The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Translation Differences

Sometimes an apparent contradiction arises from a translation, not from the text in its original language. Matthew 16:13 in the King James Version (KJV) reads, “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, . . .” Mark 8:27 says, “And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: . . .”

First, how is it possible for “coasts” to be involved in the Matthew reference? Caesarea Philippi is at the foot of Mount Hermon in Galilee—in the interior of Israel. Neither the Sea of Galilee nor the Mediterranean Sea has any “coast” nearby. Caesarea Maritima is the city sitting on the Mediterranean coast.

Second, “coasts” and “towns” appear to be two different types of locations entirely—the first is a geographical entity like mountains and rivers, but the second is a sociological or political entity like cities or states. However, when we look at other translations (e.g., ESV, “the district of” in Matthew 16:13) we see that “district” and “towns” are more compatible. The ESV translates Mark 8:27 as “villages.” “Villages” makes a better equivalent to “district” and diminishes the impression of any contradiction or inconsistency between the two Gospels. In the Greek, it is really quite clear. “Coasts/District” is ta merē (Matthew 16:13) and “towns/villages” is tas kōmas (Mark 8:27). The first means “parts” or “district” and the second means “villages” or “a relatively small community with groups of houses.” Thus, a later and better translation resolves the apparent difficulty created by an English translation made in 1611 when “coasts” could also mean “region” or “district.” A recent Ukrainian translation correctly uses до землі (“to the land/country”—земля) a synonym of країна (“land” or “country”—used in the nation’s title, Україна, “land, country, motherland”).

Many such easily resolved problems exist in the Gospels. Some are translation related, some related to the culture or history or geography. But, more difficult problems do occur in passages where the solution is not so quick or transparent. Future posts will examine some of those problem texts.

Read also: “The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Geographical Realities”