Danish Bible Translation Controversy

The March release of the Danish Bible Society’s newest translation quickly became controversial. Other Danish Christians and Israeli media organisations described the ‘Contemporary Danish Bible 2020’ as both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel because the word ‘Israel’ had been replaced in many places with ‘the Jewish people,’ ‘the Jews’ or ‘the people.’

Some opponents even went to the extreme of claiming that the word ‘Israel’ had been completely removed from the text.

First Bible translated into DanishFirst Bible translated into Danish (Wikimedia Commons)

Directors of the Israel Bible Society were concerned, though after speaking to the Danish Bible Society they understood that the translation decision was not a political one. Nevertheless, they noted that the word “Israel’ only appears twice in this version’s New Testament, despite appearing more than 60 times in the original Greek.

 So, they issued a statement saying,

‘We believe that the replacing and removing of the term ‘Israel’ in the way that
it was done in the Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 was a harmful decision
which has hurt many who love the word of God, in Israel and beyond.’

Translators’ Defence

The Danish Bible Society explained that the Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 is a special kind of Bible translation directed at secular readers with little or no knowledge of the Bible, its history and traditional Bible language. They continued:

‘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.’

However, in response to all the criticism, they have already announced they will change some verses in the New Testament by returning the word ‘Israel’ where is refers to the geographic land of Israel.

Much Regret

It was a Danish organisation called ‘The Bible and Israel’ that first criticised this new Danish Bible. But they were dismayed that their critique was exaggerated, misreported and in some cases went viral with accusations of the total removal of the word ‘Israel’. They said:

‘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.’

Instead, they intended to raise:

‘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.’

Actually Pro-Jewish

Yet there is another twist to this controversy because not all the changes can be considered anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. One Danish pastor in Jerusalem has observed that:

“This New Testament is amazingly pro-Jewish. There are more than 300 times where they’ve added
‘Jewish people’ to the text where it wasn’t in the original.”

He went on to note that replacement theology is literally impossible on the basis of this translation of the New Testament. So, it is neither anti-Semitic, nor a tool for replacement theology.

The whole controversy highlights the big challenge that faces translators when they are dealing with the inspired word of God. Should they adopt an ‘essentially literal’ approach – as close to word-for-word as possible – or should they opt for what is called ‘dynamic equivalence’ – which gives more freedom to word passages in modern ways?