The grass withers, the flowers fade,
but the word of our God remains forever.”
This morning I heard that the original Star Wars trilogy is returning to theaters. Which immediately made me wonder, Which version of the original Star Wars trilogy? The one that just says “Star Wars” in the opening crawl, or the one that says “Episode IV, A New Hope?” The one where Han shot first? Or the one where the ghost of Hayden Christensen is gazing creepily at Luke and Leia, alongside Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, while the Ewoks aren’t singing the “Jub Jub” song?
In the world of digital editing, nothing stays the same. Everything gets “improved.” The FBI agents in ET hold walkie talkies, not rifles.
Even music that’s on my iPhone, which I burned from a physical cd myself!!! is not safe from the digital monkeyers. Recently I was out on a run and was jamming to U2’s Mysterious Ways. I was singing along to the lyric “She’s the wave/She turns the tide/She sees the man inside the child, yeah.” Only now,. it doesn’t. Now it’s “And no one thinks to wonder why” or something like that. Well, I wonder why! Apparently, iTunes gives itself permission to replace even songs you’ve burned from your own library with improved versions.
But at least God’s Word is safe from revision, right?
Not so much. I was preparing for an upcoming Sunday School lesson on Acts 6–the selection of the first deacons. Here’s how verses 1-3 read in my 2003 Holman Christian Standard Bible (a hard copy, pulled off my shelf, with pages and everything)
6 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.”
However, the most recent revision of the HCSB (and the only one available online at Bible Gateway, the Blue Letter Bible, and the YouVersion App) makes a change to verse 2:
2 Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters.
So, how did we get from “waiting on tables” to “handle financial matters”?
- Not by a literal translation from the Greek. The Greek phrase is διακονεῖν τραπέζαις. Tranliterated, that’s diakonein trapezais. Diakoneō is the present active infinitive of “serve,” from whence we get our word deacon. And τράπεζα trápeza, according to the Blue Letter Bible, is
trap’-ed-zah; probably contracted from G5064 and G3979; a table or stool (as being four-legged), usually for food (figuratively, a meal); also a counter for money (figuratively, a broker’s office for loans at interest):—bank, meat, table.
So, the door is cracked for an alternative translation of “to serve as money counters.” Interestingly enough, the one place in the New Testament one might expect this figurative meaning would be in Matthew 9:9-10, when Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, while Matthew was sitting at the tax office. However, the Greek word there is τελώνιον, and it is used only here and in the parallel accounts (Mk 2:14, Lk 5:27).
2. We also didn’t get there by an attempt to line up the HCSB with other English translations. A quick survey of available translations shows that the HCSB stands alone in translating this as anything other than “waiting on tables.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the Holman translation team filed a minority report. What time of day did the Samaritan woman come to the well in John 4:6? Every other English translation either uses the traditional “about the sixth hour” or noon. This assumes the numbering of hours begins with sunrise–6 am-ish. Yet the Holman, alone among English translations, says “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.”
Not only does this put the Holman at odds with every other translation, but it ruins every sermon you’ve ever heard (or preached) about how the Samaritan woman came to the well during the hottest part of the day so she could avoid being around the other women of the town.
But in fairness to the Holman, at least this has been the translation from the beginning. My 2004 Holman is the same as my 2010 Holman. And, it’s consistent. Agree or disagree with their system, its the same in the crucifixion accounts, the time of night Jesus walked on the water, and, as far as I can tell, everywhere else an hour is named in the New Testament.
But with Acts 6:2, the Holman has changed from its first printing to its most recent. And I’m at a loss to see how this is a change for the better. Especially when it could be used to prooftext a faulty interpretation of what deacons are supposed to do. Pastors, have you ever dealt with a deacon board that acted as the financial managers of the church? Have you wished they would see themselves more as servants and not as the holders of the purse strings? Well, if you would rather they didn’t see themselves in that way, it’s probably best to keep them away from the HCSB.
At this writing, I’ve emailed my questions to the translation team at LifeWay, and I hope to update this post with their response and rationale. But in the meantime, let me just say:
- Han shot first.
- The agents in ET had rifles.
- Sebastian Shaw is the ghost of Anakin Skywalker.
- And deacons waited on tables. They didn’t handle financial matters.
UPDATE: This morning (April 18), I received this email from Jeremy Howard, part of the HCSB translation team:
Hey, James. Thanks for the note. When our text is revised next year, it will read: “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.”