A Comparison of Three Popular Bible Versions From a Numismatic Prespective

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by Thermodynamics, Jul 5, 2009.

  1. Thermodynamics

    Thermodynamics
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    As some of you may know I have a background in numismatics (the study of coinage). I have specialized in classical and medieval coinage for over 20 years. As a result I have a special interest in references to coins in the Bible.

    I thought it would be interesting to compare how three popular Bible translations treat the subject. I hope that this will not only provide an insight into these translations, but that it will also illuminate the subject of money in the Bible for those not familiar with the subject.

    THE WIDOW'S MITE (Luke 21:2):

    KJV - "And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites."

    NIV - "He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins."

    ESV - "And he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins"

    The word for "mite" or "small copper coins" in the original Greek is "Lepton." A Lepton was a specific denomination in the Jewish monetary system. Specifically it was the smallest value coin at that time, it took 48 Leptons to buy a loaf of bread.

    In this case the NIV comes closest to capturing the meaning in this story. However, I am not completely happy with any of these translations. My opinion is that this is a case of over-translation in all three versions. I believe it would have been better to leave the word Lepton, perhaps with a footnote explaining that the Lepton was the smallest value coin of that time.

    THE TRIBUTE PENNY (Mark 12:15):

    KJV – “Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.”

    NIV – “’Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’”

    ESV – “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

    The silver Denarius was the standard coin of the Roman Empire, it was one days wage for a common worker or Roman soldier. The Greek word used is “Denarion,” simply Greek for Denarius.

    In this case the ESV and NIV do a superb job while the KJV again over-translates the word. The reader who is unfamiliar with a Denarius does not have to search long to learn what it was. In defense of the KJV translators it should be noted that the English Penny did evolve from the Roman Denarius. The Denarius was last minted in c. AD 306, in the mid AD 700s the French introduced a silver coin called a Denier. A few years later the English, seeing the success of the French Denier in trade, introduced a similar coin that would become known as the Penny.
    THE FARTHING(Matthew 10:29):

    KJV – “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?”

    NIV – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?”

    ESV – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?”

    The Greek word used here is “Assarion” which refers to either the Roman As or a coin from Antioch that was equal in value to the Roman As. In either case the coin in question had no relationship whatsoever to either a Penny or a Farthing. In fact there are four cases in the New Testament where the KJV uses the word Farthing. In two of those cases the Greek word is Assarion while in the other two the Greek word is Kodrantes. The Kodrantes was the Roman Quadrans. In all four cases the KJV uses the word Farthing while the NIV and ESV use the word Penny.

    This is a case of mistranslation in all three versions. Neither of the two coins mentioned bears any relation to either a Farthing or a Penny. It would have been better to use the words As and Quadrans.
     
  2. Thermodynamics

    Thermodynamics
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    It might also be useful to see what the coins look like:

    The Widow's Mite:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    The Tribute Penny:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Thermodynamics

    Thermodynamics
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    The Roman As:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The "Assarion" of Antioch:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Mexdeaf

    Mexdeaf
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    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that!

    This is off topic, but I am wondering- when and where did paper money first come into usage, and when and where did it become common?
     
  5. Thermodynamics

    Thermodynamics
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    Paper money was first used in China in the 1300s. By the 1700s it was common in Europe and America.
     
  6. Samuel Owen

    Samuel Owen
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    The exact amount of the coinage in the Bible never bothered me, or made me wonder. Of course that is not my thing, so why should it.

    Like all kids when I grew up in the 50's, I had a coin collection, but that was a passing thing. (Oh, I still will save some strange coins when I get them in change.) I went on to Electronics, and that became my life's work.

    But I'm still looking for that 1955 double die penny, or a 1909 - I forgot the mint mark on that one. Or the proverbial three legged Buffalo on the nickel. Or that seldom seen 1943 copper penny, no one knows really whether that exists. I don't think. ????.
     
  7. EdSutton

    EdSutton
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    '09S-VDB' penny.

    And yes, there are a very few '43 copper pennies that are known 'error' strikes out there. The real question is whether they were deliberate or accidental 'errors'.

    Ed
     
  8. franklinmonroe

    franklinmonroe
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    Thank you for sharing! Very interesting. Are there other coins mentioned in the Bible?
     
  9. Thermodynamics

    Thermodynamics
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    Thank you Franklin. Yes there are other coins mentioned in the Bible and even more coins that relate in one way or another to the Bible. Many books have been written on the subject, but one of the best is "A Guide to Biblical Coins" by David Hendin.

    You might be interested in the following page about Biblical coin and artifacts
    from my website. This page just shows items from my collection, so it is far from exhaustive, but it should give you some idea of what is out there.

    http://www.wnccoins.com/0006.htm
     

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