Recently I saw a meme circulating which was quite representative of the Textual Discussion as it is represented on the Critical Text side. Please excuse the grammar of our dear author, it is a meme after all. The post went as follows:
Christians: It’s amazing that the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History
KJV-Onlyer: Well yes, but actually no
The author of the meme added commentary which said,
When you say “the KJV is the only true translation. Every other one is a perversion.” What you are really saying is “I believe Satan has done more to spread Scripture and Gods word through countless translations than God did with His one”. KJV Onlyism is idolatry.
This meme demonstrates the reality that the average Christian who has perhaps watched the Dividing Line or has read The King James Only Controversy knows very little regarding the Textual Discussion. This is true, or perhaps the author is employing the leftist strategy of “accusing your enemy of that which you’re guilty of yourself.” I have seen both in conversation regarding this topic. The reality is that most Christians today do not defend the statement that “the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” The Critical Text position and its advocates explicitly advocate against this theological premise in their literature and polemics. They often make such statements, but do not communicate any meaningful definition of “preservation.” What they advocate for is maintenance, not preservation. In order to support a claim such as, “The Lord preserved His Scripture throughout history”, the defenders of the Critical Text must make qualifying statements such as, “The Lord preserved His Scripture with great accuracy throughout history.” Which is to effectively say that the Lord did not preserve the Scriptures, He maintained them to some degree of precision. There is a huge difference between providential preservation and providential maintenance.
What this message communicates is that the concept of “one true translation” is an idolatrous position, and those that believe such are thus idolaters. I’ll return to that momentarily, but first I want to highlight the fact that those in the Critical Text position do not believe that there are any Bibles which can be considered “true”. We read such theological positions stated by Dirk Jongkind, Mark Ward, Richard Brash, Daniel Wallace, and Andrew Naselli. According to the top scholars of the Critical Text, every translation and text has errors, and therefore none are “true” in the sense that they convey what the original said. This is why the author writes that all other texts must be Satanic, according to “KJV Onlyers.”
This is a hyper-polemic framing of the discussion. A translation can have errors and not be Satanic. We do not accuse our brethren of being “Satanic” when they make a mistake or err. What might be considered Satanic is when we confront our brothers in their sin and they persist in their sin without intention to repent. This is why the heart of the discussion is the theological root. Ultimately, the conversation is not in essence about a particular translation or text. The truly Satanic idea is that God has not spoken clearly. At the heart of this debate is the theological question, Yea, hath God said?”. It is the same line of reasoning made by the Serpent in Eden. The Serpent first misquotes God, and then Eve adds to God’s Word. When somebody articulates the position that God has not preserved His Word, He has merely maintained it, they are implying that God has not spoken clearly. If Scripture is not settled and known, then neither is God’s voice to His people. And if God’s voice is changing and unknown, so is God. And if God is mutable, He is not God. The so called “KJV Onlyer” is actually the one with any justification to call those that reject the notion of a perfect text an “Idolater,” because these people seemingly worship a god who can change. Thus we see the rhetorical strategy of “accuse your enemy of that which you’re guilty of yourself” in full swing.
Yet if we back up momentarily, there is no need for immediate accusations of idolatry. Many men in the Christian church simply believe the Critical Text paradigm in their ignorance. Conversely, some in the so called “KJV Only” crowd also have error. Do we call them all idolaters? I suggest that we avoid such blanket accusations. First, it is wise to characterize opposing opinions accurately, which unfortunately, the author of this meme has not taken care to do. There are many in the Critical Text camp who still believe that Textual Criticism is the “effort of lower criticism to use the collection of extant manuscripts to create the original as it was penned.” We know that this is not the case, as the effort is actually to “describe the transmission history of the New Testament according to the extant manuscripts.” The Textual Scholars do not claim to know what the original said, nor do they claim that their methods can ascertain such a text. In order to ensure that they are not misconstrued, they further state that even if the original were in their hands, they would not know it. There is absolutely zero doubt when it comes to the scholars’ belief that they cannot find the Divine Original, though they may desire such an end goal in their hearts, as many do.
Now I will return to the concept of a “true translation.”
A True Translation
The concept of a “true translation” should not be associated with evil, as we see here from our author. Every Christian should desire such a Bible. If our Bibles be not true, then how can we make any claims from them? In the last decade, we have seen many calls for the retirement of such a theology. Yet all of our claims as Christians rely on such a standard. If it is the case that our Bibles are not “true translations,” then what are the value of our truth claims? Christianity devolves into a sort of subjective mysticism. It is no surprise that this is more or less the actual state of the modern Christian. They are more akin to subjectivist mystics than historical, orthodox, believers. If it is the case that Christianity is the true religion, then it must be the case that this religion has some sort of claim to that authoritative truth. This is why Christians do in fact claim that “the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” In fact, this claim must be true in order for Christianity to be true. Yet we observed above that this is not the claim of the Critical Text. Their claim is that “The Lord has maintained His text with great accuracy throughout History.”
This in mind, I suspect my reader can understand why Christians need the theological concept of a “true translation” (or text) in order to support anything they believe. Notice that I have not made a claim regarding which translation is true? The fact stands that Christians need at least one “true translation.” This theological principle is outright rejected by the Critical Text advocate. Something that is preserved can be consumed while something that is maintained is admittedly deteriorated and is deteriorating. Once an object falls into the state of maintenance, it is only a matter of time before that thing must be decommissioned. An interesting note here is that the Critical Text paradigm places the Scriptures in the state of man – fallen, requiring salvation and maintenance. The Scriptures are said to have fallen and require reconstruction. They must be made new again. The historical orthodox position places the Scriptures in the category of God – never changing, perfect, accessible.
So is it truly idolatry to believe that there are “true translations”? The answer is clear. Not only is it not idolatry, it is actually a necessary precondition for Christianity itself. Nobody alive today saw the resurrection or witnessed the events of the Scriptures. Without the Scriptures, Christians have no progeny, no doctrine, no nothing. It is a first principle of the Christian faith. This does not mean that only one “true translation” can or does exist, it simply means that at least one must exist.
If it is the case that Christianity requires a preserved, settled, available text, and it is, then it follows that the pursuit of Christians should be to get their hands on such a text and avail themselves of it. Unfortunately, the modern effort seems to be the opposite of such a pursuit. The scholars carry on about how the text does not exist, and how Christians should be happy with what is available. The text was not preserved, it was maintained, and we are lucky to have what we do have. Anybody who claims that there is a “true translation” is an idolater and implicitly accuses the brethren of Satanic influence. Despite this reality, the author of the meme does get something correct, that Christians believe “that the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” All Christians advocate this position because it must be true in order to have one thing called “Christianity.” If the alternative is true, and we have a maintained text, than what we’re left with are a number of “christianities,” none more correct than the other. That is why the author believes that “Satan has done more to spread Scripture and Gods word through countless translations than God did with His one.” The necessary conclusion of the author is that all translations must be true. Such a claim is absurd. There are unfaithful translations, and there are faithful translations. There are true translations, and translations that are not true to the original. If the author wishes to extrapolate the meaning that Satan has done more to influence the world than God, that is on him. Such a meaning mitigates the power of God in history through His Word prior to the 20th century when modern versions were created. Let me remind my reader that this “textual problem” is not new to the church, but the church has not sided with Marcion or the Pope historically like we see today. This battle has always existed, though I would argue that for the first time the church has sided incorrectly. Does that make the modern church “Satanic” or “Idolaters?” I’m sure my reader can agree that much of what we see in the modern church falls into those categories, though unlike our meme author, I will not cast a blanket net over the whole of those who read modern bibles. The modern church has a plethora of serious issues, lack of belief in the Scriptures being high on that list.
I will leave my reader with a concluding thought to consider. Are Christians sinful, in error, or idolatrous for attempting to identify a bible as “The Bible?” Does the existence of a “true translation” nullify the existence of other “true translations” past and present? I suspect your answers to such questions will reveal the foolishness of the meme in question.