological propaganda disguised as accurate translation. You will also notice that the rest of the verse has been changed the further diminish the connection to Torah by adding the word “however.” Now you know why I often refer to the NIV as the “Nearly Inspired Version.” The translators alter, add or subtract from the Greek and Hebrew in order to communicate their particular theological position. Of course, they don’t tell the reader anything about these decisions, so the poor reader doesn’t know that they are being spoon-fed theological propaganda, not an accurate translation.
The NIV and NASB aren’t alone in this anti-Semitic view. The New Living Translation changes the tense and the secondary phrase. The RSV adds the word “only” instead of “mere” – with the same effect. Only the KJV, NKJV, ESV and the NRSV actually translate the verse as it is written in the Greek text. Unless you know something about the bias of the translating committees, you will always be subject to their interpretations hidden in the choice of words. There is no English translation that accurately conveys the full meaning of the Greek or Hebrew. As you can see, this is not simply the result of the difficulty of capturing the nuances and depth of meaning in one language and converting it to another. There are deliberate alterations in play here as well.
So, what are we to do? If you find this discouraging, don’t despair. Yes, you will have to be a lot more careful about what you claim to be God’s Word if you are reading a translation, but now you know some of the red flags. At least the NASB puts the words in brackets. The NIV doesn’t even bother to show you that they have changed the text. Now you know that you will need several different English Bibles to get closer to the original. And, of course, you could start exploring an interlinear whenever you think that the English text doesn’t quite sound right. In addition, there are a number of internet links that can help. Just start looking for explanations that give full weight to the fact that all these writers were Jewish.
There’s a movement afoot to recapture the cultural heritage we lost when Christianity left its true Jewish roots behind. It’s a grassroots effort to understand God’s point of view from the perspective of the people He chose for His self-revelation. As we approach the end of this year, it might be worth while to make a commitment to take a much longer look at Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. I am quite sure you will discover that you have been grafted into a way of living that is far richer than you could have imagined. May you be blessed in your diligence to uncover what God really said.
Topical Index: Translation