Modern Bible Translations and the Sanctuary Doctrine

One can discover a disturbing phenomenon by taking a quick look at the online Bible sites that give us access to many different translations. One might think that a few modern translators were simply taking too many creative liberties, but in this article, I will show that they appear to have  intentionally altered the Word of God with respect to the Sanctuary Doctrine. It might be surprising to many Adventists that mainstream translators of the last 150 years have even had a clue regarding the Sanctuary Doctrine’s existence, and it may be even more surprising that they would go out of their way to tear it down, but the details of the case present a clear pattern.

Let’s compare Hebrews 9:3 and Hebrews 9:12. 9:3 should clearly be translated "Most Holy Place," while the most obvious translation of 9:12 is "Holy Place." 9:12 is the verse that has been altered. These are not the only verses that have been affected, but they clearly reveal the problem. I’ll quote them both in the King James Version, and then in the New International Version, italicizing the important difference:


9:3   And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

9:12   Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.


9:3   Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place,

9:12   He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

In Hebrews 9:3 in the King James Version, the Greek words Ἅγια Ἁγίων were correctly translated as “Holiest of all,” which we understand to be the same as “Most Holy Place.” In Hebrews 9:12, on the other hand, the Greek word ἅγια is translated as “holy place.” Even if you don’t read Greek, it should be clear that Ἅγια Ἁγίων and ἅγια are not the same thing, but notice that the New International Version translated both as “Most Holy Place.”

Might there be a reason to translate ἅγια as “Most Holy Place” as the NIV has? Older translators sure don’t seem to have thought so. Here are some translations of ἅγια in Hebrews 9:12 from before 1844:

Tyndale Bible (1523):  holy place

Geneva Bible (1560):  holy place

Douay-Rheims (1582):  holies

King James Version (1611):  holy place

Wesley’s New Testament (1755):  holy place

Quaker Bible (1764):  holy place

I’ll add some Bible translations from other languages as well:

Vulgate (13th century):  sancta (holy)

Luther Bible (1545):  Heilige (holy)

Reina Valera Antigua (1602):  santuario (sanctuary)

For nearly two millennia, translators unanimously translated the Greek word ἅγια as “holy place," or "sanctuary.” Take a look at some post-1844 translations, however:

Phillips New Testament (1958):  holy of holies 

Reina Valera (1960):  Lugar Santísimo (Most Holy Place)

Good News Bible (1966):  Most Holy Place

Living Bible (1971):  Holy of Holies

New King James Version (1975):  Most Holy Place

New International Version (1970s):  Most Holy Place

To be fair, there are several modern translations that translate ἅγια correctly in Hebrews 9:12, but the bulk of the most popular translations do not. What changed in the 1800s? It seems that the obvious answer is that a group of people called Adventists started preaching about the importance of the Heavenly Sanctuary and its relevance to us, here at the close of earth’s history. We believe that Jesus passed into the Most Holy Place of the Heavenly Sanctuary in 1844, so what better way to convince people (and us) that we are wrong than rewrite the Bible to say that He passed into the Most Holy Place when He ascended to Heaven in the 1st century AD? 

Also important is the effect this doctrine’s acceptance or rejection has on one’s view of Ellen White’s ministry. If she was wrong about this doctrine, then we can either reject her messages altogether, or pick and choose which pieces of her advice best suit us. If, however, God did give her messages He wanted us to hear, then to reject them is not in our best interest, to say the least.

By writing up this very short critique of modern translations of Hebrews 9, I do not intend to keep people away from newer translations of the Bible. I do hope to instill caution in my Christian brothers and sisters, however, and I would suggest that any doctrinal study be done using the most faithful translations available.