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Month 10:9, Week 2:1 (Rishon/Pesach), Year:Day 5939:276 AM
2Exodus 2/40, 4th Sh'mittah - Year 49/50
Global Judgment - Day #T-26
Gregorian Calendar Sunday 20 December 2015
Which Bible Version?
Examining the HalleluYah Scriptures II

    Continued from Part 1

    Three-and-a-Half Years Later

    It has been 3½ years since I published my preliminary evaluation of the HalleluYah Scriptures (HS) based on a couple of Bible book extracts which may be found online. It is now in its 6th (2015) edition. It has taken me that long to get a copy in my hands in spite of numerous requests to 'make a donation' for one of them. This time I have taken a photograph of my copy (alongside the ISRV or Institute for Scripture Research Version which involuntarily parented the HS) which appears above as the leading image of this article.

    A Threatening Email From the HS Lawyer

    Previously I used an image that I borrowed online only to get a threatening email from the HS lawyer ordering me to take it down or face criminal prosecution! To say I was flabbergasted was an understatement as you would have thought they would have been happy for the advertisement...until you realise that my preliminary article was not 100% favourable to the translation. I learned from that incident, and subsequently from other accounts online, that the producers of the HS are a little hyper-sensitive to any sort of criticism. That was my first red flag about this version - when you produce a Bible version you must expect scholarly criticism...if you're being scholarly yourself.

    Appearance of the Book

    Having heard many positive reports from users of the HS, I decided to return to it with a clean slate and simply review it 'as is'. It is well laid out, double column format in an easy-to-read typeface. The quality of the black-and-white maps is awful and they are practically illegible - they look as though they have been photocopied using a copier low on toner and then systematically smudged.

    Waterproof Version!

    They have even made a waterproof version of the HS, presumably for the benefit of those living in high humidity regions like the African rain forest, which is surely a first and a laudible innovation. Keeping a much used, portable book dry in a damp climate is for sure a challenge. The only drawback, one supposes, is the waterproof version might not lend itself to scribbling notes or textual highlighting and underlining.

    Bible Versions in Our Family

    My copy, however, was of the baser sort (though with a very nice plastic cover) as I decided to have a splurge and get copies for all my family to go alongside their New King James Version (NKJV) and Restoration Scriptures True Name Edition (RSTNE - 2nd edition) for comparitive purposes in our Bible studies. Though we use many different versions in our home - Messianic (ISRV, RSTNE(2), AENT, OJB, CJB, HRV, ATOT, MATS, MRC, etc.) Protestant (NKJV, NRSV, KJV, NIV, RSV, GNB/TEV, ESV, CEV, AmpV, KNT, NEB, HCSB, S&G, Moffat, JBP, BV, etc.) and Catholic (JB, NAB, Knox, etc.) - getting copies for each member of our large family can be an expensive business on a small pension so I seized the opportunity with this affordable messianic version. Now everyone has three of their own each plus a large reference library they can consult.

    Checking the Textual Foundation of a New Bible Translation

    One of the first things I check in any new version is the Introduction or Preface to learn how the translation came into existence, who translated it (along with their experience and credentials), which Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscript (MS) types or families they used, of which there are five to basically choose from when it comes to the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament):

    • 1. The Alexandrian (Egypt) - the oldest, most concise and most abundant MSS - forms the basis of nearly all modern translations;
    • 2. The Western (Roman Empire, Western half);
    • 3. The Byzantine (Constantinople, now Istanbul - Roman Empire, Eastern half) - the most recent and conflated, often containing additions made by over-zealous scribes keen to promote certain doctrines like Trinitarianism - used by the King James Version (KJV);
    • 4. The Caesarean; and
    • 5. The Hebraic like the Peshitta and old Syriac.

    Old Testament Textual Bases

    When it comes to the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament, the choice is usually between the corrupted Masoretic Text (which forms the basis of nearly all English Bible translations) and the much older and more reliable Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). In addition to these, there is also the older Greek Septuagint (LXX) which has much to say for it in spite of it being a translation of the original language(s).

    The Scholars of Any Translation

    Finally, having checked which MSS have been used for the ground text of the translation, I check out reviews made by scholars and users generally [1].

    Who Translated the HalleluYah Scriptures and From What?

    A problem with the HalleluYah Scriptures (HS) is that not only is nothing said about the translator or translators but there is not a word about the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek MSS used in the translation process. Indeed, there is not a single word in my copy of the 6th (2015) edition of the HS saying how the English text came to be. So it must logically follow as a distinct possibility that the creators of the HS may not even have made a translation at all.

    Jehovah's Witness and Mormon Bible 'Translations'

    Most English Bible translations tell you who did the translations (there's usually a list of scholars) and what MSS they translated from. Some do not, like the appalling New World Translation (NWT) of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who had no Hebrew of Greek scholars at all. Others, like the Joseph Smith Translation (JNT) or Inspired Version (IV) of the Mormons claimed their founder 'translated' using 'inspiration' alone, without recourse to any MSS at all, except the KJV!

    Origins of the Hebraic Roots Version

    Others, like the 2004 Hebraic Roots Version (HRV) by James Trimm - to give one example - openly admits that it has reworked the 1917 Jewish Publication Society (JPS) English text of the Tanakh (Old Testament) but has made a completely fresh translation of the New Testament from purely Aramaic sources with the exception of the Gospel of Matthew which is a revision of the 1927 Du Tillet Hebrew Matthew. So when you open an HRV you have a pretty good idea of what you are looking at.

    The Jewish new Testament and Complete Jewish Bible

    Open a Jewish New Testament (JNT) by David H. Stern and you are told, up front, that this is a cosmetic dynamic-equivalent (paraphrase) version whose express purpose is to bring out the 'Jewishness' of the original writings. Like the HRV, the Tanakh (Old Testament/OT) portion of the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) is not a fresh translation but based on the 1917 JPS which was, and remains, in the public domain. So the OT's of both the HRV and CJB are transliterations rather than translations. Like the HRV, the earlier JNT's 'claim to fame' is based on its New Testament translation. Stern tells us that the ground text he used to render the JNT was principally the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (3rd edition, 1975) so we know exactly which Greek MSS he used.

    New Revised Standard Version and Other Translations

    I could do the same for numerous other Bible translations, from the highly respected and professional New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), translated by a committe of scholars, to solo translations such as Andrew Gabriel Roth's, Aramaic English New Testament (AENT). When you hold English Bible versions such as these in your hand you pretty much know what you're dealing with, how the translations came about and where to consult the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek MSS concerned. You may not agree with either their choice of MS variants or their translation in various places but you can at least usually know you are dealing with persons of integrity and scholarship.

    A Copy of the ISRV?

    The silence of the 'HalleluYah Scriptures' (HS) therefore begs questions. You don't know who you're dealing with or what you're dealing with. As I read it, though, it looked, with the exception of a few cosmetic changes, identical to the South African Institute for Scripture Research Version (ISRV), first published by its translator, Chris Koster, in 1993 and now running into a 3rd 2009 edition [3]. Research proved me to be right.

    The Two Narratives

    But the story is by no means simple. There are two official narratives - one coming from the HS people and one coming from the successors of the late Chris Koster. Ploughing through the acrimonious exchanges between the two sides was a decidedly unpleasant experience, what with all the lashon hara involved. As I don't want to become yet another instrument of spreading lashon hara I will do no more than give my tentative conclusions. For those who would like to study this further, I recommend two websites which cover the two positions in great detail:

    An Historical Analysis

    I am sure that the translator, Chris Koster, had he been alive, would have been appalled at what has happened to his work and I think he would have had a strong rebuke for both factions. Legally, the man who assumed control of the ISRV, Wilhelm Wolfhaardt (and his successor today, Lew White of the USA, author of Fossilized Customs), are in the right, but morally there is no doubt that HalleluYah Scriptures people are in the right. Koster wanted his Bible to be uncopyrighted and distributed freely. However, afraid his project might be lost, he handed over control to Wolfhaardt in his will, with some money, on condition that the IRSV would continue to be published and go out into the world. In that respect, Woldhaardt was faithful. However, he did not apparently honour Koster's wish that the ISRV remain uncopyrighted and be distributed freely. Quite soon after Koster's death, he copyrighted the ISRV, creating a 2nd edition. Today Lew White is the copyright-holder and both the 2nd and 3rd editions of the ISRV are distributed with a fairly heafty price tag, making it unaffordable for the poor.

    My Position on Copyrighting Materials

    Now I personally take the position that it is not a bad thing to copyright material provided it is done so for righteous ends. Indeed, this was a dilemma I myself faced and initially we at NCAY had no copyrighted materials until we discovered people were copying our writings and were changing what I had written, in a bid to make me out to have said things I never did. As a result I copyrighted all NCAY writings and gave our reasons as follows:

      (a) To prevent people from modifying articles and putting them out as though we are the authors of the mutilated text, thus misrepresenting us and the Elohim who inspired them;

      (b) To prevent cults or enemies of the Gospel from using our materials, in part or in whole, to support their own positions after making modifications, or by making "selective extracts" taken out of context, thus giving a false impression of what we are saying;

      (c) To prevent people from using our materials for commercial gain;

      (d) So that we may be accoutantable for our stewardship before Yahweh, making sure that pearls are not being cast before swine, etc.. [4]

    The Wolfhaardt Heist

    The position of the HS people is that Wolfhaardt and White were in breach of Koster's original desire to produce a free Messianic Bible, using the Sacred Names, and as a result felt justified in ignoring Wolfhaardt's and White's copyright and so went ahead and produced a free Bible for the poor. In that respect I must say I sympathise with them but I am not convinced that two 'wrongs' make a 'right'. Subsequent behaviour by both sides seems to me to be of a low spiritual standard which is why I refuse to 'take sides' in this dispute.

    The HRV-ISRV Connection

    There is another dimension to this dispute that that needs mentioning and that concerns another Messianic translation that I have already mentioned, the Hebraic-Roots Version (HRV), which is one I rather like. There are two separate 'incidences' that help us perhaps understand how the HRV has since come to be commercially connected to the ISRV which is now the official distributor of the HRV. I can speak with some authority in this matter as I became unwillingly involved in the events of which I now speak.

    Financial Misdoings Surrounding the First HRV Edition

    When the first edition of the HRV was being printed in India, the author asked for 'donations' in advance to secure copies upon completion of the first edition. I instructed our agent in the USA to order 5-6 of them (I don't remember how many now) which he duly paid for. Weeks turned into months into years and we never got our copies. It transpires the author had under-estimated the printing costs and did not have the funds to supply everyone who had booked copies. But instead of apologising for his miscalculation, he proceeded to justify their not receiving their copies by insisting that the original donations of hundreds of people who had ordered the Bible had, in fact, been for his SANJ ministry rather than for copies of the Bible! Though some would have been angry and might have sued had he confessed, by his honesty he would have created enough good will to ensure that his costs were covered. But he refused. To this day his ministry has been plagued by financial difficulties as he has yet to make right this sin.

    Birds of a Feather?

    Such a printing operation was never done again. Instead, printing and selling was thereafter organised by the ISRV people! Add to this the fact that the HRV author was taken to court by another ministry ('The Way International') for plagiarising their translation of the Bible, a case, incidentally, he won. I find it interesting and more than a little coincidental that the two issues that have embroiled the ISRV/HS Bible distributors - plagiarisation/copyright and financial irregularities - have also been the ones surrounding the HRV [5]. This might also explain why he is such a staunch defender of the Institute for Scripture Research against the HS [6] though to be fair he may genuinely believe the HS people to be the guilty party. He alone must answer to Yahweh on that one.

    The Need for ISR and HS to Work Things Out With Integrity

    Whatever the truth is about the ISRV/HS controversy, there can be no doubt that Yahweh is not pleased by the conduct of these two organisations and that at some point - if they have any fear of Him - they must swallow their pride and own up to misdeeds. There has to be reconcilliation not just for the sake of personal integrity before the Throne but for the sake of the original translator, Chris Koster, who sacrificed so much to produce this translation that is loved by so many thousands, irrespective of whether it has been published under the ISRV or HS label.

    For the Sake of Koster's Good Name

    He alone of the contestants is entirely above reproach. Indeed, I find his story quite inspirational and even though I don't think the ISRV is the best translation (Messianic or Christian), there is no doubt in my mind that Yahweh was behind the project. It's also clear that Koster wanted his translation to be given out free and it was for this reason the first (1993) edition of the ISRV was not copyrighted. He made great sacrifices to produce it, using six years of his life, and lost his wife and family who would not give their support in producing the first ever Afrikaans and first ever South African translation using the true names.

    The Nameless Translator Finally Named in the HS

    Having looked at the history of the HS and its connection to Koster and to the ISR, let us return as one receiving a copy of the HS for the first time trying to figure out where it came from and who was behind it. Koster did not include his name in the first edition of the ISRV because he wanted all the glory to go to Yahweh. The ISRV and HS have ommitted his name too though who can tell what their motivation for doing so is given the events that have led to the current controversy. Going to the HS website, it is hard to find anything on the translation's origin. I only found an admission by an administrator - 'Ted' - far down in the comments thread in an article on the HS's origins:

      "The integrity of the text of the HalleluYah Scriptures is the same as The Scriptures version with some adaptations. The text is good and we still use it...the translation is The Scriptures done by Chris Koster. It is the same translation used by The Institute for Scripture Research (ISR) with some adaptations for the paleo Hebrew and some transliteration of Hebrew words like kohen - priest, nabi - prophet etc. You can go to the ISR's website and download an e-copy for E-sword and compare it to your HS. They are in essence the same. Shalom, Ted" [7].

    An Institution?

    People were bound to ask who the translator(s) was/were so I find it bizzare that it would have to be extracted by a member of the public in what ammounts as the equivalent to an obscure footnote. Indeed, I was for some time under the illusion that the ISRV was the work of a translation committee because of the title of the publisher, the Institute for Scripture Research (ISR), so it came as a surprise to me to learn that there was only one translator and that there was no 'institute' in the sense that we understand that word in the English language, viz. "an organisation for particular work, such as education, promotion of the arts, or scientific research, or the building where such an organisation is situated" [8]. And because of that, for years I told people (wrongly) that the ISRV was the product of a committee. I fancy myself reasonably erudite when it comes to the English language and asssumed ISR was a largish organisation with a team of workers. I was wrong. The ISR is, as far as I can tell, operated out of a a simple home. Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, perhaps something less grandiose than 'Institute' would have been more appropriate.

    The Right Balance is Needed

    A balance has to be sought between a translator wanting to keep a low profile as a legitimate act of humility and the need for the public to know how the Bible in their hands came into being. Though I have nothing against one-man translations and value many such solo works, there tends to be more rigour when a team of translators is involved, and it is to be regretted that all Messianic translations of the Bible that I know of (ISRV, HS, RSTNE, AENT, OJB, CJB/JNT, MRC, ATOT, MATS, etc.) are one-man productions.

    Safety in Numbers

    From a rigorous scholarly point-of-view, this is why I still feel the need to use Christian translations such as the NRSV, ESV, NKJV and even the venerated KJV. I was only recently reviewing the Berkeley Version of the Bible, the New Testament section of which was produced solo by Gerrit Verkuyl in 1945, to appreciate this even more. Though a beautiful translation that I have really enjoyed (and one I will probably use more often now), the translator takes numerous liberties with the Greek text that a team would quickly have picked out and insisted upon retranslation. From the point of view of translational integrity, there is without doubt safety in numbers even if sacrifices may have to be made to style and creative language. I don't care how 'inspired' people make translators out to be but the indisputable fact is that all translators make errors and influence their translations subjectively without often knowing it. It just can't be avoided.

    The Textual Basis of the ISRV

    All editions of the ISRV contain a full account in the Preface explaining how the version came into existence. Based on the Textus Receptus (TR), from the third family of Byzantine texts mentioned earlier, Koster also extensively used the Greek Nestlé-Aland and Hebrew Shem Tob texts "noting certain differences in footnotes, where necessary". It should be pointed out here that the HS uses no footnotes and gives no indication of alternative textual variants, its short Introduction telling the reader, if he does not understand what he is reading, "to ask YHWH to teach you through the Ruach ha'Qodesh...He is your teacher, not man" [9].

    An HS Cop-Out

    This is a major weakness and, in my mind, a cop-out on the part of the HS editors. I can only conclude that the reason they tell the reader so little in their Introduction is that they have an ISR lawyer breathing down their necks waiting for the opportunity to sue them. And if that is not the reason, they need to come out and say why what they present should be uncritically trusted. Claiming that you should be 'led by the Ruach (Spirit)' too, though sounding meritorious, is just a cop-out. That's how the Mormons ask their investigarors to judge the Book of Mormon too. If Koster used footnotes and explained his sources, as he was absolutely right to, why don't they, if they claim to be continuing his work? What they're telling us is their choice of textual variants is best without telling us what the alternatives are and why they chose what they chose. That amounts to vitually claiming the Ruach (Spirit) dictated the HS, which did not happen. The HS is no more word-perfect than the KJV - Koster never claimed it and the KJV translators didn't claim it for their version.

    The Danger of One-and-Onlyism

    I hope I am wrong but I do sense a bit of the prideful and irrational 'King James Version Onlysism' spiritual virus in their attitude, namely, an implication that the HS is not only the 'best' translation on the market (as every translator ought to believe about his own work) but perhaps - just perhaps - it might be an inspired English translation, perfectly (or near perfectly) directed and controlled by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) every bit as accurate as the original Hebraic autographs. They haven't said that but I detect something of that potentially emergent cultic spirit that plagues the KJV-Only movement. I hope I am wrong but I sense the seeds of it. So I hope they fight hard to resist that kind of attitude which would damage Koster's legacy even more. Similar intimations have regrettably been made by the authors of the HRV and RSTNE, as I mention in Part 1 of this article. 'One-and-only-ism' is, alas, a red flag for the rising of a cult.

    No Perfect Messianic Version

    There is no messianic translation of the Bible or New Testament that, in my opinion, comes anywhere near such a claim, including the HS. Indeed, I do not believe an infallible translation is possible in English or any modern language, even with a brilliant team of devout scholars. Those who lean in that direction are entering very dangerous spiritual territory indeed. The textual history of the Bible is not simple even if what we have is more than sufficient. Yahweh has preserved His Davar (Word) throughout the generations not by providing us with perfect English (or other language) translations like the KJV or HS (or Latin Vulgate)...they are riddled with textual and translation errors...but through the process of copying has ensured that taken together the extant MSS do absolutely contain that Davar (Word) [10].

    The Absolute Need for Historical Textual Criticism

    Yahweh has also arranged things in such a way that we shall remain reliant on the textual critics to scientifically reveal to us how how the texts have been transmitted over the centuries. I speak not of so-called liberal 'higher criticism', which is the atheist's and sceptic's response to revelation, but to so-called 'lower criticism' that is purely an historical study of MSS. I have searched for a perfect 100% accurate translation all my life. And whilst I am still lookling for improvements, I no longer expect to find a perfect one. And those who think they can produce one are quite deluded and potentially dangerous, giving lay believers false hope and supplying ammunition to critics of Christianity who often know their textual history better than such naïve believers.


    Chris Koster's translation is a valuable addition to English Bible versions. He fulfilled his commission to get a sacred-name version out to the Body. Today there are several, each with their own merits and demerits. Koster's work has now appeared in a total of 9 revisions under the ISR and HS labels. In hopefully a follow-up article I will examine the translation itself and offer my own critique of Koster's work. I use the ISRV - and now HS - alongside my many other messianic versions, with these alongside the best on offer from the Protestant collections of thoroughbred versions. Between them all I have profited and continue to profit. May you do so likewise.

    Continued in Part 3


    [1] There are many HS reviews online which you can Google, most of which are negative. I have just picked two which seem to cover the HS more extensively than others and are not overly propagandistic - I should be happy to include more, especially those that deal with textual criticism and not just the plagiarisation issue:

    [2] David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible (Messianic Jewish Publishers, Clarksville, MD: 1998), p.xxxi
    [3] Chris Koster, The Scriptures (ISR, Nordriding, South Africa: 1998), p.xvi.
    [4] From Copyright Rules
    [5] HRV - Foundation for Plagiarism
    [6] James Trimm, Halleluyah Scriptures is False and The Halleluyah Scriptures Publishers Want to Silence Me (negative)
    [7] From the Comments section of HalleluYah Scriptures Review, April 20, 2013
    [8] The New Collins Concise English Dictionary (Guild Publishing, London: 1987)
    [9] HalleluYah Scriptures, 6th Edition (2015), [p.i]
    [10] The best book on the subject that I have read to date, and very readable for the layman, is James R.White, The King James-Only Controversy (Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota: 2009). Every minister and apologist should have a copy of this for reference and congregations should be exposed to its basic tenets

    Comments from Readers

    [1] "Could I suggest that you read https://isr-messianic.org/information/frequent-questions.html?" (JM, South Africa, 26 August 2017)

    Author's response: Thank you for this statement. My main interest is the translation process and those involved. The Q&A says:

      "'The Scriptures' were originally translated by Dr. C.J. Koster, with the aid and support of other scholars and textual experts from both Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds in different parts of the world. By forming the ISR, he enabled the work of the ISR to continue, even after his death."

    It is important that the "other scholars and textual experts" be named and what it is they were consulted about. This is standard practice in scholarly works of translation so that they can be checked. Proper footnoting, as in the modern NRSV and ESV, should be included, showing sources, alternative readings and the reasons by Koster and those he consulted why they chose what they did. This is all the more important with the new editions being produced. Because the corrupt Tiberian Masoretic Text seems to have been the base of the ISRV OT and a Greek compilation that of the NT, rather than Aramaic/Syriac, I see that many of the errors of other translations continue to be perpetuated in the ISRV, which is a great pity. A fully documented and footnoted revision, using pre-Masoetic texts like the DSS, LXX and others would be a valuable exercise, particularly as the ISRV remains the only Afrikaans Messianic version and I believe it is important that the Afrikaans-speaking community have a good messianic version (27 August 2017).

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