My wife is a good cook. She does a Danish roast with crackling pork and all the trimmings that is second-to-none. In fact, she is preparing a sumptuous roast dinner as I write. I’m practically drooling on the keyboard.
Knowing that my wife is a good cook, which of these two sentences do you prefer?
1. Camilla can prepare a great meal for you.
2. Camilla will prepare a great meal for you.
One word is the only difference between these two sentences, but it is a huge difference. Camilla can or Camilla will. The word can speaks of Camilla’s abilities. She can cook. So what, you say. What good is that to me? But the word will speaks to a promise. She will cook for me? Wonderful! When do we eat?
Can or will
Can is potential, but will is promise. This matters because of something Jesus said in Mark 3:28. See if you can spot the difference:
Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins. (Mark 3:28, NIV)
Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man (Mark 3:28, ESV)
One Bible says your sins can be forgiven, the other says they will be forgiven. Big difference!
Can God forgive? Of course he can. He can do anything. But will he forgive? The first version doesn’t say. Who knows? He might not.
See the problem? One Bible says God can but leaves open the question of whether he will. It creates uncertainty. It opens the door to doubt and dead works.
But the other Bible says there is no doubt: God will forgive you. It’s a cast-iron fact. Indeed it’s a promise that Jesus fulfilled on the cross.
Potential or promise
Before he died Jesus said “All sins will be forgiven.” After he rose from the dead he said, “Go and proclaim forgiveness in my name” (see Luke 24:47). A feeble gospel says God can forgive you, but the mighty gospel declares he already has.
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. (Acts 13:38, NIV)
The NIV does a better job of translating Paul’s words in Acts than it does with Christ’s words in Mark. But are there other Bibles that mangle the Lord’s words?
Here is a list of the top ten best-selling Bibles from December 2016. Do they say God can or God will forgive sins?
How sad that the world’s two best-selling Bibles, the NIV and the NLT, both turn Christ’s promise into mush. They ruin the good news of Mark 3:28 while other Bibles shout it loud.
These are the best sellers, but the most-read Bible in America is the KJV which has this:
Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men. (Mark 3:28, KJV)
The language is old but the promise comes through loud and clear: God will and on the cross God did!
Sidebar: Why does the world’s best-selling Bible mangle Jesus’ words in Mark 3:28?
Some may offer conspiracy theories involving the International Bible Society (the publisher) or Zondervan (their US licensee). But consider how this passage used to be translated in the NIV:
I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. (NIV, 1984)
The older version is better for it says will instead of can. So why did they replace a promise with a vague observation? I have no idea. If you know, please tell me.
However, if you’re thinking of throwing away your NIV please don’t. The NIV is a decent Bible. Its simplicity and ease of readability make it a favorite of millions. And in many ways the 2011 NIV is superior to the 1984 version, just not on this occasion. So get a pen and change Mark 3:28 back to the way it was. Replace the can with will.
No translation is perfect. Each was written by people with biases. Whatever your Bible, filter everything you read through the lens of Jesus. It’s the Living Word who gives life to the written word.
Why does this matter?
It matters because a God who can is weaker than a God who will. It matters because a God who will is a God who can be trusted.
It takes next to no faith to believe in a God who can. But faith is activated when we hear about a God who will.
God can do anything? That’s not news. God will forgive you. Now that’s news! At least it was when Jesus said it.
And God has forgiven you. Your forgiveness is a fact. A done deal.
This is the deliciously good news you can feast on.
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