Hey, Who Moved The Buildings? (Acts 19:23-41)

2004 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

An interesting comment on the incident at Ephesus that is found in Acts 19:23-41 occurs in Richard Kevin Barnard's God's Word in Our Language: The Story of the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Lamplighter Books/Zondervan, 1989), where the author argues that the NIV's translators "were able to add new clarity to their translation of the Scriptures" by "understanding the ancient languages and cultures" of Bible times (p. 39). One of those involved in translating the NIV, Donald Burdick, is reported as giving as an example the present story of Demetrius and the other silversmiths, which Burdick terms "a labor union rally in the marketplace" of Ephesus. Barnard goes on to comment as follows:

"All of those who translated the passage had walked on that very ground. They knew that the marketplace was right across the street from the theatre and that all around the marketplace were the silversmiths' shops. So in a sense, archaeology helped them. They translated with that background in mind, so they didn't have the buildings in the wrong place. They recognized that the theatre was located right across from the marketplace. Their background information, gathered from archaeology, helped in translating the words." (pp. 40-1; emphasis mine.)


To a superficial reader, all of this might seem very impressive. But when one turns to the text of this story in Acts 19--in fact, when the respective translations of the NIV and the KJV are compared in these verses--, one discovers with surprise that there is no discernable impact on the newer translation that makes it differ from the older one with respect to the scene in which the story occurs. The best way of demonstrating this is simply to set the two versions side by side. (I have adopted the paragraphing of the NIV in both texts for convenience, since otherwise the texts would not run parallel to each other in the table below.)


Acts 19:23-41 (KJV)

Acts 19:23-41 (NIV)

23 And the same time there arose no small stir about that way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; 25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. 26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: 27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

28 And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. 29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. 30 And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. 31 And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.

32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. 33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people. 34 But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

35 And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. 37 For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. 39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. 40 For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. 41 And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.


23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it." 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.



If the attentive reader can find anything in the above in either translation that specifies the background at all, other than incidental hints such as "at Ephesus" (v. 26) and "they rushed with one accord into the theatre" (v. 29), I would be grateful to know what it could be. Much less is there any sign of an improved placement of buildings in the NIV as opposed to the KJV. Plainly it was not part of the purpose of Luke (or of the Holy Spirit Who inspired Luke) to refer to the arrangement of the buildings in the text. No doubt the Greek vacations enjoyed by the NIV's translators were very therapeutic, but the net effect of these travels on the resulting NIV treatment of the story's setting is exactly nil.

Of course one could excuse Barnard for this kind of writing, in that his book appears to have been largely a promotional "puff" piece written to place the NIV in the most beneficial light, were it not that the Word of God is too important to be treated in such a frivolous manner. Barnard elsewhere asserts, in a similarly misleading way, that

"A modern translator, working with the treasury of ancient literature now available, is like a sculptor. By looking at his model from many different angles, the sculptor is able to produce an accurate, well-rounded, three-dimensional figure. The King James translators were more like painters. Though highly skilled for the day in which they lived, they did not have the tools to enable them to study the ancient biblical documents from many different viewpoints. They painted a rich and beautiful canvas that served Christians for many generations, but they were never able to provide the extra dimension of depth" (p. 27; italics in Barnard). 

After such a ridiculous statement, it is well to compare the words of Leland Ryken, who worked as a literary stylist on the ESV, in his important book The Word of God in English (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002). In discussing the need for a translation to evoke the world of biblical times, rather than to try to make a simplistic conversion into contemporary equivalents, Ryken remarks that

". . . although I do not use the King James Version for my regular Bible reading, I do read it occasionally. One of several reasons for doing so is that when it comes to transporting us from our own time and place to another time and place, one cannot beat the King James translation. As a result, reading the KJV has the salutary effect of reminding us that the world of the biblical text is, in fact, a world in which much is strange" (pp. 184-5; emphasis mine). 

It seems clear, then, in the light of this extremely credible and disinterested verdict by a literary expert (as opposed to the assertions Barnard makes here and elsewhere in his book, which are patently designed to promote the NIV), that the only people who cannot find "the extra dimension of depth" in the KJV are those who are too uninformed or uncaring to allow themselves to perceive it.



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