The Battle Against Onlyism

Introduction

One of the biggest victories of postmodernism in the church is the demonization of objectivity. Subjectivity is celebrated and put on a pedestal so often that Christianity has all but lost its identity. This is abundantly clear if you have been following the SBC in recent years or have had a conversation with the average person about Christianity recently. There are as many forms of Christianity in 2021 as there are Bible translations. New translations and paraphrases have flooded the market with essentially no real pushback. So called “reformed” men have written textbooks endorsing the MSG.

Rather than fighting against the absurdity of having over 500 English Bible translations, “Conservatives” have labeled this an “embarrassment of riches” and encourage believers to read a smattering of translations. The problem, according to the modern church, is not that there are four different versions of the ESV, or that the MSG exists. The issue, they say, is against the people who decide to read one translation – the “Onlyists”.

It is clear that the battle that mainstream conservative wants to fight is onlyism rather than pluralism in Bible translations. This being the case, I want to examine what is being set forth by a pluralistic view on Bible translations. I have summarized it in a list below.

  1. There should not be unity over Bible translation
  2. There is not one translation that is better than the other
  3. Bible translations should be viewed as tools to access the Word of God, not the Word of God itself
  4. Changes to translations or new translations demonstrate that the words themselves do not matter

Unity in Bible Translation

The battle against the “Onlyists” is launched from the place that there is not one translation that is better than another, and that unity should not be had in one translation.. This points to the reality that the pluralists understand translations as a tool to access the Word of God, not the Word of God itself. This of course is stated plainly in the theological statement, “There are no perfect translations.” What this actually means is that there are no perfectly accurate translations. Every translation has errors, and therefore all must be used as a tool to understand Scripture. They claim that this is because language cannot be translated perfectly into another. In other words, translations are tools that imperfectly point to the Word of God.

Now this raises an important questions then, if translations are tools, what exactly is Scripture? What exactly are we looking at when we open up an English bible translation? Since a translation cannot be perfectly accurate, the translation itself is not “the very Word of God,” it is something that estimates or perhaps approximates the very Word of God. This must be true, seeing as the pluralists take no issue with any of the four versions of the ESV that exist. Using just one translation as an example, we can clearly see that the exact material of the translation does not matter.

That means that theologically speaking, the modern view understands the original language texts as “The Word of God,” and that translations are tools that point to it. Since there are no translations that accurately set forth the original, we must then look to what they say about the original language texts. According to them, we do not have the original in any original language texts or in any translations. In summary, not only does the original not exist today, if it did, we wouldn’t know we had it, and further, we couldn’t translate it accurately. That is to say that if you are at a church that holds to the modern doctrine of Scripture, your doctrinal statements mean absolutely nothing.

What is peculiar is that this is not seen as an issue, despite it clearly contradicting even the most simple orthodox statement of faith on Scripture which says, “The Bible is the very Word of God.” If by “the Bible” these statements mean “The Bible we use here at this church,” then the statement itself is actually contradictory because that Bible is just an imperfect approximation of texts that are not original. Despite the fact that this view voids the majority of doctrinal statements found in Church charters and doctrinal statements, the real problem is seen to be the “Onlyists.” That is the fight the modern church wants to take in the 21st century.

Conclusion

As much as conservatives in 2021 want to think that they have a sturdy theology of Scripture, the reality is that they do not. Recently, a pastor stated in a sermon that, “We can get back to what the autographa or original documents said via the transmitted text; it’s truly incredible.” This is quite common, even though there is not a single textual scholar who believes that or says that. If any pastor has done this, he should probably produce that original so that the textual scholars can close shop. The above quote demonstrates the disconnect between what the textual scholars are actually saying and what the average pastor thinks has been said. The problem is that these very same pastors can listen to a Dan Wallace lecture, hear him say that we do not have the original, and somehow come away from the lecture believing that we have the original.

Now the truly paradoxical thing about all this is that the very same people who advocate for this view present the discussion as though the “onlyists” are the problem. Further, the average pastor believes that we have truly found the original while appealing to men who adamantly state the opposite. I invite my reader to come to a conclusion. Does the person who upholds the pluralistic view have any ground to object to any other view of Scripture? Is the battle against the “onlyists” warranted? I will suggest, in conclusion, that the pluralists are sailing in a burning boat, shouting at a boat that is not on fire.

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