How Important is Exactness?
Updated: May 15, 2021
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him, Proverbs 30:5.
I spent a miserable 10 minutes listening to a FaceBook blogger expound the Book of Romans. The commentator excitedly summed up his last post and then went on about what we would find next. He spoke about Romans 6 in great generalities. He gave what mediaeval theologians would call a gloss. He told us what we needed to think about the passage without actually quoting the passage.
For those of you who have read Further Thoughts on the Word of God, Chapter 8 deals with the attitude of Roman Catholic Church leaders at the time of Wycliffe. They were not upset about a translation in English. They were upset about a translation in English that did not carry the comments and notes of the early church fathers. These were called glosses. They had no problem with a person reading the word of God in that person's own language as long as the official accepted interpretation of any given passage was whispered into the reader's ear.
Since then, the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses have likewise learned that it is safe to allow people to read the bible as long as they have been indoctrinated as to what they should think while they read. As I listened to this man blather on, I was reminded of just how shallow bible teaching has become. When he finally read a verse, it was from some new bible. It really didn't matter what translation he used. Whether his translation altered the tense of a verb, omitted a word, or in some other way scrambled the meaning didn't matter in the least to him. He was repeating the orthodox Protestant/Baptist/Evangelical view of the passage and that sufficed for him. The verse was little more than window dressing.
How important is exactness? If you buy the line that no one really knows exactly what Jesus said or what the apostles wrote, exactness means nothing. Some denominations teach that even the apostles were not exempt from error. Others teach that the apostles were inspired and therefore everything they wrote was exact. Since both groups are in agreement that there is no perfect bible today in any language and that the originals whether they were perfect or not are now gone, what difference does either position make?
The results are exactly the same with either group. We have no bible that can be trusted as to word order, tense of verbs, or even as to whole passages. The modern evangelical and his slightly more rustic cousin the Fundamental Baptist are indignant to be compared with sects that don't believe that the apostles remembered every word correctly. It's part of their self righteous deception to believe that the bible was once perfect. Nevertheless, if you sit staring at any version today, does it really make a difference to you whether the text was skewed in the first century or the 4th? Either way it is skewed and you can't know exactly what it said.
The indignant Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who decry the apostasy of those who can't see that the originals as inspired remind me of Shirley Temple with her hands on her hips scolding some errant butler. The only difference is that Shirley Temple was cute, these men are not. Both groups, those who believe the originals were inspired, but not accurately transmitted through time, and those who believe that the originals were not inspired but subject to the fallibilities of men are equally content with just about any old bible version on the market. (Oh, I know that there are a few who will cling to the King James Bible, but they get quite upset if you say you believe it in its entirety.) Boiled down to the basics of whether or not you can trust any given bible to be pure, they both believe that no one bible can be trusted 100% of the time.
We call people who cannot be trusted 100% of the time either fools, mistaken, forgetful or liars. I wouldn't buy a used car from a man whose word was subject to change, why would I trust a God whose word is subject to change? I wouldn't, they do. At least they pretend to trust his word but in reality they are trusting the great body of literature about the bible. Like the blah, blah, blah commentator with whom I wasted 10 minutes of my life, they get their doctrine from commentaries and are satisfied to get tidbits from any old version to back it up. It doesn't faze them that any number of doctrines can do the same thing with the same passages because no one believes every word written.
A millennium and a half after Moses wrote Genesis, the Apostle Paul based an entire doctrine off of whether a word was singular or plural. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ, Genesis 3:16. When we go back and look at Genesis, we see that in most places "seed" is plural; And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God, Genesis 17:8. (Notice the plural pronoun, their God.)
If we were to go back to Genesis 15:4, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir; we would be tempted to ascribe that seed to Isaac himself. It's not until we get to Genesis 22 that there is a clear declaration of the seed as singular and as the Messiah. That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, Genesis 22:17.
I'm glad that the Apostle Paul could trust one pronoun which had gone through hundreds of years of copying and in some instances the scripture had almost disappeared from view entirely (2nd Chronicles 34:7). How easily his critics could have disputed the pronoun of Genesis 22:17 if they thought like our modern day scholars! Exactness is not only important, it is essential to knowing the word of God. One of the King James Bible's claims to infallibility is that it is inexhaustible. When the reader trusts every jot and tittle and believes that every verse means exactly what it says, he will be richly rewarded for life as the word of God unfolds to him personally.
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away, Mark 13:31.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled, Matthew 5:18.