Using the bible to maintain control
After reading so much on the vocabulary of power and authority, I decided to reread Hebrews 13:18 in several translations. I am not surprised.
In the Wycliff Bible it was translated as “Obey ye youre sovereigns.” Luther translated this phrase in a way that can be represented in English as “Listen to your teachers.” In Tyndale’s translation it appears as “Obeye the that have the oversight of you,” but in the King James Bible, it has been changed to “Obey them that haue the rule ouer you.” By way of contrast, the Douay-Rheims translation has “Obey your prelates.” In this was one simple phrase was used to engage compliance with either secular or spiritual authorities.
“Oversight” was used for spiritual leadership and authority, while “rule” was reserved for monarchs. There is a clear split between the translations. In fact, all translations from Tyndale to the Bishop’s Bible had “oversight” and not “rule.” The switch to “rule” in the King James Bible stands out as peculiar. It appears to be a change of language to serve the interests of the monarch.
There are arguments for and against each of these translations. Translators choose between an array of possible alternatives when they translate. In this way, a bible can be shaped in a way that promotes the power of a particular institution. I wish it weren’t so.