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What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

If you let your eyes wander up to the header you’ll see that my tag line includes the word “liberal” and not in a negative light. I’ve even written about being a liberal charismatic believer. So if you’re wondering how I can use both labels at once, follow the link. But in certain circles, “liberals” make good enemies, you know, the kind of enemies that you know will help make other people your friends—the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

And so Adrian Warnock points to a post by Micah Fries, titled simply Fighting with Scripture. In this post he speaks of the joys of being Southern Baptism following the conservative resurgence, and how nice it is to know that those around him embrace infallibility and inerrancy. In this portion of the universe, the old enemy, liberalism” has been laid to rest and it is easy to ridicule, at least in these sanitized domains. Now my point here is not to beat up on Southern Baptists. I do not consider those who believe in biblical inerrancy to be either worse Christians or scholars than those who do not. In fact, I hope that more moderate and liberal theologians will read and engage with conservative scholarship. I do like to make the point that those of us who see biblical inspiration differently are not the enemies, and may have something to contribute as well.

Just a couple of lines from the post:

Liberalism, of course, reduces God’s word, and in doing so attempts to make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value. It assumes a position of great authority, in fact it could be argued that it assumes a position of greater authority than scripture itself as it attempts to “rectify” the “errors” found in the bible.

When I see “of course” in a sentence like that I must confess that it gets under my skin a bit. You see, I don’t think I “reduce God’s word.” Rather, I attempt to understand God’s word as clearly as possible. I don’t “make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value,” in fact, I try to avoid mockery. (There are those who assume that disagreement, especially vigorous disagreement is mockery. I’ll just have to live with that.) But still, the issue here is not whether to take “God’s word” at face value. The question is just what that face value is.

Let’s illustrate this for a moment from Genesis, the great controversy these days. I’ve just edited, and my company has published, a book titled Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss. It takes a look at the various ways in which creation is discussed in scripture. What it taught me as I edited it was how much more there was to the “face” of what the Bible has to say about creation than most people realize. There are major texts in scripture that are rarely part of this discussion. Many people who try to discuss creation see a “face” of God’s word that is like viewing a large mountain through the trees. You see a little bit of the mountain where light gets between all the trees. But the mountain is more than what you see in that way.

And how do I get the face value of scripture? Do I read Genesis 1 & 2 as a 21st century citizen of a scientific era? Do I try to get into the perspective of someone from the ancient world? The face looks considerably different depending on which of those perspectives I take.

My intent here is not to demonstrate what particular view is better, but rather to show that the simple statement that “liberalism reduces God’s word” is somewhere between inadequate and false. It’s inadequate in the sense that it doesn’t do justice to what moderate and liberal students of scripture do when studying. It’s false because very often the liberal interpreter is actually seeing more of the “face” from which the “value” is derived.

This reminds me of my discussions with KJV-Only advocates. They refer to any word or phrase that is present in the KJV but not in a modern version as something that has been removed from scripture. In vain does one point out that the best Greek manuscripts do not have the word or phrase in question, and that one might just as well say that the KJV added it to scripture. What are you taking as your standard? More importantly, how are you using and applying that standard?

In order to have valuable discussions of these points we need to state the questions a different way. Conservatives, moderates, and liberals understand scripture differently. We need to discuss passages on that basis, and examine our hermeneutic first. It’s often valuable to take a passage that is slightly less controversial and ask how we look at that passage. We may well continue to disagree (doubtless in many cases we will), but perhaps we would have a better understanding of why and how.

I share the concern of the authors I linked with reference to legalism, though I don’t think the accusation that it is “adding to scripture” is the best way to address it. I suspect legalism is more a matter of where we place things in our thinking and acting. Having just taught from Ephesians 2 and done preparation to teach from Ephesians 3, I see a fairly clear relationship between grace and action. It’s not that legalists do too much, though some do, it is that they place rules and their actions in the wrong place in their relationship to God. Grace, God’s grace, comes first.

In pursuing correct theology, I think we often fall into the same danger. We make theology our works and become legalistic in terms of what people should believe. But placing barriers of knowledge and belief ahead of grace is just as damaging as placing barriers of action. We can get into the position of earning God’s favor through getting things right just as easily as through doing things right, and often with even greater damage.

Legalism will not be defeated by making sure people’s theology of grace is thoroughly correct and orthodox. Legalism is defeated by grace in action. God’s grace, and yes, God’s grace displayed through God’s people.

Careful Where You Point Your Bible

Careful Where You Point Your Bible

At the beginning of the month I wrote a post about pointing texts at yourself first. I think it’s important to do so both in order to avoid misinterpretation or unbalanced emphasis, but also because in communicating the message you will do better in expressing something that has convicted you first. The temptation, of course, is to major on the texts that don’t get under my own skin, but which tell other people what they need to change. But I think that’s a dangerous course of action.

Coincidentally, I received some e-mails shortly after I posted that. The person in question was not responding to my post, but rather to my position on Bible versions (he is KJV-Only) and on the creation/evolution controversy (he’s a young earth creationist). Though I do reserve the right to post e-mails that are sent to me, I’m going to leave this individual anonymous.

We went through one exchange of e-mails, i.e. he e-mailed me to tell me I was wrong, though providing nothing but his own statements to back that up, and then I responded to that e-mail. I mentioned that I would normally carry on a private correspondence on a topic such as this only through one exchange, but that I’d be delighted to carry on the discussion in public. That’s my policy when someone’s question isn’t personal or at least unique. I also gave a few references dealing with why I hold the positions I do, though again, these are all available through my various web sites.

Having engaged in all of several paragraphs of communication, he then quoted 2 Peter 3:3-7 at me (and I use the preposition deliberately) and extracted from it the following terms:

“there shall come … scoffers … willingly …ignorant” (I couldn’t say it any better.)

Now admittedly my views on creation and evolution are somewhat controversial, but being called “willingly ignorant” by a KJV-Only advocate is, shall we say, special.

And herewith ends another example of how not to communicate!

Another KJV-Only Comment

Another KJV-Only Comment

Every so often a KJV-Only advocate comes by this blog to comment.  They normally don’t hang around long, but I occasionally feel inclined to respond.  I like to tolerate and even celebrate other points of view, but I don’t make an idol of it; it’s one value, not the value.  KJV-Only is one of those views I simply cannot respect.  It’s too divorced from reality.

This most recent comment was no exception.  It resulted from my poll on Bible translation.

There were 5 versions of the Biblical Scriptures/Sources-printed–

Really?  Which five were these, and which versions will you exclude from your list?

The One in English from the Textus Receptus(received Text) was the Authorized King James Version-1611-

Well, at least this is approximately correct.

All Others were from the Catholic Codexes/Manuscripts found from 1841 -1881

Well, no, not precisely.  In fact, many other versions were translated from the TR or something similar, many manuscripts were discovered outside that time frame, and I have no idea what makes a manuscript “Catholic.”  If one uses any definition that doesn’t make practically every manuscript at the time Catholic, then relatively few would be.  One wonders whether all manuscripts copied in the eastern church are Catholic or not.

–which were in Philosophical Greek-Not Koine-

No, they were not.  They were in the same dialect as the rest.

that were being used as fire-starters in the churches-

This is a falsehood built from a falsehood.  The initial one was that Sinaiticus was being used to start fires, which would comment on the stupidity of the person so using it rather than on the value of the manuscript, but even then we can hardly jump to “fire-starters in churches.”  But even the fire starting in the monastery is not factual.  (See here.)

and Not complete/or Preserved as God Promises- which Add,Subtract, and Change the Word of God

By what standard do you judge completeness and preservation?  Is not a manuscript with additions just as corrupt (if that is even the correct word) as one with deletions?  In order to determine which is the case, one needs to have some idea of the source text.

And on another note, why can’t KJV-Only advocates punctuate normally and write complete sentences?

/Perverts Doctrines–contrary to the Word of God–From these the American People Seek to make Profit in the Churches like the “Money-Changers” of Old that Jesus chased – out of the Churches ??–

The folks who print KJV Bibles also make a profit.

The 70 Translaters of the King James Bible did Not Hide their Identities like those of the Modernistic Versions-

This is simply false.  Many modern translations include lists of the translators. For editions that do not, a little bit of web research will turn up the information.

Many who themselves claimed to be Atheists, Agnostics, and Members of “Cults” ??—

… assuming that atheists, agnostics, and members of cults cannot translate.  But the fact is that most of the translators of modern versions belonged to churches that would fall within orthodoxy.

My Great Grandparents readily understood the King James Bible- SO are people today More Stupid or What ??—

The argument about readability, as anyone should be able to tell, is not that people are getting less intelligent, it is that language has changed.  Modern English would be similarly difficult for people of a few centuries ago.  The reason KJV-Only advocates generally can’t read Greek isn’t that they’re stupid; it’s that they haven’t learned Greek.

The King James Bible IS The Bible–Not Just Another “Version”–or should I say — a “Perversion” ??

On the contrary, the KJV is a version.  It is not the original.  It is not the best.  It’s not extraordinarily inspired.  It’s just one translation of a set of texts into a new language.

The sad excuse of “Interpretation(s)”–is Weak at the Best-for those who Reject the Authority of God’s Word in their Lives..

Well, no.  Any translation involves interpretation.  Any preaching involves interpretation.  You can’t get away from it.

I have found that the KJV 1611 Bible woks just fine with those that I witness to in other countries that are 3rd World countries–

I’m sure you imagine that you do.  It’s amazing to me how many people can convince themselves they are communicating when they are not.

But these Modern Perversions only Confuses them !!!

I suspect that the problem is that the modern version make them question what you have to say.

– In Cambodia I found that the Mormons(a Cult) even PAYS People to come to Church ??–Further Proof that their “Another Testament of Jesus Christ ” has NO Power in the Word !!!

Of course, use of modern versions is not connected to Mormonism, so this is just a red herring.

And thus we come to the end of another KJV-Only comment.  I spent too much time on it, but on occasion it’s fun.

A KJV-Only Comment on my Video

A KJV-Only Comment on my Video

For a video that includes nothing but me talking and some amateur (by me) captions, my Why I Hate the KJV video has done well on YouTube.  With 3563 viewings as of the time I’m posting this, and 231 comments.

I must confess that I have not paid much attention to the comments thread, because YouTube doesn’t permit links and comments are short, and because most of the comments are quite inane, as is usual in KJV-Only discussions.  After all, what profound and informed argument actually favors KJV-Only?

Comment 231 caught my attention, not because it was profound or informed, but because it was bad in a new way.

The comment reads:

The HIV (NIV) false “bible” is published by the same company that publishes the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVay. Jesus Christ said a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit. If you think the HIV is good fruit, you’re calling Jesus a liar and you need to get right with God.

I mean one of the translators of the HIV was an OPEN PRACTICING HOMOSEXUAL. How much more obvious does it need to get? Burn your HIV!

Of course we have all the usual charm and logical structure of the normal KJV-Only comment.  I have written previously on the issue of having a homosexual translator on the team, which I regard as not only ad hominem, but largely irrelevant even as ad hominem arguments go.  The key point here is that when a Bible translation is released we have the source texts, we have the translation, we can look and see whether it is accurate or not.  (Usually there will be disagreements, but that’s translation.)

Debating the quality of the translators, even if one is discussing their actual qualifications for translation work, is generally missing the point.  If I find a translation that is poor, and I look and see that the committee involved was underqualified, I might take that as an explanation.  I wouldn’t read the list of translators, decide they’re underqualified, and determine that their translation was lousy without reading it.

But I find the whole tree and fruit thing very interesting.  Here are some questions:

  1. Is the “tree” that produces a Bible translation the company that publishes it?
  2. If so, would a Bible become corrupt if it was first published by a “righteous” company, but later  licensed to a “corrupt” publisher, however defined?
  3. What kind of sin must a publisher be guilty of to pollute otherwise pure scriptures that it might print?
  4. What kind of sin must a translator be guilty of in order to corrupt his translation?  For example, would the translation be corrupt if the translator was a gossip?  An adulterer?
  5. Is the translation corrupt if the translator is guilty of such sin, but we don’t know about it?

While this KJV-Only argument may strike many of my readers as beneath comment–though when has that ever stopped me?–perhaps what we should think about is whether when we make what seem to be high moral pronouncements, we also say things that we really don’t want to say.

Annoyed at Certain Christian Labels

Annoyed at Certain Christian Labels

On Wednesday I got snarky about a post by Jim West, dealing with “Biblical faith” and yesterday I wrote about a test that is alleged (incorrectly) to determine whether I have a “Biblical worldview.”

There’s a common element here that annoys me, and it’s these multi-word or hyphenated Christian labels for things that might well be labeled with one word. The term “Biblical” comes in for particular and regular abuse. Now some of the labels I’m going to mention do have valid uses, but they are also susceptible to misuse on a frequent basis.

Let me start with some examples without the word “Biblical” in them.

How about “born-again Christian.” As opposed to what? A non-born-again Christian? If I read John 3 correctly “born-again” (much better translated “born from above” with a footnote on multiple meaning) is a metaphor for becoming a Christian, thus “born-again Christian” would normally be redundant. This is one of those I think should generally be dropped. It’s a label used to create a superior class of Christians. “Are you a Christian?” somebody asks. “Yes,” is the answer. “But are you a born-again Christian?” Any answer but “yes,” of course, means that one is either not a real Christian or belongs to some inferior class of Christians. (People who were born into Christian families and have been Christians as long as they can remember have a very hard time responding here!)

Then there is “Spirit-filled.” Now I find this label useful occasionally, to cover what it most commonly means in a technical sense, i.e. someone who believes that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience, and also believes they have had that second experience. But in practice, it becomes much like born-again. There are Christians, the bulk of the pew-sitters and “professing” Christians (what a put-down “professing Christian” is!), and then there are the “Spirit-filled Christians” who have truly gotten it right.

And how about Bible-believing? You can catch this one in a full label of a truly wonderfully superior sort of Christian, the “born-again, Spirit-filled, Bible believing Christian.” As opposed, of course, to all of the Christians who don’t “have” the Holy Spirit (I’ve always wondering about people who say they “have” the Holy Spirit), are not born-again, and think the Bible is so much wastepaper. This one is simply short hand for “a person who believes the same thing I do about the Bible.” In my area, it most commonly designates KJV-Only advocates, and because of that usage, many people who might normally claim to be “Bible believing” don’t use the phrase, since they might be mistaken for KJV-Only types.

But I think the term “Biblical faith”, for example, can be, and is used in much the same way. In a Christian conversation, what specifically does a “Biblical faith” designate? I think it is used largely to look down on the faith of other Christians, which is not regarded as adequately Biblical. They might, for example, regard science and faith as compatible. If I were discussing the word “faith” in an interfaith context, I might use Biblical, though I’d be more likely to use the term “Christian”, since otherwise how might it be properly distinguished from Jewish faith. Jewish faith is surely Biblical in many senses of the word.

Just as I have argued that here is no “obvious exegesis” I would also argue that there is no obvious “Biblical faith” and the use of the phrase very commonly means “a faith that agrees with my doctrinal understanding, a doctrinal understanding that I believe is consistent with the Bible–unlike yours.” Sorry for the wordiness, but that’s what I hear most often when someone uses that label.

At least in the case of “Biblical worldview” the terms aren’t redundant. But in the way it is used, it is again clearly an example of putting down the “worldviews” of other Christians. If a Christian is a socialist, for example, according to that site I visited yesterday, they might be saved, but they don’t really have a “Biblical worldview.”

I’d be interested in hearing other valid uses of these labels in the comments. Personally, while I think some of these labels get used in a valid way, I think they tend towards creating a privileged group of “especially right” Christians.

And while we’re at it, we might ask ourselves whether our distinguishing feature as Christians is being “righter” than anyone else.

With Critics Like These

With Critics Like These

I will probably have to repent for posting this, but I can’t resist. Post in haste, repent at leisure–probably much leisure.

I received the following comment on YouTube responding to my video Why I Hate the KJV.

SHUT UP! “Thou fool”. The only obstacle is your own wickedness selfishness laziness and stupidity. The only hinderance is your nausiating self absorbed slop. Repent and get saved you ignorant unsaved pharisee!

I guess that will teach me!

Faithful Promises: Psalm 12

Faithful Promises: Psalm 12

One of the long term projects I have for this blog is to take a brief look at the major passages of scripture that relate to inspiration or that are used in discussions about it. I’m taking these passages from various sources, including comments made on this blog, but also from personal conversations, books, letters, e-mails, and so forth.

In theological debates, the actual intent of Biblical passages often gets subordinated to a theological agenda. I recall one debate, or perhaps it would better be called an argument, in which both my opponent and I were citing Hebrews 4:12, yet our positions were polar opposites. That’s why an assertion with a parenthetical scripture reference, such as “the Bible is inerrant (2 Tim. 3:16)” have a tendency to fail in discussion.

One favorite of the KJV-Only group is Psalm 12, of which they regularly cite verses 6 and 7. There are several things to look at about this Psalm. First we must ask just what type of literature it is. We know it is a Psalm (I wonder what our first clue was!) but just what type of Psalm?

We can make some generalizations about Psalms. They are poetry and will tend to use figurative and picturesque language as is common in poetry. They are written from various perspectives and intended for various occasions. Thus it is very dangerous to pick a few lines from a Psalm and apply it theologically. There is the great example of quoting “there is no god” from Psalm 14:1. Of course, the Psalmist is quoting some unspecified group of fools, or perhaps some particular fool.

Psalm 12, in particular is a prayer that is divided into some quite precise divisions. Verses 1 & 2 lament the lack of good people and describe the depravity of those who surround the Psalmist. This is followed in verses 3 & 4 by the actual petition, which is to cut off those who are flattering and arrogant. Verse 5 is YHWH’s response to the situation, in which he declares his intention to respond to the petition presented. Finally, verses 6-8, we have the expression of faith that despite the way in which the petitioner(s) is surrounded by the wicked, God will be faithful to his word–his promise–of protection given in verse 5.

The two elements that the KJV-Only advocates have grabbed out of this Psalm are the statement that the Lord’s words are pure, and in verse 7 that the promise is forever. They take this to mean that the KJV is God’s pure word and that it will remain forever. Of course, the Psalm says nothing of the sort.

Note that many modern versions (NRSV and NIV among them) translate “words” in verse 6 as “promises.” That is a correct reading of the Hebrew in which the specific words are the ones just spoken, and are thus promises in context. This meaning is similar to our use of “give your word” in English.

Thus this passage says nothing directly about the Bible or its inspiration. It does, however, say some things indirectly, by talking about God and the nature of his promises. God’s promises are amongst God’s words, and he will be faithful to what he has declared. We can expect God’s word as reflected elsewhere, such as in scripture, to share characteristics with his word expressed to worshiper(s) here.

Psalm 12 is a good example of a prayer of petition in the Bible, and it declares God faithful in what he says.

An Example of Archaic Words – 1 Samuel 9:9

An Example of Archaic Words – 1 Samuel 9:9

In a comment to a previous post, someone brought up the case of Saul and the seer. In this passage we have the parenthetical note following the reference by one of the characters to a seer, indicating that a prophet was formerly called a seer. This was provided as an example of how to handle archaic words in the KJV–just explain them, or as this commenter suggested, look them up in an 1828 Noah Webster’s!

In my response I indicated that I didn’t see anything new and referred readers to my Bible Translations FAQ, but it turns out that in this case while I have responded to someone on this issue before, probably on the Compuserve Religion Forum, I failed to include the answer in my FAQ file. In addition, I wanted to comment on an exegetical point. You can get the full context of the story by reading 1 Samuel 9:1-14.

My exegetical point is a simple one. Any principle of interpretation you use should be one that can be applied consistently. The application of a principle–I’ll hold off trying to express it–that we see here is the observation that a Bible writer took a particular action, so that action is normative for similar circumstances. I would guess that the best way to express this principle would be that in comparable circumstances, one should consider the actions of a Biblical writer to be normative.

Now here’s where I tend to annoy KJV-Only advocates and other extreme Biblical literalists. I would ask how they would apply that principle in other cases. For example, should we take the literary forms of the Bible as normative for the way in which we should write other material? It’s hard to respond precisely, because I have never seen anyone try to express this as a principle. Whenever I ask someone to express it that way or to apply it to other circumstances, they say I’m not staying on the subject. But I think that when interpreting the Bible, principles of interpretation are always relevant.

A related approach is often used for other Bible stories. If a Bible character, normally limited to one of the good guys, did it, then it’s a good idea. Of course, until it isn’t. Because this “story” approach to Biblical norms is very rarely applied with any consistency.

Can we get information from Bible stories? Indeed we can. For example, I believe that God calls women to leadership. One Biblical support for that position is the call of Deborah. But in that case I’m working with a clear statement that Deborah was a prophetess, and the blessing of God on her action. Further, I use the story not to create a common practice directly, as in “God called Deborah, a woman, to be a prophetess, so all women are called to be prophetesses.” Rather, I use the story to establish that any claim that God excludes women from his call runs up against this clear counter-example.

Interpreting stories requires a good deal of thought and effort, and it is useful to be consistent. I have an essay on interpreting stories for those who are interested in some basic ideas.

But let’s look at this specific case. There are several important points that I would note.

  1. The parenthetical comment provides historical information to the reader that is relevant to the story. Archaic words in the KJV provide knowledge of 17th century English, but provide no knowledge relevant to the story. The actual word used by the ancient Hebrews does not appear in the KJV here or elsewhere. I would suggest that if one consistently used this principle, one should enter in the translation every term with any technical element, and then explain it in a parenthetical comment. (The Complete Jewish Bible heads in this direction.)
  2. This type of comment is extremely rare in scripture. It doesn’t involve the relearning of an entire dialect so that people can have the privilege of using archaic language.
  3. While I’m sure using an 1828 dictionary is exciting to someone, I don’t plan on recommending purchase of such a dictionary to go with any Bible purchase. That is simply another barrier to hearing the word.
  4. In the New Testament we see Hebrew ideas primarily presented in Greek words. The very occasional transliterations (with translation) are for specific purposes.
  5. Finally, any argument in favor of forcing people to learn the language of the KJV applies with greater force to urging them to learn Greek and Hebrew.

The problem here is an ad hoc interpretation desperately grabbed and applied to the KJV. The foundation of such an argument is the assumption that the KJV must be right, therefore we must find the way to preserve it. But other than as a great artifact of English language and literature, I fail to see any reason to try to do that.

The Bible wasn’t written in English. It was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. KJV-Only advocates seem to have trouble understanding that, but it remains a fact.