A storm of controversy followed the March release of the Danish Bible Society’s newest translation with accusations coming from other Danish Christians and Israeli media calling the “Bible 2020” both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Some reports even — inaccurately — claim the word “Israel” was completely expunged from the text.
But are all the accusations justified?
Perhaps not all, says one Dane who pastors a church in Jerusalem who has read the translation and all of the controversial verses in question.
“This New Testament is amazingly pro-Jewish,” said David Serner, pastor of the Danish Church in Jerusalem. “There are more than 300 times where they’ve added ‘Jewish people’ to the text where it wasn’t in the original.”
“It is highly pro-Jewish and, replacement theology, in the New Testament, in this translation is literally impossible,” Serner continued. “There are areas of concern in regard to the word ‘Israel,’ but it is neither anti-Semitic, nor a tool for replacement theology. But that does not mean there are no problems.”
After having spoken with the Danish Bible Society, Israel Bible Society directors understood “that there was no political agenda behind this decision.” However, the translation itself was disappointing, the Israel Bible Society said.
Now the word “Israel’ only appears twice in the New Testament, despite appearing more than 60 times in the Greek from which the New Testament is translated, according to the Israel Bible Society, which took issue with the translation. “Israel” was either removed or replaced with “the Jewish people,” “the Jews,” “the people.”
“We believe that the replacing and removing of the term ‘Israel’ in the way that it was done in the Danish Contemporary Bible 2020 was a harmful decision which has hurt many who love the word of God, in Israel and beyond,” the Israel Bible Society said in a statement.
This version uses a similar inspiration as The Message, a narrative type English translation of the Word of God using language that is accessible to a secular audience. The Danish Bible Society explained that the translation, originally published in 2007, attempted to remove any confusion between the modern State of Israel and the land of Israel with the Jewish people.
“In the translation of The New Testament it uses the Jewish People, the Jews, God’s chosen people or simply the People to translate Israel since 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.”
In light of the criticism, the Danish Bible Society already announced it will change specific verses in the New Testament such as returning the word “Israel” where is refers to the geographic land of Israel.
Verses of concern, for example, include Matthew 2:20-21 and Acts 10:39 where “the land of Israel” is removed or changed. In the Old Testament, most incidences of the word “Israel” remained — appearing 2,000 times — but in some places were changed to Jacob, or the Northern Kingdom (instead of Israel) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (instead of just Judah). In other places, sometimes Israel was removed and replaced with “us.” (Some of the problematic verses are listed in the links below.)
The criticism of the new Danish Bible was first raised by The Bible and Israel, a pro-Israel organization in Denmark. Unfortunately, the organization’s critique was misreported or exaggerated in some cases and went viral with accusations that Israel was totally removed from the Bible.
“We regret very much that some of the criticism is formulated with a lot of hate and without respect and in a way far from what we have been taught in the Word of God. As you will understand that kind of criticism is not helpful at all but makes it just more difficult for us to state our criticism because exaggerations and hate steal the focus from the very serious problems in the new translation,” the organization said.
The Bible and Israel intended to raise what they call is a “tragic tendency to: weaken the very important relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament; weaken the connection and coherence between the people of Israel and the land of Israel in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and today.”
“Of course, we are not arguing that ‘Israel’ in the New Testament should be translated into ‘the State of Israel’ or that Peter and Paul should be called ‘Israelis.’ But we do insist that it is important to use the word Israel in a translation of the New Testament because the authors of the New Testament used it.”
The organization also agrees the translation of “Israel” into “the Jewish people” is helpful in texts such as Romans 11:26.
“But we do not agree to the general principle of removing the word ‘Israel’ from the New Testament. And we are strongly critical of the way that the expressions ‘the land of Israel’ and ‘the land of the Jews’ have been eliminated.”
The Danish Israel Mission also weighed in saying that while it is “possible to argue that the translation in some places opens itself to misunderstandings,” calling the translation anti-Israel or anti-Semitic is unwarranted.
“In our view this key text concerning the relationship between the ‘Old’ and the New Covenant shows that this translation does not promote or express replacement theology, or antisemitic or anti-Israel sentiment. Quite the opposite, in fact. We see this key text as an example of the general view on these topics in the translation at hand.”
Personally, Serner finds it odd to have spent the past three weeks reading this translation at all. When the first version came out 13 years ago he refused to read it because of its watered down text in regard to other concepts such as sin and grace. At the time the word Israel was not a controversy.
“When I read it now, I’m flabbergasted by the pro-Jewishness of the New Testament. They have added the Jewish people in a positive sense more than 300 times which is more than the original text. That is very intentional, that is not something that happens. What is the outcome of writing the Jewish people so many times? the outcome is anti-replacement theology and pro-Jewish.”
Serner spent time with Kehila News going line by line over some of the controversial verses. The “land of Israel” has remained in the Old Testament for the most part including as the title heading of Amos 9: The restoration of Israel.
In Romans 10:1, it now reads, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is for their salvation.” And in Romans 11:1-2, “I ask then, did God reject His people? Certainly not! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says about Elijah, how he appealed to God against Israel…”
Hebrew 8:10 now reads, “I will make an agreement with the Jewish people.”
“We can argue whether it is a good translation, but it is good for the Jewish people,” Serner said. “This confirms God’s promises to the Jewish people which cannot be confused with the church. And I say that is significant, not in a bad way. I still miss Israel being there, but it is not anti-Semitic.”
The Israel Bible Society listed its specific issues with some of the verses here.
The Bible and Israel released a video on YouTube by the organization’s former chairman Jan Frost , which is believed to have kicked off the controversy.
And the Danish Bible Society released its own statement.