When Pastor Aloysius Bugingo, of House of Prayer Ministries, burnt a collection of Good News bibles (GNB) and King James Version (KJV) bibles because they contained the word ‘Holy Ghost’ or there were verses missing in them, his actions amazed many. He claimed that Satan was trying to rob the Church of the true message of God by bringing half messages in the bible.
However, those in the same ministerial calling as Bugingo were embarrassed. Reverend Patrick Ndyanabo, former dean of Glad Tidings Bible College for 15 years and currently the chairman board of directors Uganda Bible League, says, “I think this kind of action requires scholarly knowledge. It is not about simply waking up on the left side of the bed and announcing what is right and wrong (in the bible).”
As human beings evolve, so does the Word of God. The reality of salvation history is that God did not begin by writing a book; first, He called Abraham, and then gave the Israelites the promises over a period of time. The Rev Fr Vincent Ssekabira, a bible scholar who has taught at St Mary’s National Major Seminary Ggaba for 34 years, says the first five books of the bible, called the Pentateuch, were completed when the Israelites were in captivity, in Babylon, centuries after God created Adam. “There is the question of the authorship of the Pentateuch. Who wrote those books?”
Distinction between the Catholic and Protestant bibles
The bible was written over a period of about 1,500 years. “The Samaritan Jews only acknowledge the Pentateuch,” Fr Ssekabira says, adding, “The Jews only accept the Tanakh which consists of the Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings), all of which make up the entire Old Testament.”
With the growing prominence of other languages, the Tanakh was translated from Hebrew to Greek by 70 scholars and named the Septuagint. “Where a few words were used to explain something in the Hebrew language, whole paragraphs were used in the Septuagint. This brought about lengthy chapters and when the New Testament was added the book became longer. However, the Early Church agreed that the Septuagint was inspired by God.”
Jews and the converted Gentiles (Christians) lived in harmony, but after Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, they split and eventually disagreed on the content of the Septuagint. The Jews abandoned it and came up with the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text), which excluded the deuterocanonical books carried in the Septuagint. “The Roman Catholic Church followed the Septuagint,” Fr Ssekabira explains.
“When the Lutheran and Protestant Churches broke away, they were forward-looking with regard to people understanding the bible in their own language. The Lutherans translated the Hebrew Bible into German, and the Protestants translated it into English.”
In 382 AD, Pope Damasus I commissioned St Jerome to translate the Septuagint into Latin. He called it Vulgata. Almost all modern bible translations today come from the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic Bible, though, follows Vulgata.
On the different translations
Bible translation has always been a touchy issue. Long before the printing press, scribes manually copied the Autograph (original biblical text).
“After a number of copies were written, it was discovered that although copied from the Autograph, they had differences, such as a missed word or sentence.Since more texts were copied from the flawed copies, the differences have continued, and yet, the Autograph has disappeared,” Fr Ssekabira says.
According to Reverend Ndyanabo, the later translators found some of the copied manuscripts had gone through wear and tear. “Pieces of paper fell out due to the passage of time, so these translators copied whatever was available.”
Missing verses and different versions
When the Scriptures were first written, they did not have chapters and verses, but to make the text easier to read, Cardinal Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the bible into different chapters in 1227.
“Different versions of the bible were translated for specific purposes,” Reverend Ndyanabo says. “Some versions, such as GNB, New International Version (NIV), Amplified Bible, New Living Translation (NLT), and The Message, were translated for devotional purposes. They were written according to how the translator felt led (by the Holy Spirit) to better explain the message to the lay person. The text is not word-for-word with the original bible; it is paraphrased. The simple English has made it easy for the bible to be translated into many languages.”
The other versions of the bible were translated for scholarly purposes, such as, KJV, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), The Jewish Study Bible, The Oxford Catholic Study Bible and the New King James Version (NKJV).
“I was once embarrassed by a preacher explaining a verse out of context, either because of misunderstanding the verse or limited bible knowledge,” Reverend Ndyanabo recalls. “People should read the different versions of the bible and compare them for context, in order to understand better.”
For example, a horn may be translated as ejjembe (animal horn) in the Luganda bible, when in actual sense, according to the context, it means ekondere (trumpet). The reverend Ndyanabo, who is also overseer of Kiryokya Full Gospel Church, Mityana, argues that pastors such as Bugingo need to be helped to understand the bible. “Unfortunately, after he has misled a big audience, even if he is helped it is hard to correct the entire audience. Sometimes, pride gets in the way.”
The importance of comparing versions
Interestingly, verses missing in one book of the Gospels are found in another book. With the habit of comparing verses, the issue of whether Jesus fed 5,000 or 4,000 people will not arise because these changes do not alter the core Gospel message.
“There is a study called Textual Criticism that aims to find the original wording of the old manuscripts,” Fr Ssekabira says.
“In some versions, the explanatory text in the footnotes of the manuscripts found its way into the actual text. These versions have extended chapters. A student of the bible and a lay person must compare, analyse the mistakes and come up with what would have been the right word in a particular verse.”
Dr David Omona, head of department, Foundation Studies, at Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology, Uganda Christian University, says based on master texts, it is evident that some verses of the Greek Scriptures found in older translations, such as, the KJV, were actually additions made by later copyists and were never part of the inspired Scriptures.
“The verses are Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14, Mark 7:16, 9:44, 11:26, 15:28, Luke 17:36, 23:17, John 5:4, Acts 8:37, 15:34, 28:29, and Romans 16:24. The wording of John 7:53 – 8:11 and the conclusion of Mark 16 (verses 9-20) do not exist in the original text.”
Pastors should attend theological college
Ideally, anyone who is going to minister to people’s spiritual needs should have basic training. The problem comes with the Pentecostal set up, as the Reverend Ndyanabo explains.
“People think that after they learn to read the bible, they do not need anyone to teach them. That is pride; and it causes pastors to mislead others. If carpenters, painters, or brick layers go to school, pastors also need at least a certificate or diploma in theology. The discipline of sitting down to listen to others and learn can never be equated to reading a devotional book or an internet article. Pastors need to have the humility to continue learning. Some come with mixed feelings because people think bible school makes you spiritually dry, blunt, and cold.
But, bible school chips off the pride we carry and we begin to preach God’s Word with balance. A pastor once enrolled in bible school and he found himself in the same class with a young man he had taught in Sunday School. The young man mocked him; the pastor almost failed to continue with the course but I encouraged him to stay on. He was courageous to humbly tell his congregation that some of the things he had preached to them were not correct.”
As Fr Ssekabira says, God created humans with the intellect and will to search for the truth, and discover it. “Make the right decision because this concerns our (eternal) life.”