What’s Missing

The above video gave me some pause. I wasn’t certain at first what the point was. The premise is that three missing words make Jesus a sinner. There were two possibilities at this point. Either this was an attempt to point out a contradiction in the Bible or this was a quasi-Ruckmanite attempt to show the KJV is better. After watching the video, it becomes obvious that the latter is the case.

In case you didn’t watch the video, the case this guy makes is that since Matthew 5:22 says “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement” (ESV) then later when Jesus is angry at the cleansing of the temple, he sinned. He said the problem with this is that the modern translations leave out the phrase that the KJV includes when it says “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause…” (KJV emphasis added… obviously). His conclusion is that Jesus did not sin in cleansing the temple because he had reason to be angry, but the “modern” translations leave out that phrase, making Jesus a sinner. Here are some problems I have with his analysis and presentation.

The Green Bible

His first problem is that he makes a subtle mixed Ad Hominem and Straw Man argument by mocking the Green Bible. While I agree that the extremes of the “Green” movement are ridiculous and global warming is a hoax, his choice of using this Bible and portraying it in this way does two things. First, it makes a direct attack on the translators and editors of that Bible on a basis other than the matter at hand. This is an ad hominem. Second, it draws a straw man of implying that somehow all modern translations are as wacky and liberal as this. I don’t think the ESV is anywhere near on the same level as the Green Bible. While his intention may have been simply to choose a Bible he thought was the most recently popular, he might have thought more carefully about the possible implied meaning of his selection and portrayal.

Context and Meaning

The bigger problem I have with this, however, is that he completely ignores context. This is just like, and actually even worse, than the Colossians 1:14 controversy. As a refresher, the KJV says in Colossians 1:14 “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins”, while the ESV and other modern translations simply say “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (ESV). The accusation is that the modern translations have removed a key component from the Gospel: Christ’s blood. This is, of course, a ridiculous argument, because it’s impossible to read these modern translations* and completely miss the part about Christ’s blood – not when you take the Bible as a whole. I wonder if the reason the proponents of the KJV have a problem is because want a proof text they can use in evangelism. It’s as though they think that without something that so clearly encapsulates that truth into a sound bite, they can’t adequately express it.

We find a similar situation in Matthew 5:22. In this case, I think that the meaning drawn out by the plain sense interpretation of this verse out of context, is actually not what Jesus meant. When we go back to Matthew 5:22 and read the entire passage in context in the ESV we get a pretty good understanding of meaning here:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

The first of two observations I make in order to arrive at meaning is that the context here is the Sermon on the Mount. This passage comes in a string of several similar sections where Jesus takes a certain saying that has become popularized and turns it on its head. The common theme with all of these is that the saying refers to some outward action, while Jesus’ interpretation makes is obviously clear that he’s more interested in the heart. This particular passage is in the section about murder. The saying is that you should not murder. Jesus says “don’t even be angry,” so we have an understanding that perhaps the kind of anger Jesus is referring to is the kind of anger which would lead someone to commit murder. In other words, if you’re so filled with the kind of self-loving brother-hating anger that would lead you to murder your brother, don’t think that you’re ok, just because you stayed your hand and didn’t actually carry out the deed. God sees your heart. So I don’t seriously think that this passage just straight up refers to all types of anger. Jesus’ anger in cleansing the temple was a righteous indignation against the abomination that the money changers had committed in the temple. It’s the same kind of wrath God will pour out on unbelieving sinners, and the same wrath God poured out on his own Son on the cross. This kind of wrath is not sin when it’s in the right context.

The second observation is that later on Jesus even further clarifies that he is most concerned with people who carry grudges, or allow conflicts to go on without reconciling. He speaks both to the offended and the offender. God wants us to love each other and to reconcile our sins with each other. We can’t adequately serve and worship God unless we are at peace with each other, and when we come into the house of worship with strife and division in our midst, we might as well not come. So the problem is not being angry in the first place, it’s allowing anger to fester and turn into bitterness, which drives a wedge between brothers. Offenses happen. Feelings get hurt. Wrongs are committed. Anger happens. St. Paul says to the Ephesians: “In your anger, do not sin”. Obviously anger in itself is not a sin, but letting it drive you to sin is, and allowing to to grow into a relationship destroying monster is even worse.

So my conclusion is that a good reading of the ESV passage, even with Jesus’ qualifying phrase omitted, yields an even clearer understanding of what Jesus meant than just the plain-sense, out-of-context, direct interpretation of that one verse the guy in this video wants to make. It’s not a corruption of the Bible, and it doesn’t make Jesus a sinner.

Is the phrase there?

So… I checked the original languages to see if the phrase is there. I don’t care what the KJV says, I care what the original language says. The phrase is there in the Textus Receptus and in Wescott and Hort. So I looked a little closer at my ESV and found a footnote on this verse.

some manuscripts insert “without a cause”

What does this mean? Well this is a much larger discussion than I want to spend time on here, but it deals with textual criticism. Through copying errors and other types of alterations – either intentional or unintentional, certain manuscripts contain passages that other manuscripts don’t. The most famous of these is the end of Mark. This is another one of those.

Usually when the phrase is omitted in the actual text with a footnote about it, it’s a situation in which the earliest and most reliable manuscripts found don’t have the phrase, but others found that are later and not as reliable do have them. It’s a very hard process to arrive at these decisions, and there are obviously two things that the editors don’t want to do. They don’t want to include something that was an erroneous addition, and then don’t want to leave something out that should be there. So in the interest of being as fair as they can without having any definitive evidence, they put it in with the qualifier that it’s not always there.

So we don’t actually know if Jesus said those words. We don’t actually know if Matthew wrote those words. We don’t know if they should be there. Take that with a grain of salt.

* I must make a distinction here regarding the modern translations. Obviously there is a spectrum when it comes to translating any document from a foreign language regardless of how old it is or how many copies you have. You need to balance literal precision and truth to the source language with adequately carrying over the meaning in a manner that would normally be expressed in the new language. In other words, there’s a balance (or tension) between word-for-word accuracy and thought-for-thought readability. All translations (the KJV included) have a place in this spectrum. When I use the phrase “modern translations” I’m referring to a group of translations, of which the ESV is the flagship, in which the intent of the translators was to be as close to the word-for-word end of the spectrum while still maintaining readability and even in the case of the ESV, some literary beauty. I’m not really referring to the translations like The Message and The NLT that intentionally paraphrase sentences, paragraphs and sometimes even whole chapters to provide a truly readable document, because I believe their purpose is different – not necessarily wrong, but different.

One thought on “What’s Missing

Comments are closed.