Mediating translation comparison #2: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – John 20:23-24,31

The comparison series between mediating translations continues with the gospel of John, ch. 20. This time, I’ve included the New Jerusalem Bible in the table.

John 20:23

If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.

v.23—This verse is somewhat of a mystery for many Christians, especially for Protestants. The Roman Catholic Church has understood this to mean that Jesus gave the apostles the authority to absolve one’s sins, and it is continued through apostolic succession. To support this view, the Catholic Church has also used parallel verses of Matt. 16:19 and 18:18: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” However, I do not think the context of these verses suggests the idea of forgiveness and absolution of sins.

In the Greek, κρατω ((krateō, retain) means to hold, to have power or rule over, to have and hold in one’s power, or to be master of.

  • the Greek says: ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται (an tinōn kratēte, kekratēntai).
  • a literal translation of this is: “of whomever you hold they have been held.”
  • TNIV says: “if do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”
  • HCSB says: “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained
  • The NAB and NJB are similar.

However, to intentionally retain the sins of someone, or to harbor unforgiveness, would seem contradictory to the principles of what Jesus’ taught about forgiveness.

“For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt.6:12-13, TNIV).

Wayne Jackson of Christian Courier has another interesting interpretation:

“Those whose sins you forgive, have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive, have not already been forgiven.”

The first verbs in the two clauses are aorist tense forms, while the second verbs are in the perfect tense. The perfect tense verbs imply an abiding state which commenced before the action of the aorists. In other words, the apostles (and others since that time) were only authorized to declare forgiveness consistent with what the Lord had already determined.”

Jackson’s interpretation would fit nicely in Protestant theology. I have another interpretation for John 20:23, which flows in the same line of thought as Matt.6:12-13.

If you forgive the sins of any, yours are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, yours are retained.”

John 20:24

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin“), was not with them when Jesus came.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

v.24—The definition of Δίδυμος (Didumos) is twin. The TNIV and NAB went with “Didymus,” but the HCSB, NJB, and the NRSV and ISV render this as “twin,” which is my preference. Some say that Didymus was Thomas’ last name, and even if it was his last name, I would still prefer “twin” since Didymus is not a household name.

John 20:31

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.

But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

v.31—the TNIV has changed Χριστὸς (christos, anointed one) to Messiah from the NIV’s “Christ.” The NJB and NET bible uses “Christ.” Both are correct but “Christ,” which originates from the Greek, is so commonly used by Christians today that we have almost taken “Christ” to be Jesus’ last name without knowing its real meaning. Some who are biblically illiterate might even mistake it to be his last name. I prefer the use of “Messiah” because this carries with it a sense of an expected and anointed One who is to return.

10 thoughts on “Mediating translation comparison #2: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – John 20:23-24,31

  1. Kevin, in this passage I prefer Messiah, but this opens an interesting question to me. When we get into the letters, later than the historical perspective being presented in the gospels, what do we do? We use the term almost exclusively as part of Jesus’ name. Was this true in the first century as well? I know the term Messiah was filled with meaning for Jewish Christians, but what about the Greeks, who came without such an expectation? What would christos mean to them?


  2. Stan,
    on transliteration: I think it’s just for show, and nothing but show. It’s to make those who know Greek sound as if they can read it properly.

    I didn’t start out liking the NRSV. In my early days, I considered it a liberal translation but I haven’t found it to be so liberal as I had thought. It’s actually a very good translation and I’ve come to respect it very highly.


  3. Great series.

    I’m undecided on the first verse.

    In the second verse I prefer twin. I’m not sure what purpose is served by using Didymus (except in a footnote).

    In the third verse, my personal preference would be the Annointed or the Messiah. Either way, a footnote is needed.

    Out of curiosity, why has the church been so determined to transliterate the Greek? Doesn’t that violate the whole idea behind translation?

    Nothingman, having owned/read a copy of the NRSV for only two weeks I am surprised at how quickly I reach for it already.


  4. TC, I think you hit on an interesting point about rabbinic device of binding and loosing. It might be related to how we interpret John 20:23. Could you explain that a bit more because I don’t understand it.

    Nothingman, welcome to this blog. I can see you are an NRSV fan. I’ve come to like it more and more.


  5. L.Wells, low Anglicans are kind of like most Lutherans in forgiveness of sins. Most Lutherans services include declarative absolution or “corporate confession and forgiveness” but “personal confession and forgiveness” is rarely practiced. Even there are officially three sacraments in the Lutheran Book of Concord, the two basic sacraments of baptism and communion are practiced. But the practice of absolution would be similar to what you said—that all disciples have the authority to grant absolution—because we are already forgiven. We are only declaring the forgiveness that has already happened—after the fact. I don’t think this is necessary in the Christian practice of most believers but it’s something that people can come to learn to appreciate. I have learned to appreciate this more myself because I need to hear it every so often.


  6. It seems like Didymus is the popular choice so far. Nathan, you’re willing to go for big changes. Yeshua the Anointed…hmm. For my conservative taste, I think I’ll go as far as “Jesus the anointed one.” With Joshua, there is a potential for confusion with Joshua from the O.T. And with Yeshua, I’m sure Jewish people would have no problem. I wonder what Jewish Christians would think of Yeshua?


  7. Once again the NRSV meets all of the “preferred” translation choices:

    John 20:23 – “…if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

    John 20:24 – “But Thomas (who was called “Twin”)…”

    John 20:31 – “that Jesus is the Messiah.”


  8. Kevin, good job, once again. Since we are taking the mediating position and not the essentially literal, I’m going with those renderings that do just that.

    I believe we need to take into consideration the rabbinic device here. Rabbis were to employ such metaphors of binding and loosing. Jesus does something similar in Matt 16:18 and 18:18.

    On John 20:23 I’m torn, believing that it can be either one.

    Verse 24 I go with HCSB and NJB, since they are more faithful to the mediating idea.

    Verse 31 I’ll go with Messiah, because of its freshness and force, though an old term.


  9. I am indifferent on the twin/didymus passage, so I kind of like the idea Nathan has.

    I prefer Messiah to Christ, concurring with your reasoning Kevin.

    Ah, back to the first passage, a mysterious one indeed. This one has puzzled me for years, as virtually every interpretation I have seen is plausible. Being Anglican this is particularly difficult, as we practice absolution during the general confession at Mass, as well as in private confession. Some Anglicans interpret this verse in the Roman Catholic tradition, while some see it as an evangelical would (fortunately the Anglican Church has a both/and philosophy, so either position one holds is acceptable) . I have seen it well explained as being only declarative absolution. I have seen it well explained as the Church confronted with the charge of declaring the terms of forgiveness to the world. I have seen the Roman position well articulated, that it is a sacrament by which forgiveness is granted.

    My problem with the Roman position is that the text only says it was spoken to the “disciples” in general, not just “the eleven” in particular. If this is the case, then all disciples have the authority to grant absolution, not priests alone (hence the use of lay confessors in some churches).

    I have struggled much with this passage as aforementioned, and my position is yet to be solidified. Having said that, I presently lean toward declarative absolution, though I readily admit that when I hear those words from the priest:

    “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
    through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
    goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you
    in eternal life.” BCP

    I must say, I can feel the stain of sin lift off of me in a very real way. Whether this bears living testimony to the “real absolution” view, or if it is just nice to actually hear the words of absolution, I do not know. Even if it is simply psychological, just needing to hear it, I thank God for it, as it is truly an act of grace to my soul.


  10. Excellent comparison. You are comparing some of my favorites here. I mostly read the TNIV, ESV, NJB, and REB so these days.

    In the first comparison I find myself unable to argue with the points of Wayne Jackson, they are compelling to say the least, and the best explanation I’ve heard to date.

    Second passage, my personal preference would be to read Thomas the Twin for alliterative purposes, and with a footnote that reads: Gk=AKA Didymus.

    Third passage, this touches directly on a preference of mine. I believe that the name Jesus Christ as well as the term Messiah have lost much of their original power and meaning in our Christianity saturated society. I prefer to see messiach/xristos translated into English as the Anointed, and Jesus’ actual name as Yeshua; or simply Joshua if we don’t want to completely lose an English audience. Yes, that means instead of Jesus Christ I prefer to read about Joshua the Anointed or Yeshua the Anointed.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s