Article: Ecclesiastes - a Comparative Study by Will Kinney

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Bible Babel in the book of Ecclesiastes

Let's look at just a few of the more salient inconsistencies and totally different meanings found in the different Bible versions. There are many more, but these are listed just to give you some idea of the present day Bible Babel.

Ecclesiastes 2:8 "I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, and that of all sorts."

"Musical instruments" is the reading of the NKJV, the ASV of 1901(remember, the NASB introduction says this was the "Rock of Biblical Honesty"), the Spanish Reina Valera of 1569, 1909, 1960 and 1995 INSTRUMENTOS MUSICALES, Webster's 1833 translation, the Hebrew Names Version, World English Bible, the KJV 21, and the Third Millenium Bible.

The NASB and Holman Standard say: "I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men-MANY CONCUBINES."

The NIV says: "I acquired men and women singers, AND A HAREM AS WELL, -the delights of the heart of man."

I'm pretty sure there is a difference between musical instruments and an harem. Let's see what some other translations have come up with. Remember, all these translators are "experts in the original languages".

Douay Version 1950 - "...and the delights of the sons of men, CUPS AND VESSELS TO SERVE TO POUR OUT WINE."

New English Version 1970 - "I acquired singers, men and women, and ALL THAT MAN DELIGHTS IN."

Lamsa's 1933 translation of the Syriac Peshitta - "...I appointed for myself BUTLERS AND WAITRESSES."


Bishops' Bible 1568, Geneva Bible 1587 - "I have provided me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as A WOMAN TAKEN CAPTIVE, AND WOMEN TAKEN CAPTIVES."

Young's - "and the luxuries of the sons of man -- A WIFE AND WIVES."

Easy To Read Version 2001 - " I had men and women singing for me. I HAD EVERYTHING ANYONE COULD WANT."

Peterson's The Message: " and--most exquisite of all pleasures--VOLUPTUOUS MAIDENS FOR MY BED."

2:25 "For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, MORE THAN I?"

Here the Bishops' and Geneva Bibles, the Revised Version, the ASV of 1901, NKJV, Jewish translations of 1917, 1936, the Complete Jewish Bible of 1998, Darby, Young's, Hebrew Names Version, Third Millenium Bible, and the Spanish Reina Valera all agree with the KJB reading of "more than I?".

However the NASB, Holman Standard, ESV, and the NIV say: "For who can eat and who can have enjoyment WITHOUT HIM?" The RSV and NRSV say the same as the NIV, Holman Standard, and the NASB, but both have a footnote that says: "without Him" comes from the Greek LXX and the Syriac, but the Hebrew says "apart from me" or "more than I".

Even the footnotes in the modern versions are confused and contradictory. The ESV tells us that "A Few Hebrew manuscripts, the Greek and the Syriac read "without HIM", but that most Hebrew manuscripts contain the reading found in the King James Bible. But the Holman Standard has badly blundered in its footnote. It tells us the exact opposite, saying: "Other Hebrew mss., LXX and Syriac read ME". This is totally wrong. It is the LXX and Syriac that read "without HIM", not ME or "more than I", as is found in the King James Bible and all three Jewish translations I have access to. The NASB, Holman Standard, ESV,and NIV have abandoned the traditional Hebrew text and have followed the Greek and Syriac readings instead.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 "He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set THE WORLD in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end."

"He hath set THE WORLD in their heart" is the reading of the King James Bible, Wycliffe 1395, the Geneva Bible 1599, the Revised Version 1881, the Jewish translations of 1917, 1936, the Spanish Reina Valera 1909, the Italian Diodati, Darby, Douay, Webster's, and the Third Millenium Bible.

As usual the commentators differ among themselves, but John Gill remarks: "The meaning is, that God hath set before the minds of men, the whole world of creatures, the whole book of nature, in which they may see and read much of the wisdom power, and goodness of God in his works; and to some he gives an inclination and desire hereunto; but yet the subject before them is so copious, there is such a world of matter presented to them, and their capacity so small, and life so short, that they cannot all their days find out the works of God, either of creation or providence, to perfection; or find out what God works, from the beginning of the world to the end of it; for, of what he has wrought, but a small portion is known by them, and they know less still what shall be done hereafter."

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: "set the world in their heart--given them capacities to understand the world of nature as reflecting God's wisdom in its beautiful order and times (Ro 1:19, 20). "Everything" answers to "world," in the parallelism."

The Hebrew word translated as "world" has many different meanings which change according to the context of the passage. The King James Bible translated this word as "world" four times; here, and in Psalm 73:12, Isaiah 45:17 and 64:4.

The NKJV joins the RSV, NASB, NIV and Holman Standard in saying: "He has put ETERNITY in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." Yet the NKJV translates this same Hebrew word as "world" in Isaiah 64:4 "For since the beginning of THE WORLD men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him."

The American Standard Version also translates this word as "world" in Isaiah 45:17 "Ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded WORLD without end."

Other translations give a totally different rendering of this word which dramatically changes the sense of the verse.

The NRSV of 1989 says: "He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put A SENSE OF PAST AND FUTURE into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."

The Message has: "True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time--BUT HE'S LEFT US IN THE DARK, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he's coming or going."

Young's 'literal' translation: "The whole He hath made beautiful in its season; also, that KNOWLEDGE HE HATH PUT IN THEIR HEART without which man findeth not out the work that God hath done from the beginning even unto the end."

Daniel Wallace's NET version, along with Coverdale says: "God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also PLACED IGNORANCE in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives."

So, is it "the world, eternity, knowledge, ignorance, or a sense of past and future"? Hey, what's the big deal? They all mean the same thing, don't they?

4:16 "There is no end of all the people, EVEN OF ALL THAT HAVE BEEN BEFORE THEM: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit."

Here the NIV, RV, ASV, Holman Standard, Geneva Bible and the NASB all say the same thing as the King James Bible with it's "even of all that have been before them" but the NKJV says: "There was no end of all the people OVER WHOM HE WAS MADE KING: Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him." I have no idea how the NKJV came up with this new twist, but it is similar to the RSV, NRSV, and ESV which say "There was no end of all the people, ALL OF WHOM HE LED." The NKJV reading is not at all what the Hebrew text says.

5:8 "If thou seest the oppresion of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter. for HE THAT IS HIGHER THAN THE HIGHEST REGARDETH; AND THERE BE HIGHER THAN THEY." The "He that is higher than the highest" unjust judges of the earth is God Himself. This again is the reading of the RV, ASV, Geneva, Darby, the 1936 Hebrew-English and the Spanish Reina Valera.

John Gill comments: "for he that is higher than the highest regardeth: that is, God, who is the most high in all the earth; higher, than the kings of the earth, and all high and haughty oppressors."

Matthew Henry also remarks: "God is higher than the highest of creatures, than the highest of princes,... God is the Most High over all the earth, and his glory is above the heavens; before him princes are worms... God has his eye upon them, takes notice of, and will reckon for, all their violent perverting of judgment; he regards, not only sees it but observes it, and keeps it on record, to be called over again; his eyes are upon their ways. See Job 23:33."

But the NKJV, NIV and NASB all unite to change the reference from God as being He who is higher than them all, and to Whom they will all eventually give an account. The NKJV reads: "do not marvel at the matter; FOR HIGH OFFICIAL WATCHES OVER HIGH OFFICIAL, AND HIGHER OFFICIALS ARE OVER THEM." This doesn't even make sense. If all the officials are corrupt, then what good does it do us to know that there are higher officials over some others who are equally corrupt? The Book ends with "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments...For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." The KJB fits the context; the others do not.

5:20 "For he shall not much remember the days of his life: because God ANSWERETH him in the joy of his heart." The word here is cleary "answer" # 6030 and is found in the RV, ASV, Geneva, 1936, 1917, Darby, Young and Spanish. It is the word in 10:19 "money answereth all things." But the NKJV says: "the days of his life, because God KEEPS HIM BUSY with the joy of his heart." And the NIV, NASB have "God KEEPS HIM OCCUPIED." The joy that God gives can be an inner contentment and peace with my lot in life, but it is not the same thing as being kept busy with joy.

8:8 "There is no man that hath power over THE SPIRIT TO RETAIN THE SPIRIT; neither hath he power in the day of death, and THERE IS NO DISCHARGE IN THAT WAR." Here the reading of "no man has power over the spirit to retain the spirit" is found in the NKJV, the RV, ASV, Geneva, Darby, Young, Douay and even the RSV and the 2003 ESV (English Standard Version).

But the NASB says: "No man has authority to RESTRAIN THE WIND WITH THE WIND, or authority over the day of death, and there is no discharge IN THE TIME OF WAR." This is a totally senseless rendering. "Nobody can restrain the wind with the wind". What a revelation; I didn't know that! There also is no Hebrew word for the NASBs "in the time of" war. It is talking about death, and all have to die and perish before this enemy. It is not talking about the time of human conflict and war. The NIV is equally as wrong as the NASB with the same reading.

In 9:14 the NKJV makes an assault on the authority of the KJB by its misleading footnotes. "There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it and besieged it, and built great BULWARKS against it." Bulwarks is the reading of the Revised Version, the 1917, 1936 Jewish translations, Bishops' Bible, Hebrew Names Version, Amplified Bible, Darby and Youngs. The NIV and NASB have "seigeworks" which isn't even an English word, but it carries the same idea as the KJB. The NKJV, however, says "built great SNARES around it." Then in a footnote it says LXX, Syriac and Vulgate read "bulwarks". Do you see what they are suggesting? That the KJB followed these sources and not the Hebrew. Satan is a subtle snake, and he is at work in these modern day perversions to undermine the authority of God's pure, inspired words.

10:11 "Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; AND A BABBLER IS NO BETTER."

Here the NKJV is essentially the same as the KJB and the Geneva, 1936 Jewish translation, Webster's 1833 translation, the Third Millenium Bible, and the Spanish of 1909. However the NIV and NASB say: "If a snake bites before it is charmed, THERE IS NO PROFIT FOR THE CHARMER." Not quite the same meaning, is it?

10:20 "Curse not the king, no not in thy THOUGHT"

Bible translations like Wycliffe, Coverdale, Bishops' Bible, the Geneva Bible, the RV, ASV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NET, Holman, Lamsa's translation of the Syriac, the JPS 1917, Hebrew Names Bible, Darby, Complete Jewish Bible and the NIV agree with the KJB, but the NASB says: "in your BEDCHAMBER, do not curse a king." This noun comes from the verb to know or to think. The NASB has translated this noun as knowledge 5 times but only once as bedchamber. I think a lot of thoughts when I'm not in my bedchamber (by the way, isn't bedchamber an "archaic" word?); is it OK to curse the king when I'm outside my bedroom?

One more in closing. Ecclesiastes 12:11 "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the MASTERS OF ASSEMBLIES, which are given from one shepherd."

The one Shepherd would by God or Jesus Christ, our good shepherd, and He gives those who head up the assemblies of God's people, words of wisdom. The "masters of assemblies" is the reading of the Revised Version 1881, the1901 American Standard Version, the Geneva Bible, the 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company version, the Hebrew Names Version, and the Spanish Reina Valera "los maestros de las congregaciones". The Complete Jewish Bible says: "given by leaders of assemblies".

Even the NKJV admits in the footnote that this literally is "masters of assemblies". However the NKJV says "The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of SCHOLARS are like well driven nails..." Scholars! Boy, do they like to exalt the scholars. Do you need to be a scholar or a seminary trained professional Christian to be a Bible teacher? Jesus must have picked the wrong guys then when He, as the one shepherd, placed such untrained hicks as Peter, James, John and the others in charge of teaching His flock.

The NIV says: "THEIR COLLECTED SAYINGS like firmly embedded nails" instead of "masters of assemblies" and the NASB has "and masters of these collections are like well driven nails." The NASB teaches it is the masters who are like nails, rather than their words. This is the confusion being wrought by the Bible Babel going on today. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Will Kinney

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