Bible Matters #14
NIV "Eternally Condemned?"
By Gary Amirault
The New International Version of the Bible is today the best selling English translation on the market. Personally, I think it is better than the King James Version which was the leading selling English Bible translation for almost 400 years. However, the NIV is far from perfect. The following verse is a classic example of the liberty the NIV translators took with the Greek and Hebrew Texts. In Galatians 1:8-9, we find in the NIV the phrase “eternally condemned” two times.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9, NIV)
Almost every other English translation translated the Aramaic word “anathema” as “cursed” or “accursed” or they transliterated the word, that is, they brought the Aramaic word “anathema” (there are a few Aramaic words in the Greek New Testament) right into English without translating it. No other English translation I have in my library (and I have close to 100 English New Testament Translations) chose to translate this single word “anathema” with two English words, one of which was “eternally.” There are several Greek words which some English translations translated “eternally,” “forever,” “perpetual,” or “everlasting,” but “anathema” is not one of them. I say “some” because there are many English translations in which the concept of “eternity” is not found. They believe the Hebrews did not have an idea of our modern concept of eternity. There are well-known and respected scholars in this camp.
Regarding the word “anathema,” I repeat NO other English translation had the nerve to put “eternally” into these phrases in Galatians. Why? Because there is no word in these two sentences that remotely refers to eternity. The NIV translators simply took the liberty of injecting their own beliefs in eternal damnation into this passage without a shred of support from the Greek. This passage is not a unique instance in which the NIV translators took great liberty with the Greek text. But that’s for another day.
There is another new English translation that perhaps has outdone the NIV in reading into this text what is not there. The NET Bible (New English Translation) translated anathema as “condemned to Hell.” The Greek words usually translated Hell ( but incorrectly) are not in these verses either. The Greek words most often translated “Hell” by traditional translations are hades, gehenna and tartarus. These words are not in Galatians 1:8-9. Again, the NET translators took the liberty to inject their own theology into this verse. The NIV and the NET translators in these verses have gone way beyond the bounds of accurate translating with these verses.
Does the Aramaic word “anathema” carry behind it the idea of people being endlessly tortured and separated from God? In Acts 23:14 a group of Jews put themselves under a curse; they would eat no food until they killed Paul. Do you really think these men, asked to be eternally tortured and estranged from God forever if they failed to kill Paul? Hardly! When Paul wished that he himself was accursed for the sake of his kinsmen after the flesh, do you really think he would allow himself to burn in a Hell forever if it would save his kinsmen? That’s ridiculous. Paul taught no such thing. The apostle to the nations, never used any of the words some translations translated Hell.
Despite the fact that many English Bible translations have rendered incorrectly many things as “eternal” such as the Mosaic Covenant, the fire on the Temple altar, the sign of circumcision, the Levitical Priesthood and many other things, Paul knew that Mosaic Law would end. He said it was ending even as He wrote. (2 Cor. 3:1-18) Paul knew of no such thing as being accursed and estranged from God “forever.” He knew that his estrangement would come to an end eventually should he wish such a thing. For in depth studies on the words in many English translations mistranslated “forever,” “everlasting,” “eternal,” etc., see articles and books at:
So then, if one wants to know what is in the Scriptures, Christians should:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV)
Or is that what the Greek really is saying? Do I need to be a “hard worker” rather than to study hard?:
“Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15, New Living Translation)
Or do I just need to be more eager to present my self acceptable before God:
Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation. (2 Tim. 2:15 New American Bible)
Study, work hard or be eager – gee, finding out what the original languages of the Bible really mean is not so easy. And accepting one translation as infallible is a foolish thing to do. Unfortunately few Christians really take Bible study very seriously. It simply takes too much time. The average American spends over 4 hours in front of the television. There is simply no time left for serious study. Our priorities are upside down here. Therefore, many take the following attitude:
The Attitude of Many
“Please don't disturb me with the facts,
I'm content in being lax.
I won't take time to think, you see;
If wrong, that's good enough for me.”
James E. Gibbons
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