Thinking Out Loud

July 15, 2017

Problems with the King James Only Position

Out of the abundance of the heart, the vanity plate speaks. At least we know what matters most to this car owner.

  1. The problem with the original edition contradiction — In both the translator’s preface to the 1611 King James, and in the alternative renderings the translators inserted liberally throughout, there is allusion to the quotation from Augustine which says, in essence, “There is much to be gained from a variety of translations.” The translators themselves did not have consensus on some passages, and recognized that other translators would follow their work.
  2. The problem of “paraphrase” — We often hear the term “paraphrase” used today in reference to The Message bible, but from a linguistic viewpoint there is no such word, all renderings of text for different audiences constitutes translation. (Furthermore, Peterson worked from original languages.) The Message was designed for a specific audience (American) and a specific time (late 20th Century) just as the KJV was designed for a specific audience (British) and a specific time (early 17th century) and nothing makes this more clear than the insertion of “God forbid!” in Romans 6:1.  As a Jew, Paul would never insert God’s name here. (Nor would he be likely to do this as a Christian.) The British colloquialism is unique to the KJV, no other translation follows it at this point. God’s name should not be found in that verse if the translation is accurate. They took great liberties — let’s say they paraphrased — that verse, and this is just one of hundreds of similar issues.
  3. The problem of soteriology — Strong proponents of the KJV-only position totally contravene Revelation 22, and actually add the KJV as a requirement for salvation, inasmuch as a person must be saved through the KJV.  In their view, you cannot come to Christ through any other translation; you must be saved through the King James Bible. So much for the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who met Jesus post-resurrection. Having your “eyes opened” is insufficient.
  4. The problem of foreign missions — Anyone who has spent anytime on the mission field; any American who has shared the gospel with their Latino friends; any Canadian who has witness to their French-speaking Quebec neighbors knows the total absurdity of the KJV-only position in a world context. Still, some extreme groups actually attempt to teach non-Anglophones enough Elizabethan English so that they can read the English Bible and thereby meet Christ.
  5. The problem of history — If the King James is the only acceptable version of the Bible, then what did people do before 1611 to obtain salvation? You’d be surprised at the way some KJV-only advocates work around this. Just as Old Testament people were saved in anticipation of Christ’s perfect sacrifice; so also were people saved through the coming of this one translation. Or something like that. You would think that the Bible was part of the Holy Trinity. Or quadrinity. The Catholics add Mary, why shouldn’t the King James crowd add the Bible? (See item 3.)
  6. The problem of scholarship — Here I refer not to the leading Protestant and Evangelical academics — none of whom give this subject more than a passing thought — but the so-called ‘scholarship’ of the KJV-only advocates themselves. Basically, the problem is that their ‘arguments’ are a house of cards stacked with flawed logic and false premises. Owing more to the spirit of ‘conspiracy theories’ than to anything more solid, their rhetoric is mostly attacks on other translations, particularly the NIV, a translation despised for its popularity and hence a very visible target.  One conspiracy involves the removing of the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” — taken out in cases where it was a scribal ‘run on’ — but if that was the NIV’s intent, it actually missed the opportunity nearly two-thirds of the time. Despite this lack of scholarship, naive followers eat up their every words because people would rather believe the conspiracy than trust the sovereignty of God to sort out any translation issues.
  7. The problem of a ‘house divided‘ — Like the Creation Science community, the KJV-only crowd is divided; but it’s not a simple “old earth versus young earth” type of disagreement. Simply put, some 1789 KJVs are better than other 1789 KJVs. There are nuances of spelling that reflect the textual decisions of different publishers and just because you own a King James Version you may not have the right one. Dig deep enough and you find unsettling division.
  8. The problem of the ostrich mentality — If you read any KJV-only blogs or websites at source, you actually don’t see the phrase, King James Version. With blinders firmly in place, they argue that there is only one Bible and it is the King James Bible. (So what are all those editions in Barnes and Noble and Family Christian? Answer: They are blasphemous.) This is much like saying that New Zealand doesn’t really exist, or that September 11th never happened. If someone’s worldview is that narrow, it doesn’t bode well to trust their opinions on anything else; you’re only going to get denial and revisionism.
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December 3, 2015

The Christmas Story: Where Did Luke Get the Lyrics to Mary’s Song?

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:42 am

MagnificatHow does a young girl — some commentaries suggest maybe 14 years old — come out with such a deep, theological response to the angel’s announcement that she will birth the Messiah all of Israel has waited for?

Mary’s burst of praise contains over a dozen references to Old Testament (I prefer “First Testament”) scriptures, which she no doubt learned as part of the religious education all Jewish children received, right?

But the next question would be, Where did Luke get the text of her song? In a church where I was the Sunday morning guest speaker, we considered four possibilities; you might hear all of these from different types of people at this time of year:

  1. Luke didn’t get it from her. It’s revisionism. The words are being ascribed to her because the poetry works into a nice narrative; four poems or psalms actually; being attributed to four different people. Makes a nice Christmas play, but it never happened; at least not like that.
  2. She didn’t use those words at the time, but later when Luke interviewed her. She recalled being filled with awe and wonder at the moment, and gives him a text years down the road that only comes with maturity and further understanding of the prophetic texts. A reflective version of actual events that happened differently.
  3. Luke did get it from her and it really was the text of her song at the time. She essentially “taught herself” the text and melody in those critical, expectant months — yes, there was a tune to this song — and having memorized it, repeated it over and over throughout her life.
  4. The song is real, the lyrics are accurate, and it’s all Mary’s work, but Luke didn’t need to interview her to get it, because many of the women of the time had been taught “Mary’s Song;” originally from Mary herself, but some from others who knew the lyrics and melody. (However, its original CCLI number was discontinued; I think it was song number 4.)

I like options three and four. Modern scholarship would try to deconstruct the text, but instead, we should look at ways we can make the text work. Luke, the doctor and historian, having access to the text of a young peasant girl’s immediate reaction to an angelic visitation is far from impossible to imagine. And his gospel begins with a pledge of accuracy. 

The problem with options one and two is that there are many people simply looking for a loophole. They are predisposed to believe that the Bible is more fiction than fact, and if you can’t trust some of it, you can’t trust any of it. If you can’t trust it, you don’t have to believe it, or follow its teachings, or recognize its version of God.

For those people, I hope this Christmas they receive the gift of faith.

January 10, 2013

The Ooops! Bible

Ever tried to find a pen and piece of scrap paper and then gave up and simply typed a personal message into the middle of an online project you were working on? That’s not a good idea if the project was Bible translation and you forgot to remove the message. The blog Parchment and Pen fills us in:

Proverbs 2:16 reads “To deliver you from the adulteress, from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words.” In the first printing of the New English Translation, there is a footnote at the end of this verse with a 1-800 number. The translator was writing the notes for this verse on his computer when he got a call and, not finding a pen, typed the call-back number in these notes. He forgot to delete them.

Ooops! (My spell checker prefers only two ohs, but to me it was a fairly big ooops.)

Click the link above for eight more, some of which you may know already. Of course this list pales in comparison to the mistakes people have made while reading the Bible aloud. Know any good stories?

On the other hand, Google the topic of “errors in Bibles” and things get a little less humorous. A cursory reading of an article like this one looks interesting, but very quickly the author uses his academic standing to deny the virgin birth.

Then I stumbled on this article, which seems to prefer the idea that Jesus was trying to maintain an existing form of Judiasm over the idea that he came to usher in something new.

Continue down that path and you end up at all the articles dealing with mis-translation, contradictions and the inerrancy debate. But some of the articles are a study in contradiction themselves, like this one.

For many Jews and Christians, religion dictates that the words of the Bible in the original Hebrew are divine, unaltered and unalterable.

For Orthodox Jews, the accuracy is considered so inviolable that if a synagogue’s Torah scroll is found to have a minute error in a single letter, the entire scroll is unusable.

But then it says,

But the ongoing work of the academic detectives of the Bible Project, as their undertaking is known, shows that this text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine.

Some people thrive on reading articles of this nature, and some people are already starting to glaze over. And each of us varies in our degree to which we consider the text sacrosanct. So we’d sooner allow a 1-800 number, or a grocery list to creep into the text than for anyone to suggest that the core text has been or should be altered, or that it means anything other than what we’ve always understood.

Unless of course, we’re looking for an opt-out, a free pass, which would allow us to do our own thing.

July 31, 2012

Refuting the King James Only Position

  1. The argument from the text itself — In both the translator’s preface to the 1611 King James, and in the alternative renderings the translators inserted liberally throughout, there is allusion to the quotation from Augustine which says, in essence, “There is much to be gained from a variety of translations.” The translators themselves did not have consensus on some passages, and recognized that other translators would follow their work.
  2. The argument from “paraphrase” — We often hear the term “paraphrase” used today in reference to The Message bible, but from a linguistic viewpoint there is no such word, all renderings of text for different audiences constitutes translation. (Furthermore, Peterson worked from original languages.) The Message was designed for a specific audience (American) and a specific time (late 20th Century) just as the KJV was designed for a specific audience (British) and a specific time (early 17th century) and nothing makes this more clear than the insertion of “God forbid!” in Romans 6:1.  As a Jew, Paul would never insert God’s name here. (Nor would he be likely to do this as a Christian.) The British colloquialism is unique to the KJV, no other translation follows it at this point. God’s name should not be found in that verse if the translation is accurate. They took great liberties — let’s say they paraphrased — that verse, and this is just one of hundreds of similar issues.
  3. The argument from soteriology — Strong proponents of the KJV-only position totally contravene Revelation 22, and actually add the KJV as a requirement for salvation, inasmuch as a person must be saved through the KJV.  In their view, you cannot come to Christ through any other translation; you must be saved through the King James Bible. So much for the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who met Jesus post-resurrection. Having your “eyes opened” is insufficient.
  4. The argument from foreign missions — Anyone who has spent anytime on the mission field; any American who has shared the gospel with their Latino friends; any Canadian who has witness to their French-speaking Quebec neighbors knows the total absurdity of the KJV-only position in a world context. Still, some extreme groups actually attempt to teach non-Anglophones enough Elizabethan English so that they can read the English Bible and thereby meet Christ.
  5. The argument from history — If the King James is the only acceptable version of the Bible, then what did people do before 1611 to obtain salvation? You’d be surprised at the way some KJV-only advocates work around this. Just as Old Testament people were saved in anticipation of Christ’s perfect sacrifice; so also were people saved through the coming of this one translation. Or something like that. You would think that the Bible was part of the Holy Trinity. Or quadrinity. The Catholics add Mary, why shouldn’t the King James crowd add the Bible? (See item 3.)
  6. The argument from scholarship — Here I refer not to the leading Protestant and Evangelical academics — none of whom give this subject more than a passing thought — but the so-called ‘scholarship’ of the KJV-only advocates themselves. Basically, the problem is that their ‘arguments’ are a house of cards stacked with flawed logic and false premises. Owing more to the spirit of ‘conspiracy theories’ than to anything more solid, their rhetoric is mostly attacks on other translations, particularly the NIV, a translation despised for its popularity and hence a very visible target.  One conspiracy involves the removing of the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” — taken out in cases where it was a scribal ‘run on’ — but if that was the NIV’s intent, it actually missed the opportunity nearly two-thirds of the time. Despite this lack of scholarship, naive followers eat up their every words because people would rather believe the conspiracy than trust the sovereignty of God to sort out any translation issues.
  7. The argument from a ‘house divided‘ — Like the Creation Science community, the KJV-only crowd is divided; but it’s not a simple “old earth versus young earth” type of disagreement. Simply put, some 1789 KJVs are better than other 1789 KJVs. There are nuances of spelling that reflect the textual decisions of different publishers and just because you own a King James Version you may not have the right one. Dig deep enough and you find unsettling division.
  8. The argument from the ostrich mentality — If you read any KJV-only blogs or websites at source, you actually don’t see the phrase, King James Version. With blinders firmly in place, they argue that there is only one Bible and it is the King James Bible. (So what are all those editions in Barnes and Noble and Family Christian? Answer: They are blasphemous.) This is much like saying that New Zealand doesn’t really exist, or that September 11th never happened. If someone’s worldview is that narrow, it doesn’t bode well to trust their opinions on anything else; you’re only going to get denial and revisionism.

Paul Wilkinson

January 3, 2012

Why I Wouldn’t Quit The Episcopal Church Over Gay Marriage

In the past several years, there has been much division in the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues of ordination of gay clergy and marriage of gay couples. 

I can honestly say that if were a member of such a church, I don’t honestly believe that either of these two issues would surface as a deal-breaker for me, for one simple reason:

I would have been gone long before that.

For me, the “gender issues” and “sexual orientation issues” are really secondary.  They are symptoms, but there is a deeper cause, and that cause is the rejection of the ultimate authority of scripture.  And that in turn stems from a stronger desire to nitpick over Biblical text and engage in the academic sophistication of  “higher criticism” than a desire to respond to God’s offer of genuine relationship and thereby to understand the ways of the Lord.

At least with a title like "Jesus Never Existed" by Kenneth Humphreys, you know where you stand. With other authors, the theological implications can be more insidious.

So a church which reveres Bishop Shelby Spong — or his sometime partner in crime, Marcus Borg — is of much deeper concern to me than a church which is wrestling with the gay issue, which I believe that all churches are wrestling with to different degrees.

Here’s a sample of Spong’s latest proclamation on the CNNBelief page:

…Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all…

This is Spong’s opinion, and he is entitled to it, and should count himself blessed to live in a country where people can write this sort of drivel and not be burned at the stake as a heretic.  Living elsewhere, or in other times, might not have proved as beneficial.

Mark’s gospel is not based on eyewitness testimony?  That should come as a surprise to those who have looked closely at Mark 14:51-52 and concluded that this sentence is completely superfluous — and even unnecessarily comic — unless Mark’s clear intent is to position himself directly in the middle of the story.

Spong’s obsession with undermining the Biblical text — a rather odd preoccupation for a clergyman, don’t you think? — also makes a liar out of Luke where he attests in Luke 1: 3-4 to the veracity of the Christ story as it has been told to his correspondent Theophilis.

And the concept of the miracles of Jesus being “attached” to the story in the eighth century is simply baffling.  There were many rabbis, many itinerant teachers, and we only have the names of a handful around the time of the gospels.  True, Jesus taught in ways that no one had before; his following went from a dozen young men to crowds in the thousands; but absent the supernatural miracles, there might be no particular reason why he would be remembered.  In fact, scholars tell us that the Pharisees — perhaps Spong denies they existed as well — were looking for very particular and unique miracles as signs of the Messiah:

  1. The casting out of a spirit from someone who was mute.  The customary approach was that the spirits would first name themselves before being cast out.
  2. The healing of an individual who was born blind. 
  3. The healing of leprosy.
  4. The raising from the dead someone who had been dead more than three days.  (Other such resurrections were to be discounted because of a belief that the spirit ‘lingered’ around the body for three days afterward.)

The Pharisees had an interest in knowing if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that goes beyond the adversarial relationship we normally associate them with.  These miracles proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus met all their criteria, though they remained blinded to the possibility of crossing the line of faith themselves. 

Suddenly, in the late 20th Century, the Jesus Seminar experts decide that every phrase and sentence in the gospels is suddenly open to debate.  Spong takes the ball and runs with it, and expresses his twelve main thesis as outlined below; I’ve highlighted certain words from the Wikipedia article:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Actually, as I said at the outset, the twelfth item is really the least of my concerns with Spong in particular or Anglicans in general.  But the other eleven points represent a complete undermining of the Christian message as the early Church fathers understood it.

So what do we do with all this?

Marcus Borg and Sheldon Spong occupy an inexplicable amount of space in the “religion” section of general bookstores.  Pastors, priests and rectors of liberal denominations encourage the reading their books. For many such parishioners, authors of this ilk represent the only “Christian” books they will purchase in a given year.

I don’t.  Despite a sweetheart relationship with publisher HarperCollins, I have never ordered a book by either author for a customer, in fact, I have been rather outspoken that I do not wish to make it easy or convenient for someone to access their materials.

While I have strong feelings about the gay clergy and gay marriage issues that are found elsewhere on this blog, for me, the major issue is the authority of the Bible. Sola scriptura is not a hardline absolute for me, but as a guideline to understanding the major doctrines and ethics that form Christianity, it is reliable in 99% of all test cases and issues that arise.

The buck has to stop somewhere and for me it stops with the canon of scripture, not with a radical theologian from North Carolina who makes a living undermining the history and centuries-old practices of the faith that today, ironically, pays his salary.

May 15, 2011

Bart Ehrman Steps Up His Assault on Scripture

Move over Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong.  Bible “scholar” Bart Ehrman has upped the ante with his new release, a book with the brazen title, Forged, published by HarperCollins, ironically the parent company of Zondervan, publisher of the NIV Bible.  From Dan Brown to the Jesus Seminar, it seems like hardly a month goes by without another volley being fired on the Bible, even as the KJV anniversary attests to the book’s endurance.   Ben Witherington III responds:

…This book should not be confused with some of Bart’s previous efforts, in particular Misquoting Jesus, as Bart is not arguing in this book merely that [there] are errors or mistakes in the Bible.   No, in this book he takes the next step in arguing that there is deliberate fraud going on in the canon, deceitful practices undertaken to convince or bamboozle some audience into believing something, on the basis of the authority of some apostle or original disciple, who in fact did not write the book in question.      In other words,  Bart is taking on not merely the conservative view that the NT is written by those authors to whom it is attributed but also the widespread notion that pseudonymity was a regular and widely recognized literary practice in antiquity, and that no one was deceived, nor was there an intent to deceive by such a practice.   This book is likely to addle scholars and lay people all across the spectrum of belief, including quite liberal ones who have for a long time argued that pseudonymity was an accepted practice in antiquity.   To judge from the early reviews … those who are looking for an excuse to call the early Christians liars and deceivers are delighted with this book.

Continue reading Ben Witherton’s critique here,  as well as this news item on Forged at CNN’s Belief Blog.

February 14, 2011

Fantasy Bible Translation Critique

In some ways, this picks up where we left off yesterday…

You’ve been away overseas for several months.  When you return home your closest friend is talking about a hot new Bible translation which was published while you were absent.  You’re not familiar with it, nor its publisher.

Your friend hands it to you saying, “Check out a favorite verse or section and see what you think.”

So where do you turn?  Name up to three verses or passages or chapters — from either the first testament or the second testament —  that you would want to examine first:

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

Place your answer in the comments section. And please play along; unwarranted comments will be deleted.  Everyone is invited, from recent Bible readers to PhDs in Biblical Studies.

December 7, 2008

Mary’s Song – The Magnificat

So Mary’s burst of praise contains over a dozen references to Old Testament (I prefer “first testament”) scriptures, which she no doubt learned as part of the religious education all Jewish children received, right?

But the next question would be, Where did Luke get the text of her song?   In my sermon this morning, I considered four possibilities:

  1. Luke didn’t get it from her.  It’s revisionism.   The words are being ascribed to her because the poetry works into a nice narrative; four poems or psalms actually; being attributed to four different people.   Makes a nice Christmas play, but it never happened; at least not like that.
  2. She didn’t use those words at the time.  Luke interviewed her.   She recalled being filled with awe and wonder at the moment, and gives him a text years down the road that only comes with maturity and further understanding of the prophetic texts.  A revisionist version of actual events that happened differently.
  3. Luke did get it from her and that really was the text of her song at the time.   She essentially “taught herself” the text and melody — yes, there was a tune to this song — and having memorized it, repeated it over and over throughout her life.
  4. The song is real, the lyrics are accurate, and it’s all Mary’s work, but Luke didn’t need to interview her to get it, because many of the women of the time had been taught “Mary’s Song;” originally from Mary herself, but some from others who knew the lyrics and melody.   (However, its original CCLI number was discontinued; I think it was song number 4.)

I like options three and four.   Modern scholarship would try to deconstruct the text, but instead, we should look at ways we can make the text work.   Luke, the doctor and historian,  having access to the text of a young peasant girl’s immediate reaction to an angelic visitation is far from impossible to imagine. And his gospel begins with a pledge of accuracy.

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