Be followers or imitators?
KJB - “Be ye FOLLOWERS of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
ESV (NKJV, NIV, NASB, NET, Catholic Douay Version 1950, St. Joseph NAB 1970, Jehovah Witness New World Translation) - “Therefore BE IMITATORS of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5:1
ESV (NKJV, NIV, NASB, NET, Catholic Douay Version 1950, St. Joseph NAB 1970, Jehovah Witness New World Translation) - “BE IMITATORS of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
A fellow bible believer wrote to me saying: "I have another one for you if you have time. My daughter said the pastor was quoting Eph 5:1, and he said the translation "followers" in KJV is wrong, and it should be "imitators." Any thoughts would be appreciated. God bless, Ron."
Hi Ron. First of all, this pastor is just another Bible corrector who knows far less than he thinks, and has NO complete and inerrant Bible to believe in himself or to give to anyone else. He has made his own mind his "final authority" and unfortunately, has made himself the "final authority" for those whom he is supposedly pastoring. You have to come to him to find out what God REALLY said. Let's take a closer look at this word and see if this Bible correcting "pastor" is right or not.
The underlying Greek text of Ephesians 5:1 reads: "γινεσθε ουν μιμηται του θεου ως τεκνα αγαπητα" The particular word this Bible rummager thinks should be translated as "imitators" is the noun μιμηται (mimeetai).
It is found 7 times in the underlying Greek text of the KJB and is always translated as "FOLLOWERS" in the KJB and in many other translations, as we shall soon see. It is used in 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1 "Be ye FOLLOWERS of me", Ephesians 5:1, 1 Thes. 1:6 "ye became followers of us", 2:14, Hebrews 6:12 and 1 Peter 3:13 "if ye be followers of that which is good?"
It comes from the verb form mimeomai which is used 4 times and is always translated in the KJB as TO FOLLOW. It is used in 2 Thes. 3:7 and 9; Hebrews 13:7 "whose faith FOLLOW" and 3 John 11 "FOLLOW not that which is evil."
English words IMITATE, IMITATION
Oxford English Dictionary
1. Take or follow as a model - “his style was imitated by many writers”
2. To copy (a person’s speech or mannerisms, especially for comic effect: “she imitated my Scottish accent.”
3. To copy or simulate - “synthetic fabrics can now imitate everything from silk to rubber”
American Heritage Dictionary
1. The act or an instance of imitating: gave us his imitation of a famous actor.
2. Something derived or copied from an original, OFTEN IN AN INFERIOR WAY: an undrinkable imitation of real lemonade.
adjective - MADE TO RESEMBLE ANOTHER, USUALLY SUPERIOR MATERIAL: imitation fur.
The Greek Lexicons
Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Volume IV and beginning on page 659 discusses the meaning of the words mimeomai and mimeetees tells us that the word can mean such varied things as “to imitate”, to “mimic” and “to follow”. But even he says on page 660 - “Elsewhere, too, the group is used in a bad sense, whether from WHAT IS SHOWY AND APED, OR FOR WEAK AND UNORIGINAL copying.”
In other words, there is both a good and a bad sense to this Greek word, just as there is with the English “imitate” and “imitation”.
Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tells us on page 532 that the verb can mean “to imitate, emulate, to follow”.
And Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon informs us that the word can have the negative connotation of “A COUNTERFEIT”.
That is precisely the problem with using the English word “imitate” rather than “to follow”. We have imitation pearls and imitation diamonds, imitation leather, imitation mink and imitation bibles - they are not the real deal; they are fake and of inferior quality.
Satan himself is the great Imitator. In Isaiah 14:14-15 Lucifer says: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I WILL BE LIKE the most High."
Yet God says to him: "Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit."
We see more of this imitation in 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 where we read: "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
And in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 we read of the man of sin, the son of perdition, that "he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God."
Even on the human level, if someone imitates another person, they are merely pretending to be something they are not. What they present is not the real thing.
But versions like the ESV, RV, ASV, RSV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NET, Catholic Douay Version 1950, St. Joseph New American Bible 1970 and the Jehovah Witness New World Translation have all translated this verb and noun as “to imitate” and “imitators”.
Strictly speaking, they could be translated this way, but they do lend themselves to the secondary meaning of being a cheap imitation, of poorer quality, counterfeit and inferior - and that is in fact what they are. They are in many cases counterfeit and of inferior quality when compared to God’s masterpiece, the Authorized King James Holy Bible - the only Bible Christians really believe is the complete and inerrant and 100% true words of the living God.
When several modern versions translate this word as "imitate" it can lead to a wrong interpretation. To imitate can mean to try to follow the example of another. After all, that IS how the English dictionaries define the word - To Imitate = "to take or FOLLOW as an example", but the end result produces an "IMITATION" which also has the secondary meaning of "not real; a sham and bogus; counterfeit, not genuine."
In fact, that is precisely what these modern Vatican Versions like the ESV, NIV, NASB are. They are fake bibles imitating the true one, and not doing a very good job of it.
"BE YE FOLLOWERS" - not "imitators"
Not only does the King James Bible correctly translate μιμηται and the verb form mimeomai as FOLLOWERS and "TO FOLLOW" but so too do the following English Bible translations: Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549, Douay-Rheims 1582, the Geneva Bible 1587 - "Bee yee therefore FOLLOWERS of God, as deare children", the Beza New Testament 1599, The Bill Bible 1671, Whiston's N.T. 1745, John Wesley's N.T. 1755, Webster's translation 1833, The Longman Version 1841, The Hewett N.T. 1850, Sawyer's N.T. 1858, The Revised N.T. 1862, American Bible Union N.T. 1865, The Alford New Testament 1870, The Revised English Bible 1877, Young's literal 1898 - "Become, then, followers of God, as children beloved", The Corrected English N.T. 1905, The Clarke N.T. 1913, Goodspeed N.T. 1923, Williams N.T. 1937 - "So you must keep on following God's example", Lamsa's translation of the Syriac Peshitta - "you became FOLLOWERS of us" (1 Thes. 1:6) "FOLLOWERS of those who through faith" (Hebrews 6:12), "FOLLOWERS of that which is good?" (1 Peter 3:13 etc.), the NKJV 1982, The Word of Yah 1993, The Revised Webster Bible 1995, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, The Tomson N.T. 2002, The Resurrection Life N.T. 2005, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, The Conservative Bible 2010, The Hebrew Transliteration Bible 2010, The Work of God's Children Illustrated Bible 2011, The Bond Slave Version 2012 and The New Matthew Bible 2016.
The Catholic Versions
The 1582 Douay Rheims said “Be ye therefore FOLLOWERS of God, as dear children.” But then the Douay of 1950, the Jerusalem bible of 1968 and the St. Joseph NAB 1970 all changed this to “BE IMITATORS of God, as children he loves.” But the New Jerusalem bible 1985 toned it down a bit with: “take him as your pattern”. but then the 2009 Catholic Public Domain version went back to “be IMITATORS of God”. The Latin Vulgate and the Clementine Vulgate both read BE IMITATORS” - Estote ergo imitatores Dei”
The NASB goes back and forth. It translated the verb as "TO IMITATE" 2 times, but also as TO FOLLOW as in "FOLLOW our example" in both 2 Thessalonians 3:7 and 9.
The NIV also goes back and forth. It has "be FOLLOWERS" in 1 Cor. 11:1 and Ephesians 5:1, but "imitators" in the other places.
The NKJV also goes back and forth both with the verb and the noun. It has "FOLLOW" in 2 Thes. 3:7 and 9 and in 1 Thes. 1:6 and 1 Peter 3:13 "Be FOLLOWERS of that which is good", but IMITATE in 3 John 11 and IMITATORS in 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1, 1 Thes. 2:14 and in Hebrews 6:12.
Dan Wallace's NET version usually translate the noun and verb as "IMITATE" or IMITATORS, but in 1 Peter 3:13 is has "who is going to harm you if you are DEVOTED to what is good?"
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the King James Bible and many others in translating the verb and the noun as "TO FOLLOW our example" or "Be ye FOLLOWERS of that which is good". That is what the word means, and to "imitate" itself means "to FOLLOW the example of another".
And "to follow" is better than "to imitate" because we avoid the confusion and contradiction of the additional meanings of the word "imitation" which often carries the direct implication of something that is "not real; a sham, bogus; counterfeit, not genuine."
All of grace, believing The Book,
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