Danish Bible Society tampers with ‘Israel’ in its newly-released 2020 translation, causing protests from translation societies and pro-Israel activist groups worldwide.

The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 has changed numerous references to Israel to refer to instead to “all of humanity.” In total, 9% of references to Israel have been omitted or replaced in the Hebrew Bible, and the word is almost entirely gone from the New Testament. Instead, the society has replaced ‘Israel’ with terms like ‘the Jewish People,’ ‘The Jews,’ ‘God’s chosen people,’ or simply ‘the People.’ In other instances, the translation simply uses an ambiguous pronoun like ‘you’ or ‘us.’

An official statement from the society explains the changes are designed to help modern readers avoid confusion between the modern state of Israel and the Jewish people. “The majority of Danish readers wouldn’t know that Israel in The New Testament at large refers to the people of God with which he has made a covenant,” the statement asserts. However, the translation retains references to other modern states, like Egypt. 

The statement goes on to admit that, according to their line of reasoning, the society has also chosen to not use the usual terms for “sin,” “grace,” “mercy,” “covenant,” and others. The society believes the changes aid in evangelistic purposes: “The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 is a special kind of Bible translation directed at secular readers with no or little knowledge of the Bible and of its history and traditional church and Bible language. This means that many things are translated differently than in traditional Bible Translations.”

The incidence demonstrates that cultural adaptations of the Bible, even to the point of changing key theological content, are no longer only an issue with Muslim Idiom Translations. And in the case of this new Danish Bible translation, opposition has been widespread.

Word of the omission first leaked out in a video by Danish author Jan Frost at the end of April. Frost claimed he first discovered that references to Israel were omitted in the society’s 2007 version of the translation. When he confronted them, “The translators told me that they didn’t want to change it,” Frost said.

The Bible Society in Israel identifies the external interpretation added to the text as problematic: “While all translators must make difficult decisions, those decisions must be freed, as much as humanly possible, from any interpretation foreign to the text. Even if done to accommodate for a secular Danish audience, the meaning of the word of God must not be compromised.”

B’nai B’rith International, known as the “Global Voice of the Jewish Community,” stated its outcry in a tweet, “We are stunned that the new Danish Bible Society publication of the Bible erases references to Israel out of stated worry over ‘confusion’ with the modern Jewish state. … Yet this surreal revision causes confusion and worse: the whitewashing of history, identity, and sacred scripture!”

Georges Houssney, president and founder of Horizons International, believes the incidence is not surprising considering current trends in Bible translation: “It is clear that gross inaccuracies in Bible translation isn’t an issue that is only relegated to Muslim Idiom Translations anymore. Increasingly the Bible translation community has adopted a culture of tolerance and accommodation.” He has observed that modern translators are more concerned about acceptance by the target audience than accuracy of the original text. Since 2009, Houssney has headed up a BiblicalMissiology.org, community of scholars and practitioners dedicated to biblical faithfulness in missions and Bible translation.

Learn more about the translation debate regarding The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020:

Note that links are provided for information only. Biblical Missiology does not necessarily endorse the beliefs of these sites.

2 Comments

  1. Wendy Pinker on

    Not even God himself will change the Bible because it is His God Breathed Word and He is the same yesterday today and forever. He made no mistakes. No need for Him to change His Holy Word. He warns in the scriptures not to add to it take away from it.

  2. The philosophy of translation adopted by the Danish Bible Society is no different than that of SIL/Wycliffe. Accuracy is no longer communicating the original meaning in culturally comprehensible way. Accuracy is determined by the The target audience. Accuracy is influenced by the desire for the target audience to not only comprehend but accept the message. This is a direct outcome of the theory of contextualization . One problem with this approach is that each culture is different and if you accommodate all of them, you love the continuity and unity in the universal church.
    Another problem I see is that the facts of history are distorted by the desire for acceptance.

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