The Danish Bible 2020’s Second Edition: Is “Israel” There?

The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020’s release in March caused quite the commotion, with critics claiming it was anti-Semitic and anti-Israel due to the name Israel being either removed or replaced with “the Jewish people,” “the Jews,” or “the people” in the New Testament.

Less publicized reactions were more balanced. As KNI reported in May, David Serner, pastor of the Danish Church in Jerusalem, said at the time that the translation was neither anti-Semitic nor a tool for replacement theology, although there was certainly cause for concern.

Likewise, the Danish Israel Mission stated, “There are reasons for criticism. We too have reservations about some of the choices made in this translation – also regarding the translation of ‘Israel’. But there are also reasons for joy. This translation proclaims the Gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah who invites and calls all of us into a relationship with Him, where He transforms us into new beings. We believe that this translation will be a tool to meet new people all over Denmark, Jews as well as gentiles, with this fantastic message.”

The Danish Bible Society has now re-released the translation and its General Secretary, Birgitte Stoklund Larsen, told KNI the following: “New translations of the Bible always raise questions. It is important to stress that this translation is not a substitute for the authorized version that the Bible Society also publishes; the Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 is a supplement.

“There was a debate in Denmark in April, mostly on a sound basis – in contrast to the international debate, which was based partly on fake news and misunderstandings. Many people have expressed an understanding of this particular translation’s goal: to reach secular readers.”

Pertinently, the translation’s release coincided with Denmark’s COVID-19 lockdown and many were able to use it for digital ministry. Moreover, one well-known Danish author called it “a long-awaited linguistic update that even a 17-year-old cellphone-stuck kid can grasp.”

So, what about Israel?

According to Stoklund Larsen, “Taking into account the debate raised, we found it reasonable to make some changes in the second printing to underline that the choices made were not political but translational. Changes were made in around 30 verses in the New Testament; we did, however, stick to the basic principle of translating ‘Israel’ as ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Jewish people.’ In the Old Testament, ‘Israel’ and ‘the Israelites’ still occur more than 2,000 times.”

Upon review of the changes, Jan Frost, creator of the video that started the debate in Denmark and drew international attention, responded, “To some extent, the criticisms have been listened to and ‘Israel’ now appears in some places in the New Testament where it indicates a geographical size. But otherwise, the changes are random and too few.

“The many omissions and paraphrases of the word ‘Israel’ mean – among other things – that the connection between the Old and New Testaments is blurred. For example, the Bible 2020 translates Luke 1:54 as ‘He takes care of his people’ instead of ‘He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,’ which is a direct reference to the servants of the Lord in the book of the prophet Isaiah.”

Likewise, Ole Andersen, General Secretary of the Bible and Israel, a Danish pro-Israel organization, assessed, “This is a clear improvement compared to the first edition. Some of the most problematic verses in the New Testament have been revised in a way that reintroduces the name of Israel. I am especially happy about Matthew 2:20-21, where Jesus and his family are again allowed to travel to ‘Israel,’ not only ‘home’; and Acts 10:39, where the land of Israel is again called ‘the land of the Jews,’ like in the original Greek text.

“However, I am disappointed to see that other texts have not been changed. ‘Israel’ is still omitted from many verses of the New Testament, which weakens its very close relationship to the Old Testament. I very much hope that the third edition will see changes of problematic verses in the Old Testament.”