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Revisiting Acts 17:26

Revisiting Acts 17:26

Yesterday I blogged about the HCSB of Acts 17:26, and in particular the portion that reads something like “made of one ______”. The KJV reads “blood” which is one of the textual variants, while the HCSB says “man” which apparently does not occur in any of the ancient manuscripts.

Since I read these lectionary texts daily for two weeks, today I encountered it in a different version, this time the TNIV, surely not one that could be accused of supporting anything like “male representation”, and it also read “man” in this case.

I’m not at home right now, so just looking at the immediately available Bible versions, I see the following:

  • REB reads “from one stock”
  • NRSV reads “from one ancestor”
  • CEV reads “from one person”
  • ESV reads “from one man”
  • TEV reads “from one human being”
  • God’s Word (GW) reads “from one man”
  • ISV reads “from one man”

I think that’s enough to see that most of the versions break where I would expect, with the exception of the TNIV. I wonder what their justification is here. It seems to me that since a number of ancient scribes appear to have provided options, but none thought of “man” here, it is unlikely that ancient readers would have understood this to refer specifically to the one man as human ancestor.

I’d be interested in comments on the reasoning behind the use of “man” in this verse.

Why I Hate the KJV

Why I Hate the KJV

Well, confession is good for the soul. It’s time I own up to all that deep seated, seething hatred for the KJV.

And thus, my first effort on YouTube, crossed with video blogging:

See! That was easy!

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.

Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

This passage in the KJV reads:

And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. [italics in original]

Note that the italicized “men” is an indication from the KJV translators that this was an addition of a word not reflected in the Greek. But the adjective here, “all (pasin)” is masculine in form (it could be neuter, but in context doubtless is not), and thus is translated “men” by the KJV.

As a side note, the use of italics to indicate added words is questionable, because since there are no words in the English text that are also in the Greek text, it is difficult to draw the line. What exactly is reflected in the Greek text, and what is added by the translators? Note the second word “man,” which is not italicized in my edition of the KJV. (Not all KJV editions are identical.) It is reflected in the Greek text just as little, or just as much, as is the first “men,” but it is not italicized. It is probably impossible for someone to be perfectly consistent on this point.

Now note a couple of modern versions that normally try to reflect the masculine in their translations, at least where those represent words like “adelfoi (brothers)” or “anthropos (human being).”

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (ESV)

and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (NKJV)

I haven’t searched exhaustively, but I haven’t found any of the translations that avoid gender neutral language that reflect the masculine form here. And of course they should not. They should refer to its referent by the appropriate English form for referring to a referent that doubtlessly included both men and women. One is conveniently available in this case, “all” which is not specified as to gender in English. So we don’t hear about “male representation” in this case.

But I believe a similar argument could be made for dozens of cases at least of occurrences of “anthropos” or “adelfoi” in the Greek text where those terms refer to groups of mixed gender.

In general, this whole debate is more about modern culture and language usage, I suspect, than it is about reflecting the actual meaning of the Biblical writers.

Apes, Lies, and Chick Tracts

Apes, Lies, and Chick Tracts

There’s a propaganda piece that has been showing up in Florida, possibly as part of the fight against evolution in new proposed educational standards. It comes from a site with which I’m fairly well acquainted–Chick Publications. One sickening piece of propaganda from that organization is titled Apes, Lies, and Ms. Henn.

It is obvious that the intention of the publishers is that we see evolution, and particularly the idea that, as the tract says, people “come from monkeys,” but the real lie is in the tract itself. And as we will see, this is not the only such publication produced by this same organization.

Dirty politicians could learn lessons from this material, though they would probably endanger their own careers if they used too many of these techniques. There’s a line beyond which politicians are seen as negative, and I’m afraid these would qualify.

Look at these elements:

We start with a substitute teacher. Did you notice that “Mrs. Tucker is replaced by “Ms. Henn.” In this way one sweeps various elements of modern life, such as women’s liberation, along with the teaching. Of course, Ms. Henn looks like everyone’s notion of a witch–demonic even–which is clearly not accidental. We’re supposed to see her as the embodiment of evil.

There is no actual teaching of evolutionary theory portrayed, and all questioning is shut down. This is, of course, what a control freak like Ms. Henn would want to do, and is, of course connected to evolution. The tie-in is quite intentional, of course. Propaganda against the theory of evolution frequently suggests not merely that there is insufficient evidence, but rather that there is no evidence. In their view, the only reason people accept the theory of evolution is that they are desperate to find a way to avoid God. Scientists like Dr. Kenneth Miller or Dr. Francis Collins don’t fit into their universe. A Bible teacher who accepts the theory of evolution, such as myself, would certainly be beyond their grasp.

There’s the standard misuse of the word “prove/proof” when Ms. Henn claims that “scientists have proven it.” She shouts this, of course. Now there’s little point in vetting this whole propaganda piece for facts–there really are none there. It’s not intended to convince anybody of such mundane things as facts; rather, its purpose is to smear those who teach evolution at the same time as one tries to scare people with the fires of hell.

Yes, as you continue to read, this gets worse. As a Christian Bible teacher, I am appalled to see this go forward into what apparently is intended as a gospel message. Lie first, then threaten, then pretend to be preaching good news. Nobody with the slightest knowledge of the facts will actually be impacted by this kind of thing, except, perhaps, for some nausea. But people who are uncertain of what they believe will be threatened by the fires of hell, because, you see, people who believe in evolution are definitely going to hell. In fact, Susy informs her little classmate that “most people are going to hell.” You have to close your eyes and your mind, or you’re headed for the hot place.

Frankly, I must tell you that the first part of this was standard. I grew up with jokes and smears about “evolutionists” who ignore God, ignore all facts and evidence, because they are just so determined to believe evolution. As I studied actual data, I found that this picture was completely false, so blatantly false that I have a hard time believing that people teach it honestly.
But to tack onto that a supposed teaching of the Christian gospel message made it even worse. The intent is to impact young and impressionable minds with the idea that the vast majority of scientists, and even most Christians are part of an evil conspiracy, are lying to themselves and everyone else, and are therefore going to hell. Which is, of course, precisely what these people believe. It almost makes me wish I took hell a bit more literally myself. There would surely be a special level of hell for liars of this caliber.

But let’s go forward. The folks at Chick are not satisfied merely to tell us that all those who accept the theory of evolution are going to hell. They’re careful to make sure that folks read just the right Bible. Notice at the end that you are advised to “read your Bible (KJV) every day.” They have a number of pages filled with misinformation in support of their position on the KJV. In fact, if you read this, you might get the idea that all those who use any other Bible version are preaching “another gospel.” Probably they’re all headed straight for hell too. (For more information on Bible versions, see the tract What’s in a Version? and my Bible Version Selection Tool.)

Then we can try this tract in which a Catholic dies and finds out he’s in hell, because he wasn’t a real Christian, at least as defined by the folks at Chick publications. He’s part of “most people” who go to hell. Unfortunately for him, he believe his priest, and you know that won’t do. In fact, he is even depicted tearing up a Chick Tract. (One could almost suspect that’s the unpardonable sin!)

We find out here that the American Bible Society is also corrupted because they produce the CEV, which, in the twisted logic that applies in the very special world of Chick Tracts, turns out to be much more favorable to the Catholic Church. So an organization of dedicated people who have spread the Bible far and wide are, in fact, not serving God at all, but that other guy.

There are very few Christian ministries that I will attack outright as I have done here. I try simply to go for statements and not the group as a whole. Doubtless, even at Chick publications, there are people who sincerely believe they are defending the faith. But this type of publication is not a blessing to the church, it is not the right way to reach people for Jesus, and it is not sound doctrine. It needs to be exposed as precisely what it is.

I do not permit the use of Chick tracts, even the less offensive ones, at any ministry event in which I am involved, and that will continue to be my policy. There is simply too much danger that someone will go further, and be turned aside in their spiritual journey by hate-filled propaganda. That would be a tragedy.

Bringing Textual Variant Statistics Under Control

Bringing Textual Variant Statistics Under Control

Dan Wallace has started a series (actually he did so last week), on textual variants in the New Testament. His first article The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation deals with the definition of a textual variant and then with an estimate of the total number of textual variants in the New Testament text. The second deals with the nature of these variants.

Information about textual variants is abused constantly in discussions both within and about Christianity. Dr. Wallace is setting about providing a basis for correcting some of these abuses. The number of variants is cited raw as evidence that one cannot trust the Bible. The number of manuscripts is cited as evidence of the historical reliability of the New Testament. Yet both of these uses miss the mark. The first fails to take into account the nature of the variants, which Dr. Wallace begins to do in his second article. (I will link to the next part when it appears). The second, is based on the false premise that one can demonstrate the veracity of a document based on the number of times it is copied.

At the same time, the number of manuscripts and the number of variants can be used to demonstrate the likelihood that we do, in fact, have something close to the original text of the New Testament. Wallace contends that meaningful, viable variants constitute less than 1% of the total variants, and he may be generous in that estimate. The vast majority of the New Testament text is not even disputed.

Note, of course, that neither the number of variants, nor the number of manuscripts, actually impacts the historicity of the autograph. These statistics form the basis for our best measure of how accurate our current copies are, information that we need in studying the now absent autographs.

I use the fact that there are some substantial variants in my book When People Speak for God in discussing inerrancy. Modern proponents of inerrancy assert inerrancy of the autographs, and believe that inerrancy is a necessary characteristic if one is to assert any authority for scripture. I challenge this on the basis that we do not have the autographs, yet many of us do, in fact, accept the authority of the scripture as we have it.

This relates to Wallace’s third category, which he describes thus:

The third category are those variants that can affect the meaning in a significant way but have a very poor pedigree. A classic example is 1 John 5.7 in the King James Bible (“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one”). This reading is not found in any manuscripts prior to the 12th century, and even then it is found as a marginal reading written by a scribe several centuries later than the original scribe wrote. . . .

The paragraph continues with the sparse representation of this reading. Certainly no modern textual critic would be likely to argue that 1 John 5:7-8 as read in the KJV is an original reading. Yet many people have used Bibles that contain that disputed passage, and seen them as authoritative. In other words, inerrancy is not needed for authority, and in fact, very, very few people have had an inerrant Bible, even if inerrancy of the autographs is essential.

I believe the Bible is adequately preserved for it’s intended purpose, and that we do not need to possess an inerrant Bible for that purpose.

Having digressed into my side interest, the value of Dr. Wallace’s work is that he is so thorough in his basic scholarship that you can often evaluate opponents’ work by reading his summary of their view. Thus while I will disagree with some conclusions, the basic work is exceptional. He is doing a great service in going over this basic information. Many church members are quite confused on the subject of textual criticism, and what it means or does not mean, for the reliability of the Bibles they hold in their hands.