For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent, Zephaniah 3:9.
Most of my readers understand the blindness of those who seek to make the Bible more understandable by dumbing down the English. Below is a chapter from my book Further Thoughts on the Word of God.
Every Word of God Chapter 1
Is it possible to have a perfect Bible in the twenty-first century? For a moment, try to forget your objections. Stop worrying about manuscript evidence. Quit worrying about translating errors. If possible, stop wondering about how it would be done. How such a thing could be is not the first issue to consider. A simple set of questions should be asked first. Does God want a perfect Bible? Could he do it?
If the Lord determined that there should be a perfect Bible, would he be capable of doing it, or would the general incompetence of fourth century scribes and centuries of imperfect translators ultimately stymie the Almighty God? There is only one obvious answer. If the Lord determined that the twenty-first century should have a perfect Bible, you can be sure that one would exist. You can also be sure that, just like everything else the Lord does, very, very few people would recognize it for what it is.
Once, many years a go while I was contending with a Jehovah Witness, I felt the intense frustration of confronting some one who could not grasp the incarnation of Christ. "If Jesus is God, then who was he talking to in the Garden? Doesn't the Bible say that God is not a man?" For over an hour he plied me with all the standard one-liners that were designed to make man's fallen intellect overthrow the things of faith.
Patiently, I labored to take each of his objections and explain to him the truth. It occurred to me that what was transpiring was an intellectual exercise, not an exercise in faith. Sometimes he could see the logic of what I said, but he was not inclined by faith to accept any of it. He had been trained to think of the things of God with worldly wisdom.
Finally I looked straight at him and held up my Bible. I called him by name and asked him one simple question. "If Jehovah God determined that he wanted to become a man, could he not do it?" He quizzically looked at me for a moment. He thought long and hard. Finally, he meekly nodded yes.
The issue before the man was no longer "how" God did it. The issue that the man had to confront was "Did God intend to become a man." He knew as well as I knew that with God, all things are possible. If God intended to become a man, he could do it.
The issue before us is a perfect Bible. Did God ever intend such a thing in the vernacular? Sadly enough, even the definition of a perfect Bible varies according to whoever says the phrase.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, which is not alone in its attitude towards Holy Scripture. Most of mainstream Protestantism would wholly agree with Catholicism in regards to scripture. If asked, they would readily agree that the Bible is the Word of God; yet, it would be a nuanced answer. What they would generally mean is that the stories and folklore contained therein were given by God. If they were too pressed as to whether or not the stories were literally true, they would invariably fall back on their own concept of science.
Of course, they don't take the creation story as literal. They're not even sure if whole passages should be in the Bible. People trained in this type of theology see no contradiction in calling the Bible the Word of God as long as they have carefully filtered it through their education and theology. As long as they can find the tenets of their faith therein they are satisfied. They see no need for an infallible Bible in any stricter sense.
Neo-evangelicals and some fundamentalists are more strident about Holy Writ. They strongly affirm that every story contained in scripture is given of God. They teach that all sixty-six books are authentic cannon. In other words, they believe in the structure of the Reformation Bible. They believe in a literal creation as well as taking all other stories literally. They see absolutely no need for an infallible Bible in any stricter sense.
What they do not believe is that any given text of that Bible is one hundred percent accurate. They have been well schooled in the existence and identity of thousands of variant Greek texts. To them it is a scientific and logical absurdity that the exact words of Jesus Christ could have survived two millennia of scribal error. It is enough for them that most of his words have been kept throughout the years. They are adamant that no translation of imperfect manuscripts could ever be perfect. They have spent the last 100 years remixing their various manuscripts and retranslating them into more and more relevant English.
Bible believing fundamentalists are stricter yet. They are sure that God has preserved the Word of God. Today it is more in vogue to be called a King James man, but within that designation are many nuances. The average fundamental preacher is constrained to acknowledge the superiority of the King James Bible to distance himself from the neo-evangelicals; yet very rare is the preacher who does so by faith and not by scientific proof. When pressed, they will make it clear that there are limits to the King James Bible. They are on the same road as the neo-evangelicals; they just haven't taken it as far.
Lastly, there is a tiny minority who will not change a King James Bible. Most of these are the least educated and least cultured amongst the fundamentalists. Their recognition of its inspiration stems not from manuscript evidence or linguistics but from a realization of its power and holiness. That does not mean that they are ignorant. Most of them that I know have since distinguished themselves in their understanding of manuscript evidence and the history of their Bible to adequately defend it. What is important, however, is that their confidence in the King James Bible does not rest in the manuscript evidence. It does not rest in their ability to justify the translator's choice of individual words. It rests in an inward faith.
This is precisely what the critics of the King James Bible seek to avoid. Whether we are dealing with a Catholic priest who will lightly reject fifty percent of the Word of God, or we are dealing with a fundamentalist who believes that the King James Bible is 99.99% pure, there is a bottom line lack of confidence that God ever intended for anyone to have a completely one hundred percent reliable Bible.
I am speaking of a Bible that is exactly what Jesus Christ would want it to be. I am speaking of a Bible that, if offered to Jesus Christ to alter it in any way to make it perfect in content, translation or verse marking, would be handed back exactly as it is. Is such a Bible too hard for God? More important, and this brings us back to where we began, did God ever intend to give us such a Bible?
To answer that question let's take a look at the attitude of Jesus Christ when he used scripture. We know that the Lord quoted scripture whenever tempted or challenged. His confrontation with the Sadducees gives us insight to just how much he and everyone else in his day trusted the exact wording of scripture.
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master Moses said if a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and , having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her, Matt. 22:23-28.
We can only imagine the mirth of the bystanders if they were Sadducees. This was probably one of their favorite scenarios when they sat around and thought up reasons to doubt the resurrection. It probably always stumped the Pharisees. We can only imagine the frustration of the Pharisees as they chomped at the bits. We can be sure that they had many favorite verses that they endlessly used in debating with Sadducees.
There are many verses in the Old Testament that plainly speak of a resurrection. Surely they expected Jesus to quote Job 19: 26, Isaiah 26:19, or Ps. 16:10. He didn't. He handled his answer twofold.
First he quickly dismissed the idea of marriage in the resurrection. That is a great doctrine in itself. What is truly astounding and bears examination is the verse that Jesus quoted to prove that there even is a resurrection. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, Matt. 22: 31, 32.
Think for a moment. How did that verse prove the resurrection? In all he quoted just sixteen words of Exodus 3:6. In your wildest moments would you have quoted Exodus 3:6 to someone who doubted the resurrection? Probably not. Have you, or anyone you know read that verse in context and thought to yourself "Here is a proof of the resurrection"? Probably not.
Look again. Look at the tense of the verb. God didn't say I was the God of Abraham. He said I am the God of Abraham. As God spoke to Moses he acknowledged that Abraham was alive even as they spoke. Even more astounding is that the Sadducees were shut up. They had enough respect for one word in a 1500-year-old verse to allow themselves to be publicly humiliated.
Imagine that happening today. Would a Catholic priest or a liberal Methodist preacher have surrendered publicly just because one obscure verse, completely out of context, seemed to contradict his theology based on the tense of one verb? The Sadducees did.
Is there a Neo-Evangelical alive today, who in a public dispute over doctrine would allow himself to be completely shut up because of the tense of one verb in a 1500-year-old text? I can only imagine his response. I have never read any doctrinal book by any Neo-Evangelical who did not have at least three or four variant texts to choose from when the one he was using didn't support his doctrine.
How could any sane man ever trust a 1500-year-old verse that much? After all, didn't almost every known copy of scripture get destroyed at one point; II Chr. 34:11-16? Didn't wicked men set about to destroy scripture they didn't like; Jer. 36:23? Wasn't there a time when the scriptures got so mixed up with other writings that the king's scribes had to sift through and sort it out; Prov. 25:1?
To the Neo-Evangelical, using a verse that way would be ridiculous. They have deluded themselves for years that the Lord never promised to preserve every little exact word. To them, knowing that the general gist of a verse or book was preserved is enough of a miracle. Average fundamentalists would be subtler. They are usually text men. In other words, they believe that the Lord preserves texts in their original language, but after that it is up to man to interpret or translate what was written.
Keep in mind, this was a pride battle between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Fundamentalists have their own little pride battles. When it comes to Calvinism versus free will, or mid tribulation raptures, closed communion, divorce, or whatever, fundamentalists can get downright snippy with each other. I cannot imagine one of them being silenced in public because the tense of one verb in a non-related verse didn't jive with his pet doctrine.
Probably they would challenge the understanding of the tense. If you've studied languages long enough you know that there is always some exception to almost every rule. The Jews did not normally converse in Hebrew. Their tongue of choice was Aramaic. Whenever I read behind fundamentalists and they take exception to what a King James Bible says, they find some clever way to render the original language differently.
A Sadducee in 30 AD had more respect for the actual text of the Word of God than a Roman Catholic, Neo-Evangelical or most fundamentalists do today. I am not talking about how they wrestle the interpretation. We know that the Sadducees were corrupt in interpretation, yet they revered the actual text and its transmission.
We know that Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants take liberties with interpretation. We know that Neo-Evangelicals tend to judge their bibles by their doctrine rather than judging their doctrine by their Bible. I know that they would disagree that they do any such thing, but in reality if you ever read their books on doctrine they just plunge right ahead regardless of what the text they are using says. Whenever the text they are using strays from the point they are making, they find another text that matches what they are trying to say.
Sometimes they need up to ten or more texts to make their point. When reading behind them I am reminded of the little boy in Sunday School. His teacher asked him what he was drawing. Without looking up, he told her that he was drawing a picture of God. "Nobody knows what God looks like" she told him. "They will when I'm done," came the confident reply.
Fundamentalists are quick to criticize Neo-Evangelicals for their attitude, but what about the fundamentalist? Do they believe that they have a Bible so pure and so accurate that every single word must be in complete agreement with any doctrine they hold? Do they see the importance of a perfect Bible? Their stumbling block is not so much the actual text, but the English rendition of that text.
Fundamentalists have a limited confidence in its English version, The King James Bible. The liberal places his roadblock to faith at the literal interpretation of scripture and even the cannon itself. The Neo-Evangelical places his roadblock to faith at the preservation of a perfect text. The average fundamentalist places his roadblock to faith at the English rendering of the preserved text. They do not believe that there has ever been a perfect rendering of the preserved text in English. We'll look at this in greater depth in the next couple of chapters, but suffice it to say that if you ask the average fundamentalist if he agrees with every English rendering in a King James Bible, he will say that he doesn't.
There is a roadblock to faith here. They will go so far as to hand you, the reader, a perfect text but they see it as shrouded in the ambiguities and subtleties of translation. The reader who has overcome the hurdles placed by the liberals and then leaped over the roadblocks placed by the Neo-Evangelicals has one more to get over before he can have any confidence that every word of God is pure.
The purpose of this book is to tear down this last hurdle. If at the end of this book the reader is only asked to accept the King James Bible on some fantastic or cultist premise then he will do well to reject it: Get back behind the roadblock. However, this book will do no such thing. The purpose behind this book is to show that within the existing framework of scripture is the declared ability of God to transmit his word into any language and that the Pauline Epistles contain the mechanics of how that was to be done.
Before we launch into that objective, let me use this analogy. King Solomon was a mighty man of God in his day. He wrote three books of the Bible. He was beloved by God. Yet he left an ungodly heritage as well as a godly one. He built high places to the gods of his wives, I Kings 11: 1-9.
Amazingly enough, those same high places survived 360 years until the time of King Josiah; II Kings 23:13. King Jehoshaphat did not remove them and yet he was a great king. God wrought much revival during his reign, II Chr. 17-20. Hezekiah did not remove them and yet some of the most glorious revival that Israel ever experienced, they experienced under his reign; II Chr. 29-31.
We see in this a principle. God can send revival and greatly bless the ministries of men even if they have allowed some error to exist. Could it be that, despite the great revivals of the last few centuries and the godliness of so many preachers in time past, the church still had its high places?
If you take the stand that since the church has always corrected the English with the Greek it's all right to do so, please make it on scriptural, not historical grounds. If you rely solely on historical grounds, you have departed from scripture. You will stand in opposition to the young Josiahs that God is raising up in these last gasping days of the church.
By what scriptural principal would God preserve his text throughout the centuries and leave it just out of the reach of the layman? Could it be that the Nicolatian of our day is the fundamentalist that sets himself as the final "go-between" betwixt God and man? Man can have an inerrant Bible only as long as a Greek or Hebrew scholar reinterprets any passage he finds suspect. The layman can never know for sure.
Again, I ask, by what scriptural principal? We'll look at the issue through the eyes of faith. It is possible to believe every word of a King James Bible as it stands and not sacrifice one's intellectual integrity. The issue of The King James Bible's inerrancy is just like the issue of creationism versus evolution or Wescott and Hort's textual recension theory versus textual preservation. Once faith has taken the right side, there is a clear lucid explanation that hitherto had seemed impossible.