IS “GOD FORBID” A “POOR TRANSLATION” IN THE KING JAMES BIBLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Friend, if you read critical Bible commentaries, you have surely come across people disparaging the English (namely, the King James) Scriptures for being “too weak” compared to the original Hebrew and Greek. It is stated ad nauseum, “The Hebrew reads stronger there…” and “The Greek is more powerful here….” However, when it comes to the expression, “God forbid,” it is said that our 1611 Authorized Version is a “poor translation.” Is that so? Furthermore, could there be a double standard here?
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST “GOD FORBID”
The argument against the inclusion of “God forbid” is summarized as:
- The Greek Bible does not have “God” (theos) there.
- The underlying Greek is “μὴ γένοιτο” (me genoito).
- A literal translation is “never” (me) and “happen” (genoito).
- To be faithful to the original Greek, “God” should not be supplied in the English translation. A better rendering is, “Banish the thought,” “By no means,” “May it never happen,” “Certainly not,” “Perish the thought,” “May it not be.” (Let is be said without delay. This is infantile Bible study!)
Years ago, when I dealt with a New King James Version user and preacher, he asked the usual “What about the ‘God forbid’ ‘mistake’ in the King James Bible?” He said, “There is not one Greek manuscript that reads ‘God forbid.’ There is no perfect inspired translation.” (Like so many, he was simply and mindlessly repeating what he had heard others say about it. He had not researched the issue for himself; otherwise, he would have laid out the reasoning behind the conclusion and seen it to be childish.) As I dealt with him about a variety of textual matters for an extended period, I discovered that the man—while claiming to be a “Bible-believer”—really did not care to know the truth anyway. He would always “disagree” with my dozens of points, but never would he answer them. Alas, he was comfortable in his position: facts would never convince him (and those like him).
Dear friends, while I am no Greek scholar, I have learned from those more acquainted with the language than I that the strongest “no” in Greek is “μὴ γένοιτο” (me genoito). It is a very forceful negation—a strong objection or disapproval rather than a gentle or casual “no.” As this is a written medium rather than an audio clip, it is difficult for me to demonstrate to you that the casual “no” is spoken softly. Imagine “no” said at a normal speech level: “No, I am not going.” Now, think of a “no” uttered loudly and authoritatively: “NOOOOOO, you cannot go!” Despite our limitations and crude examples here, I trust that you can sound out these phrases. There is much power in “μὴ γένοιτο;” rendering it as “no” is deficient in English. Hence, some versions and commentators will say—“Banish the thought,” “By no means,” “May it never happen,” “Certainly not,” “May it not be.” However, these too are weak.
THE ARGUMENT FOR “GOD FORBID”
In English, the strongest expression of negation is, “God forbid.” It corresponds perfectly to “μὴ γένοιτο” (the strongest Greek negation, remember—the literal meaning being “never happen”). “God” is supplied in English without an underlying Greek theos. Therefore, our King James Bible features some dynamic equivalence here instead of its usual literal equivalence. Nevertheless, a literal rendering would not have given the English Bible text as much force as the Greek. The thought of “μὴ γένοιτο” is sufficiently conveyed with “God forbid.” But, what exactly makes “God forbid” the theologically and textually superior choice—as opposed to those negative English expressions listed at the close of the last section?
Who is the most powerful in the universe? Of course, Almighty God is the most powerful. He is omnipotent. The word “forbid,” obviously, simply means, “oppose, contradict, prohibit, prevent, make something impossible.” When we pair the words “God” and “forbid,” we form the strongest negation possible in the English language. “God protest or oppose it!” (The objection refers to the statement that went immediately before or immediately after.) Synonymous phrases are, “May God never let it happen!” “God object to this!” “God keep it from being true!” Again, we can sense a mighty resistance, an intense contradiction, and a passionate refusal to accept the related statement as factual, applicable, and/or possible. Almighty God is against it!
In our King James Bible, the phrase, “God forbid” as a negative phrase appears 23 times. Eight occurrences are found in the Hebrew Old Testament; the remainders appear in the Greek New Testament. Notice:
- Genesis 44:7: “And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:….” (These men told Joseph’s steward, “To what point have you told us these words? God protest that we should steal Joseph’s silver cup!”)
- Genesis 44:17: “And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.” (Joseph told his brethren, “God protest that I should make all of you my servants. Only the thief will be my servant.”)
- Joshua 22:29: “God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.” (God protest that Israel rebel against Him!)
- Joshua 24:16: “And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods;….” (God protest that Israel leave the LORD and follow dead idols!)
- 1 Samuel 12:23: “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:….” (God protest that Samuel stop praying for Israel!)
- 1 Samuel 14:45: “And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not.” (When King Saul proposed to kill his son Jonathan for disobeying him, the Jews intervened and said, “God protest that you harm Jonathan in any way!”)
- 1 Samuel 20:2: “And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.” (Jonathan told David, “God protest that you have given my father Saul reason to take your life!”)
- Job 27:5: “God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” (Job told his three friends, “God protest that I should say you are right in condemning me!”)
- Luke 20:16: “He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.” (These religious leaders replied to Christ’s parable, “God protest that the lord of the vineyard come and destroy the husbandmen!” Verse 19 says they realized they were the husbandmen!)
- Romans 3:4: “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (God protest that man’s unbelief cancel His faithfulness!)
- Romans 3:6: “God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” (God protest that we conclude He is unrighteous/unfair for taking vengeance! See also Romans 9:14.)
- Romans 3:31: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (God protest that faith renders the Law useless. That is, the Law serves its purpose—we thereby learn that faith in Christ, not our works, is the way to justification and eternal life.)
- Romans 6:2: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (God protest the notion that we should continue in sin so that grace can be greater—a reference to verse 1 as well as chapter 5 verse 20.)
- Romans 6:15: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” (God protest that we should use grace as a license to sin, an excuse to live like the lost people we were before we placed our faith in Christ!)
- Romans 7:7: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (God protest that the Law is faulty, as verse 12 says it is “holy, just, and good.” The problem is not with the Law. We are sinners—we are the problem because we cannot keep the Law! The Law points out our need to rely on something other than our works if we are to have a right standing before God. See Galatians chapter 3.)
- Romans 7:13: “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (God protest that the Law was made death to Paul. The Law merely pointed out Paul’s sin problem.)
- Romans 9:14: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” (God protest that He is unfair in setting Israel aside for a time. See also Romans 3:6.)
- Romans 11:1: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (God protest that He has rejected the nation Israel forever and that she will never be restored to Him!)
- Romans 11:11: “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.” (God protest the notion that Israel stumbled at the cross of Christ and fell. She stumbled and fell in Acts chapter 7, her stoning of Stephen.)
- 1 Corinthians 6:15: “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” (God protest the idea that Paul connect us with Satan’s system of spiritual prostitution, false religion!)
- Galatians 2:17: “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.” (God protest the idea that Christ is “the minister [servant] of sin!”)
- Galatians 3:21: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (God protest that Israel’s Law system—technically, her failure to keep it—nullifies His promises to her!)
- Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (God protest our bragging in our religious works! If we must boast, friends, let us glory that by Jesus Christ crucified, the world is crucified to us and we are crucified to the world. We are cut off from the evil world system’s damnable end.)
It is quite clear, from the context, the necessity and accuracy of “God forbid.” The 1611 translators used it to stress a major contradiction to what went before or what followed. A simple “no” is too weak. As we mentioned earlier, the King James Bible is criticized for being “too weak” in conveying the original Hebrew and Greek. However, in the place where it noticeably surpasses modern English versions—“μὴ γένοιτο” (me genoito) being rightly rendered “God forbid,” the strongest “no” possible in English—it is criticized for being wrong. That is, where it is strong, its critics want it to be weaker. It is an unfair system that we should be aware of and not embrace.
See, dear friends, again, the issue in the Bible critic’s mind is not determining truth and error (as should be our goal as Bible students). The spirit of Satan’s evil world system is simply interested in discrediting the Bible… no matter what it says. The King James Bible critics can never be pleased. They refuse to submit to its authority because their sin nature refuses to obey God. Therefore, they challenge it with their various and often petty textual arguments (“God forbid” is unacceptable because “God” is not in the Greek, blah, blah, blah). All they want to do is prove they have a modern English version to sell to replace the King James Bible. This is the attitude that so many seminarians and Bible College graduates are trained to have. Scholars want to be their own authority. They are certainly not going to submit to some Book—especially a 400-year-old Book not of this world! They want to run things, to sit in God’s seat and declare what the Bible should and should not say. May we have the attitude of faith, not unbelief!
Well, what do you know, my friends? Our King James translators once again seem not to be the “bumbling fools” their critics make them out to be! They were skilled linguists in both the original Bible languages and English. Let us appreciate their efforts and not be so quick to dismiss them as slack and erroneous.
SUPPLEMENTAL: “GOD FORBID” IN THE HEBREW
In Hebrew, the word rendered “God forbid” is “חָלִילָה” (“chalilyah”). It was also translated:
- “be far from thee” (Genesis 18:25—the “thee” is God Himself, Abraham refusing to believe that God will slay the righteous with the wicked!)
- “Be it far from me” (1 Samuel 2:30—the LORD Himself talking, saying that He has changed His mind about Eli’s sons serving Him because they are apostate and evil!)
- “Far be it from thee…” (1 Samuel 20:9—Jonathan speaking to David, saying he has not come to betray David into the hands of his father King Saul)
- “be it far from me” (1 Samuel 22:15—Abimelech before King Saul, denying helping David to overthrow Saul’s kingdom.)
- “The LORD forbid” (1 Samuel 24:6 and 1 Samuel 26:11—David refusing to take the life of King Saul)
- “Far be it, far be it” (doubly emphatic here in 2 Samuel 20:20—Joab admitting that he refuses to consume or destroy God’s inheritance, namely, an Israeli city.)
- “Be it far from me” (2 Samuel 23:17—David refusing to drink water that men risked their lives to obtain for him)
- “The LORD forbid” (1 Kings 21:3—Naboth declining King Ahab’s offer to purchase his vineyard that he inherited from his ancestors)
- “My God forbid” (1 Chronicles 11:19—the parallel of 2 Samuel 23:17 quoted above. Here, we see that “My God forbid” and “Be it far from me” are interchangeable.)
- “far be it” (Job 34:10—Elihu vehemently opposed to God doing wickedness)
As stated before, friends, so say we again. There is no corresponding original word for “God” (elohiym) or “LORD” (Yahovah), yet we see “God forbid” and “LORD forbid.” However, as in the Greek examples from our main study, if you carefully examine the Hebrew verses immediately above, you will see that a casual “no” is insufficient. The situations are serious, the suggestions are major, and so they require a forceful rebuttal.
“NOOOOO, I will not kill King Saul the LORD’s anointed!”
“NOOOOO, I will not sell my inheritance to you, King Ahab!”
“NOOOOO, David, I have not come to betray you to my father King Saul!”
“NOOOOO, I will not let your wicked sons serve Me in My house, Eli!”
(And so on.)
» Why does the King James Bible say “pisseth against the wall?”
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» Must one be a “King James Bible Pauline dispensationalist” to have eternal life?