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Effacement Theology: The Problem with the New Danish Bible Translation

When the new Danish Bible translation, called The Contemporary Danish Bible, 2020 was released this past April, it caused an uproar for deleting the word “Israel” from the translation of the New Testament. The Danish Bible Society that produced this version objected; they even called the news stories about the omission of “Israel” from the translation, “fake news!” But were the translators really being falsely accused? Not really. Although the translation didn’t omit the word “Israel” from the whole Bible, they virtually effaced it from the New Testament. The word “Israel” appears 73 times in the Greek New Testament but the new Danish translation uses it only once.

The Danish Bible Society’s explanation for their translation is that they didn’t want to confuse their readers, who might identify biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel. Of course, the translators had no problem using the word “Egypt” although modern Egypt is quite different than ancient Egypt. I can’t possibly know what motivated the Danish Bible Society for their egregious translation—but I can see the consequences of it. Here they are:

First, this translation denies the legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel. This is evident in the translation of Matthew 2:21, describing Joseph bringing Mary and the baby Jesus back, after their flight to Egypt. Joseph took them, and the text actually says that “they came into the land of Israel.” But the new translation says that they “came home.” As I mentioned, the translation has no difficulty associating ancient Egypt with modern Egypt in this text, even though they are demographically different. Yet, modern Israel, like ancient Israel, is demographically composed of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By its own admission, the Danish Bible Society wanted to keep this from readers and as a result, this keeps readers of this New Testament from seeing modern Israel as a legitimate rebirth of an ancient nation state.

A second effect of the new Danish translation is that it supports replacement theology. This is a system that takes the promises God gave national Israel and gives them to the church. Replacement theology is especially evident in the Old Testament translation. One example is the promise in Psalm 121:4: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” In the new version this becomes “He who takes care of us will not fall asleep.” The Danish translation takes God’s promise of the preservation and protection of the Jewish people and makes it a generic “us” referring to the members of the church. Another example is Isaiah 41:14: “Do not fear . . . Jacob, you men of Israel . . .  your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” The new translation removes “Israel” and “the Holy One of Israel.” It goes beyond replacement theology to a more radical effacement theology. It’s as if Israel no longer even exists.

A third consequence of this translation is that it erases the Jewishness of Jesus. In John 1:49 it says that Nathanael responded to the Lord Jesus with these words, “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” But the new translation mistranslates this as “you are the King of all people.” The idea that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is foundational to the New Testament. Certainly He is King of kings and Lord of lords. But that’s only possible if He fulfilled the promises God made to the Jewish people that the Messiah would come as the King of Israel, the Son of David. Then He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Most people find it preferable to forget that the Lord Jesus is the King of Israel. Yet Paul tells us all to remember “Yeshua the Messiah, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8).

Yet another outcome of the Danish translation is it eliminates the Jewish roots of faith in Jesus. In Matthew 15:31, the people Jesus healed “glorified the God of Israel.” But in the new translation they merely glorified “God.” In Exodus 24:10, Moses and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel” but in the new translation they merely saw “God.” What this does is eliminate from the minds of Gentile followers of Jesus that they are brought into relationship with the God of Israel by faith in the Messiah of Israel. Romans 11 teaches that Gentiles are grafted, contrary to nature, into the New Covenant which God made with Israel. Every Gentile believer has Jewish roots. By failing to identify the God we worship as the God of Israel, the new translation uproots this biblical teaching.

What could motivate the Danish Bible Society to produce such a translation? Is it anti-Semitism? The members of the Soceity would deny that they harbor any hatred of the Jewish people. This very well may be and I do not wish to impugn their motives. Perhaps the translation is only driven by their faulty theology and not ethnic hatred. Nevertheless, the Danish translation will only grant permission to Antisemites to hold their noxious views. At a time when anti-Semitism needs to be turned back, this new translation will only engender more hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. Although it’s only been one month since the release of The Contemporary Danish Bible, 2020, it’s already time for a revision and a return to what the Bible actually says.

(Image: White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1938)

The final paragraph has been edited to clarify my meaning.

One Comment

  • Avatar Tom Tvedt says:

    So sad to hear of this, in light of so many excellent translations to use! I can’t help but think this was pure design, on purpose. My heart goes out for Israel & the Jewish people…

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