A few days ago my wife and I were showing books at a church craft show, when I was approached by a gentleman about my book What’s in a Version? “What was the right version to use?” he asked. Now when someone starts talking about the “right” version, rather than the best, I’m fairly certain where we’re going in the discussion. Usually the person is an advocate of the KJV Only position.
This gentleman rolled out most of the major arguments for KJV Only. It’s translators were the most dedicated. More people have been brought to Christ through the KJV than through any other Bible version. (I’m not sure this number is even correct any more, but it wouldn’t be a valid argument even if the number was right.) Various modern versions water down the gospel. (I discuss many of these issues in my Bible Translations FAQ.
But the key question for him, one to which he returned repeatedly was just this: “What is your final authority?” I needed to have a physical object, a text that was my final authority, or I was wide open to any wind of doctrine or any sort of moral failure.
My answer to this question is this: “God.” He pointed out that anyone can claim that they heard from God, or that God said something was true, and anyone else can challenge it on the same basis. “What’s the standard?” he repeated.
Now the problem I have is not with any particular answer, so much as with the question. Is there such a thing as an external standard that will hold us to the truth, to what is right? When I think about that question just a bit I consider the standard that this gentleman proposed: The King James Version of the Bible. If we froze the text of the Bible at the printed English of the current KJV, would we have a single standard by which everyone could check their doctrine and behavior and return with objective, verifiable data?
We need only observe the doctrinal differences amongst churches who have used, and still use the KJV as their standard to realize that this is not the case. Limiting oneself to a single text does not guarantee agreement or certainty, because of the very nature of the Bible itself. Without an interpretive framework, it’s impossible to say precisely what is Biblical and what is not. Modern schemes include the notion that God is the author of every word, and that portions can be strung together at will (a method that generates a variety of interpretations itself), the dispensationalist view that divides texts that might otherwise conflict between different dispensations or periods of time in which God used different ways of dealing with people, and covenant theology, which tends to create a more coherent theological framework and progression in God’s revelation. It is quite clear that these widely different approaches to Biblical interpretation might well produce equally different results, and we see this in practice. Debates between people using the different schemes become quite heated.
I believe the problem is simply that there is no meaningful, external standard that everyone of good faith can be guarateed to agree on. We are each called upon to choose right or wrong. We make these choices individually, and with the input of our community. We use different sources. I can say the standard is God, but you might also say that the standard is reality. I wouldn’t differentiate, because in my view God is the creator and maintainer of reality, the ultimate reality.
Now we may choose wisely or poorly. We may get our input from good sources or bad. But no matter what we do, the choice is ultimately ours, and we have to take responsibility for it. “In my opinion” shouldn’t be a dodge by which we avoid taking responsibility to support that opinion. It should be the standard claim. What I say is my opinion. The question is whether I can support that opinion and communicate it to someone else. I even have to make the choice of how to communicate what I believe. I may accept, for example, that one should not commit murder because I believe it is God’s law. That doesn’t mean I have to claim that basis when communicating with someone who doesn’t believe in God. I can then discuss why a society in which murder was legal would have severe problems.
Because I have this choice, I also have the responsibility to make it in the best way possible. No, I can’t force anyone to believe that. But I believe that reality will ultimately catch someone who violates its standards too much. Before that time, some of the rest of us may catch such persons before they get that far, so we can protect others from their stupidity.
Each of us makes the choice. Each of us would do well to take responsibility for it.