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Analyzing another KJV-Only Comment

Analyzing another KJV-Only Comment

A person identifying himself as J B has added a comment to my video post Why I Hate the KJV. It contains so many examples of the misinformation and invalid reasoning presented by KJV-Only Advocates that I couldn’t resist commenting.

I don’t know how you can say the KJV “communicated the scriptures wonderfully to the people of it’s time, over time that language has changed.”

You know, for a moment I thought the comment might be from one of those folks who thinks I give the KJV too much credit. But it turns out that J B thinks that communicating effectively is not an attribute to be desired in a translation.

First you don’t seem to know much about the KJV, at the time it was translated (the 17th century) the “people of it’s time” did not speak the English of the King James Bible, (often referred to as “Kings English.”)

First, I want you to note that at this point J B seems to think knowledge is valuable, as he accuses me of lacking it. Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it later.

Second, what is it with KJV-Only folks and “scare quotes”? Does J B imagine that there were no people at the time of the KJV translation?

Third, I am well aware of the type of language used, but I tend to measure things a little more objectively. I don’t imagine how people would understand a particular dialect, I observe. The rate at which the KJV gained dominance indicates, I believe, that it communicated well.

I am happy to note, however, a KJV-Only advocate actually admitting to archaic language in the KJV. Many of them try to pretend it is relatively close to modern English. But however archaic it was when the translation was made, it is more archaic now. If you place a high value on the failure to communicate, I suppose this is a good thing.

Most language develops for the purpose of communication. There is a dialect of English, politician-speak, which is designed to employ words whilst preventing the readers or hearers from comprehending them, but that’s a special case.

The KJV was translated into this already “archaic” form of English because it was the most perfect form of English, our language is not getting better over time it’s getting worse.

This is rather interesting. What makes a language “perfect”? Would it not perhaps be communication? I have never seen the characteristics of a perfect language. Would a theoretically perfect language structure and vocabulary, but which was not used by anyone be perfect, whilst also being useless?

And on what basis does one say that our language is getting worse? I know that language curmudgeons regularly complain about it, but I give that about as much credence as I do the complaints of people who use computers and the internet to wish they could go back to the “good old days.” Presumably they don’t want to die of the same diseases that people did back in the “good old days” or have the life expectancy of that time.

That old language is of very little use to me in my daily life. The “perfect” English lacked any vocabulary with which to describe this computer at which I’m typing. It lacked terms for large numbers of items in my daily life.

Perfect for what? Presumably perfect for people who think language exists in a vacuum and who don’t care what is done with it. Language is a tool. It’s quality or lack thereof depends on how well it accomplishes that task.

Yet “the people of it’s time” didn’t seem to want a more modern “version” of the Bible, they were merely interested in a more perfect Bible.

Well, actually the people of that time didn’t really have much to say about it. The king wanted a Bible to help unify the church. Various other people had quite a variety of ideas. And the Bible was not immediately accepted by those same people. Like many others, they did not find it easy to accept a new translation easily.

Also the KJV is the most widely used Bible today even more so than it was when it was translated so I don’t quite understand how you can consider those in the 17th century “people of it’s time” and not the people of our time who use it more widely.

Oh, so that’s the purpose of those scare quotes. The “people of its time” are those who were living at the time it was translated. I know you want to extend its time, but wishing doesn’t make it so.

The time of the KJV has not passed, neither of those two groups then or now speak King James English, and both groups have the KJV so how it can be the Bible of their time and not the Bible of our time just doesn’t make sense.

It makes sense to those who acknowledge facts. You can, of course, imagine it to be anything you want.

The other thing that you mentioned is that you study the Bible in “it’s original languages” which I believe I can easily conclude as Greek and Hebrew.

Well, those and Aramaic. Part of the Bible was written in Aramaic, and I read that too.

A lot of people say that you really should learn Greek and Hebrew to understand the Bible more clearly.

Those are smart people. Not everyone needs to know Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, but they are valuable. Those are the languages in which the prophets and apostles wrote.

I don’t understand why I should study Greek and Hebrew when God has already preserved His Word in English, God had the foresight to know that the common World language would be English.

A little earlier you were complaining that I know little about the KJV, though actually you are wrong on that point. But there you seemed to think knowledge was valuable. Here you seem to think knowledge is not valuable. Odd, isn’t it?

You see, nobody could tell just how well God’s Word was preserved in the English of the KJV unless someone read the languages in which the Bible was originally written. The KJV translators used the manuscripts at hand, their language skills, and all the resources they had at hand, and they translated. Do you or any other KJV-Only advocate understand what that means? I doubt it. Translation is hard work. Translation always loses some aspect of the source. Even the best translation is not and never can be equivalent to the original.

When you say that God has preserved his word in English through the KJV you are doing at least two extremely arrogant and stupid things:

  1. You cut yourself off from the Christian community. As a KJV-Only advocate who makes this claim you should no longer call yourself a Christian. I rarely say this, but Christianity has been built on many centuries of tradition. The Bible itself is the result of things that were passed down from the early church. You are free to grab hold of anything you want and call it God’s one true word, but this claim cuts you off from that community.
  2. You make the claim that the English speaking world is specially privileged by God. Even though I am appalled by the first point, I find this one even worse. You and I, who speak English, are not one bit better spiritually than the least tribesman who speaks an as yet unwritten language. God has no more desire to communicate his message to us than to him. The incredible arrogance of claiming that our language has set us above everyone is astounding. If a claim could be made for the privileging of any language it would be the one spoken by the prophets or apostles through whom God spoke.

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If I’m having a hard time understanding the English Bible wouldn’t it make more sense to study English?

And suddenly you think understanding is important. Now get this: If studying it in an archaic form of English is better than studying it in Greek, then studying it in a modern, comprehensible form of English is better than studying it in archaic English.

You need to decide which it is on these points. Are you interested in communication or in having the scriptures in an allegedly “perfect” language? Are you interested in knowledge or do you condemn it?

The only thing learning Greek & Hebrew does is allow each individual to translate God’s Word the way he sees fit and not accept it as God intended.

But God intended to present his word in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. At least I believe God does what he intended to do, and that’s what he did, so I assume he intended it.

You, on the other hand, want to replace that with an English translation. What originally astonished me about KJV-Only advocates is the way they try to claim to truly respect God’s Word, and yet at the same time have no concern with the accuracy of translation. Whatever the KJV did is OK with them, no matter how wrong. That’s not respect.

It’s more confusing to me to “purchase multiple English versions” because I do not “read the source languages,” especially now when the majority of modern translations have been continuously revised within the last 20 years.

I’m sure you don’t want to be confused with facts, but the fact remains that no translation conveys everything in the source language. That’s why people keep trying.

How would I know the version I’m currently using is going to be relevant to the next generation, I would be perpetually upgrading to the latest version.

Actually you can be quite certain that at some time in the future any version you’re using will become dated and require revision. Language changes. When it changes enough, people no longer understand it as well as they should. Thus revision is needed.

The people of 17th century England not only had the Bible in it’s “original languages” they also had “multiple English versions,” the whole reason they took on the task of translating the Bible, was so that English speaking people would have a “more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue;” (quoted from the Epistle Dedicatory which was written by the translators themselves) so going out and buying “multiple English versions” is taking a step backwards not forwards.

You should read “From the translators to the reader.” That gives many of their ideas of how to translate and also their comments on the resistance to new translations.

Just because the English language has become more and more watered down over time doesn’t mean we should water down God’s Word to match it so that it will be more relevant to the world.

First, you have yet to establish what a “perfect” language is and in what way English has been “watered down.” Second, it is not an issue of relevance, but of comprehension. We do not water down the scriptures by translating them, nor do we make them any more or less relevant. We make the relevance that is there understandable.

The world rejects the Word of God because His Word is Holy and it convicts them of their sin. Changing His Word to be more relevant to the world allows the world to be comfortable in their sinful state and does not bring true repentance of sin.

Which applies quite well to any well-done translation of the Bible.

I will leave you with something I found on the the University of Virginia’s website while trying to look up a free online RSV bible.

The Bible, Revised Standard Version
We regret that we are unable to host the Revised Standard Version of the Bible on our website any longer. We were recently contacted by the National Council of Churches of Christ (http://www.ncccusa.org/), who own the copyright for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible in the USA. They have asked us to remove the text from our website, and we have complied with their request. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
The King James Version of the Bible may still be accessed on our website at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/kjv.browse.html.

The KJV was translated to be freely available to all men, while all other versions were created to be under the control of men. What right do we have to hinder others from freely accessing the Word God for our own greedy gains? Apparently a lot if you own the copyright.

We follow with the standard complaint about copyrights. But the KJV was originally published under a license granted by the crown. That was as close to copyright as it got in those days. Modern translators are no different on this point. I see no reason why they should not be compensated for their work. Surely you can afford the cost of an electronic copy of the RSV.


The arguments for the KJV-Only position never seem to change; they just get stated in different words.

The Major Errors of KJV-Only

The Major Errors of KJV-Only

Someone signing as Morgan Sorensen just left a comment on my old post (11/28/2006), and I want to promote it to its own post, because it demonstrates the core errors of the KJV-Only position in a very small space.

I’m printing the entire comment but I’m interspersing it with comments on the core errors that are displayed.

Henry Neufeld, You are the one, in error here . These two verses do NOT say the same thing, unless you have graduated from “Dumbness school”.

In what way do they not say the same thing? Surely since you believe that in order not to see it I must have graduated from “dumbness school” you can provide details.

Furthermore, two important factors from the scriptures hang you , and James White out, as the deceivers that you are.
One, is the first pillar, (of two) on the doctrine of scripture. That the Word of God came not by the WILL of MAN. Therefore, any changes to this Word of God, by the WILL of Man, must result in “sriritual blood poison”.

Here’s the key KJV-Only error. They assume that the KJV is the one and only word of God, thus any changes from it become errors because you can’t change the word of God. But the word of God is not limited to one translation, and it didn’t come into existence in 1611. By this standard, the KJV is “spiritual blood poison” because of the alterations it makes from the source Greek and Hebrew texts.

Of course that isn’t the case, because they, like other Bible translators, were simply working with what they had, and they did a pretty good job. Their translation shouldn’t replace the source texts. How could it? But it was very good for its time.

Secondly, the Word of God is; “Forever settled in Heaven”, it is”pure”, it is by Jesus’s own explanation, the “Lifeblood” of the Christian. Jesus said; “My Words are life unto you”.
In Leviticus 17, we read that the LIFE is in the blood. You fellas are tampering with that “life”, and inserting the tincture of “scholastic arsenic” into that “God given Pure bloodstream” of the traditional text, and presenting the corrupted Alexandrian mss. as pure, when you ought to know, it is not.

Now she also assumes that the “traditional text,” a rather ephemeral object is equal to the “word of God. Which is it? Is the KJV the word that cannot be changed, or is it the “traditional text?” And what represents the traditional text? The textus receptus, the majority text, or some reconstruction of the Greek text used by the KJV translators?

Considering some of the completely unique readings in the latter chapters of Revelation, again, the KJV might well be accused of adding this “spiritual arsenic.” Of course, no such thing is true. They did the best they could with what they had–and it was an excellent job. The translators themselves would be horrified at the type of arguments KJV-Only advocates use in supposed support of their work. With friends like these . . .

Further, who presents “the corrupted Alexandrian mss. as pure”? I’m an advocate of an eclectic text, and don’t regard any hand copied manuscript as “pure” in this sense. All are subject to error, and all disagree with one another in some way. If the scriptures are corrupt, that corruption was introduced pretty early.

Your stupid mis-caricature of Mrs. Riplinger, shows both you and James White’s cowardice and un-gentlemanly behaviour.

Anyone who speaks the way she does about others has no grounds to complain about how she is treated. She has slandered many men of God and her book contains an overwhelming number of errors.

Not that I in any way need to defend Mrs. Riplinger, as both you and James white, could not scholastically measure up to her ankles. You both stand exposed for your lies and deception.

I eagerly await the first time that you expose my lies and deception. All you did in this comment was assert that I was a liar. Try again.

Audiences and the KJV

Audiences and the KJV

. . . or any Bible translation, for that matter.

My post on reading from the KJV elicited a response from Iyov, who doesn’t agree with a number of things, some of which I haven’t said. But some of them I have said, so I want to clarify just a bit.

Note that I will make a couple of comments that are direct responses, which will be headed by quotes from his post as linked above. Where I am not directly responding to one of these quotes, I am making general comments, and these comments should not be read as directed at Iyov. I agree with a number of things he says, and would prefer that readers not assume disagreement where it doesn’t exist.

I related my experience with young readers who did not comprehend passages from the KJV, and Iyov responds thus:

Neufeld’s argument is odd. Certainly we expect young people to learn material substantially more difficult than the KJV. I do understand that Shakespeare and Milton remain in the high school curriculum, and those works use language far more complex than the KJV.

I’m afraid I find his counterargument odd. I cannot comment on his hypothetical young people who have supposedly studied more complex English literature in High School, but the actual young people in front of me were not comprehending the KJV. Further, when I asked them to read from the not-so-good NASB they were quickly able to comprehend things that they did not from the KJV. The NIV was even better.

Now I don’t want to make assumptions as to Iyov’s position, but I have had many people argue that I should teach the young people to read and understand the KJV. So in response to those who have made such an argument to me, I must say that I find it ridiculous. I also like the French Louis Segond version. Should I perhaps teach them French before I teach them a Bible class? Whether the educational system should prepare them to read Jacobean English or not (and I would say NOT as a general rule), when I teach Bible class I need to start from a text they can read. If I’m going to teach them anything about a language that is foreign to them, it will be about Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, as appropriate.

Of course there are varying levels of difficulty in the Bible, but that is hardly the point. In general use, a translation should not make the text more obscure than is necessary in order to convey the intent of the writer.

Iyov states further:

The Bible, even to those who have access to Biblical languages, is difficult. The Hebrew of the Bible is often obscure and difficult. Translations that hide this fact from readers (and this category includes the vast majority of all translations) are not accurately reflecting the text.

Again, I find this argument odd. One of the difficulties with the Hebrew text is that we lack cultural context and knowledge of the usage of certain words and constructions. In order to translate at all, one must make decisions on these matters and convey the result. There is no particular value to maintaining obscurity, except by indicating in a footnote that there are alternatives.

I’m not sure what Iyov expects translators to do with these obscure texts. Perhaps they should translate obscure Hebrew words with nonsense syllables in English so that the English reader can experience the frustration of trying to work through a difficult passage. No, that would be a bad idea. On of the tasks of a translator is to work through that sort of difficulty. He is a specialist, presenting a text to non-specialists.

Quoting Iyov again:

Even stranger is the claim the implication that the KJV allows religious leaders to “infuse meaning” through interpretively biased readings in a way that more modern translations do not.

It may be strange, though I think it is actually quite plain, and I have observed it many times. This is not, as Iyov seems to have understood me to say, the fault of translators. In fact, I regard the KJV as the greatest single achievement in English Bible translation. I fault the translators for practically nothing. Most criticisms are based, in my view, on applying a later standard to their pioneering work.

But in many modern congregations, some very near to where I live, the majority of the people do not understand the KJV, and the KJV-Only preachers tell them that the KJV is the sole word of God, superior even to the source texts in Hebrew and Greek. They then use the fact that the congregation is ill-equipped to question them as part of the process of manipulation.

The KJV was once a great translation for use in church. It is not so in present day America. In fact, I have not seen it used in any church where I would say the choice of the KJV was appropriate to the congregation in question. Hypothetically, I believe there could be such congregations. I have simply never encountered them.

One of the things I found after I left seminary, went to work in the secular market for some years (also dealing with language), and then returning to the church was that I am simply not the best judge of what a text means. I started learning Biblical languages in my teen years. I have been fascinated by history, geography, and sociology since I could read. What I read in scripture is heavily influenced by this broad exposure to the backgrounds.

When I first started teaching after returning to the church scene, I tried to teach based on what I assumed people were understanding. I found out very quickly that my assumptions were wrong. So I did something that seems to escape many people, especially scholars–I started asking my audiences what they were hearing or understanding from the scripture texts I used.

What I found was that they were very often not hearing the same thing, especially from formal equivalence versions such as the NASB (which was once a favorite of mine) or even my much favored NRSV. The situation became much worse when they used the KJV.

Many languages scholars assume that ambiguity from the source text that is translated by ambiguous English text is more faithful, giving the audience the option of choosing for themselves. (My uncle, Don F. Neufeld, who started me on both Hebrew and Greek, made this argument to me, and it took me some time to realize it was not so.) But the audience doesn’t hear the same set of options that the scholar does.

A much better approach is for the expert to make a choice, and indicate alternatives in footnotes. Now the audience can comprehend the text with a probable reading, and those who are willing to put in a very small amount of work, much smaller than would be required to learn the source languages or Jacobean English, can get good alternatives.

I recommend to my students now that they use a variety of translations, and read those footnotes. If they want to get closer to the source languages, a standard battle cry of the formal equivalence advocates, they need to learn the source languages. Formal equivalence has its place, in my view, but it does not better reflect the meaning of the text.

The meaning of a text is only properly reflected in translation if that translation is understood by the target audience. There is no such thing as accuracy without understanding. If the target audience for a translation is scholars who have some knowledge of the source language, then perhaps formal equivalence will work as it is claimed. For the vast majority of the people I teach on a regular basis, formal equivalence fails to meet that promise.

Reading from the KJV

Reading from the KJV

I chose to do my lectionary reading today from the KJV, and specifically from an edition of the C. I. Scofield study Bible. This is an interesting exercise for me, since I grew up on the KJV. In fact, it’s no harder for me to do my reading from the KJV than from a very modern version.

There’s a great scene in The Fountainhead, in which Howard Roark is criticizing the architecture of the Parthenon in the presence of the dean of the school of architecture. The dean’s response? “But it’s the Parthenon!” That seems to be the most common response I get to comments on the KJV. People love the quality of literature it represents, and so they want to stick with it. How can I criticize it? It’s the KJV! And to be honest, a literary appreciation is a good reason to hold onto your KJV.

But very often when we appreciate something, we try to force it on others on whom it may not have the same effect. Consider the Revised English Bible. There is no modern version I would prefer to hear read aloud. Yet when I read it aloud to most American audiences, the response is disappointing to say the least. The particular vocabulary and cadences of the REB just doesn’t strike them in the same way. Thus in recommending Bible versions I have to remember that what strikes me as high literary quality doesn’t necessarily strike someone else in the same way. (The New Jerusalem Bible is another version that I love to hear read aloud, but which often doesn’t elicit the same response from others. I’m not sure why.)

Nonetheless, within proper boundaries, the literary beauty argument is a good argument for the KJV. Those constraints must include considerations of audience. A key factor in making me change from the KJV in public reading and teaching was that I noticed that young people very simply didn’t understand it. They could make out the words, but they couldn’t express the content in their own words. That is, of course, an important limitation.

I do believe that many KJV-Only teachers and preachers actually prefer this state. If their audience doesn’t comprehend the words of scripture, the teacher can infuse into them just about any meaning he prefers. Some of the things I have heard recently suggest that this is not something I imagined. Having scriptures in language the people do not understand is a great boon to those who would like to maintain power over them. It seems like we’ve tried this sort of thing before, only then it was the Latin Vulgate that was God’s gift to the church, and the sole translation of the word of God worth reading.

For enjoyment and literary appreciation–if you do, in fact, understand it–the KJV is good. For understanding by most modern church members and seekers, not so much.

Setting Doctrinal Priorities

Setting Doctrinal Priorities

A recent jury verdict against a group of hatemongers has brought up lots of questions. One that I heard was simply this: “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. How can you, as a Christian, claim that this group that protests at military funerals is not a good representation of Christianity?”

There are a huge number of reasons why I would say that these people do not represent Christianity, starting with the fact that it is always inappropriate to read a single text and then say, “This is what the Bible teaches.” Why? Because the Bible teaches many things, and often these will be in direct conflict with one another when one reads them in that fashion. Let’s take as an example this command:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” — Deuteronomy 23:1, (NRSV).

Now compare it to this:

?4? For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
?5? I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off. — Isaiah 56:4-5 (NRSV)

Now my point here is not to make these two commands conflict, but rather to point out that we cannot build a complete doctrine of what God thinks of eunuchs based on just the text in Deuteronomy 23:1. There are other factors to consider if we continue to read.

One of the characteristics of fundamentalist groups is an inability to prioritize their doctrines. All truth is truth, and one cannot lay aside any aspect of truth. I discuss this kind of an approach to doctrinal unity and diversity in a post Unity, Diversity, and Confusion, where I recommend having a defined core that gives a group community, but allowing a broad range on which disagreement is permitted.

I think the common characterization of fundamentalists can be unfair at times, however, as there are many who adhere to a traditional understanding of doctrinal fundamentals and are quite able to see differing priorities within those. I recall that my dad who adhered to every doctrine in the dictionary definition of Christian fundamentalism (per Webster’s 3rd International) being confronted with a situation in which a patient would die unless he could get a particular medication. Now unlike some missionaries I know, my father refused to violate the laws of the host country, even when he could have gotten by with it. In this case, however, when the government refused an import permit, he arranged to have the medication smuggled in and saved the patient’s life. Lying and breaking the civil law became less of a concern than saving a life.

So in this case I’m speaking of those fundamentalists who fit the stereotype and have a hard time prioritizing. One could borrow Tillich’s definition of idolatry, which I quote from distant memory (so be merciful!), making your ultimate concern something that isn’t ultimate. The doctrinal version of this is centering your faith on something that isn’t central.

Fred Phelps and his small gang do, in fact, prioritize doctrines, but they do a very bad job of it. Only a very small portion of the scriptures directly address homosexuality, yet for them being against homosexuality is the central doctrine of their faith, as shown by their actions. It trumps all versions of redemption, God’s love, atonement, grace, and an incredible number of sins that are spoken of more frequently in scripture.

This inappropriate center then leads to behavior that is so far off that we can call it a “wacko fringe.” In a post from Saturday I quoted another blogger who had tied the term “wacko fringe” heavily to the charismatic movement. Well, here’s a truly wacko fringe group. So what’s their key problem? I think it’s an inability to prioritize doctrines and beliefs.

Most Christians will react with horror at their behavior, and justifiably so. Some will also be puzzled when opponents of Christianity respond by pointing out the Biblical texts against homosexual acts that are in scripture. But why should one be puzzled? We know that Christian groups have been taking small selections of texts for some time and creating groups that qualify for the “wacko fringe.” It is one of the hazards of not having the inquisition around. People can come up with their own doctrines.

Of course, depending on your perspective, it could be that the inquisition is the wacko fringe, though they were ostensibly in the service of orthodoxy and of the mainstream of their time. The point is that freedom to study for oneself and create doctrine also leaves open the door to bizarre doctrinal ideas and fringe groups.

Now I’m going to discuss a number of positions and views and suggest some potential for getting off center. I don’t intend to suggest that any of these positions are anywhere near equivalent to the Phelps group. In fact I’m going to include a couple of positions that I personally have held and had to modify as examples. I want to point out the potential danger, and suggest some antidotes.

Let me start with myself and a very simple example. I got married for the first time in my early 40s and acquired a complete family in one step, a wife, three step-children, and one other young person living with us at the time. Now I really like to think I’m non-judgmental, but with a military background and a rather punctual personality, I had a strong tendency to look down on people showing up late for church. If they had children they should just get up earlier and prepare more efficiently, and get those children to church on time!

It took the weekend after we returned from our honeymoon to make me repent of my judgmental attitude and realize just how unsympathetic I was. You know, even when they are older, having multiple people in the household makes it much harder to get everything done on time. That first Sunday we straggled into church over a 20 minute period, all of us late, including me. Now we got better at it later, but I learned a lesson with the first Sunday–it’s much easier said (and judged) than done!

It’s good to get to church on time, but it’s also good to exercise Christian charity to those who have more difficult circumstances. My single male viewpoint and uptight personality on the issue of punctuality made me put being on time to church way too close to the center of good spirituality. There’s a good scriptural point here to help correct this too. Punctuality may be a value, but not being a judge is also a value. Which one is expressed more precisely and repeatedly in scripture? Well, Jesus at least expressed it pretty clearly in Matthew 7:1, and as far as I can see he clean forgot to say, “Be on time for church!” So where should my priorities be?

Let’s stick with my own weaknesses for another paragraph or two. I used to be a very positive preacher and teacher, and I don’t mean by this that I was always upbeat. What I mean is that I preached a message for the successful and victorious. I was balanced enough to remind them that there would be hardships, but I tended to brush past these to the wonderful new heights each Christian would attain every day as he or she walked with Jesus. Now is there a place for teaching about overcoming and to talk about hope and victory? Of course there is! There is plenty of that in scripture.

But then I lived through a five year battle with cancer for our youngest son, which ended with his death. There was no quick solution, no sunlight just around the corner, no moving from victory to victory on a daily or weekly basis. There were lots of times when we had to struggle through and keep plowing forward even when it was hard to see the hope.

Before, I would push very quickly with folks I talked to and try to get them to feel hope right now, and push forward for the victory quickly. Then I learned something new about struggling and hardship. It wasn’t that I knew nothing of that before or that I never taught it. It was simply that I put my emphasis on living the mountaintop to mountaintop life. Now I think I have gained new balance.

A last story on myself comes from just last weekend. I was talking about dealing with very rigid views of scripture with my teacher, Dr. Alden Thompson. He knew me when I as an undergraduate Biblical languages student, approaching the edges of Biblical scholarship very carefully, lest I get burned. I made a snippy remark about someone, and he said, “Remember what you were like when you first came into my Hebrew class.” And he’s absolutely right. I have a tendency to be impatient with people who are slow to come to the same conclusions I do (incredibly obvious and wise ones, of course!).

In this case the lack of balance is that I sometimes do what I accuse theological conservatives of doing: I put doctrines above people. In John 9, we see Jesus and his disciples encountering a man born blind. The disciples are interested in a theological question–whose sin made him blind? Jesus was interested in healing the blind man. I need to watch my priorities and put people ahead of doctrines. (Of course, that dictum is itself a doctrine, but I think it’s a fairly valid one–validated by the actions of Jesus.)

I see a similar issue with the question of who can be saved. Do they have to understand a particular set of doctrines, a particular view of substitutionary atonement, or do they just put their trust in Jesus, according to their best understanding. Hanging on the cross, Jesus used a different priority than we often do today, offering hope on the simple request to remember the thief when he came to his kingdom (Luke 23:42-43).

A very little bit of imbalance can move us toward the fringe, and when one issue becomes our defining issue, unless it’s Jesus himself, it becomes very easy to head out for the “wacko fringe.”

Another illustration may help. Respecting the Bible is good. In this area there are many King James Version Only advocates. They respect the Bible, but only in one form, and so they disrespect it in all other forms. A book now has priority over all other doctrines and over people. One student of mine, a new Christian, was informed by one of these folks that he was not saved. Why? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and the word of God comes only in the King James Version. The fault with his salvation? He had heard the gospel preached from the New King James Version. Skewed priorities led to the distant fringes.

So how do we avoid it? Well, I think Jesus provided us with a guideline when he said that all the law and the prophets hang on the two laws–love for God and love for our fellow human beings (Matthew 22:40). Now it’s not impossible to get off track even with that. For one thing, our definition of love can be skewed. But let me suggest looking up and down the line. As we get more detailed in our doctrinal pronouncements, ask ourselves if them fit the two laws. Can we hang them there? When we’re looking at love, does our definition fit the life of Jesus? Can we see our definition of love in the way God has acted in history? It’s a two-way test. (For my application to Bible study see Hanging Biblical Interpretation in which I express my hanging rule.)

In all of this we do need to express our beliefs. If those who seek balance do not speak, Christianity will be defined by whoever does speak. We are to be witnesses. We think of knocking on doors and bringing in conversions. But what about simply representing in our own small sphere who Jesus can be in our own lives? One of the blogs I read regularly is Allan Bevere. He wrote a post on preaching, starting a series, and his first principle of preaching was to preach to the audience that is there.

That relates closely to a principle I teach in Bible study–look first in the Bible for the things that apply to you, rather than to other people. Let God’s word correct you first in all cases. That should happen before you preach, teach, or share. Let it hit you and convict you! Then go talk to other people.

As a church, we could apply that very appropriately as well. Look for the things that correct your own action. How about heterosexuals spending more time looking at the sins they themselves are tempted to? Would that not provide a bit of balance, no matter what one’s conclusions were about homosexuality?

I’m simply suggesting that we try to put first things first, and that we each look for the first things that we ourselves need to hear. Other people’s sins will quite often take care of themselves much more effectively when we’re spending most of our time on the most important things!

Why I Hate the KJV

Why I Hate the KJV

It’s about time for one of my periodic posts on the King James Version, signaled by comments from a KJV-Only advocate to some earlier posts.

As is usual, the commenter does not interact with anything I say about this issue, but merely affirms the need for a solid foundation, provided in the KJV. In this case, the commenter tells me that the KJV has never been proven wrong. I can hear his question: How can you be so perverse as to fail to give homage to the Bible. To the KJV-Only advocate, Psalm 19:7 does not read “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” but instead reads “The King James Version is perfect, converting the soul.” This particular commenter didn’t ask me why I hate the KJV, but that usually comes somewhere in the discussion.

Well, the answer is that I do not, in fact, hate the KJV. The title is tongue in cheek, though I wouldn’t be surprised to have it used as evidence of my hate. I also do not hate the Douai-Rheims version, the Geneva Bible, Wycliffe’s translation, or the Latin Vulgate. I just don’t recommend that you use any of those as your primary study Bible nor do I recommend you use them for scripture readings. Some exceptions can be allowed for those who are experts in the appropriate language. I consult all of those except Wycliffe on a fairly regular basis.

The KJV is simply one translation of the Bible. It is special because of the time, place, and circumstances of its translation. It is, perhaps, the single most important accomplishment of English Bible translation, though that would be debatable. Its translators worked out some quite good translation principles, and they worked with substantial literary skill. To one who has any feel for the language of that period it is truly a work of beauty. (I must, however, give a nod to the considerable subjective element in beauty. I find it beautiful.)

Having said that, it is also an historical artifact. It is no longer easily understood by modern audiences. Our knowledge of the Biblical languages has advanced. We have many new manuscripts available, and we also have more advanced tools with which to study them. As a choice to use as a study Bible today, or for Bible readings in church, or as a reading Bible, it is not good for the majority of readers. I would make an exception for that small group of people who have actually mastered that language.

The KJV-Only movement is thankfully getting smaller. It has the effect of turning people away from the Bible rather than toward it. It is largely a means of maintaining personal authority for pastors and teachers who have placed their dependence on a particular English version rather than either going to the original languages, or using multiple translations to help get perspective.

Again, I must make clear that I do not refer in the previous paragraph to people who prefer the KJV while respecting other translations, or to pastors who use the KJV in teaching a congregation where that was the preference. I question the wisdom of such a thing, but I do not call it dangerous. What I call dangerous is the teaching that the KJV is the one, true word of God.

I used to write about this frequently, but I don’t any more, fundamentally because I’ve run out of things to say, and I haven’t seen a new or interesting KJV-Only argument to which I can respond in some years. They just repeat the same thing over and over. I’m more interested now in getting people to move to newer versions that are suitable for outreach, such as the CEV, TNIV, or NCV amongst others.

But having gotten some comments I just had to blow off a bit of steam on the topic. I now return you to your regular programming.

Learning a Little Greek

Learning a Little Greek

One of the major problems with seminary study of Biblical languages is that it is often short term and shallow. The seminarian, required to take a certain number of hours or just get by a particular test focuses all his efforts to getting past the hurdle. Precious few such students ever gain a real facility with the language. Some will have an exaggerated view of their own skills based on that study, but most will abandon what they have learned. Others will pop Greek and Hebrew words on their congregations, normally gleaned from commentaries and various articles of, often of questionable validity.

In general, when you hear a pastor say “what the Greek really says,” prepare to be deceived. Not intentionally–the preacher really believes he knows, but actually he is probably missing the point. I have heard sermons in which the Greek word was completely wrong because the preacher simply provided the wrong Greek word. At other times, the error was one of context, when the preacher used a definition for a Greek word that was valid in some context, but not in the particular context in question. In one case, I heard a speaker recite the “real Greek” of a verse in four words. The only problem was that the verse was not, as he claimed, four words long in Greek, and not one of the four Greek words he used were actually in the verse he cited. I could just barely tell I was looking at the right verse based on the interpretation.

I have a book in my library from the infamous Dr. Floyd Jones of KJV-Only fame. In the front of the book, on a page titled “TO THE READER – THE SOUNDING OF AN ALARM,” he cites a number of Hebrew words from Isaiah 14:12, in which he is giving the alarm regarding mistranslation. He should, however, be giving the alarm about his disastrous ignorance of Hebrew. I count no less than 8 errors in Hebrew in the course of a single paragraph. Now the KJV-Only position is so discredited that one might wonder why I bother to mention it. The reason is that most of the errors noted in that paragraph appear to result from the use of an interlinear in order to find the Hebrew form that is cited. Transliterations don’t match the Hebrew, though the translations match in the way an interlinear would.

In both KJV-Only debates and discussion with lay “experts,” I have also encountered work done from Strong’s concordance. While it is more difficult to work with Strong’s than with an interlinear, it is even easier to be in error. Strong’s definitions are often out of date, and in fact they are generally not definitions at all but rather lists of glosses. I once was presented with a possible translation of a Hebrew text in which not a single word was translated correctly. On careful examination, however, every single word was translated by some word from Strong’s, and what was more, the resulting sentence was comprehensible in English though a bit stilted. It simply had no relationship to the meaning of the source text in Hebrew.

We’ve probably heard that “to err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer.” Well, enter Logos Bible software, now with reverse interlinears (HT: Metacatholic–I recommend you read his entire post). Now don’t get me wrong. I own Logos with all the Biblical languages extensions I can get my hands on. But many wonderful tools have potentially bad uses.

When a student uses tools that allow him to look up words more quickly so as to cover more ground in reading that’s a good thing. One way to actually gain facility in a foreign language is to work with it. Many students plow through one or two verses at a time and never go beyond that. They become specialists in individual leaves on individual trees, but they have no sense of how Greek or Hebrew reads or feels. Tools such as reader’s lexicons–works that give glosses by verses–can be very useful for rapid reading. But they don’t teach you Greek. Neither do interlinears, and neither do reverse interlinears. (Everything I say here about Greek is equally applicable to Hebrew.

I have to discipline myself to spend time reading without the tools to prevent dependence. Especially in reading the Septuagint, I like to go into Logos so that I can quickly look up some of the words that I don’t know from my New Testament reading. But to really dig in and learn the material, I need to read without those tools from time to time. Now I have taken an different approach from the normal seminarian (whoever that may be!). I started in Biblical languages as an undergraduate. I had several years of Greek before I got to Seminary. I had three years of Hebrew. I actually read the passages I use when I prepare sermons first from the original languages. I use all the Logos tools constantly–except for anything resembling an interlinear. That is something I won’t do to myself.

The writer of the post on the Logos blog bemoans the passing of original languages requirements in seminaries. But I would suggest that it will not be an improvement if people who are not competent with Biblical languages start substituting their judgment for that of the trained translation committees and reviewers that produce our modern English versions.

For more on this topic see my series Word Study Dangers and my post on my Threads blog What the Greek Really Says.