Evolution’s influence on modern Bible translations
Part 1 of a series
The Living Bible’s translator, Ken Taylor, felt many people were not getting the message from the traditional King James version. He sought to make the Bible a living book with a vibrant message. His version was not translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, but from an English translation of the late nineteenth century. The result? The Living Bible is a simple rendering in easy English. Its readability met with wide praise, and with the backing of the Billy Graham association, its early circulation boomed. But Ken Taylor’s Living Bible also shows the influence of modern evolutionary thought.
The paraphrase begins by allowing for a slow, day-age evolutionary approach to Genesis 1. The very first verse loses the majesty of the simple Hebrew by stating:
When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was at first a shapeless, chaotic mass …
Here the phrase ‘began creating’ gives the impression of slow development rather than creative fiat. There is no warrant for this translation, even in paraphrase. The Hebrew verb is a simple, unadorned bara = He created, one act in the past, with no continuous action implied.
A footnote to ‘at first’ states erroneously that these words are ‘implied’, i.e. not found in the original. But there is no such implication justifiable in this historical Hebrew narrative anywhere in the text.
Then comes the most serious departure from the text, which leans towards Babylonian myth in imagining a ‘shapeless, chaotic mass’, instead of an unformed, unpopulated Earth. The introduction of the term ‘chaotic’ puts this paraphrase in line with the innumerable native myths about creation that man has invented since the Fall. The idea of ‘chaos’ is most closely associated with Greek mythology, though it can be traced to Babylon. It goes with ‘primordial ooze’ and all those kinds of pagan notions that suggest an eternal universe and an invented human-like god-system, instead of an eternal God and His temporary universe made just for mankind. A travesty indeed!
We find in verse 2 the Spirit of God brooding over ‘dark vapors’. There is a damaging footnote: “Or, ‘over the cloud of darkness’ … or even ‘over the dark gaseous mass’.” Here Taylor is trying to keep up with the evolutionary Joneses. He adds to the text the idea of certain chemicals of a gaseous nature, for which there is absolutely no textual warrant.
Verse 3 informs us that light ‘appeared’ and in the next verse God ‘was pleased’ with it.
Once more the implication is that perhaps a few clouds thinned to reveal some light. Perhaps also this will make the evolutionary idea fit the fourth day better, when we can let the sun, which according to evolutionary theory was already there, gradually be seen through fewer clouds! The text, however, surely states that light existed at a certain point when it had not existed before, in response to God’s creative word. The scientific objectivity of the original statement in Hebrew that the light was good is softened to a subjective statement about God that He was pleased with the light. Taylor is merely yo-yoing between Babylonian myth and mysticism on the one hand and scientific catch-up on the other.
The next elaboration is in verses 4–5, where the paraphrase reads to the effect that God ‘let it shine for a while, and then there was darkness again.’ The impression we get is of an intermittent sun shining on Earth over millions of years, just as evolution would love to have it.
At the end of this episode, we find “Together they (sc. ‘daytime’ and ‘night-time’) formed the first day” with footnote giving first the literal Hebrew:
“and there was evening and there was morning, one day” and then in brackets: “or, ‘period of time’,” which once more fits the day-age theory. Each one of the six day accounts has a similar footnote.
In verse 6 we find God saying “Let the vapors separate to form the sky above and the oceans below.” Note that oceans apparently didn’t form on the first day!
Then there’s a footnote: “Literally: ‘Let there be a dome to divide the waters’.” But that’s not a fair literal translation of Hebrew, though the Latin firmamentum might suggest it. No, Hebrew raqia is simply something stretched out. If it’s to be solid, a ‘tent’ would be the nearest thing. But the Hebrew doesn’t say it’s solid, so the NIV’s ‘expanse’ is probably the best modern translation.
In verse 8 God makes the sky, dividing the ‘vapors above’ from the water below.
Strangely, this does fit a canopy theory for the shape of the original pre-Deluge world, though I imagine Taylor wouldn’t subscribe to that. Once again, all we are told about the condition of things is that God is ‘pleased’.
In verses 11–12, fruit trees are to “burst forth … so that these seeds will produce the kinds of plants and fruits they came from”.
I have no quarrel with the logic of this paraphrase, as it implies fixity of kinds. However, a superficial reading might suggest to the simple reader that the seeds came first, even though strict reading of the text won’t allow it. But it does throw the verse open to misunderstanding at this point. In verse 16, Genesis does not give names to the big light or the little light (i.e. sun or moon). Taylor names both sun and moon, which the Hebrew is at pains not to do. I believe it was because God knew that in the future these two objects would become worshipped, a source of idolatry. It’s much easier to worship something with a name. In fact the Babylonians just called the sun-god Sun and the moon-god Moon.
The English also reads that God made them ‘to shine down upon the earth’. Taylor’s English construction is ambiguous.
He might mean they were created on the fourth day as objects which would shine down, or he might mean, in line with an evolutionary model, that they appeared much earlier, but now were ‘made to shine down’. A dangerous ambiguity indeed!
Verse 26 has the text ‘Let us make a man’ and the footnote: “Literally: ‘men’,” which is incorrect. The only thing that can be said in its favour is that the next phrase contains the word ‘them’, and ‘male and female’ follows soon after reference to Adam and Eve. So it’s the context that gives the idea of eventual plurality, not the text. This is misleading ‘scholarship’, to say the least. In the same verse we find what is literally ‘in our image, in our likeness’ rendered as ‘someone like ourselves’. At best a weak effort!
In verse 27, Taylor either stresses the poetic shape of this verse or misunderstands the Hebrew word for ‘woman’, since he renders it: ‘Man and maid did he make them.’
This, incidentally, is the only verse in the whole chapter which has a poetic style. Obviously, God was in ecstasy over His most important bit of creation. In Genesis 2:7 Taylor uses another paraphrase that suits a day-age or re-creation theory: “the time came when the Lord God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground”, which suggests He had already formed humans by some other means.
Is there anything I like about this paraphrase?
Well, I did find one isolated translation that might qualify as a suitable modern translation for what was created on the sixth day: ‘cattle and reptiles and wildlife’ (1:24), which is at least original and doesn’t appear to do violence to the Hebrew. However, as regards the overall impression, I would say it’s one of the worst renderings I have come across to present to people who are uncertain about creation.