This article was originally published in Breaking Israel News on May 11, 2020. Also, please see an update at the end of this article.
International outrage has been ignited in recent days over the publication of the Danish Bible 2020 – a new translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament – by the Danish Bible Society (DBS). The indignation was sparked by the release of a seven minute video on April 17, 2020 on YouTube by Danish Christian Jan Frost, in which Frost sounded an alarm in relation to how references to Israel – the land and the people – are dealt with in the text.
Frost began his video with the words, “Are you aware that the name Israel has been removed in a new translation of the New Testament? Yes, you heard right. The name Israel has been removed.”
Obviously, these are alarming words for anyone concerned with the imperative to preserve the integrity of the biblical text and ensure that it is not changed in order to promote an agenda such as replacement theology – the belief that the Church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God. So, it is quite understandable that multiple articles have now been published, which echo Frost’s objection to any removal of “Israel” in the Danish version.
As an Evangelical Christian whose life’s work is dedicated to countering antisemitism – specifically Christian antisemitism fueled by replacement theology – I identify with the concern of my friends and colleagues that the new Danish Bible might offer an interpretation that promotes antisemitism, replacement theology, and delegitimization of the modern State of Israel.
However, as I read the various articles on the subject, I made a couple of disturbing observations.
The first is that there is no indication that the articles’ authors considered the meaning or implication of the terms used to replace “Israel,” especially the use of the phrase, “the Jewish people.” If they did, they should have said so. Instead, critics of the Danish Bible have focused solely on the fact that “Israel” was removed, while offering no discussion of what the Danish says in its place.
In an effort to provide a fresh perspective in the midst of the current storm, the following discussion will demonstrate that when “Israel” is replaced by “the Jewish people,” the identity of the Jews as the chosen people of God is actually emphasized. Indeed, because Jews have been dispersed throughout the world, the use of “the Jewish people” identifies all Jews – not just the inhabitants of a geographical Israel – as God’s people. Rather than interpreting this change as an indication of antisemitism, replacement theology, or delegitimization of Israel, it should be seen as an interpretation that counters them all.
Second, there are glaring omissions in the arguments presented in the video and subsequent articles. The vast majority of instances in which “Israel” is preserved in the Tanakh is simply ignored. In addition to the omissions, inflammatory headlines misrepresent the extent of how much was changed in the Tanakh. This incomplete and biased information has incited a disproportionate level of fury that seems to increase with each new article.
The lack of discussion about the meaning and implication of words used to replace “Israel” in the text, the omission of the fact that the Danish translation as a whole actually preserves the vast majority of the uses of “Israel,” and the use of headlines that don’t present the full story have resulted in conclusions that are based on an incomplete set of data, to say the least.
Meaning and Implication of Words Used to Replace “Israel”
In my dissertation and subsequent book, Jews and Anti-Judaism in Esther and the Church, I examined the history of Christian antisemitism through an analysis of the history of Christian interpretation of the scroll of Esther. Tragically, that interpretation is quite antisemitic and it played a role in the foundation of historic Christian opposition to Jews. Through a comparison of the Hebrew and Greek versions of Esther, I demonstrated how changes made in translation feed interpretations that fuel antisemitism.
Therefore, I identify with the alarm expressed by my friends and colleagues and share their concern about how changes in the Danish Bible might promote the evil we all stand against. But in order to make accurate conclusions about whether or not changes in terms actually do promote antisemitism, replacement theology, or the delegitimization of Israel, it is necessary to analyze the meaning and implication of the words used to replace “Israel” in the text.
The fact is that all but one use of “Israel” has been changed or removed in the Danish New Testament and 8-9% of the instances in which “Israel” appears in the Tanakh, it has been replaced or omitted. This is alarming to everyone who is concerned about any attempt to eliminate the biblical history of Israel and the Jewish people through replacement theology. In light of this clear and present danger, the consternation over the new translation is understandable.
There are definitely problems with the new Danish Bible. However, in order to provide a credible analysis of the accuracy and overall effect of this new version, the critique must include a discussion of the meaning and implication of the words used instead of “Israel,” and it must acknowledge the complete picture of how the translation treated every occurrence of “Israel.”
In order to understand the significance of the words used to replace “Israel,” it is vital to have input from a native Danish speaker. Jan Frost is a native speaker, but in his short video, he focused solely on the subject of the removal of “Israel” and did not offer any explanation of the meaning and implication of the words with which it was replaced.
Since I am not able to read Danish, I asked for assistance from Rev. David Serner, the pastor of the Danish Church in Jerusalem. He has provided me with the translation of numerous texts from the Tanakh and the New Testament, as well as the words or phrases used instead of “Israel.” His translations from Danish to English are the source for the discussion that follows.
Removal of “Israel” in The New Testament
In his video, Frost states, “The name of Israel has been removed wherever it appears in the part of the New Testament…though the name Israel appears more than 60 times in the New Testament, it is used regarding the people of Israel as well as the country Israel. But in the New Agreement [the new name given by the DBS for the New Testament], they have chosen to rewrite the name Israel as the Jews or Jewish or simply to remove it entirely.”
In an answer to the question of why “Israel” is only mentioned once in the New Testament, the Danish Bible Society posted the following response on their website:
In the New Testament the word “Israel” has been translated into “the Jewish people,” “the Jews,” or “the people” because when the Greek text uses the word “Israel” it is referring to a people with whom God has a special relationship – Jacob’s descendants. However, for the secular reader, who does not know the Bible well, “Israel” could be referring only to a country. Therefore, the word “Israel” in the Greek text has been translated in other ways, so that the reader understands it is referring to the Jewish people.
In the same statement, the DBS also said that the Bible 2020 “is a special kind of Bible translation directed at secular readers with no or little knowledge of the Bible and of its history and traditional church and Bible language.” Therefore, the translation was made so that the “majority of Danish readers” might better understand “that Israel in the New Testament at large refers to the people of God with which He has made a covenant.”
In contrast to the charge that the Danish Bible Society intentionally promoted replacement theology through its translation of the Bible, it would appear from the statements above that the translators wanted to make sure the readers understand that when “Israel” refers to the people (rather than the land), it means the Jews, the descendants of Jacob, the people of God.
As Frost said in his video, “Israel” in the Bible “is used regarding the people of Israel as well as the country Israel.” The DBS chose to change that name to “Jews” or “Jewish” in almost every case in the Danish New Testament. The change from “Israel” to “Jewish” or “Jews” is indeed problematic if this change is made where “Israel” refers to the country or land of Israel. It is a grievous error to change or omit the biblical and historic connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, or to blur the continuity between the biblical land of Israel and the land now known as the modern State of Israel. Therefore, in the cases in which “Israel” refers to the country or land of Israel, the DBS must correct its translation and restore “Israel” in its proper context.
However, where it is obvious from the context that “Israel” refers to the people of Israel, the Danish Bible’s emphasis on the Jewish people as the people of God is actually a positive thing. In these cases, the claim that there is an attempt to replace Jews or delegitimize the Jewish State is not justified. Rather, it is fair to say that the use of “the Jews” or “the Jewish people” places an increased emphasis on the importance and identity of the Jews as the people of God.
Statistics provided by Pastor Serner are quite illuminating in relation to charges that the Danish Bible Society has removed Israel from the Bible. In the Greek New Testament, the words “Jews” or “Jewish” appear 149 times. The modern Hebrew translation of the Greek New Testament added a few, so that “Jews” or “Jewish” appear 165 times. However, the new Danish Bible uses the words “Jews” and “the Jewish people” over 500 times. This is more than three times the number of occurrences in the original Greek!
Part of the reason there are so many more occurrences of “the Jews” or “the Jewish people” in the Danish New Testament is because where the Greek uses “your people” or “the people of God,” the Danish says “the Jews” or the “the Jewish people.” In other words, the Danish translators chose words that make it quite clear that God’s people are the Jewish people.
The heightened emphasis on the Jews as God’s people, and as a specific ethnic and religious identity, makes it much more difficult to conclude that the Danish New Testament antisemitic or is attempting to replace the Jewish people. If the translators of this version were actually trying to promote replacement theology, they could have replaced the term “Israel” with “the church” or with “us,” rather than “the Jewish people.” Indeed, the increased number of references to the Jewish people as God’s people refutes replacement theology, rather than enabling it.
Frost states that “Israel” appears more than 60 times in the New Testament, but in the course of the video provides just two examples where it was changed in the Danish Bible. The first example is from Matthew 10:23, where in the Greek, Jesus tells his disciples that they will not make it through all of Israel’s cities before the son of Man arrives. In the Danish version, “Israel” is changed to “Jewish” so that this verse then refers to Jewish cities rather than Israel’s cities. This change does indeed remove the clear identification of Israel as a specific geographical location that was, and is, home to the Jewish people.
The second example cited by Frost is from Matthew 2:19-23, in which Joseph, Mary and the young Jesus return from Egypt to the land of Israel after fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of Jewish boys. The Danish version leaves out “to the land of Israel” and simply says they went “home.”
Here is the original text of Matthew 2:19-23, with the two instances of “the land of Israel” in bold:
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20. “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21. So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23. and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
In Danish, both instances of “the land of Israel” are translated as “home”:
But when Herod was dead, an angel showed himself to Josef in a dream and said to him: “Rise and go home with the child and his mother. Those who would kill the child are now dead.” Josef did as the angel said and travelled home with Jesus and Mary. In Judea was the son of Herod, Archeleos, made king after his father. When Josef heard this, he was afraid to go there. In a dream, he was told to go to the Galilee instead, and when he came there, he settled in a town called Nazareth. Thus, what God had foretold, was fulfilled. In the prophets, it says that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
As in the first example from Matthew, the change from “the land of Israel” to “home” removes the clear identification of Israel as a specific geographical location that was, and is, home to the Jewish people. This is one of the worst cases in which the Danish translation removed “Israel” from the text, and Frost was justified in bringing attention to it.
The good news is that in an apparent response to the outrage over the removal of “Israel,” the Danish Bible Society announced in a statement released May 2, 2020 that they will correct the omissions of the “land of Israel” and change the text to say the “land of Israel” or “Israel’s land” in all cases in which “Israel” refers to the land of Israel.
It is most interesting in the midst of the outcry over the removal of “Israel” from the Danish New Testament that none of the critics have commented on the omission of references to “the Jews” or “Israel” in the Gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus. Indeed, when the original text describes Jesus being taken before the Sanhedrin, the Danish version simply says he was taken before “the council,” rather than “the council of all Israel.” The removal of “all Israel” weakens the involvement of Jews in Jesus’ trial. This is extremely significant in light of centuries of history in which Christians blamed Jews for the death of Christ and, as a result, justified every imaginable persecution of Jews, including the Holocaust. In this case, the DBS has offered an interpretation that all those who are involved in fighting antisemitism should be happy about.
Romans 9-11 provides another example in which the Danish translation removed “Israel” and replaced it with “the Jewish people.” In this context, the meaning and implication of the words used to replace “Israel” are quite positive and they clarify the meaning of the text. These three chapters in Romans are foundational for understanding the proper relationship of Gentile Christians to Israel and the Jewish people, the Jewish roots of Christianity, and God’s eternal purposes for Israel and the Jewish people. The strong admonitions issued by the Apostle Paul directly repudiate replacement theology, which maintains that the church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God, and the Danish version preserves Paul’s intent.
By replacing “Israel” with “the Jewish people” in Romans 9-11, the Danish Bible identifies the specific ethnic and religious identity of the people who are indeed the root of the tree into which Gentile believers have been grafted. In contrast to the term “Israel,” which is more easily reinterpreted by adherents of replacement theology, the use of “the Jewish people” makes it much harder for non-Jews to identify themselves as the ones Paul declares to be the root of the tree, the natural branches, and the recipients of the covenant, the gifts and calling of God that are without repentance. In other words, by using “the Jewish people” instead of “Israel,” the Danish New Testament strengthens the case against replacement theology.
There are more examples of how the meaning and implication of the words used to replace “Israel” are quite positive and help to clarify the meaning of the text. In Hebrews 8:8, the original text says, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” The Danish version changes this to say that God will make a new covenant with “the Jewish people.” Here again, the emphasis on the Jewish people reinforces the biblical assertion that God has a continuous and future plan for the Jews – a distinct people who cannot be replaced by Gentiles in the purposes of God.
In the book of Revelation, the references to “Israel” in 2:14, 7:4 and 21:12 are replaced with “Jews” or “Jewish tribes.” The list of the twelve tribes in chapter seven make it quite clear that the tribes are the original tribes of Israel, born in the book of Genesis and still recognizable at the end of history. Once more, the emphasis on “Jews” and the “Jewish tribes” provides an antidote to the false claims of replacement theology.
In conclusion, when it comes to the New Testament, it is true that in almost every case, the name “Israel” has been removed. When “Israel” is replaced with “Jewish” or “Jews” in the context of referring to the country or the land of Israel, this is indeed problematic. The Danish Bible Society needs to follow through on its stated intent to correct its translation and restore the “land of Israel” or “Israel’s land” in all cases in which “Israel” refers to the geographical location of Israel.
However, when the change is made where it is obvious from the context that “Israel” refers to the people of Israel, the Danish Bible’s emphasis on the Jewish people as the people of God is quite positive. In these cases, the claim that there is an attempt to replace Jews or delegitimize the Jewish State is simply not justified. Instead, it is clear that the use of “the Jews” or “the Jewish people” places an increased emphasis on the importance and identity of the Jews as the particular people of God. In these instances, the Danish New Testament has strengthened the case against replacement theology by making it clear that there is a continuous history and future for the Jewish people.
Removal of “Israel” in The Tanakh – The Hebrew Bible
Jan Frost’s announcement that “the name Israel has been removed in a new translation of the New Testament” failed to include any mention of how “Israel” was treated in the Tanakh. Unfortunately, this omission does not seem to have been noticed by most, who condemn the new version in its entirety as a result. Recent articles and headlines feed the misconception that “Israel” was removed from the Hebrew Bible to the same degree it was removed from the New Testament, when in reality, the vast majority of the instances in which “Israel” appears in the Tanakh are preserved.
According to a statement from the Bible Society of Israel, which expresses concern over the new translation, the term “Israel” appears 2,521 times in the Hebrew text and was omitted or replaced 205 times in the Danish version. This means that the Danish Bible retains “Israel” approximately 92% of the times it appears in the Hebrew.
Pastor David Serner provided statistics, which show that 9% of the references to Israel in the Tanakh are replaced by another designation. In 2% of the cases, “Israel” becomes “the northern kingdom.” This change of terms makes sense in context, and distinguishes between the ten tribes in the north and Judah and Benjamin in the south. In the remaining 7% of the cases, “Israel” is either omitted, becomes “Jacob,” or is replaced by other terms or phrases.
To its discredit, the recent commentary on the new Danish Bible has only focused on the 8-9% of the instances that are problematic without acknowledging the other 91-92% of the references to “Israel,” “the house of Israel” and “the children of Israel” – most commonly translated as “Israelites” – that are retained in the Danish version. As a result, the content and titles of most, if not all, of the recent pieces promote a biased and inaccurate analysis of this most recent version of the Bible.
Based on its own statement, the Danish Bible Society seems to think that the changes they made make it easier for readers to understand what is going on in terms of geography or in relation to the original identity of Israel as Jacob. Whatever their motivation may be, it is clear that in 8-9% of the cases, there has been a deliberate removal of “Israel.” The fact that “Israel” is removed or replaced even once – especially in the Tanakh – is cause for great concern on the part of all those who are alert to any effort to minimize or obliterate the history of Israel and thereby lend support for the dangerous adherence to replacement theology.
Therefore, the Danish Bible Society should restore all the references to “Israel” that have been changed in the Tanakh, just as they have indicated they will restore “Israel” in all cases in the New Testament in which the original text says “the land of Israel” or “Israel’s land.”
In an article published on its website on April 22, 2020 in response to criticism of the new translation, the Danish Bible Society stated:
The words Israel and Israelites occur in the translation more than 2,000 times and the words Jew and Jewish occur more than 500 times. For instance, Jacob is still given the name Israel in Genesis and the people of God are still called Israel or the Israelites in the Old Testament.
Indeed, as the numbers above demonstrate, “Israel” is preserved in the vast majority of instances in the Tanakh, in which “Israel” refers to both the people of God and the land of Israel. This is particularly true in the five books of Moses and in the accounts of Israel’s history. In addition, the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles have both been given new subtitles – The History of Israel’s Kings 1 & 2 and The History of Israel 1 & 2. In this way, the history of Israel is emphasized in subtitles, in addition to preserving “Israel” in the text.
Another example of the use of “Israel” in subtitles precedes Amos 9:11-15, which describes the restoration of Israel in the last days. The heading appropriately states, “God restores Israel,” and the Danish text retains the name of Israel in verse 14 where it says: “And I will make everything great again for my people, Israel. They shall rebuild the desolated cities and live in them. They shall plant vineyards and drink the wine. They shall plant gardens and eat the fruit of them.”
The well-known prophecy of the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel found in Ezekiel 37 also retains “Israel” throughout. In verses 27-28, God says: “I will live among them for I am their God, and they shall be my people, for my temple will always be near them, so all the peoples of the world know that it is I, God, who makes Israel a special people.”
In the book of Psalms, the Danish version retained “Israel” in the majority of instances and added “Israel” ten times where it does not appear in the Hebrew. For example, Psalm 125:5 and 128:6 keep the words, “Peace be upon Israel;” Psalm 76:2 says, “His name is great in Israel;” Psalm 78:71 refers to God’s people, Israel, as His possession; Psalm 98:3 declares that God remembers His steadfast love for Israel, and Psalm 115:9 admonishes Israel to trust in the Lord.
Unfortunately, however, the Danish translation is not completely consistent in its treatment of Israel in the Book of Psalms, where “Israel” is changed to “us” seven times. Two of these examples are found in Psalms 121 and 130. In Psalm 121:4, instead of “the guardian of Israel,” the Danish says that God protects “us.” In Psalm 130:7, “Israel” is omitted and in verse 8, “He will redeem Israel” is changed to “He forgives us.” The change from “Israel” to “us” in Psalm 121 is one of the examples cited by Jan Frost and authors of articles critical of this translation as a blatant example of replacement theology in action.
However, verses must be read in context! The fact that the Danish version of the Psalms retained most of the references to “Israel” and added “Israel” ten times where it does not appear in the Hebrew, means that the overall emphasis of the Danish Psalms is the relationship between God and “Israel,” rather than God and “us.” Obviously, it would be desirable for the Danish Bible Society to restore “Israel” in the seven cases in which it was removed. But it seems a bit extreme to accuse the translators of promoting replacement theology when, in the vast majority of the cases in Psalms, “Israel” has not been replaced.
Other examples of the omission of “Israel” in the Tanakh can be cited, such as in Exodus 24:10, where the “God of Israel” becomes “God;” Isaiah 41:14, where “men of Israel” becomes “men;” and Isaiah 43:1, where “Israel” becomes “you.”
In Isaiah 43:3, however, “Israel” is retained where it says, “For I the Lord am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” And in 43:5-6, the Danish adds “Israelites” to make it clear who the people are that God will bring back to the land from the east, the west, the north and the south. As a result, the connection of the Jewish people to the land is Israel is strengthened.
The inconsistency in the treatment of “Israel” in Psalms and Isaiah continues in the prophecy of Jeremiah. In a number of places in Jeremiah, “Israel” is removed and “Israel,” “Judah,” or “Jacob” become “my people” or “the Israelites.” Here again, it would be best if the Danish Bible restored “Israel” where it has been removed or changed. However, replacing “Israel” with “my people” or “the Israelites” in a context in which it is clear that the text refers to the people of Israel can hardly be seen as an attempt to promote replacement theology.
In the pivotal chapter of Jeremiah 31, the name of Israel is kept throughout. Verse 10 says, “He who scattered Israel will gather them, and will guard them as a shepherd his flock;” verse 23 says, “Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: They shall again say this in the land of Judah and its towns, when I restore their fortunes…;” and verses 35-36 declare that only if the laws of the sun, moon, stars and sea are annulled by the Lord – only then would the offspring of Israel cease to be a nation for all time.
So, unlike the problematic texts, Jeremiah 31 in the Danish retains the strong emphasis in the Hebrew on God as the shepherd of Israel, the restorer of the fortunes of Israel, and the one who will cause Israel to be a nation forever.
The Danish Bible 2020 is a combination of translation and interpretation that retains “Israel” and strengthens the identity of Jews as the chosen people of God in many cases, while it removes or replaces “Israel” with another term in others. As result, it is a problematic version of the Bible that seems to have been produced without a consistent method of translation.
In the Tanakh, the vast majority of texts preserve the nation of Israel and the Jews as a unique people in the purposes of God. However, examples from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Psalms provide ample evidence of inconsistent interpretation. Within these three volumes, we find an emphasis on Israel juxtaposed with omissions and changes, that taken out of the context of the book as a whole, have been construed to be blatant examples of replacement theology in action.
In the New Testament, “Israel” was removed in almost every instance and replaced with “Jewish” or “Jews.” When that replacement occurs in the context of referring to the country or the land of Israel, it is quite problematic, and the Danish Bible Society should restore “Israel” to the text. However, when the change is made where it is obvious from the context that “Israel” refers to the people of Israel, the Danish Bible’s emphasis on the importance and identity of “the Jews” and “the Jewish people” as the particular people of God is significant. In these instances, the Danish New Testament has strengthened the case against replacement theology by highlighting the continuous history of, and future for, the Jewish people.
It is important to note that the Danish translators never used “church” instead of “Israel” in any of the instances in which they replaced “Israel” with another term. Instead, whenever “Israel” refers to the people of Israel, they interpreted it as “the Jews” or “the Jewish people.” When changes that emphasize the significance of the identity of Jews are considered in context, they cannot logically be viewed as an indication of antisemitism or an intent to promote replacement theology. Rather, such changes should be understood as an interpretation that counters both.
Furthermore, because the vast majority of the occurrences of “Israel” remain in the Tanakh, and in some cases have even been added, it seems reasonable to conclude that if the translators and publishers intended to provide a new version of the Bible that would promote replacement theology, they made some serious mistakes.
The bottom line is that if the translation is read in its entirety, and the problematic texts are read in their context, it will be difficult for the reader to come away with a belief in replacement theology or anti-Israel sentiment. Indeed, the cumulative effect of every reference to Israel in the Tanakh and the New Testament’s emphasis on the Jewish people as the people of God is a strong case for the restoration and future of the nation of Israel in the land of Israel.
That said, the problematic texts should not be ignored. The replacement or omission of “Israel” wherever it occurs is obviously an issue of great concern in light of the never-ending battle against antisemitism, replacement theology, and the delegitimization of the modern State of Israel.
Therefore, the Danish Bible Society needs to correct its translation and restore the use of “Israel” in the Tanakh and New Testament, especially where “Israel” refers to the country or the land of Israel. This correction will reinforce the biblical and historic connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the continuity between the biblical land of Israel and the land now known as the modern State of Israel, the inseparable relationship between the Tanakh and the New Testament, and the essential Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.
June 11, 2020 Update:
Correspondence from the first week of June 2020 confirms the intent of the Danish Bible Society to make corrections in the next printing where, in the New Testament, Israel refers to the geographical land. Corrections will also be made to approximately 50 anachronistic references to Israel.
The restoration of the term “Israel” in geographical and anachronistic references will correct a significant number of times “Israel” was removed from the New Testament. According to Secretary General Larsen, a decision regarding changes in the Tanakh will be discussed in a revision committee meeting later this year.
CAMERA appreciates the fact that the Danish Bible Society is receptive to critique and has demonstrated a willingness to correct many of the problematic instances in which “Israel” was omitted or replaced with another term in the Danish Bible 2020 New Testament. CAMERA looks forward to a positive decision concerning instances in which “Israel” has been omitted or replaced in the Tanakh, with the anticipation that more corrections will be forth coming in the near future.