Which one of the following is correct?
(A) 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! Galatians 5:12 (NIV)
(B) 12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. Galatians 5:12 (KJV)
I’ve heard critics of the Bible refer to Paul as a merciless barbarian for wishing men would emasculate themselves simply for disagreeing with him. They were basing that conclusion on what the NIV says. However, most manuscripts are in agreement with the KJV, so if you answered “B” you’re correct.
Are both versions just saying the same thing but worded differently? Not really. The manuscripts that the NIV is based on have added a few words. Words like “go the whole way” and “emasculate” and “themselves” are nowhere to be found in the majority of manuscripts. Someone somewhere along the way plopped them in to change the whole meaning. If you know God’s word, you know he doesn’t take kindly to people adding to or subtracting from his words. This is one example why.
In Galatians 5, Paul is discussing how the church in Galatia was infiltrated by legalists who claimed salvation came by fulfilling the works of the Old Testament law, including and especially physical circumcision. They were causing so many problems that Paul wished they were cut off from the fellowship of the congregation, not that they would emasculate themselves.
Think about it. If they would physically emasculate themselves, how would that be of any help to anyone? They would still show up to the fellowship spouting off the same ungodly doctrines. On the other hand, if they were cut off by excommunication, it would help the church thrive and would also be a testimony to the excommunicated and everyone in the church that false doctrine would not be tolerated since it’s against godliness.
Additionally, Paul as well as the legalistic troublemakers would have known that on principle alone, God considered genitals as something that should not be harmed, according to Deuteronomy 23:1. So Paul, having a strict Jewish background, would never insult a Jew by telling him to emasculate himself, nor would the legalists have even thought about carrying it out. And if one were to break down the words in Greek (which isn’t really necessary for knowing the true meaning) one would find that the phrase “cut off” is used for two synonymous Greek words–ekkopto and apokopto. But really, all you have to do is look up in a concordance or online Bible the instances where the phrase “cut off” appears in Paul’s writings, and you will find that he uses the phrase to mean something that is removed from the realm of the righteous.
Harry A. Gaylord