The Danish Bible Society's 2020 Bible translation is an assault on the faiths of both Jews and Christians, and an attack on the history of the Jewish State of Israel as well as on the Jewish people. Pictured: A copy of the first complete translation of the Christian Bible into Danish, printed in 1550 for King Christian III of Denmark, on display at Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark. (Image source: Bjoertvedt/Wikimedia Commons)
With the authorized 1992 Danish Bible translation in place, the Danish Bible Society (DBS), nevertheless, issued a revised New Testament in 2012 completely omitting the word "Israel" or replacing it with "Jews" or "us". The strange reason for this extraordinary action was, as Danes recall, to prevent Danish Lutheran Christians from confusing biblical Israel with the modern State of Israel. Danish Christians protested vehemently. Unperturbed, in 2020 DBS published a complete and revised Bible with the same anti-Israel New Testament version intact, plus a translation of the Old Testament, replacing the word "Israel" with "us", as in Psalm 121:4 ("He who watches over Israel [DBS: 'us'] will neither slumber nor sleep"), as Jan Frost reports.
Jan Frost presented the details of the fake Bible on his Facebook page. This time, the State of Israel itself joined the objection. Having defended and often paid dearly with blood the blood of its people for the sake of Holy Scripture for more than two and a half millennia, Israel does not accept revisionism of Sacred Scripture. Christians acted similarly in view of the DBS Israel-free New Testament. For two millennia, Christians have preserved and defended every single letter of the New Testament; they will not accept a revisionist re-writing of history now, either.
DBS Bible 2020 is an assault on the faiths of both Jews and Christians, and an attack on the history of the Jewish State of Israel as well as on the Jewish people.
The name Israel goes back to the beginning of Jewish history when G-d called Jacob "Israel" (Gen 32:28). The ancient and modern States of Israel took the name from here. G-d's first covenant with Abraham gifted Abraham and his descendants the Land of Israel (Gen 15); the gift was never revoked. While Israel remains G-d's first love, the nations were never excluded from divine love; it was conferred on the world by the Messiah Jesus, who was a Jew, and his Jewish disciples.
The bowdlerizing of sacred history, as DBS does, brings with it the danger of developing idolatry. As in this case, trading "Israel" for "us" is not simply replacing one word for another; it switches the concept. DBS pretends that we get the divine watchfulness. It has been stolen. The original recipient, Israel, has been replaced and robbed of its privileges. History shows that robbing Israel of its divine prerogatives has too often been the first step towards persecution and murder of the Jewish community. Admittedly, the mode of replacement has been an attraction throughout history, for Christians and Muslims. Time and again, authoritative Christian leaders have warned that the substitution of Jews by Christians is an aberration of the Christian faith. Replacement ideology is a heresy. This was made clear from the early days of Christianity by defenders of the faith like Bishop Irenaeus (c. 180 CE) and did not stop in our days, with the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Nevertheless, all too often in Christian and Muslim history, times of cooperation with Jews were followed by persecution. Unfortunately, Martin Luther was no exception to the heretical teaching of the replacement of the Jews and his call for their murder. In modernity, the once discarded heresy of Luther's replacing Israel became fashionable again and assisted the slaughter of six million Jews.
This evil idol is alive still, most prominently manifest in Islamist ideology. Inciters in the Middle East aim to replace the State of Israel with their own Islamic claim to the land. Incredibly, this message has found favor among international organizations in Europe and beyond. The BDS movement, aiming at the annihilation of the State of Israel, is visible evidence of this wish. Danish Church organizations support BDS. The DBS Bible 2020 points in the direction of that ideology.
Furthermore, the anti-Israel DBS Bible 2020 reflects aspects of the context of recent developments in Danish society. Reuters, for instance, reports about the immigration issue that, for two decades, the number of Muslims in Denmark increased steadily and was estimated in 2019 to be 320,000 or 5.5% of the Danish population. This comes with high-profile disputes over dress codes (ongoing since 2005), Muhammad cartoons (ongoing since 2005), Islamism and terrorism (since 2014), and citizenship laws (since 2018). Judith Bergman of Gatestone informs us about the deterioration of daily life in Denmark.
For Danish Jews, this means being exposed to increasing anti-Israel sentiment and hostility from a growing Muslim immigrant community. In 2018, there were merely 6,000 Jews left in Denmark. For Christians, too, living their lives faithfully has become more difficult. They encounter harassment and denunciation of their faith and their Christian attitudes. A case in point is the persecution of the Danish Christian Torben Sondergaard and his family. In 2019 they had to flee Denmark and to seek asylum in the United States.
DBS seems to be attempting to discard Israel. The Society appears to be emulating the current social attitude that develops from the anti-Israelism of Muslim immigrants and that is picked up by other Danish parts of society. Who commissioned this Bible edition? Who paid for it? Who profits from a fake Bible? Who stands for the truth of the Christian faith in Denmark?
So far, the local Danish Lutheran Church shows no signs of putting things right. Let us turn, then, to the Lutheran umbrella organization, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It published four documents (in 1983, 1984, 2001, 2003) expressing a willingness to cooperate with the Jewish people and showing appreciation of the Jewish faith -- but not of the State of Israel. In addition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American published two documents, denouncing Luther's antisemitic teachings (1994) and establishing good relations with the Jewish community (1998). Are these grounds firm enough for condemning the destruction of Israel by the DBS mistranslation?
For the sake of Christian truth and the for the sake of the State of Israel, which is just about now rising out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark must immediately revoke the DBS Bible 2020 edition.
Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt is Director of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity, Jerusalem.