"Isn’t "Easter in Acts 12:4 a mistranslation of the word "pascha" and should be translated as "Passover"?"
(My response to a letter.)
September 17, 1999
I appreciate your question and your desire to know the truth concerning this issue of "What version?" I hope this letter will be of help. Freely give this letter to whoever you wish. I have written it with that in mind.
I am sorry that I delayed getting back to you sooner. It was certainly not for want of a reply to the paper you sent me that I delayed; for the man’s arguments are, I think, the best example of twisting Scripture and logic that I have ever read. I would like to save a copy for future reference as an example to the same. For since it so utterly bankrupt of truth, I can use it to show the house of straw with which these men are building---that is, those who presume to place an English translation above that which was originally penned by the apostles---as if the branches supported the tree! (I discuss this paper sent to me at the end of this letter).
This issue, too, once bothered me, ---some 15 years ago---until I came to the conclusion that I would have to spend literally decades researching this issue to do it justice. (And that is what the experts in this field of study have done---the very great majority of which have reached conclusions the same as mine). In Bible College I would zealously refute my teacher at times over this issue, siding, at that time, with the KJV-only people. However, having to absorb my life into this lifetime study in order to get to the bottom of the debate, seemed senseless to me. Why would God have me to be so bogged down on this issue? If it were such a vital issue, why would God place the answer out of the hands of the average man and into the hands of a select few that have the time to become experts in this area of textual study? That bothered me.
Furthermore, I began to see the inconsistencies in the arguments of the KJV-only people---especially made evident to me at that time by the fact that the New King James Version had just come out and, to my surprise, they were rejecting that translation as well. Yet, the NKJV purposely kept to the manuscripts used by the KJV, wanting to be another authentic update of the KJV. (Read the preface to the NKJV yourself and see). The KJV people’s flat rejection of the NKJV proved to me their bias. They were not zealous for God, but for the traditions of men! They were merely walking in the shoes of their predecessors who, when the KJV was first published, fought that version (i.e., the KJV) vehemently for about 60 years, insisting that the two already existing English versions of that day were superior, and that the KJV was of the devil. I resolved at that time in my life to break off my long and exhausting study into this issue and leave the matter with God. It was apparent to me that the issue was beyond me to procure a certain and absolute assurance on the subject either way. But God did give me an answer over the years. God changed me!
First, God changed me. God burned out the unholy desire for controversy that was in me by very severe trials in my life at that time; secondly, I saw that the answer to this issue was as obvious as the scars on my soul. I had missed the forest for the trees (as the saying goes). This is what I discovered: The entire New Testament, more often than not, quotes from the Greek (LXX) translation of the Old Testament. This Greek translation (of about 150 B.C.) was a very poor translation and I suppose would be considered inferior to the very worst translation of any English Bible today in print, (though some portions of the LXX are translated better than others---having been translated by 70 different men).
What does this teach us? It teaches us that we should follow Jesus’ example in His use of this (LXX) defective translation. "If it was good enough for Jesus and His disciples, then it is good enough for me!" I thus state the point in this simple slogan because so many, ignorant of the Bible, amazingly assume that the KJV was written directly by "Jesus and His disciples!"
Therefore, logically speaking, if the Holy Spirit deemed it wise to use this corrupt translation (LXX) (as repeatedly quoted by the New Testament writers), why then do many today insist upon a flawless translation? (I am not referring to the actual originals.) In Jesus’ day, the LXX was used for the sake of the average person on the street who was unable to read the ancient Hebrew text adequately himself. For most people of that day, the LXX was the best available translation. Amazingly, it was the Pharisees who, soon after Christ, condemned the LXX and its underlying original manuscript-texts. They grew to hate the LXX because it was used so effectively among the common folk to win souls to Jesus. The KJV-only people are repeating the same mistake today that the Pharisees made then, howbeit, for different reasons. May God bring them back to their senses and stop dividing the Church over an issue that God already settled by His example as contained in the New Testament---viz., the example of the LXX being quoted frequently in the N.T.
This is not to say that the KJV is at all superior to modern versions---in some cases perhaps---in every case, certainly not. All versions have their strengths and weaknesses. Some modern translators emphasize obtaining an equal meaning in today’s English and others a more word-for-word translation. The KJV leaned to the side of being a literal translation, but not nearly as strictly as, say, the "Young’s Literal Translation."
I make this point because some argue that "dynamic equivalence" in translation is of the devil and that the KJV is the only "literal" version; but this is simply not true. Such misleading statements and half-truths only give away the fact that those who place the ecumenical Bible (i.e., KJV) of the Anglican Church (a break off from Catholicism) unilaterally above all modern versions are devoid of either sound reasoning, a love of truth, or that of simple knowledge. One needs only to read the history of the KJV by unbiased historians to realize the KJV was translated for far more ecumenical reasons (i.e., to unify the competing ‘Protestant" circles of that day) than ANY modern Bible that I know of today. Yet if we were to go solely by the propaganda of many of the ardent KJV–only magazines and leaders, one would think that there was a halo around King James and his team of translators, but a pitch–fork in the hand of all modern ones! Such malicious, biased, and unfounded rhetoric is sinful. I do not believe that any unbiased reader of the history of the KJV can deny that if these translators were alive today, the great majority of them would rise up and condemn their own KJV devotees! Read their own (full) preface to their own translation (i.e., the KJV) and see! There they complain that they knew that some would reject their new version (i. e., the KJV) because ‘it was not hammered out on their own anvil.’
I am still very willing to fight for the truth and divide over it if needs be, (and for this I am known), but God forbid that I take issue in the Church over something that the Spirit has plainly revealed as a non-issue. I will not confuse the simplicity of Christ’s message. He is our salvation, not a translation, nor even the Book itself. The Bible points to Him but is not Him Himself––or are we idolaters, who worship a book?
To imply that the message of Christ in the KJV is different from that of the Christ of all other versions is not only false but gives grounds for non-christians to reject the message of Christ all together; the non-Christian can claim, under pretext, that it cannot be known what written record (i.e., the Bible) truly represents Him.
Is correctly translating a Bible important therefore? Of course! But we are talking about minor differences between versions, such as the substitution of a pronoun for a like noun and such––not a whole radically different meaning. And, oh yes, two very small portions of the Bible are in doubt as to its authenticity (such as at the end of Mark), but the gospel message is hardly lost without it––if one thinks it not authentic. The fact of the matter is, is that there are some grounds (not much) for not excepting it, nevertheless most modern versions but it in anyway along with a note explaining its difficulty––they let the reader choose for themselves.
I say then, let the debate between the Alexander textbase rage against the adherents of the Byzantine/Majority! It is good in the sense that it is ever producing a better knowledge of what were the word–for–word originals––and we are getting very close to that too. So I rejoice. But blind bigotry that categorically rejects anything or anyone not pro KJV is simply ridiculous, and sinful. Such shameful oversimplification of difficult issues and character assassinations that accompany much of the debate that I have read from the KJV side does much harm to their own position. Thinking people reject such absurdities, and are forced to read past the writers’ petty peeves in search for perhaps some valid point behind what they say.
Now I know that the KJV-only people insist that the other versions destroy essential doctrine, especially that of the deity of Christ. If that were true, then I would agree that it is an issue worthy of division. (The Jehovah’s Witness’s version of the N.T. is an example of a version of the Bible worthy of division). But to say that every (or any) other evangelical version of the Bible destroys sound doctrine is utter hogwash! It’s a lie!!!
If I were say, a New International Version fanatic, and purposed to prove that it alone supports sound doctrine (particularly above the KJV), it would be easy to prove. I would simply write in my (imaginary) book those examples found in the N.I.V. that favor basic Christian doctrine above that of the KJV---while being very careful to overlook those examples that clearly contradict my preconceived ideas and agenda’s! But this is deception, isn’t it? And we know "that no lie is of the truth" (1John 2:21). Those papers and books that say that the KJV is stronger on basic doctrine than all other versions have not compared impartially. They mention examples that appear to support what they say, but leave out examples that do not.
Take for example Titus 2:13---Let me quote to you from my make-believe-book: "Why the NIV is the ONLY True BIBLE," as opposed to the KJV; (I am being facetious and sarcastic, actually I greatly respect the KJV). Here we go…
Suspicious, isn’t it? Why did the KJV translators add the word "and" to this verse, thus nullifying this declaration of the deity of Christ! (Remember that I speak facetiously, as if in my pretend book). How shameful!
Let me quote to you from our NIV study note on this verse:
Romans 9:5 is another example of the KJV conspirators to subtly downgrade the true nature of Christ:
Now, admittedly, the difference here is slight, but notice how much sharper and clearer our confession of full faith in the Deity of Christ is in the NIV as opposed to the KJV. I.e., compare NIV "…Christ, who is God over all…" with KJV, "Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever…" Whereas it is possible to understand the KJV rendition to merely mean that ‘Christ is over all---and let God be blessed forever’, however, it is impossible to read the NIV statement as anything other then a explicit statement concerning the Deity of Jesus, i.e., "Christ, who is God."’"
(This completes the end of quoting from my pretend book! And the end of my hair splitting as well, lest I wean out a gnat and swallow a camel as in fact they do---those who oppose all modern versions categorically.)
My point is this: If one is insincere, or blinded by prejudice, that one will see and believe whatever he wants to. This is what the KJV-only books have done. Yet, not content with that, they often resort to slandering viciously the translators of other versions of the Bible, while overlooking any facts which might put their own KJV translators in a bad light. Slander is a sin.
Now, it is one thing to expose heretics and fornicators and the like in the Church, but another to attempt to destroy the work of a team of translators by railing on one or two possible unworthy team-mates (among the honest translators). Let the KJV translators be held up to this same standard of criterion of judgement, would they pass the test? (Note the flattery given to King James by representatives of the KJV translators, as recorded in the preface of the KJV Bible. Shall I rail on them for this eye evidently more single for the glory of King James (the supposed head of the (Anglican) Church), than for God? And how has this attachment to the Anglican Church influenced their translation in the area of ritualism and clericalism? for this it has it seems to me. Nevertheless, I thank God for the overall blessing of the KJV Bible upon my forefathers and me.
Ironically, it is the KJV-translators themselves who would rise up against this generation of KJV-only people and condemn it, for they too were persecuted and warred on against by the "Great Bible"-only people and the "Geneva Bible"-only people of that day. The KJV translators made no special claim to infallibility, but rather to their human limitations. The KJV was a good translation produced in hopes of unifying England’s conflicting Protestant circles (mainly between that of the Church of England and those influenced by John Calvin), by producing a Bible that was better than that which either group was then using. Apparently they succeeded, though with much opposition---opposition that is repeated today except oppositely this time---this time it’s the KJV against the new comers!
Even when the Pilgrims came to America in 1620, they brought the "Geneva Bible" instead of the KJV with them. They did not want that "fond thing vainly invented," (i.e., the KJV) …for "the old (Bible) was better," they felt. (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 1, Pub., Zondervan., p. 51).
And so the history of the KJV is this: King James, the leader of the Church of England, by means of those scholars favorable disposed to his apostate Church, revised the Bishops Bible (i.e., the "Great Bible"---the one officially used in the Church of England). The King wanted peace in his country between the disagreeing Protestant groups by producing a Bible acceptable to both sides. What resulted was indeed a wonderful translation of the known Greek texts of that day, ‘The King James Bible.’ (It was heavily influenced by the translation of William Tyndale of a century earlier).
I do not mean to be too hard on the translators of the KJV---after all, there was much darkness upon the land at that time, much shedding of blood, and peace from a peaceful king was to be highly valued---even if the King headed an institution broken off from Roman Catholicism a century earlier. (King Henry VIII in 1534 wanted to divorce his wife without the Pope commanding him otherwise, so he broke away from the R.C.C. Thus, little true reformation occurred in the Church of England---i.e., Anglican Church). Nevertheless, for the people of that day, any church, I suppose, was better than the bloodthirsty Roman Catholic Church. So, I can understand how that perhaps even a morally upright translator might be swept into or participate with the Church of England when they agreed to translate King James’ version. Generally speaking, their understanding of the gospel was weak at that time, and political expedience tempting. Therefore, I do not judge them---God is there judge. What is evident to me is that by God’s grace they indeed produced a very good translation into the street language of that day.
Answering Your Letter:
The writer of "Question #2" of "The Answer Book," is seriously flawed in both theology and logic---both of which he presumes to uphold. However, as I said earlier, he is a good example of neither. I am hard on this writer because I can find no just reason for anyone to be so willfully wrong. The question that he attempts to answer is this:
His answer is "No," "‘"pascha" is properly translated "Easter" in Acts 12:4…"
The main error that this man makes is this: his insistence that the KJV must be a "perfect" translation in order to truly be "the BIBLE". We have already said that the New Testament writers often quoted from a very imperfect translation of the Old Testament (viz. the LXX). Why then does a 17th century translation have to be flawless when the LXX was not? Certainly we should attempt the best translation possible––but perfection is impossible because we are left with only copies of the original writings. While the hundreds of copies (manuscripts) are very much in agreement, there are also many slight differences that cannot be proven in every case as to what this or that original word or spelling was. This holds true for the two main text types (i. e., the Alexander and Byzantine, from which basically all manuscripts can be grouped). Even among these two text types there are many differences of words or spellings and it is the job of the textual critic and translator to ascertain as best that they can what was the original. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s impossible. Thus, though the original writings of the Bible were perfect, yet the many, many copies of them that followed were not (including the Byzantine group of manuscripts that underlie the KJV). Hence, for any one to insist on a letter for letter account of the original words of the N. T. writers is ridiculous. (By the way, the O.T. Hebrew has far less difficulties as to exact spellings, etc., then does the greek N.T. Nevertheless, no essential passage of the N.T. is in doubt.)
Later, the writer of that book makes the amazing implication to the effect that the "spirit-filled" KJV translators providentially corrected the mistake penned by Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts! For, says he, God had these translators "CORRECTLY translate "pasha" as "Easter,"" else, he claims, there is a contradiction in the text of Acts. However, even if Luke mistakenly calls Easter "Passover" (as the author wrongly implies), what right do translators have in supposedly correcting Luke on this matter, or, what right do "spirit-filled translators" have in correcting the Holy Spirit!!! (as his faulty logic would have it.) An amazing absurdity!
No! It is far more reasonable to say that God meant "passover" when He said "passover" just as He did in the other 28 times in which He said "passover" in the Bible!
If I wrote a letter to you and told you to have a merry Christmas, would you then assume I meant happy Hanukah instead, simply because the two festivals occurred around the same time of year? So it is here, Passover is a Jewish festival and Easter a pagan one.
Would you tell others that I wished you a happy Hanukah, when what I wrote with pen and paper was "Merry Christmas"!?! Why not say "Happy Hanukah" if that is what I mean to say, rather than totally confusing the person with something else?
The writer’s insistence that if the text is to be taken as it literally reads––that Peter was to be executed by Herod after "passover"––that then there is an obvious contradiction since it was already after passover when Herod made this statement. Thus, says that writer, it does not make sense to say "I will kill Peter after the Passover," if in fact the Passover was already over. Hence, says that writer, Luke must not have been referring to the Jewish Passover (since it had just passed), but to the pagan Easter celebration that was shortly to come. Thus, Luke meant Easter when he said Passover, and so the KJV has rightly substituted Luke’s word Passover for Easter––since that is what he really meant, didn’t he!
But what is the truth? Did Luke indeed make this incredible blunder?
The answer is quite simple. Herod intended to kill Peter "after Passover," (wrongly translated "Easter" in KJV). Passover day had indeed just passed, and it was now the week of unleavened bread when Herod said that he would "kill Peter when Passover was over." However, Passover means not just the day of Passover (Abib 14th), but Passover is also called "the days of unleavened bread." Passover is understood as both the day upon which the Passover lamb was slain, and the week of unleavened bread that immediately follows. Thus to say that Herod intended to slay Peter after the feast of unleavened bread is the same as if he said he would slay him after Passover. Therefore, there is no contradiction whatsoever. For to say: "After Passover" (in this context), is the same as saying "after Passover week." Herod intended to kill Peter, not after Passover day per say, but after Passover week that was then in process. There is no need to amend the word Passover here to Easter.
There are three Bible references to the fact that the seven-day feast of unleavened bread came to be also called "Passover" week by the time of the prophet Ezekiel. One of them is that which is here in dispute---Acts 12:4; the other two are…
The author of this book quotes extensively those passages in the Bible that speak of the feast of unleavened bread as following the Passover on the 14th of Nisan (Abib), but somehow overlooks the above two passages. And despite these clear verses to the contrary (and see a good commentary for clarification if still in doubt about this fact), yet the writer of the "Answer Book" says:
It is obvious by the wording and emphasis of the above quote that this writer was aware of these scriptures that contradicted himself but rejected their obvious meaning and did not as much as give his readers the benefit of knowing that there were such (potentially) damaging scriptures to his argument! Again, if anyone is in doubt as to the true meaning of the above texts (including this one in Acts), read a few commentaries on the above passages––but read commentaries that have no axe to grind––the Bible is quite plain, and furthermore, so is the extra-biblical evidence.
It happened in the providence of God that the very next day (or two) after you sent this KJV-only document to me, I happened upon a quote from a first century writer who also refers to the seven days of unleavened bread as being called "Passover." I was not looking for such a quote, I happened upon it. And God, I trust, will show you the truth too, for I know that this issue at fist can be very unsettling.
This above quote refers to Herod’s death shortly after he killed the baby boys in Bethlehem. And this brings us to another point in the paper you cordially sent me. The writer claims that it would be out of keeping with Herod (i.e., the later Herod of Acts 12 of about A.D. 45), to keep the Passover of the Jews since he was a pagan gentile ("The Answer Book", p. 8). Thus, the writer says, Herod’s intention to wait until "after Passover" to kill Peter makes no sense---but to say "after Easter" would certainly make sense to a pagan like Herod, that writer says. After all, why would a pagan worry about a Jewish feast?
However, this line of reasoning is faulty and dubious. It is faulty because Herod was indeed EXTREMELY careful to make a good show of keeping Jewish customs for the sake of political stability (as documented in "The Expositor’s Bible Commentary," Vol. 9, pp. 407-408); and secondly, his reasoning is dubious because the writer is inconsistent. The writer of this paper says that Herod intended to kill Peter during the excitement of the feast of Easter. However, the Bible says that Herod intended to kill Peter "after Easter" (KJV), not during "Easter." Not only is the writer confusing the Passover with Easter, now he changes the word "after" to "during"!
The fact of the matter is this: The phrase "after Easter" was an intentional change on the part of the KJV translators to conform to their traditional Church of England worship catechisms: (At least this is how I recall that it happened, as best as I can remember from my earlier readings some years ago).
The writer ends by saying that to translate "Easter" (KJV) to what it literally says…"Passover," would confuse the truth.
However, it is he that is confused; it is not Luke, and certainly it is not the Holy Spirit, and I pray it is not you either my brother.
But before I end this discussion, let me quote this to you from a book on the history of translation’s as concerning a verse of the Bible that is frequently produced to show that the KJV Bible supports the doctrine of the Trinity above that of other versions. That is, they would point to 1John 5:7--- missing from most all other Bible versions.
All other versions essentially omit 5:7. I have had one person tell me that this is the watershed test for whether a translation is of God or not---that is, "Does it contain this verse?"
However, just the opposite is true. An impartial translation of the Bible by true men will not knowingly repeat this blunder passed into the KJV, which error occurred under duress. Let me quote to you the interesting history of how this fictitious verse came to be lodged in the KJV. (And note: Whether or not 1John 5:7 of the KJV is "true" in and of itself is not the issue; the issue is, "Did John write it or not, or was it added by men 1,600 years later. This kind of lying-manipulation of the Bible only reinforces heretics into their error of rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity, when they see such want of the love of truth in those who say they believe in the Trinity.
Neither the Byzantine MSS text types (i.e., the bases for the KJV) nor the Alexandrian MSS (i.e., the bases for the Revised Version and some others) have this verse.
Friend, since the KJV translators willing continued this error hoisted upon Erasmus for the sake of doctrinal expediency, why should we suppose that the KJV translators resisted any coercion to call Passover "Easter?"
The KJV translators were not inspired like the writers of the Bible, they were men like you and me, who yielded to unholy pressure at times that infected their translation. Thankfully, there are only a few such examples of this---as there are only a few in our time as well. A comparison check of one translation against another with free one from any peculiar error that may have sneaked into any given translation---wittingly or unwittingly.
What does all this have to say about Divine inspiration and preservation of the Bible? Firstly, we are commanded to not go beyond what is written in the Bible (1Corinthians 4:6). Yes, what the original writers of the Bible wrote was indeed word for word what the Holy Spirit willed them to write, but no, the transcribers and translators after them did make mistakes as evident in the fact that no two ancient manuscripts are exactly word for word the same. But here is the good news: We have overwhelming material with which to ascertain the essential text of the original writers---less some insignificant spelling and syntactical obscurities. We can be amazingly confident as to the original writings of the Bible. Nothing important stands in doubt! The Spirit in His wisdom has so willed to give us virtual certainty, but not absolute detailed certainty, as to the original texts of Holy Writ. Why? I believe it is because many would worship the Book (as essentially do many Muslim’s, for instance, the Koran), rather than the God of the Book. As Jesus said "Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me;" (John 5:39 ASV). Many Jews knew the Book but not its Author who spoke face to face with them in the person of Jesus Christ---who is the Word of God---forever blessed. Amen.