Authorized Review – Chapter 3: Not so Difficult to Read

This article is the fourth in a series reviewing Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible.

Introduction

So far in this review series of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward has communicated to his reader that the King James, while being mostly intelligible, has many places that will trip the reader up, often times without the reader knowing they have been confused about the meaning of a passage. In this review, I have tried to highlight the central premise of the book and the audience, namely that a) the KJV is difficult to read and b) that Ward seems to be primarily trying to convince people who do not read the KJV. I have also pointed out that Ward’s arguments are often contradictory and he tends to undermine his own arguments. The reason I have chosen to also bring attention to the rhetorical elements of Ward’s writing is an attempt to draw out what seems to be the intended purpose of the work. 

Prior to reviewing chapter 3 on “False Friends,” I want to show my reader why I have chosen to focus on the rhetoric so much in my review. Take for example these three quotes:

“So if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem—the most significant problem a translation can have: What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore?”

Ibid., 18-19

“I thought I knew what the KJV was saying, but over the years I’ve discovered that, far too often and through no fault of anyone I can think of, I did not.”

Ibid., 28


“The KJV is not unintelligible overall. As I said earlier, the fact that 55 percent of today’s Bible readers are reading the KJV suggests that the KJV is *not* impossibly foreign and ancient.”

Ibid., 118

The reader should take notice of the conflicted messaging in Ward’s book exemplified by the quotations above, which is why I’ve decided to highlight the rhetoric so heavily. Early on in the book we are introduced with a problem – that the KJV is too difficult to read, and that Ward discovered he had difficulty reading it. Yet all throughout the book the reader is told that the KJV is intelligible, and that most people can allegedly read it. One of the goals of this review series is to comment on this conundrum. Does Ward believe that the KJV is readable, or does he not? Is Ward arguing that while most people read the KJV, they cannot understand it? More importantly, does Ward offer any solutions to this problem other than “get rid of it”? 

In chapter 3, Ward introduces his reader to what I consider his pinnacle argument – dead words and false friends. He continues to develop his narrative, which is that his reader, and the readers of the KJV, are seemingly unaware of the difficulties of reading the KJV.



“There are two major ways language change affects individual words in the KJV. One we all know; the other, I’m convinced, most of us don’t recognize—through no fault of our own.”

Ibid., 29

Ward’s point is that there are many places in the KJV that seem intelligible, but are actually not, due to the change in language over time. So the reader of the KJV may believe that they understand the text, but actually do not.

Dead Words and False Friends

It is true that there are words in the KJV that are no longer used today. It is also true that there are words which have evolved in meaning since the 17th century. Ward argues that this is the “biggest problem in understanding the KJV.” He spends the chapter analyzing six examples of what he considers to be “False Friends.” This builds on the narrative that the KJV, while seemingly intelligible, is actually not.


“And each one of them will mislead you through no fault of your own—unless ignorance of the subtleties of an English no one speaks anymore is a fault. And I don’t think it is.”

Ibid., 32

According to Ward, the readers of the KJV are unsuspecting victims. I want to take a moment to highlight that this is a strange rhetorical strategy as it seems to indicate that an entire subset of Christians are being fooled by the translation they read. That perhaps they are not intelligent enough to know when they are reading an archaic word. One thing I will point out, is that even in the case where a “false friend” is misunderstood, reading a text in its context resolves almost all of these issues. This is how English, and most languages work. Let me demonstrate by commenting on an example in Authorized. Ward begins by using the word “halt” to demonstrate that this word is employed to mean “limp” rather than “stop.” His point is that if you interpret “halt” as “stop,” you are being tricked by the KJV. Yet, the sense of the passage is not lost, even if the reader takes the modern definition of halt. “How long will you pause between two opinions?” The reader does not miss the point of the passage, even if they read it incorrectly. More importantly, this highlights the flaw in the approach of using “False Friends” to demonstrate that the KJV is unintelligible in places. Context is just as important as vocabulary in reading comprehension, and even when a reader doesn’t know a word, the context supplies the meaning. American children learn this as early as grade school.

The average reader is not taught to read by atomizing every word in a sentence, defining each word, and putting the whole sentence together after defining each word. A sentence is not a puzzle, it is a thought. We read by first reading the whole sentence and surrounding sentences, and use context clues to understand words that we didn’t understand, or words that were employed in a way that is not typical in colloquial English. This is largely how children learn new words growing up, by reading above their skill level. The problem of false friends disappears if the reader simply reads the KJV like they would any other book. Ward uses “Filthiness is not convenient” as another example of a false friend. The context helps supply the meaning. And if the reader is even a little bit ambitious, a simple internet search of the word “Convenient” yields the very definition that is apparently unintelligible – suitable, appropriate, or fitting as adjectives. If we consider context as an important part of understanding a language, the average reader will easily catch this.

Ward argues that the KJV reader simply won’t know this unless they have an Oxford English dictionary on hand. This sort of sounds like the “You’ll never have a calculator in your pocket everywhere you go” argument that your grade school math teacher said in school. Assuming the reader doesn’t have a cell phone, in our example above, context tells the reader that Paul doesn’t mean “Favorable to one’s comfort,” and even the list of modern adjectives include the definition that was originally intended by the KJV translators. The only reason false friends would trip somebody up so badly is if they read the Bible word by word, rather than in complete sentences. Perhaps this is the fruit of New Testament exegesis classes in seminary, which train pastors to do exactly that. The “experts” in Greek and Hebrew are trained to read in a way that nobody has ever read. They are taught to make elaborate diagrams and to split each word out into its own organism. To demonstrate this point, Dan Wallace did his PhD work on the word “The”. The average reader knows that this is not how English, or any language, works. At this point I might invite my reader to consider the possibility that Ward’s entire thesis is aimed at addressing a problem that only an academic could have.

Conclusion

Ward uses “False Friends” to tell his reader that “you are not expected to keep track of all the changes English has undergone in its long lifetime” (43). That of course is not the expectation put on the KJV reader, and it is not even required to read the KJV. The KJV is written in early modern English, and anybody who speaks and reads modern English will be able to understand it. They will also be able to identify when they do not understand it, if they read the Bible normally. Ward even notes that,

“To be clear, I don’t think any Christian doctrines are affected by the undetectable (or the detectable) shifts in English that have occurred in the last four hundred years.”

Ibid., 43

This quote is imperative to understanding Ward’s argument from a theological perspective. If our doctrine of Scripture generally states that one of the purposes of Scripture is to be “profitable for doctrine” (2 Tim. 3:16), and none of these so called “false friends” and archaisms impact doctrine, Ward’s thesis has no theological basis at all. Again, I will highlight that Ward dismantles his own argument in the very chapter he introduces it. The reader is presented with a problem, the problem is described and supported, and then Ward seemingly details how the problem isn’t really a problem. The KJV is too difficult to read, but most Christians can read it. The KJV has deceptive “False Friends,” but these do not affect doctrine. The KJV has false friends, “but not very many given how large the Bible is” (49).

The largest problem for Ward seems to be that he believes the average reader simply will not know when they encounter a “False Friend.” Perhaps if they read the Bible word by word, this is true. Yet the average person does not read anything this way, they read sentence by sentence. Ward readily admits that “Many Christians simply disagree over whether archaisms in the KJV are truly a big deal.” Time and time again, the reader is presented with problems that Ward cannot demonstrate to be actual problems, except for him and the friends from his anecdotes.  

As a KJV reader, from the first page of Authorized, I have noted the conflicted messaging, and the fact that the whole picture has not been presented to the reader. If the KJV is intelligible, and false friends are not as prolific or problematic as people think, what exactly is the problem with the KJV? The reader should be asking themselves if there is more to this story than difficult words. Why is a self-professed “language nerd” seemingly advocating against the most beautiful expression of the modern English language? As I read this book the first and second and third time, I had to ask myself, “What is Ward trying to say here?”

Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

This article is the third in a series reviewing Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. 

Introduction

In the last article, I addressed Ward’s evaluation of what is lost if the King James Bible is retired. In this article, I will review Chapter 2 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, where Ward readies his audience for the pinnacle of his argument – false friends. If you follow Ward online, you know that the thrust of his work is identifying false friends and making the case that this is a primary reason to put down the KJV. He begins chapter 2 by proposing that the NIV is the probable successor to the KJV based on sales figures for the popular translation. The reader should note that sales figures are not a reason to adopt a translation. Christians should be concerned with whether or not the translation accurately translates the providentially preserved text from the original into a target language. Ward begins to develop his case for retiring the KJV in this chapter further by saying, “we’d better have very good reasons for giving it [KJV] up” (Ibid., 17). This gives the impression to the reader that Ward is about to present an argument that justifies all of the downsides to retiring the KJV. According to Ward, this reason is that people cannot understand it. It is “foreign and ancient.” As I noted in the introduction of my book review series, Ward’s own research and anecdotal experience seems to contradict this fact, but we will see how he develops this thought as we get further into the review. Throughout the work so far, this continues to be his driving argument. 

“So if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem—the most significant problem a translation can have: What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore?”  

Ibid., 18-19

Ward introduces his primary argument with a huge “if”. He proposes that if it is the case that the KJV is too difficult to read, then we should retire it. As the reader will see, support for Ward’s argument is entirely dependent personal experience and anecdotes. He even admits that the KJV “falls in the same category, broadly speaking, in which our English belongs.” So far the reader has learned that 55% of English Bible readers use the KJV, Ward grew up reading the KJV, and that the King’s English falls into the same category of English that we speak today. The KJV is not old, middle, or Elizabethan English – it is early modern English written in a syntax and vocabulary that matches closely with the original languages. That is why the Trinitarian Bible Society has labeled it, “Biblical English.” Ward again drives home the point that, “I could not only understand but reproduce the major features of KJV diction as a young child.” Despite writing this multiple times in the book so far, Ward introduces his reader to yet another paradox, which I will highlight below. In this chapter, Ward discusses his transition from advocating for the KJV to advocating against the KJV. I will organize my review of chapter 2 into Ward’s anecdotes, his narrative, and his problem. 

Anecdotes

According to Ward, two major life experiences led to his shift in thinking. The first is that Ward has spent more time than the average Christian studying the Bible in various translations. The second is that he has spent years sharing the Gospel. In his experience, he argues that learning the English of the KJV is not a reasonable expectation to impose on the average Christian. Here’s the plot twist: He then admits that he actually has trouble reading certain passages in the KJV. After repeatedly stating that he understood the KJV growing up, he now says he actually cannot. He recalls an experience at a summer camp, where not one person of 10,000, pastors included, could understand the phrase, “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” This is a perfect example where Matthew Henry could have helped Ward understand this “cryptic” passage. “Do not envy them their prosperity.” 

Ward attempts to convince his reader, with anecdote, that the passage is impossible to understand in the KJV. Gill, Calvin, and Henry all share the same opinion on the verse, so perhaps that is more of a testimony to the quality of modern scholarship than anything else. I’m more concerned that there were seminary trained pastors and college students at this camp that couldn’t understand this passage. It seems that somebody at that camp should have had access to a commentary, at least. Ward ends by presenting his reader with a strange hypothetical conversation between a child and an adult, where the child is presented as a guru of sorts by saying, “Well why didn’t the KJV translators just use the word I think they should have used?” This all contributes to the narrative that drives the primary argument of Ward’s book – that not only is the KJV too difficult to understand, the KJV translators could have used easier words and syntax. Even a child knows that much! In this chapter the reader begins to see the contradictions in Ward’s anecdotal evidence. This being the case, I encourage my reader to reflect on the value of such evidence as it pertains to Ward’s thesis.

Narrative

The narrative that Ward presents is that while most people can understand the KJV, there are verses that require a second look, and that many readers will not understand certain verses the first time around, if they ever do understand them. This is the entry point to Ward’s primary argument. Upon first glance, this standard could also result in every translation being considered for retirement if applied equally. The reality is, there are verses in every translation that require explanation. The NIV, for example, contains words such as “aloes,” “odious,” “stadia,” “sistrums” and so on. There are difficult concepts and words in the Bible that do not appear in our common vernacular. If we step outside of Ward’s narrative for a moment, it is plainly evident that the Bible isn’t easily understood in every place. 

“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood”  

2 Peter 3:16

The quoted material above is one of the Biblical proofs Ward uses to support his argument. The reader will see later that Ward will call upon Scripture to make the claim that if something can’t be understood, it cannot be of value to the people of God. It is important to recognize that Ward has relied heavily upon anecdotes to develop his narrative up to this point, and now he is beginning to invoke Scripture to support these anecdotes. In effect, Ward is saying, “These people I knew once didn’t understand this verse.” He is beginning to make the case to his reader, that while most people read the KJV, many of them don’t even know they can’t understand it.

Problem

The problem that Ward presents to his reader is that people that read the KJV cannot understand it, and sometimes don’t even know they cannot understand it. As a KJV reader, this feels extremely condescending. It assumes that the average Bible reader doesn’t try to understand difficult passages, or is too dull to know when they cannot understand a passage. Ward offers his reader some perspective on himself, which may help understand his book in addition to how Ward can make these types of claims about other Christians who read the KJV:

“I was a somewhat intellectually arrogant kid.”

Ibid., 25

This is in effect to say, “The only reason I thought I could understand the KJV was because I was arrogant.” While this is a very strange thing to say, I believe Ward has missed the point entirely. The problem he is presenting as a reason for retiring the KJV is simply a description of learning something new. Every Christian has to learn new words, no matter which translation they read. There are times when you are a child where you will misunderstand words and get them wrong, and not just in the Bible. This happens as easily reading a Goosebumps novel while you are learning to read. Getting words wrong is a part of the learning process.

It seems the argument that Ward is making is that the average Christian must learn more words to read the KJV than they would with modern translations. Yet as Ward loves to say, this seems to be more of a problem of quantity, not kind. The problem of Christians misunderstanding the Bible is not unique to KJV readers. There are many times where Christians believe they understand a passage, but then a pastor or friend comes along and informs them that they do not. If we again step outside of Ward’s narrative, it should be common sense that Christians do not understand the Bible perfectly in a vacuum. 

I will pause my review for a moment to make a point. Every Christian needs to study and be taught. What I have a difficult time understanding is why one would argue that this should be done to a lesser degree. We have seen Ward admit that reading the KJV improves literacy among other things, so why advocate for its retirement on these grounds? It is true that KJV readers must learn more words than modern Bible readers, but that is not a convincing argument for the KJV being put behind glass in a museum. In fact, it seems like a huge positive that our children would be raised with a higher reading comprehension vocabulary. And if this principle were truly adhered to among the academic types, why do these scholars constantly advocate for learning multiple languages to read the Scriptures? The same scholars who claim the KJV is too difficult to read also recommend learning the original Biblical languages to “go back to the Greek and Hebrew.” In any case, Ward’s argument takes the anecdotal experience of the few and projects it to the many. As we have already seen, and will see more later in this review, the case that Ward is building contradicts itself to such a degree that he presents and refutes his own thesis within the cover of his own book.

Conclusion

It is clear that so far in Authorized, Ward relies heavily upon rhetoric, anecdotes, and narrative building to convince his reader that the KJV should not be read. In this chapter, his primary argument is that KJV readers may think they understand what they are reading, but actually do not. The reader is led to believe that Ward’s difficulty must be a problem for everybody. Again I will highlight that the people who are likely to be convinced by these arguments are people that do not actually read the KJV. He uses an anecdote of a summer camp where not a single person, pastors included, could understand Psalm 37:8 to support this point. Ward uses personal experience and anecdotes to establish his premise to build a narrative that the KJV simply cannot be understood. What Ward seems to miss is that the average Bible reader cares deeply about the words in the pages of their Bible. They study the Bible. They try to understand the Bible. It is not prideful to have a sound working knowledge of Scripture. I tested all of Ward’s example passages against some commentaries that are available online for free and all of them provided helpful and thorough explanations of the passages in question.

The most off-putting part of Ward’s book so far is the juvenile tone he takes. He inserts poorly placed and in my opinion, inappropriate jokes and commentary in the middle of a very serious topic. In a piece of persuasive writing, Ward discusses his failed attempts at impressing girls and his “smug satisfaction” of being intellectually superior than his peers in grade school, among other things. His premise for chapter 2 is also incredibly demeaning and insulting to the people who read the KJV. Ward discusses how smart he is, how much he has studied, and his self-proclaimed expertise in linguistics in order to make the concluding point: that God broke him of his pride and showed him that he didn’t actually understand the KJV. Ward seems to be making the point that if he, in all of his learning, cannot understand the KJV, neither can his reader. Thankfully he clarifies that,

“just because I was arrogant and ignorant doesn’t mean all other KJV readers are the same.”  

Ibid., 27

Authorized Review – Chapter 1: A Strange Start

This article is the second in a series reviewing Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. 

Introduction

In the first article of this series, I highlighted several key observations from the introduction of Mark Ward’s book, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. Notably that most people who read a Bible read the KJV (55%), that Mark Ward can read the KJV, and that the audience for this work seems to be those who do not read the KJV. The goal of this work seems to be to bolster the narrative that the KJV should be retired due to its lack of readability. In chapter 1 of the work, Ward gives the reader five things we lose as “the church stops using the KJV.” 

He opens the chapter by listing some of the English Bibles leading up to the KJV to demonstrate that retiring Bible translations is a normal part of the Bible translation lifecycle. What he does not tell his reader is that these Bibles which were retired leading up to the KJV were extremely similar to the KJV, and presented to the reader the same text form as the KJV. The largest shift from these Bibles to the KJV was spelling and typesetting. In other words, these Bibles really weren’t all that different from each other. What is described as a normal process doesn’t offer the kind of analysis I would have hoped for. The KJV was produced at the end of a technological advancement – the printing press. It would have been nice to see more thoughtful analysis on what technological or scholarly change resulted in the “translation lifecycle” being kicked off the second time. Considering how long the KJV ruled supreme, the sudden advocation for it’s retirement is not what I would consider a normal process.  

The shift from the KJV to modern translations isn’t as simple as updated spelling and syntax. It involves changing and removing verses from the underlying text and applying different translation methodologies. This is a huge gap that is completely ignored in Ward’s analysis. Ward says, “I don’t think many people have carefully considered what will happen if we all decide to let the KJV die and another take its office” (Ibid., 5). This signals that Ward believes he is writing to an audience who has not considered these issues, which points again to the reality that his audience are those who are not familiar with the KJV and its history and impact. Those that have not made such considerations are likely in the camp of people who have already adopted a modern translation. In this article, I will review Ward’s take on the “what we lose” discussion by evaluating his commentary on each of the five things. 

We Lose Intergenerational Ties in the Body of Christ 

Ward begins this section by appealing to an anecdote where his Grandma gifts his children their first Bibles due to, by his own admission, indecisiveness. 

“I spent an inordinate amount of time before marriage considering which Bible translations I would hand to my children (inordinate because I didn’t even have a girlfriend at the time). I dithered so long in this decision, even after marriage and the birth of my three children, that Grandma ended up deciding for me by buying the kids Bibles. And one of the reasons I struggled so hard was that I knew that if I didn’t hand my kids KJVs I would be severing some rich connections between them and their heritage.”  

Ibid., 6

Ward rightly notes that if he rejected this gift, he would be “severing some rich connections between them and their heritage.” Ward makes many powerful points here. The KJV connects Protestant Christians to their heritage, helps them become “skilled readers”, gives them easy access to the theological works of the Puritans and other post-Reformation divines, helps them understand the theological lexicon of English Christianity, helps them understand the hymns and psalms sung in churches today, and even provides a connection to the older generation who grew up on the KJV. 

Despite this powerful argument for retaining the KJV, Ward ends this section by stating that while the strings that connect Protestants to the past are important, “we can’t keep all the strings. Some of them must or even should be cut. But let’s at least be aware of what we’re doing” (Ibid., 8). This section exemplifies the paradoxical nature of Ward’s thesis. In one breath, he gives great reasons for retaining the KJV, and at the same time argues that modern Christians should cut ties with it. This is, as I’ve come to recognize it, is a trademark of Ward’s rhetorical strategy. What the careful reader will notice is that Authorized offers many strong arguments to actually retain the KJV while simultaneously dismissing these reasons as unimportant.

We Lose Scripture Memory By Osmosis 

This section does a great job demonstrating the the damage that has been caused by the inundation of Bible translations into the Christian church. 

“When an entire church, or group of churches, or even an entire nation of Christians, uses basically one Bible translation, genuinely wonderful things happen.”

Ibid., 8

If it is wonderful for the church to share a translation, what word should we use to describe a Christian church that does not have a unified text? Awful? Dreadful? There is tremendous value in a church sharing the same translation, which Ward highlights in this section. In addition to Ward’s point, which is that much of Scripture is memorized in community, I will add that theology can be done more effectively in a community with one Bible. Unlike the Bibles leading up to the KJV, modern Bibles take different textual and translational choices which change the meaning of passages. In the best case scenario, competing translational choices add an additional step of exegesis into the church by forcing members to decide which translation is better, rather than simply being taught by the same text. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a Bible study that devolved into debates over which translational choice is the “best.” Here is yet another example of where Ward provides a powerful argument against his own thesis, which we will see later is to read a plethora of translations.

Ward then makes one of the most compelling arguments from God’s providence in favor of the KJV.


“But no other translation seems likely to serve in the role [of a unified translation]. If indeed the King is dying, it is just as sure that none of his sons or cousins have managed to become the heir apparent.”

Ibid., 9, brackets added

In other words, the Christian church had unity under one translation for centuries, now they do not, and it does not appear that this will happen in the age of modern translations. This is a point often presented by KJV advocates – that it will not change, and the church can rally around it. If there is no hope for unification around a single modern translation on the horizon, it seems to make more sense to rally around a translation that most of the church already reads.

We Lose a Cultural Touchstone 

Ward opens this section by again comparing the shift from the KJV to modern versions to the shift from the KJV predecessors by using the Coverdale Bible as an example. The KJV is a polished and refined pinnacle of the translations produced during this time in history, which explains the dominance of the KJV during that time and beyond. The largest difference between the Coverdale and KJV is updated spelling and typesetting, and the modern reader would have a much harder time with the Coverdale for this reason. See John 1:1-2 as an example.


“In the beginning was the worde, and the worde was with God, and God was ye worde. The same was in the beginning wt God.” 

The Coverdale is actually a great example of a Bible that needed an update for standardized spelling, and the KJV was a perfect successor. It was also based in Tyndale’s New Testament, which the KJV retains up to 95%. Comparing the Coverdale to the KJV is like comparing a red delicious apple to a honeycrisp apple, whereas comparing the KJV to the NIV is like comparing an apple to a grapefruit. It is important that the reader understands the rhetorical tool Ward is employing here. 

It is interesting that Ward then employs Dawkins and Hitchins, infamous critics of Christianity, to rebuke himself and the modern Christian church. Here is Hitchins on the importance of the KJV:

“A culture that does not possess [the KJV’s] common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update [the Bible] or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare.”

Ibid., 11

Even the heathen can recognize the importance of the KJV. Ward finishes the section by making a theological blunder. He states that Hitchens is “confusing ‘the Bible’ and translations of the Bible.” Here is a reminder to the reader that an accurate translation of the original languages is the Bible. The Scriptures were immediately inspired in the original languages, and accurate translations of these texts are mediately inspired and are equally the Bible (WCF 1.8, LBCF 1.8). This theological mistake is often used against people who advocate for the use of a single translation. What most people who make this argument don’t realize is that it sets a precedent for an undefined Bible.

We Lose Some of the Implicit Trust Christians Have in the Bibles in Their Laps 

It is difficult to understand at this point why Ward has argued to sever ties with the KJV. Not only has he made several compelling arguments for it’s retention, he has eviscerated any case that can be made for adopting a modern translation. 

“It follows on from the second point: as the KJV fades, so does at least some of the trust Christians have in their Bible translations.”

Ibid., 11

“Bible translations succeed or fail based on Christian trust, because only a vanishingly small percentage of Bible readers can, and even fewer do, go through the laborious process of checking their English translations against the Greek and Hebrew. The vast majority of Bible readers simply take—they have to take—the word of others that the translations in their laps are faithful. When scholarly Christians and ministry-leading Christians go to battle over Bible translations, in dog fights far above the it’s-all-Greek-to-me heads of people in the pew, some of the flak falls on the flock.”

Ibid., 12-13

Not only does Ward point out that ever-evolving translations diminish trust that Christians have in their Bible, but also that the modern method of Bible reading imposes a gate keeping process that pressures Christians to be bound to a lexicon while reading so that they can understand what “it really says in the original.” The layman is encouraged to learn Greek and Hebrew to understand the “true” meaning of their English Bible, rather than simply reading what’s on their lap. I have argued before that this establishes a neo-papacy with the academics as pope. You can’t read your Bible for yourself, the scholars must tell you how to read it, what verses to read, and how those verses ought to be translated.

We Lose Some of the Implicit Trust Non-Christians Have in Scripture 

The title of this section speaks volumes to the damage that has been done in the last 100 years. I recall a recent debate where a belligerent atheist held up a KJV, tried to throw it in the trash, and then held up a blue Nestle-Aland text to his Christian opponents and mocked them for not having a Bible. While I do not think the critiques that Atheists have of Holy Scripture are particularly important, it demonstrates how devastating the current state of the English Bible is to Christian apologetics. Ward takes notice of this as well.

“The more Bible translations we have, and particularly the more Christian fur they see flying over them on the Internet, the less reason non-Christians will have for believing that the Bible speaks with one voice. A rising tide can sink all boats, at least a little.”  

Ibid., 13-14

He again quotes Hitchens:


“Not to over-prize consensus, it does possess certain advantages over randomness and chaos. Since the appearance of the so-called “Good News Bible,” there have been no fewer than 48 English translations published in the United States. And the rate shows no sign of slackening. Indeed, the trend today is toward what the trade calls “niche Bibles.” These include the “Couples’ Bible,” “One Year New Testament for Busy Moms,” “Extreme Teen Study Bible,” “Policeman’s Bible,” and—somehow unavoidably—the “Celebrate Recovery Bible.” (Give them credit for one thing: the biblical sales force knows how to “be fruitful and multiply.”) In this cut-price spiritual cafeteria, interest groups and even individuals can have their own customized version of God’s word.”

Ibid., 14-15

Ward ends this section with a powerful retort to the atheist’s critique when he says,

“As it is written in the prophets: ‘Ouch.’”

Ibid., 15

We often hear that the Modern Critical Text is necessary for apologetics, yet in Ward’s own words we see that this is not the case.

Conclusion

In the first chapter of his book, Ward makes a compelling argument for the benefit of retaining the KJV, and highlights the damage that modern versions have had on unity in the church and Christian apologetics. Ward lightens the mood by presenting his reader with what seems to be a poorly placed joke.



“Should we permit the KJV to slide into disuse, when we lose so many things of value along with it? Okay, maybe the bath water is getting a bit tepid, but the babies—think of the babies!”

Ibid., 16

Yes, after demonstrating the serious problems modern versions have caused and the opinions of prominent atheists on the matter, Ward feels it is appropriate to offer his reader some light-hearted humor. He ends the chapter by asking, “What do we do with the KJV?” I think a more appropriate question is, “What do we do with Mark Ward?” How is the reader of Authorized supposed to reconcile his paradoxical thesis?

Thus far in Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward has shown his reader several important realities: The first is that of the people who read their Bible, most read the King James Version. The second is that there is a tremendous benefit to the unity of the church and to Christian apologetics in retaining a unified translation. The third is that there is no other translation that has taken the spot of the KJV or can take the spot of the KJV. Despite this, it seems that Ward is working towards telling us why we should cut ties with the KJV. As a KJV reader, Ward has done a great job in reassuring me that my decision to put down my ESV was the right call. 

The Theology of the Text: What is Biblical Translation Methodology?

This article is the twelfth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.

The Theology of the Text: What is Biblical Translation Methodology? 

This is arguably the most practical question to ask and answer as it pertains to the Bible that Christians read. Unfortunately, it is the least considered topic. Typically, the conversation over “Which Bible” centers around the underlying text and the ease of readability. The most important factor in translation, however, is whether or not the translators have accurately set forth the original languages into various common languages. It is unfaithful to pick a translation that uses easier words, if those easier words are simply not accurate. A common problem in modern translation methodology is that translators often include their interpretation of a word in the translation. That means that in a certain sense, the translation committee has done exegesis for the reader, and is forcing the reader to take their interpretation of what the word means rather than the plain meaning of the word. 

A great example of this is Galatians 5:12, though there are countless examples in modern versions. The passage reads this way in the ESV and KJV: 

“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! “ (ESV)

“I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” (KJV)

The word in question is αποκοψονται (apokopsontai), which is a form of a word which simply means “To cut off” or to “cut away.” There are two ways to take Paul’s meaning. The first, is that he’s expressing that these people would castrate themselves, and the second is that he is expressing that these people would excommunicate themselves from the church at Galatia. It is also possible that he is using this language to communicate both in one sentence. The point is that a translation should set forth the original, and the reader should then be responsible for understanding the meaning based on the plan translation of the original word. The problem is that, when interpretation is done in the translation, the reader doesn’t have the opportunity to do proper exegesis without consulting the original languages, and thus setting forth the requirement that every average Bible reader be at least a little capable in the original languages. This interpretive translation methodology is one of the leading causes for people to distrust their translations, and rightfully so. In photography terms, this kind of translation methodology is like a forced perspective, where a person sees a photo from the perspective that the photographer wants them to see.

If you watch the videos of the ESV translation committee making translational decisions, they discuss the theology of the words more than what the word actually means. This should concern everybody involved, because it means that such a translation will have built into it the theological interpretations of the translation committee in the translation itself. This is not a Biblical approach to translation. The Scriptures were immediately inspired in the original autographs and preserved in the apographs by God’s providence. It should be the objective of translators to set forth accurately into every vulgar tongue what those languages said, without adding interpretation into the translation. Even if the translation committee gets the interpretation correct, they still have not set forth the original, and thus have obscured the text. 

Conclusion

There are many valid arguments in support of formal equivalence (“Word for word”) and dynamic equivalence (“Thought for thought”) in translation. The reality is, no translation is entirely formal, or entirely dynamic. In order to set forth one language into another, both are necessary and should be used to communicate smoothly what the original languages are saying. In most cases, formal equivalence is more appropriate, and in some cases, dynamic equivalence is more appropriate. In both styles of translation, the goal should be translation, however, not interpretation. This interpretive translation methodology is also the cause of the gender inclusive language in the modern Bibles. Many have attributed this shift, rightly, to the increasing amount of liberalism in evangelicalism, but the problem is ultimately with the translation methodology, not the translators. 

The translation methodology can, and should, constrain the translation committees from their editorialism in translation, and thus prevent translations from carrying the theology of the translator in it. Conservatives engage in the same style of interpretive translation methodology, they are just conservative, so their interpretive translations are often received better in evangelical circles. It is not the job of a translator to add his or her theological spin in the translation itself, it is the job of the exegete to pull the meaning out of the text. This interpretive translation methodology has been practically harmful to the church, because it has caused the average Bible reader to believe that they have to “Go back to the Greek” to rightly understand the text. The problem is, you cannot adequately understand a language by simply having a lexicon, and Christians who go back to the Greek almost always butcher the text by doing so. The fruit of such translation methodology is exegetical chaos. 

The Theology of the Text: How Do Critical Methodologies Affect the Layman?

This article is the eleventh in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.

The Theology of the Text – How do Critical Methodologies Affect the Layman?

All efforts of the seminaries should be for the purpose of glorifying God and benefitting His people. Usually, what goes on in seminaries trickles down slowly to the people in the pews, and the people in the pews often push back at the things that seminary trained pastors bring into their church from the academy. This is perfectly exemplified by the statement recently issued by the Lockman Foundation regarding the NASB 2020:


“The long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) were retained due to their special interest for many readers and because of the lengths of the texts. These two passages have double brackets to indicate that they lack adequate manuscript support because the earliest manuscripts do not contain these passages.”

Despite the scholars on the editorial committee for the NASB 2020 not believing that the Ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae are Scripture, they kept them in the text because of the “special interest for many readers.” Many pastors face this same dilemma when they mount the pulpit to preach these passages, and find that their calendar is overbooked by angry lay people because they denied these texts from the pulpit. The people of God are constantly assailed with the theories and methods of critical scholars by men who go to be trained at institutions that have been overtaken by critical approaches to text-criticism and exegesis. 

There are several practices of such trained men that fall into the category of pastoral abuse. The first is the idea that a translation cannot be “perfect.” This line of thinking says that Greek and Hebrew is so incomprehensible to the 21st century audience, that it cannot be translated accurately into English. The practical impact of this is that modern Christians are actually made to believe that not only are there no modern Bibles that accurately set forth the original languages, they must learn Greek and Hebrew and learn text-critical methodologies if they wish to know what God says. This is worse than the practice of Rome in the 16th century. It completely takes the Word of God away from Christians, even when they have it in their mother tongue. If it is impossible to accurately translate Greek and Hebrew into vulgar tongues, then all Christians must be proficient in the Biblical languages just to read their Bible. When pastors say this, they are effectively taking the Bible away from their people, and locking it behind walls of the academy. 

The second practice is when pastors popishly declare that this text or that text is not Scripture, based purely on unfounded theories of the academy no more established than Darwinian evolution. Christians are told that the best and brightest scholars have “proved” certain readings inauthentic, when this is the farthest thing from the truth. The same scholars who advocate against many beloved readings are unwilling to say that any text is “original,” and even go as far to say that we can never find the original. Thus, the skepticism of modern men is forced upon the people in the pews, who do not know anything about text-criticism or the original languages, and likely don’t have the time to invest in studying modern criticism of the Bible. This further takes the Bible away from the people by saying that not only can the Biblical languages be translated adequately, the texts they are translated from aren’t even what the prophets and apostles wrote. This is one of the most heinous impositions on the people of God in the history of the church. 

The third practice is when pastors preach unbiblically by applying critical principles to hermeneutics. They say that Moses likely didn’t author the whole Pentateuch, and that the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament couldn’t have been about Christ, because the Jewish faith communities wouldn’t have had that in mind as they were writing. Further, they depart from orthodox understandings of the Pauline epistles and others because the modern scholars “know better.” They impose strange, private interpretations on their people because of some new school of thought that has emerged nearly 2,000 years after the apostles lived. This further takes the Bible away from the people of God by demonstrating that the Bible is just another historical text documenting the religious experience of historical faith communities. 

Conclusion

Critical methodologies take God out of the Scriptures, and feed unbelief to the people of God in the pew in small doses. This practice is “safely” done in the academy out of the reach of the pew, but is abusive when pastors bring such methodologies to the pulpit. Pastors must take what they learn in seminary, and try their best to make it sound Biblical by the time they present it to their people. Even if the layperson is able to set aside the problems with these critical methodologies, it changes the way they read their Bible. Christians can no longer have certainty that the words they are reading are the words of God. Firstly, because they are told that Greek and Hebrew is so magical that it cannot possibly be translated. Secondly, because they are told that those Greek and Hebrew texts do not even represent the originals, and even if they did, we would not know it. Thirdly, critical hermeneutics simplify God’s Word into a simple exercise of understanding the historical context of the Scriptures. This is damaging to the people of God, who are not critical scholars, and will never be able to be critical scholars. I’ll end with this quote found in a book by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman, whose research informs editorial teams like the Lockman Foundation:


“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meaning of texts also change.”  

, Knust & Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone,15,16

The Theology of the Text: What is Biblical Exegesis?

This article is the tenth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.

The Theology of the Text: What is Biblical Exegesis? 

Exegesis is the task of drawing meaning out of the text. It assumes that the text of Holy Scripture has a meaning, and that the meaning can be ascertained. The chief principle of exegesis is to let Scripture be its own infallible rule of interpretation (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20,21). In the case where a passage is more difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16), Biblical exegesis demands that the rest of the Scriptures be searched to draw out the true and full sense of the passage. Under no circumstance should historical criticism, lower criticism, or any other higher critical methodology be employed to exegete the Scriptures. If such methods are employed, that practice of interpreting the Scriptures is no longer 1) treating the Scriptures as self-authoritative and 2) exegesis. 

In today’s church, many modern “exegetical” methods are exalted that include critical methodologies. Higher criticism has infiltrated modern commentaries and especially the seminaries and is labeled “Biblical Criticism.” Craig A. Carter in his work, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition, sets forth the difference between “faith seeking understanding” and “methodological naturalism” (15). 

“It is necessary to stress the contrast between [the] classical interpretation of Scripture [-] theology that begins from revelation and that is done in and for the church, and Epicurean metaphysics, historical criticism, [which is] theology that takes reason rather than revelation as its highest authority”  

(Ibid., 15, brackets added).

What Christians need to realize, is that the theology of hermeneutics and exegesis directs modern theology more than anything else. If Calvinists truly desire to “reform” the church, they must reform their hermeneutics. Focusing on symptoms of modernity such as critical theory and social justice and trying to combat them with Calvinism, theonomy, and eschatology is simply putting a band aid on a wound that needs stitches. Exegesis must begin by believers who affirm that the text of the Holy Scriptures were immediately inspired, and that inspired text has been “kept pure in all ages,” even today. Christians must believe that when they open the pages of their Bible, God is speaking. The task of Bible reading and study is not the time to talk over the voice of God, it is the time to be silent and listen. 

If modern exegesis could be summarized in one phrase, it would be “men talking over the voice of God.” The Scriptures teach that the Word of God would not fall away, yet modern scholars say otherwise. The Bible teaches that the the Jews were “committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2) and yet modern historical critical studies have determined that the Hebrew Scriptures were corrupted based on several Greek translations of the Hebrew and scraps of the Old Testament found in the Qumran community, which was made up of heterodox Jews . This has resulted in critical approaches to the text holy Scripture being intermingled with hermeneutics.

Modern exegesis, rather than simply pulling meaning out of the text, first sets out to discover what the text “originally” said using critical methodologies and evidence, and then interprets the text based on that critical approach. A perfect example is Deuteronomy 32:8, which is changed in modern versions based on Dead Sea Scroll witness and interpreted by way of Ugaritic (Baal worshippers) literature. The goal of exegesis is ascertaining the meaning of what God has said in His delivered Word, not “yea hath God said.” Biblical exegesis does not need to consider historical faith communities to interpret the text. While modern text criticism is a major downgrade in the modern church, modern critical exegesis is even more of a downgrade due to its actual impact at the pulpit. 

On top of critical exegesis, an additional failure of modern exegesis is the way Greek and Hebrew are taught. The original Biblical languages are taught in seminary for the purpose of exegesis. This would make sense, if the seminaries were actually teaching the languages. Unfortunately, the seminaries have decided that in order to do exegesis, students only need to learn around 1,000 words and the tedious, sometimes made up, grammar rules of the languages. In other words, they aren’t actually teaching the languages to proficiency. This results in seminary graduates being bound to a lexicon without any actual understanding of the Biblical languages, thinking that they are equipped for exegesis in these languages. It would be like hiring a spanish speaker who can barely understand a children’s movie being hired to make translations of Shakespeare into Spanish on the basis that they know English grammar and 1,000 words. If you don’t believe me, watch “Boss Baby ” in Greek on Netflix with one of your friends who just graduated seminary and tell me if they can translate it for you.

The actual impact of this is word studies and new “translations” of words which actually change the meaning and theology of Scripture. It should concern everybody that modern Christian scholars are inventing new grammatical definitions like the “Eucharistic genitive” for the Greek language that isn’t recognized by the Greek speaking people or Greek classical scholars. Koine Greek is not a mystical, ethereal language that can mean anything people want it to mean – it is a language, like any other language, and it can be easily translated by anybody who actually knows Greek.

Conclusion

Modern critical approaches to exegesis and the lack of proficiency in the Biblical languages has resulted in a drastic shift in the theology of the modern church. The liberalism plaguing conservative Christian circles should be no surprise to anybody, because theological liberalism has overwhelmingly had its day in the conservative seminaries as it pertains to hermeneutics. Look at how many Old Testament professors are interpreting Song of Solomon today in contrast to how it has been historically interpreted and the shift becomes apparent. It is important, now more than ever, for the church to return to the old paths of exegesis. The solution is not new perspectives on the Bible, eschatology, or Calvinism. It is taking a stand on faithful hermeneutics. An immediate red flag for all of the Christians out there, is that modern scholars are pulling out new interpretations from a text that is thousands of years old. Resist the downgrade, dear church, and pick up a Bible that is translated by men who knew the languages, and read it faithfully. You do not need to consider the religious practices of historical faith communities to understand the Scriptures. You do not need to know Greek and Hebrew grammar or have access to a lexicon if you have an accurate translation. God has delivered His Word, and has given the church methods to interpret it.

The Theology of the Text: What Does it Mean to Have Certainty in Scripture?

This article is the ninth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.

The Theology of the Text: What Does it Mean to Have Certainty in Scripture? 

The most important experiential practice for a Christian when they read their Bible is believing that what they are reading are the words of God. This requires certainty that the words on the page are the right words. In the first place, if certainty means, “I know 100% that these words are original based on evidence,” then nobody can have certainty in any word in the text of Holy Scripture, because humans are not omniscient. There is no observable, continuous stream of manuscripts dating back to the first century and the originals are gone. So if certainty is a term that is defined by what one can prove based on empirical science, certainty is impossible. 

That being said, the amount of certainty a Christian has in the words of Holy Scripture is not determined by what they can prove to be original by way of manuscript analysis. If this were the case, there is not one line of Scripture that Christians could safely be certain in. Yet the Scriptures present the reality the they are the means that God is speaking to His people today. When Christians read a translation which faithfully and accurately sets forth the immediately inspired original languages, that translation too is inspired. Not by virtue of the translators, but by virtue of the words accurately setting forth the immediately inspired text. If this were not the case, then every Christian ought to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek so that they can read God’s Word. Assuming that the translation is accurate to the original languages, Christians can, and should have certainty that those words are God’s words. 

Many people today have issues with the word “certainty,” despite God saying that certainty is expected for a Christian. 

“These things I have written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the Son of God.” 

1 John 5:13

“And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.”

Hebrews 6:11


“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which is was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us. Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” 

Hebrews 6:17-19

Saying that one cannot be certain about the Scriptures is the same as saying that one cannot be certain about their salvation. Certainty then, is something that Christians can have, not by virtue of their own knowledge, but because God gives that certainty and faith. Salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end, and so is the preservation and reception of His Word. So any certainty that the Christian has in Scripture, or anything pertaining to faith of the True God, is worked in the believer by the Holy Spirit. That is to say, that having certainty in the Word of God is an act of the Holy Spirit working in the believer, not empiricism. The certainty of the Scriptures is not based on the certainty of the person reading them, it is based on the fact that the Scriptures themselves are the “only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (LBCF 1.1). Christians can have certainty because the Scriptures themselves are certain. 

When a Christian approaches the text of Holy Scripture with the mindset that they cannot be certain that a verse is or isn’t the Word of God, he is really saying that the Word of God itself is not certain. If it is the case that the Word of God is only certain to the extent that it can be proved to be the Word of God by empiricism, then the Word of God is uncertain, and the church has no rule of faith. Theologically and practically this must be the case. That being said, it may be helpful to describe the kind of certainty that Christians have towards the words of Scripture. The kind of certainty that a believer has in the Scriptures can be divided into two categories, functional and experiential. The first is derived from observation, and the second is worked in the believer by the Holy Spirit. Both proceed forth from faith, and should not be separated from one another.

These categories are necessary due to the fact that some have taken issue with the terminology “absolute certainty” because it seems to imply that one must be omniscient or perhaps they believe that one particular edition of Scripture has been reinspired. Since neither of these are true, “absolute certainty” in this sense is not based on a person being omniscient or believing in reinspiration. In order to bring clarity to the conversation, terms such as “functional certainty” or “maximal certainty” have been employed in the place of “absolute certainty” to explain that while a Christian cannot “prove” the certainty of the Scriptures, he has no reason to doubt every line. 

These qualifiers may serve to prevent pointless, circular conversations regarding the nature of certainty. The point is this – the Scriptures do not say to be “as certain as you can be,” they say “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God.” If Christians cannot be certain about something given by God, I’m not sure what they can be certain of. In any case, distinguishing between certainty which comes from within a man’s reasoning and certainty which comes from the work of the Holy Spirit may be helpful. In this sense, observational certainty may be called functional certainty, and certainty given to the believer by God may be called experiential certainty. Both work in harmony, and are a function of each other. A Christian believes the Scriptures are the Word of God by the work of the Spirit, and can observe that God has preserved those Scriptures in time by simply looking at God’s providential work in history.

Conclusion

All Christians are to read the Bible, knowing it is the Word of God. They are to let the Scriptures examine them, try them, refine them, teach them, and build them up. The real question to answer as it pertains to certainty then is not, “Can I prove that my certainty in Word of God is warranted?” The appropriate question is, “What reason do I have to doubt that this is the Word of God?” There are many cases where it is appropriate to doubt that something is the Word of God, like Homer’s Iliad or the Shepherd of Hermas, for example. In the case of the received canon of Holy Scripture, however, Christians have no good reason to doubt the canon and text which has been received by the people of God and vindicated in time.

In the 21st century, the extant evidence does not provide enough insight to begin to do this. This is the purpose of functional certainty. The functional certainty that a Christian has in the Received Text then is not derived from the evaluation of extant data, it is a warranted certainty which is derived by simply looking at what God has done in time with that text. The most important kind of certainty that a Christian is commanded to have is certainty while reading the Scriptures. This certainty is worked in a believer by the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by experiential certainty. The Christian knows he is reading the Word of God because the Word of God is certain. The first is observational derived from the subject, the second is supernatural derived from the object, and both proceed from faith and are necessary to have certainty in the correct Scriptures. 

The Theology of The Text: Why Not the Modern Critical Text?

This article is the eighth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles. 

The Theology of The Text: Why Not the Modern Critical Text?

Many Christians in today’s context have never been introduced to the text-criticism discussion beyond what John Piper or John MacArthur say about it. They are told adamantly by their pastors that they have the very Word of God, regardless of which translation they read. They are then told that a countless number of verses were “not originally in Scripture,” and should not be read as original. This is problematic because the scholars who determine which verses were “not originally in Scripture” do not believe that the modern text is the “very Word of God.” 

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know  it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii. 

“It’s true that human beings need ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’, but we don’t necessarily need every word all at once…but preservation doesn’t imply constant availability, just as translation doesn’t imply perfection.” 

Richard Brash, How God Preserved the Bible, 62,63

“I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us” 

Dirk Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, 90. 

The evangelicals who advocate for the modern critical text all say that they believe God has preserved His Word somewhere, but that the church doesn’t have all of it today. Even if it was available, they say that there would be no way to determine that what is in the printed Greek texts is original, because the originals are not extant. How is this reconciled with the doctrine of preservation? God must not desire to give His people all of His Word, so what the scholars determine the church has access to must be the very text that God desired the people of God to have today. It is a theology and a text that is conveniently shaped according to the opinions of 20th and 21st century scholars. 

The problem with this is that Christians who read these texts often do not know that this is the nature of the text produced by modern criticism. The scholars not only say that the modern Bibles have many, many uncertain places, but also that there are passages that God simply hasn’t given to the church, even though they were originally there. These uncertainties inevitably make their way into the text and footnotes of modern translations which introduces an unnecessary problem to the modern church. So the scholars that are informing the pastors which verses are “not originally Scripture,” do not believe that God has fully preserved His Word, and have no way of proving their claims about which Scriptures Christians should not read. In short, these scholars have abandoned the Scriptural doctrine of preservation based on the early manuscripts that have survived today, which we know essentially nothing about, and as result are left with a doctrine that says, “What we have is good enough.” Christians can continue teaching that they have the “very Word of God” in their modern Greek texts and translations, but none of the scholars producing these texts and commenting on these texts would affirm this in any meaningful way. They say that what is available is “greatly accurate,” but how is this even determined? Greatly accurate in what way? Which passages are greatly accurate, and which are not? Is accuracy now synonymous with “original”?

In addition to rejecting the Scriptural doctrine of preservation, the scholars which produce these texts utilize axioms which also contradict what Scripture says about itself. Critical opinions cause the scholars to place readings which do not comport with inspiration in the main text of modern Bibles. The shorter, grammatically hard reading is to be preferred. Certain passages which harmonize with the rest of Scripture should be considered as additions to the text. Longer readings which affirm the Deity of Christ are to be viewed as scribal tampering. The most concerning of all, is that the handful of manuscripts which serve as a base text which these Bibles are based on disagree heavily with each other, and even more so with the thousands of manuscripts that have survived.  Finally, it needs to be noted that this modern critical text is changing with new methods such as the CBGM. It is not a stable text.

“Clearly, these changes will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching”

Peter Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6.

Conclusion

Christians should not use the modern critical text because it does not align with what Scripture says about itself. Further, none of the scholars credentialed in the discipline believe it to be the original text which the prophets and apostles wrote by inspiration. The axioms used to produce such Bibles do not consider inspiration, providence, or the Holy Spirit, and are actually formulated in such a way that assumes the earliest extant text must have been choppy, abrupt, and grammatically difficult. Even if the Bible needed to be reconstructed, which it doesn’t, this is not how it should be done. The methods are designed to produce a text which does not assume that the original was perfect, and therefore the final product of such methods will inevitably represent the quality of the text that is trying to be produced.

God can use such translations, because not every line is incorrect, but it should be apparent that the Scriptures do not teach that the Bible is just “good enough.” Christians should not desire a “good enough” Bible, because God doesn’t say His word is “just okay.” The Bible says that “All Scripture” is profitable, not “some of Scripture” is profitable. It is great that such scholars affirm that God has preserved His Word, but preservation is the most useless doctrine in all of Christianity if Christians do not have access to that preserved Word.  An important question to ask, if it is the case that none of the critical Greek texts and translations have exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote, what exactly are Christians reading when they open their Bible? This theological position, and the texts that it produces, literally takes the Word of God away from Christians, transforming it into some ethereal concept that will never actualize into anything the people of God can actually put their hands on.

The Theology of the Text: Why the Received Text?

This article is the seventh in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles. 

The Theology of the Text: Why the Received Text?

A problem introduced to the people of God in the modern church is the endless number bibles available. This is the fruit of the reconstruction effort. Theologically, practically, realistically, and experientially, there is no warrant for a Christian to adopt such an effort. This being the case, which text should the people of God receive? The foundational principle to answering such a question is that God has not let His Word fall away. This makes the introduction of the printing press monumental to seeing God’s special providence in history. Up until this point, the Scriptures were transmitted locally by hand for the use of faith and practice. The extant manuscript data is a fraction of what has existed in time, so the process of creating the first printed editions is critical to knowing the text that had been passed down in the church through the ages. Since many of the manuscripts that were used in this effort have since been destroyed, the best “evidence” of the text as it existed during the time of the first printed effort are the printed texts themselves. After the creation of these printed editions, manuscripts fell out of use, and many were destroyed. 

It is easily established that the extant manuscript data available in the 21st century is not sufficient for accurately determining what the Scriptures looked like in the first century, therefore the church must trust God’s special providence. If the Scriptures had been kept pure in all ages by God, then the manuscripts used during the 16th century would have contained that pure Word. It is important to note several things regarding this time period. 

  1. Constantinople had just fallen to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, bringing uprooted Eastern bishops to Europe – along with their language and Bibles
  2. The printing press had been introduced to Europe in the mid 15th century, changing the way the Scriptures were transmitted from handwritten ink to printed ink
  3. The humanist renaissance had sparked a revival in the study of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and the Scriptures in their original languages (Ad Fontes)
  4. The Protestant Reformation had sparked a revival in Christianity, making way for such original language texts to be printed, published, distributed, and read

These four events are significant to the transmission story of the Scriptures. In Europe, the Bible had been transmitted largely in the form of Latin translations. In the East, however, the Bible had been transmitted in Greek from the beginning. The fall of Constantinople brought these Greek Bibles into Europe around the same time the printing press was introduced. That means that the theologians tasked with printing these Bibles had access not only to the Scriptural tradition as it had been transmitted in the West, but also had access to how the tradition had been transmitted in the East. This was also a time where these Latin and Greek manuscripts were being used by the people of God. This is significant, because that generation would be the last generation to know how the extant manuscripts and the readings they contained were understood and used by the people of God. The printed editions would not have been received, had they looked significantly different from the manuscripts the people of God had been using. 

The initial effort of receiving the Scriptures as they had been handed down in the East and West did not produce a final text right away. The first printed text, famously created by Erasmus, was not perfect, and it received a lot of criticism. As more printed editions were created in the 16th century, the uniformity of the text increased, and the reception of that text became universal by the orthodox Christians. Up until that point, there were a handful of editions that the people of God used, such as Coline’s text. While these editions are more similar to each other than the modern critical text, there were still differences between the editions. At the same time that this effort of creating printed texts was going on, there were also discussions about which books actually belonged in the text of Holy Scripture. It was common, and the beginning of the Reformation, to reject books like Revelation, James, and Jude, for example. At the same time the church was debating over which books were to be received, they were also discussing which texts should be received in those books. While the canon was closed by the end of the first century, it wasn’t until the end of the 16th century that both the text and the canon were uniformly received by the orthodox Protestant church. 

Texts such as John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, 1 John 5:7, Luke 23:34, the doxology of the Lord’s prayer, Acts 8:37, John 5:4, and many other passages had been and received as original, despite some manuscripts not including them. Commentators on the Scriptures during and after the Reformation recognize that these passages were disputed, and despite these disputations, agreed that they should be received as Scripture and preached from. The text received by the people of God at the end of the 16th century is evident in the translations, textual commentaries, theological works, and confessions and catechisms made during and after that time. This text later was coined “The Received Text,” as a description of how universally it was received by the people of God. 

The fruit of this text was the greatest Christian revival in the history of the world. Translations made from this text still remain the most widely read translations by a large margin. In other words, it has the stamp of God’s providence on it. At no other time in history have all the necessary factors for aligned for such an effort to take place. It wasn’t until 1881 when the first major effort to unseat this text happened, which I will discuss in a later article in this series. 

Conclusion

The transmission of the Scriptures Leading up to the 16th century  is covered by a shadow to the 21st century church. Today, there is a fragmentary amount of evidence available. Due to manuscripts being destroyed, and the lack of a historical filing system of manuscripts, it is impossible to tell just how many manuscripts were used during the 16th century, and how many were destroyed. Further, of the manuscripts available today, we have the least amount of insight on how those manuscripts were treated, used, and received by Christians in time. The last time the Christian church had this kind of insight was during the 16th century, when handwritten manuscripts were still being used. 

It is common to believe, in the modern context, that Christians and modern scholars “know better” than the Christians of the past. Many modern Christians and scholars speak as though they can “know” which texts do and don’t belong in Scripture based on the extant data, when the reality is, they simply can’t. This too is providential. It forces Christians, if they want a Bible that is settled and vindicated by time, to receive the Bible that was created when scholars and theologians actually had access to manuscripts which were being used by the people of God. This is a challenging proposition to present to the modern church, but it is the only viable one theologically, practically, really, and experientially. 

“Beza acquired a very high status in Protestant and especially Calvinist circles during his lifetime and in the first generations after him. His Greek text was not contested but faithfully reprinted; through the Elzevir editions it was elevation to the status of ‘received text’, textus receptus

Jan Krans, Beyond What Is Written, 197. 

The Theology of the Text: How Do We Make Determinations?

This article is the sixth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles. 

The Theology of the Text: How Do We Make Determinations?

One of the most common impacts of modern criticism is that Christians have been taught for the last several decades that it is their job to make determinations on which verses of Scripture they are to read as authentic. It is even common to believe that all Christians make a decision on whether or not each verse is authentic as they read it. While this view is practically crippling to the effort of actual Bible reading, it also assumes that Christians should view the text in this way. It also demands that every Christian have a functional knowledge of the original Biblical languages and access to a textual apparatus.  Is it Scriptural to treat the text of Holy Scripture as though every verse is corrupt until proven pure? The answer is obviously no. Is it necessary to burden the average Bible reader with the responsibility of navigating and using a critical apparatus in Greek? Again, the answer is clearly no. 

The Scriptures set forth the truth that God immediately inspired the Scriptures and promised to preserve those Scriptures, and in time the people of God can see that He actually has done it. That means that it is not the Christians job to put every line of Scripture to the test (Luke 4:12). The assertion that simply reading a passage in Scripture as authentic is “making a decision” on the text is a thought that flows from a modern critical perspective of the Scriptures. Christians are to receive the text of Holy Scripture and be tried by them experientially. It is not their job to try them and determine which texts they ought to be tried by. Such a practice invites textual chaos into the church. 

Even if it were the task for Christians to “make decisions” on the text of Holy Scripture, there is not an objective standard by which to do this. In the first place, complete extant manuscript data is missing for the first 300 years of the church, so any determination made by such data is hanging three feet in mid air. It’s completely arbitrary. Further, there is no way to determine that the reading a Christian decides upon wasn’t a reading introduced by somebody like Marcion or Valentinius. Even if it can be demonstrated that a reading has been introduced or removed or changed by a heterodox source, Christians may decide that they like that reading better and decide to add it to the text! Since the early manuscripts that are used to make such determinations have no provenance, or determinable origin, there is no way to tell that the reading is even orthodox, let alone original, based on that extant data. 

In short, Christians in the 21st century must resolve to receive the Scriptures as they have been delivered, not decide which verses they will receive. It is dangerous and haughty to even assume that the early extant manuscripts can provide the adequate data to make such a choice. The fruit of such decision making is evident when it can be plainly observed that the most trained textual scholars cannot even agree among themselves which readings are “best.”  If the most trained scholars cannot come to a consensus on the text, why should the average Christian be told that they are responsible for making such decisions? Not only is this theologically erroneous, it is practically burdensome and likely impossible for most people who read the Bible. 

Conclusion

The mindset that Christians are responsible for “deciding” upon every line of Scripture is one that flows from the belief that the Scriptures are currently in the process of being reconstructed, in contradiction to the Biblical testimony. I present this contradiction in the first five articles in this series. Even assuming that the Scriptures do teach that they would fall away, Christians in the 21st century do not have the adequate materials to responsibly make such decisions and know that they’ve made the correct choice. It is an approach to the text that inevitably results in Christians believing that the text is lost to some degree or another and will never be completely found. It is an approach that teaches Christians that they are the judge over Holy Scripture. 

Fortunately, this approach is not necessary, because the Scriptures have not fallen away and do not need to be “decided upon.” It is not the task of the Christian to be the hero of the modern church and restore the text that God has allegedly let fall away. Now that I have established several important theological principles in this series of articles, I will move on to presenting the text of Scripture that I believe should be received, translated, read, and preached by the modern Christian church.