Note: “The Wartburg Project” is a group of Lutheran pastors and professors who have worked together to produce a new translation of the Bible, the “Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)®. More information can be found at wartburgproject.org.
Originally published as EHV – en ny engelsk bibelöversättning in Biblicum Volume 86 Number 1, 2022. Biblicum, Hantverkaregatan 8 B, SE-341 Ljungby, www.biblicum.se . Translated to English by Julius Buelow.
EHV – A New English Translation of the Bible
It has been very profitable for me to spend time with the Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV), a new translation of the Bible published by Northwestern Publishing House in 2019. An astonishing amount of work lies behind this translation, which was produced in a remarkably short amount of time. Dr. John Brug of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was the driving force behind this translation and is the general editor. Aiding him along the way was a large group of talented professors and pastors. In Biblicum n. 2/2018, pp. 61-66, I wrote the article “A Balanced Translation” about the EHV’s translation principles which are now presented in a long preface in the hardcopy of the Bible itself. Also in the preface is a section about Biblical chronology, where, for example, the exodus from Egypt is correctly dated 1446 BC (not the 1200s) and Jesus’ death and resurrection are dated April of the year 30 AD.
Here I will first repeat and review (from my article about EHV mentioned above) some of the principles of the translation and what it uses as its base-text. EHV seeks a “balance between the poles of so-called literal (word-for-word) and dynamic equivalent (thought-for-thought) theories of translation.” It is, namely, impossible for a translation into a language with different grammar to completely replicate the base-text word for word. A literal translation, understood properly, follows the original text thought-for-thought, not word-for-word. However, a word-for-word translation is often possible and, according to the EHV, should be used when it does not make the translation unnatural or the meaning hard to understand.
In the opinion of some, every translation involves interpretation. But the EHV is not an interpreting translation which brings interpretations from outside into the text. The goal is to “understand and reproduce as closely as possible what the original text says and to say no more and no less than what the text says.” “The most important qualities for a Bible translator to possess are a thorough knowledge of the whole message of Scripture, the aptitude to let Scripture interpret Scripture, and a humble willingness to submit to everything that Scripture says.”
The Base Text
The original manuscripts are no longer extant. All that remains are copies of copies of copies. There are hundreds of handwritten manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek books of the Bible. When it comes to the New Testament, many older Bible translations follow the so-called Textus Receptus (TR). This was the base for, among others, the King James Version. Textus Receptus relies heavily on late medieval manuscripts. The majority of newer Bible translations, on the other hand, “follows a critically reconstructed text which relies much more heavenly on older Greek manuscripts with an emphasis on texts from Egypt, where more old texts have survived because of the dry climate.”
An objective position studies all the witnesses to the original text without deciding ahead of time to favor one or the other, because each witness to the original text has its own strength and weaknesses. The approach of the EHV translation of the New Testament is grounded in manuscripts which are early and spread throughout more than one geographic area in the Christian world. When it comes to the Old Testament, the EHV follows the masoretic text as found in the Codex Leningradensis from 1008 AD, reproduced in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. This codex is the oldest complete manuscript of the whole Hebrew Bible (the OT). But EHV also takes into account older witnesses to the wording of the original—variants found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek Translation of the OT (The Septuagint, LXX), and even other early translations (Syriac and Latin). The Samaritan Pentateuch, that is, the old samaritan version of the the original Hebrew books of Moses, is also of interest.
Some examples from the Torah where the Masoretic text deviates from older witnesses to the text
According to the Masoretic text Genesis 47:21 reads, “As for the people, he moved them to the cities.” But older witnesses to the text, the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch, read: “As for the people, he made them servants.” Here, the EHV chooses the older reading. This makes the most sense in context, since the previous verse says, “Every man among the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine had them in its grip, and the land became Pharaoh’s (v. 20).” 47:23 goes on, “Then Joseph said to the people, ‘Since I have purchased you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you to sow the land.’” Who would be available to sow seed in the land for Pharaoh if the people were forced to leave the countryside and moved into cities? As bondservants they worked the fields for Pharaoh. The EHV mentions the Masoretic variant in a footnote.
According to the Samaritan Pentateuch, and also Acts 7:32, Exodus 3:6 reads, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The Masoretic text reads, “I am the God of your Father.” The EHV follows the Samaritan text but mentions the Masoretic version in a footnote.
According to the early Greek and Latin translations, Exodus 8:23 reads, “I will make a distinction between my people and your people.” The Masoretic text, numbered as 8:19, reads, “I will make a ransom between my people and your people.” The EHV follows the Greek and Latin versions but gives the Masoretic version in a footnote.
According to the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek and Syriac translations, Exodus 14:25 reads, “He jammed the wheels on their chariots.” This is the basis for the EHV translation. The Masoretic text says “he removed the wheels,” and is mentioned in a footnote.
Was the time of the flood around 2460 or 3110 BC?
The EHV objectively reports in footnotes when there are differences between the Masoretic text and older witnesses to the original text. There are many more footnotes like the ones mentioned above. In the majority of cases, these footnotes deal with small deviations from the Masoretic Text. That is why it is notable that the EHV does not draw attention to the big difference between the Masoretic text in Genesis 11:12-24 and three early witnesses to the correct reading of the original text.
In its record from the flood until the birth of Abraham, Genesis 11:10ff first mentions the birth of Arpachshad “two years after the flood” (v. 10) and then in verses 12-24 gives the number of years before the next son was born, all the way until the birth of Terah. According to the Masoretic text, there were 35 + 30 + 34 + 30 + 32 + 30 + 29 years until Abraham’s birth. If we add these years together and account for the fact that Terah was at least 70 years old when Abraham was born, then Abraham was born 292 years after the flood. According to the Bible then, Abraham’s lifetime spanned from ca 2166 to 1991 BC. So the flood happened ca 2460 BC, according to the Masoretic text. But three early and united witnesses to the original text, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and Josephus, have the years as follows: 135 + 130 + 134 + 130 + 132 + 130 + 79 until the time of Terah’s birth. That would mean Abraham was born 942 years after the flood. So the flood happened ca 3110 BC.
The short timeframe of the Masoretic text is problematic for the increase of the human population after the flood which the Bible talks about in Genesis 10, “The account about the development of groups of people who descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.” This account lists a variety of tribes, peoples, languages, and kingdoms, including Pharaonic Egyptians kingdoms with enough resources to build large pyramids. The reason the Masoretes would have shortened the time between the flood and the birth of Abraham, as it seems they did, is discussed in my article, “When Did the Flood Happen?”, Biblicum 2/2020, pp. 61-68. The Egyptians could not have built their pyramids before the flood (they were not covered by a deluge of water), neither could they have built them only a short time after only 8 people existed in the whole world in the Armenian mountains. The Pyramids were clearly built on sediment layers which were formed by the flood.
Some Reflections on the EHV Translation
It has been a joy to interact with the EHV translation. Again and again, the content of the Biblical text is conveyed better and clearer than many other translations. When a verse contains words that are hard to translate, there are often additional notes of clarification which objectively report which alternatives the translator considered. One example: How should the word “last” (hebr. acharon) be understood in the well-known passage Job 19:25, “at the end of time” or “as the last”? EHV chooses the first option: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the end of time he will stand over the dust.” But a footnote honestly indicates the other alternative: “Or as the last one.”
As a rule, the EHV also indicates when there are differences in the manuscripts. A well-known passage is Psalm 22:16 (ET), which is translated, “They have pierced my hands and my feet.” But why is this translation not accepted by everyone? The issue lies with the manuscripts. One note explains: “The reading they have pierced is found in some Hebrew manuscripts, including one of the oldest, as well as in other ancient versions. Most Hebrew manuscripts read like a lion instead of a verb.” We can add this: Old Testament passages which were cited by the first Christians as prophesies of Jesus, like this one and Isaiah 53 among others, caused difficulties for Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. The State-approved translation of the church of Sweden, Bibel 2000, which explains away the Messianic prophesies in the OT, chooses the following translation: “Hands and feet are shriveled.”
1 Peter 3:18-21 is an important passage which contains words whose meaning can be difficult to interpret. I’m thinking of the Greek words sarki (“in flesh”) and pneumati (“in spirit”), as well as the difficult-to-translate word eperooteema in verse 21. Concerning the first two words, the EHV writes in footnotes: “Here flesh is a reference to Christ’s state of humiliation. See Romans 1:3; 1 Timothy 3:16.” “Here spirit is a reference to Christ’s state of exaltation.” Christ’s state of exaltation refers to Christ, the God-Man, making full use of his heavenly power and glory again. The EHV translates eperooteema as “the guarantee” (of a good conscience before God).
Some Suggestions for Improvement
No translation is perfect, including the EHV. The group behind the EHV, the Wartburg Project, is well aware of this and is eager to receive suggestions for improvement. So I will comment on the translation of a few passages. For the sake of space I’ll limit myself here to three.
Before God says anything to Adam about the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” he says, “You may freely eat of all the trees in the garden (Gen 2:16).” In this way, God’s great goodness has preeminence. When God later says, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” it is out of his great goodness, his loving compassion for mankind. Man will receive the true knowledge of what is good and evil only from him, the All-Knowing God. They will lose this knowledge if they are disobedient and try to obtain it in another way.
The snake wants Eve to question God’s loving care and good intentions behind forbidding them to eat from the tree. The snake succeeds by adding the word not (hebr: lo) in front of God’s words: “Did God really say, ‘You will not eat from all the trees in the garden (Gen 3:1).” He wants Eve to see God’s command as if God is being envious or jealous (as if God is depriving them of something). He succeeds, and then he can make the bold-faced assertion that God has lied to them: “You shall not surely die!” Then he tempts them, saying they will be like God if they, contrary to God’s Word, take the knowledge of good and evil from the forbidden tree. It is not God, however, who is lying. The snake is. Jesus says about this tempter: “Whenever he lies, he speaks from what is his, because he is a liar and the father of lying.”
Older translations like the Septuagint, Luther, the Revised Luther Bible, King James, New King James, and several other translations translate the serpent’s words to Eve literally. “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat from all the trees in the garden?’” But some time ago many, including the EHV, have translated: “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” How “not all” can mean the same thing as “not any” is difficult to understand. The tempter always begins by carefully tiptoeing around the truth, and then afterwards he reveals his evil intentions with forceful assertions. Think about how he went about it when he tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1ff. He even cites Bible verses, and then he corrupts their application.
In order to receive the blessing which Isaac intended to give to Esau, Jacob needed to imitate Esau in a convincing way. Using the skin of goats and with the help of his mother Jacob succeeded in becoming just as hairy on his neck and hands as Esau. But he did not succeed when it came to his voice. So Isaac was uncertain if Jacob really was Esau. When Isaac touched Jacob, he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau (vs. 22).” But “because Jacob’s hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esau (Vs. 23)” it must have been Esau who had come to receive the blessing. The EHV translates the concluding words of verse 23, “That was why he blessed him.” But that is a little puzzling, because the blessing does not happen at that time, but later (see vss. 25-27). In addition, there is no “that was why” in the original Hebrew. Isaac needed further reassurances that the man with Jacob’s voice really was Esau. Only after Isaac ate and drank the food he had requested and “smelled his clothing (Jacob was wearing Esau’s clothing),” did he bless him (vs 27). How should we understand the last word of verse 23 and the first word of verse 24? They form a compound sentence consisting of two verbs which are vav-consecutive imperfects, that is, the second follows (is consecutive to) the first. Isaac was now prepared to bless him, but he still has his doubts, so he holds back and asks, “Are you really my son Esau?” My suggestion for a better translation of the two vav-consecutive imperfects is, “He intended to (was just about to, was going to) bless him, but he asked…” This translation maintains the dramatic tension of the text and agrees with what follows.
Isaiah 35:8, 10a
The EHV translates: “A highway will be there, a road that will be called the holy way. The impure will not walk there. It will be reserved for those who walk in that holy way. Wicked fools will not wander onto it. … Then those ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with a joyful shout.”
This translation is fairly unfortunate, because it changes God’s sweet gospel into law. After all, the Highway is the Messiah, the only holy one, who is for sinners! He is not reserved for the pious or righteous. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” says the Messiah in Matthew 9:13. Word-for-word, Isaiah says, “No unclean person will walk on it, but it is for them.” Those who walk on that way will not go astray, even if they are fools—then verse nine uses picture language to describe the peace of the true Zion, and the text continues—Those ransomed by the LORD will return.
Then They will enter Zion with a joyful shout.” There is no “then” in the original text, and it is misleading here.
When a sinner hears the words “No unclean person will walk on it,” he thinks, “Then this path is not for me.” That is why the text immediately adds: “But it is for them” (it is concise and clear in the Hebrew: wehu’-l’amo).
Even the worst of people, fools like you and me, are saved by the Highway (the Messiah). Through him we who are unclean are declared clean, and he leads no one astray: “Those who walk on that way (that is those who believe in him who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life”) will not go astray, even if they are fools.” They are “the ransomed of the LORD” and will come to Zion with joy.
As a rule, the footnotes in the EHV are very valuable. They are concise and matter-of-fact. But sometimes they can be questionable, and sometimes one could hope for an additional note. Here are a couple examples where, unfortunately, the notes are misleading.
The Footnotes to Exodus 13:18, 23:31, and Deuteronomy 1:40
Exodus 13:17-18 says that God ensured that the Israelites leaving Egypt did not take the route along the coast towards the land of the Philistines. Instead, he directed them to take the “desert road toward Yam Suf.” The EHV translates Yam Suf with “the Red Sea,” but writes in a note: “The Hebrew name for the sea, Yam Suf, seems to mean Sea of Reeds and includes the present Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez west of the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gulf of Aqaba east of the Sinai Peninsula.” This is not accurate. Every time Yam Suf is mentioned in the Bible—and it is mentioned many times—it refers to the Gulf of Aqaba. This can easily be proven. As to the translation of the so-called Yam Suf, it is true that suf can be translated as “reeds.” It can also, however, be translated as “end, destruction.”
It is typical for the Bible to let the name of a place remind people of what happened there. Here are several examples: Luz is called Bethel (God’s house), because this is where Jacob, in a dream, saw a stairway or ladder which reached all the way up to heaven. When he woke up, he said, “How awe-inspiring in this place! This is nothing other than the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven.… He named that place Bethel” (Gen 28:17-19). Beside the ford of Jabbok, Jacob wrestled with a man who later revealed himself to be God—“God’s face,” that is, God’s chosen Angel, the Son sent out by God. Jacob named that place Peniel, which means “God’s face.” He said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and my life has been spared” (Gen 32:30).
Against this background, the most probable explanation is that Moses used the name Yam Suf to remind people of God’s wondrous act of salvation accomplished there. The correct translation then would be “The Sea of Destruction” or “The Sea of the End,” because this is where God intervened to bring the pursuing Egyptians to their destruction, to their end. That the Gulf of Aqaba would be called “Sea of Reeds” would be very strange, because it is not a sea of reeds.
In Exodus 23:31 the boundaries of Canaan’s land are given: ”from Yam Suf all the way to the Sea of the Philistines. The EHV translates, “from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.” EHV has a note for Red Sea. “The Hebrew Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) here refers to the Gulf of Aqaba.” Refers here? Yam Suf always refers to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Deuteronomy 1:40 states: “But you, turn around and travel into the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” The note in this place says, “Hebrew Sea of Reeds. In this case it refers to the Gulf of Aqaba.” In this case? Yam Suf refers to the Gulf of Aqaba in every case (for further notes on the Exodus from Egypt and Yam Suf, see my article “Exodus: From Slavery to the Promised Land,” Biblicum 3/2020 pp. 99-115, available in an English translation at Biblicum.org). The EHV note here drops the “seems to mean Sea of Reeds;” now the incorrect translation has taken hold as the assumed one. Despite these critiques, the conclusion remains: Even if this translation is not perfect, it is still the best I have read. With a few improvements, it can be even better.
 “Händer och fötter är skrumpnade.”
 The original Swedish suggestion is: “Han tänkte (skulle just, stod i begrepp att) välsigna honom, men så frågade han…”