It is not our purpose to say that Christian scholarship is not possible, but to establish on what basis it can take place. An a priori commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible is seen as academic harakiri by most evangelical biblical scholars. What matters to most of them is peer approval and credibility before the larger intellectual world.
However tempting it is, however much giving way flatters our academic aspirations - let them all die before we compromise the Word of God.
Perhaps around a dozen or so Christian colleges, universities, or seminaries in the USA and still fewer here in the UK maintain biblical inerrancy. The term 'fundamentalist' has been degenerated to a term of abuse, and 'evangelical' is already showing signs of disappearing down the same hole. All scholarship of whatever kind, if it is to be scholarship according to the truth, must start by saying that the Bible is the very written Word of God, authoritative, inerrant, sufficient. If as Christian believers we are to maintain the orthodox view of Scripture as confessed in the Church up until the last 200 years or so, it will involve a break with ideas current in modern evangelical circles.
The authority of Scripture rests on the fact of its divine origin.
If the Bible is not a God-given book, and if God has not perfectly preserved every word for us today in a language we can understand, we have no authoritative word.
Since the beginning of time, God's Word came "by the mouth of his holy prophets" (Luke 1:70). First, God spoke in them, then He spoke by them to us. In the days of the apostles the mode was the same. The doctrines, histories, including the account of the beginning of time, the prophecies, all these things did not originate from within the minds of Scripture writers. They were not the product of their reason, they were not drawn from their memories, nor were they culled from a tradition passed on through generations, but all came directly from God and were received passively into their minds. What they received from God within, they gave out without adding or subtracting the smallest part.
The way in which the Word of God reaches us shows us why we too cannot add to it anything that is purely the product of our own minds. We need a Word that is pure, free of mixture and anything fallible. We cannot rummage about among the manuscripts making decisions about them based upon our own speculations as to what we think God ought to have said! God's Word itself must be our sole authority, our reason must work in submission to it, according to those reasons God has made known to us and "hath purposed in himself". Would we speak with true authority, it will be only to the degree that we reflect the mind of God as revealed in Scripture.
The Bible is not to be handled just like any other ancient writing.
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private inter-pretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:20-21
Having received God's revelation in themselves, it was not left then to the writers to give it out as they best thought fit. They were so borne along, activated, by the Holy Spirit to write down nothing but that which was given to them. Though the process involved the instrumentality of their own mind and understanding, the words chosen were given directly to them. The words in which the truths they had received were now couched were words from God Himself. In the Bible, God has given us the counsel of His own will recorded in His own words through many different writers. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. It exercises absolute authority over all God's creatures, over those who accept it and over those who reject it. It excludes no one and no thing. We can do no other than submit to it. It is not just the teaching, the doctrine, or the 'meaning', that is given by inspiration of God, but every written word, the doctrine as written. This is very important to the consideration of how the Bible ought to be translated.
Spiritual declension rarely begins in the pew, the failure is generally found first in the pulpit. It is easy to point to the negative influence of liberal theological colleges and the godless faculties in secular universities in the training of pastors and preachers. What is rarely so quickly recognised is the extent to which evangelical seminaries and institutions professing a commitment to the proclamation of God's Word have moved away from the truth. The doctrine where a fraying at the edges first occurs is that of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. A fairly typical statement of belief would read something like this: "We believe in the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures as originally given, their verbal inspiration by God and their supreme authority as the only rule of faith and practice."
What these people are really saying is that, whilst the words originally written down by the prophets and apostles were free of error and inspired, the Bible we have in our hands today has errors in it and so cannot be relied on completely, and some parts are not inspired. Now, of course, they see themselves as the ones able to instruct us in these matters, which is why we need to go to their colleges! Whilst professing to believe the Bible, they deny it. They are facing in two directions at one and the same time.
We would hear the Word of God from those who believe the Bible, including what it says about itself, and we will deny a place in our pulpits to the prattle of those who entertain reservations of any kind.
Clearly, if we would avoid our people being led astray, such colleges and seminaries should be avoided like the plague and men trained in them eyed with caution. It is strange that so many who claim to be heirs of the puritans do not share their view of Scripture, once more we are faced with a 'pick and mix' mentality with respect to the authority of Scripture. Many claim to champion the insights of John Calvin on the sovereignty and providence of God, but seem to be unable to accept that this extends to God's ability to keep His Word free from error and perversion, giving us a Bible we can trust today. It is all very puzzling, unless we understand that, for reasons best known to themselves, there are areas that these people wish to keep free from the authority of God's Word and open up to the authority of human reason in common cause with rationalistic Bible critics, who are intent not on preserving, but destroying Scripture &endash; an enterprise doomed from the outset. Of course, as we already possess the Scriptures today as originally given because God has preserved them, the future job prospects for these people, along with their Bible critic friends, look very shaky indeed!
We must question both the view that only the original autographs are inspired, and also the ensuing search for a better text nearer the originals. This is a nonsense. It is a case of half a loaf being worse than no bread at all! No one will ever know when this point has been reached, because we have no originals, that allow a comparison. If we were to have the originals the search would be pointless anyway. This point of view is based on a purely rationalistic, humanistic methodology, it completely disregards the providential working of God in preserving His Word in the Church. Rather than shrug our shoulders and question the doctrine of inspiration as do the liberals, what shall we do? We trust God to have kept His promise. This does not prevent us from testing every newly discovered manuscript and discarding all that do not measure up to the received text. There are many possible reasons why God has not permitted the original writings to survive, here are just two. First, there are those misguided souls around who would have inevitably made them objects of veneration. Second, they most likely just fell apart with use, as anyone who has used a Bible over many years will appreciate. It is insufficient to say God's Word existed as inspired texts once-upon-a-time when what we need is an inspired text today.
If only the autographs are inspired, the conclusion we must reach is that we have no inspired Bible today, no reliable Bible only an approximation. Our knowledge of Christ must therefore be uncertain guesswork with no sure knowledge of salvation.
One certain way of identifying an invalid argument is to follow it through to its conclusion; this argument is the route to doubt and unbelief and not to Christ. This is where this side-track leads: no Bible to trust, no Saviour in whom we can believe.
In passing we should note that this compromised view of Scripture is not that which has generally been held by godly men and women down through the ages. It was first popularised by the American theologian Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921). This is a matter of great sadness for Warfield wrote much that was of value and it only serves to show how very careful we must all be. His view would not have been endorsed by earlier American theologians. It would have found no favour with the Reformers. The fairytale about Luther being weak on Scripture was first promulgated by the German theologian, Dr Tholuck, to support his own error in this area. Those following this more recent view of the Scriptures ought in all honesty to desist from associating themselves with the great and good of the protestant Reformation as they do, even wishing to be known as 'reformed', until they have reformed their views of Scripture and brought them more into line with those whose teaching they claim to emulate. The Genevan Calvinist, Francis Turretin wrote, "By the original text, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs [copies still existing] which are so called because they set forth to us the Word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit." (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1)
Still less would this new kind of thinking about Scripture have found favour with the English puritans. One of the most powerful pieces of writing comes from this quarter and is by the Englishman, John Owen. We wholeheartedly commend it for careful study: The Divine Original of Scripture (Works, 16). Unlike many modern neo-puritans, Owen also casts doubt on the reliability of the Septuagint. Any departure from what has been the considered belief of God's people for centuries must be viewed with the gravest suspicion, and a changed stance towards Scripture in particular. John Owen: "It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism...."
Owen was of the conviction that to deny the providential preservation of the Scripture texts is tantamount to practical atheism. These orthodox arguments contrast most sharply with the more recent views of A.A. Hodge and Benjamin Warfield. It simply will not do to say that the Word of our God has been preserved other than error-free; even a 'superior' text or translation still leaves us with an unreliable Bible, and there then remains little point to a defence of biblical inspiration.
The issue of texts and translation is of more than mere esoteric academic interest, it involves the foundations of the faith.
Those who deliberately cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible we have in our hands, even be it only by innuendo, make themselves the enemies of the Gospel and not its friends.
This last point made by John Owen describes precisely the central issue we are discussing. We cannot proceed to examine the Word of God in the way that unbelieving critics handle every other ancient literary text, using a rationalistic methodology to determine the veracity of its source, how it was written, the purity of its preservation, and how it is to be translated and interpreted. Yet this is precisely what many insist upon doing who would otherwise consider themselves defenders of the Bible. The sacred text is thus profaned. It must be taken as the truth, that what we have in our hands is a book that is word for word what God has given, as though we were hearing the very voice of God, a book perfectly preserved down the years by God among His people. We need no other authority than the Bible itself as the veritable Word of the living God. The ground for such an assertion is found in the Bible itself, that it is what it claims to be. If it then is the book it says it is, as the oracles of God, we can do no other than to submit. If it is not the book it claims to be, it can be safely treated as any other historical curiosity and as nothing more. To take this last stance is the only other alternative, we accept unconditionally the Bible's claims about itself or we reject them, we believe or we refuse to believe. Should we from the outset refuse to believe, the evidence we gather will then only serve to support our false contention and confirm us in our unbelief. Unless that is, God in His grace mercifully brings us to a place of willing submission despite ourselves. In reading the Bible we are dealing with no ordinary book, "the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword" (Hebrews 4:12).
Every single word of the Bible was breathed out by God. We have seen that many evangelical scholars stop at this point in the discussion and seem to switch to what can best be described as a kind of 'deism' towards Scripture. Having revealed and inspired His Word, God then, it seems, simply allowed it float unassisted, and by implication virtually unguarded, down through the centuries. They seem to assume that God has now given His Word into their hands to make of it what they will using human means. The work of preservation, as that of revelation and inspiration, cannot be usurped by man, it is the work of God. Let us not be deceived, God has no more taken His hands off the Word He has given than He has off the world He created. Shall then sinful, mortal man take upon himself the task of altering and editing it? The inspiration of Scripture extending down to the smallest word, it is of utmost concern to us that the Hebrew and Greek texts we have at our disposal allow for no mistakes and are perfect in every way. Humanly speaking, this is not to be expected, and godless critics denying its divine origin assume the Bible to be as any other ancient text. John Owen was no scripture-deist! "Hence, the providence of God hath manifested itself no less concerned in the preservation of the writings than of the doctrine contained in them; the writing itself being the product of his own eternal counsel for the preservation of the doctrine, after a sufficient discovery of the insufficiency of all other means for that end and purpose. And hence the malice of Satan hath raged no less against the book than against the truth contained in it."
The Bible clearly teaches us that God preserves the Word He gave.
"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." Psalm 12:6-7
"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever." Psalm 119:160
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:17-18
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Matthew 24:35
His promise to His disciples was: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shew it unto you." John 16:13-14
That the Lord Jesus kept His promise is testified to by the apostle Paul: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us, by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." 1 Corinthians 2:9-11
There is here an unbroken line of communication from God to man in all ages, and at every stage it is the work of God's Spirit. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." 1 Corinthians 2:12-13
Spiritual things are spiritually given, spiritually communicated, spiritually received and that all the way along the line. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
For these promises to be kept, the hand of God in perfectly preserving every jot and tittle must extend beyond the original autographs.
We must not assume from the outset that the Word of God is lost to us or corrupted, which is where most start, denying the providential care of God over His Word. True enough, we no longer have the original autographs, but the copies we do have will contain everything that was in the originals. God has promised to preserve His Word down to the very last jot and tittle, this He has done. The ancient manuscripts can only be read in this way. Where discrepancies may have occurred in any particular copy, or where through age there are blemishes or marks that obscure words, or even where one word may perhaps have been accidentally or mistakenly written in for another, they will be minor, and it will be obvious that this is what has happened. The transposition of a letter or a variant spelling even in a printed copy of the Bible is simply just that and in no way invalidates the Word of God. God's Word stands out of the pages of the God-preserved texts we have at our disposal in a way not found in any similar secular literature. Our own Authorised Version is based on these reliable texts, the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Textus Receptus, which are faithful transcriptions of the original writings.
All these manuscripts were carefully kept by believing people to whom were committed the oracles of God. Great care was taken in making precise copies of the originals. Authentic copies were most carefully preserved. Eventually, there were so many in circulation that any wilful or negligent corruption would have been noticed immediately, the words themselves being too well-known, and so it remains to this day.
To attack the authenticity of God's preserving work by placing reliable texts alongside unreliable ones has ever been a strategy of Satan to undermine Bible faith. The great cry of the Reformation with respect to the authority of God's Word was sola scriptura. Rome saw then, and still sees today, that to destroy this one Word is to destroy the sole authority upon which the Reformation was built. If they could show that the one Word of God did not exist, a significant blow would have been struck against their enemies. To this end they published a number of polyglot Bibles. The most well-known was the Complutensian (1513-17), although there were others. The Roman Latin Vulgate was placed between the Septuagint on the one side and on the other the Hebrew Old Testament, to compare 'the position of Christ between the two thieves' of unbelieving Jews, and of schismatic Greeks. Similar measures were undertaken in England by high church Anglicans, basing their work on Roman Catholic scholars, wanting to under-mine Puritanism by displaying, among other things, 'variants in the originals'. 'Versionism', circulating varying and uncertain texts or translations as a means of unsettling all confidence in the authority of one infallible text is thus nothing new.
There are still many agitating to this day for a wholesale revision of the Hebrew and the received Greek texts; such an undertaking is not only totally unnecessary, but would result in perverted texts. This is precisely what happened in the last century at the hands of Wescott and Hort. Various manuscripts had been newly discovered, although there is some evidence to suggest that the translators of our Authorised Version already knew of at least some of them and had discounted them. As they were older than manuscripts then generally to hand, on their re-appearance the claim was made that they were nearer to the originals because of their age. Nearer in time they perhaps are, but in little else. The reason for their survival is testimony against, rather than for their reliability. Early genuine texts would have been quickly worn out with continual use. Spurious texts produced by false teachers would have been cast aside and have consequently survived. This was yet another attempt of Satan to dilute and pollute the sacred Word he so much hates. These unreliable texts were produced in Alexandria in Egypt by false teachers wishing to diminish and weaken the doctrine of our Saviour's divine nature. They were not so much littered with copyist's mistakes as deliberately doctored to propagate error. It is then understandable that they should be preferred by destructive textual critics of the last century whose theological bent was similar. That one manuscript was found in a waste bin and another at the Vatican does little to commend either to us! Despite this, these texts were made the basis of a 'critical' text by Westcott and Hort in preparation for the Revised Version, the first edition of the New Testament appearing in May 1881. The critical text has been subject to ever more additions and editing, and is used for virtually all modern translations. It is a process keeping many scholars in employment and providing excuse for more and more perversions of the sacred text. There is an abundance of literature on this subject, some recent. Our own preference is for the earlier writings. Anyone wishing to look at these matters in some detail would make a good start by consulting the writings of Francis Turretin (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1), John Owen (Works, 16), or the American theologian of the last century, Robert Dabney (Discussions, 1).
The alternative to all this investigation is to save on the time and energy and simply read what the Bible says about itself, believe and obey it to the letter!
We face a choice of authorities, as did Eve in the Garden of Eden, "hath God said?" Have we too fallen for Satan's deception, but here in the matter of Scripture? Are we to accept without question the authority of God, or do we rely instead upon another source, that of independent human reason? Will we not instead seek to understand the truth by submitting the functioning of our mind to the illuminating power of God's Spirit as we read the God-breathed Scriptures, that we may thus comprehend, at least to some extent, what God has given us in His written Word, and in so doing be led to a new appreciation of what He has given us in His only begotten Son? We can take no middle ground, there is none. We submit to Christ's claims upon us or we die in our sins, so it is with Scripture.
Alterations to the biblical texts, the clamour for ever-new versions and translations almost without exception seek to diminish the Person of Christ, to disqualify Him as the Saviour of sinners. This was true of the revisers of the last century, as it was during the previous century when John Newton penned these words:
"The Socinians and others, in their unhappy laboured attempts to darken the principal glory and foundation comfort of the Gospel, employ their critical sophistry against those texts which expressly and doctrinally declare the redeemers character, and affect to triumph, if in any manuscript or ancient version they can find a variation from the received copies which seems to favour their cause. But we may venture to waive the authority of every disputed or disputable text, and maintain the truth against their cavils, from the current language and tenor of the whole Scripture." (Collected Letters, 5th November,1774)
The infallible, error-free, written revelation of God in Christ in Scripture will arouse the same opposition as that directed towards the person of Christ Himself. It exposes human sin, guilt; it makes men conscious of their evil hearts and need of Christ. Sinners are under Satan's rule and naturally oppose Christ. The Bible calls upon all men everywhere to repent, to turn from following their own ways, to renounce their own wisdom and submit to God in all things, not only in matters concerning personal salvation. Those living under the power of their sinful hearts will be loathe to do this. Indeed, only those born of God's Spirit will submit to God's Word.
The unbeliever refuses to accept that it is possible for the believer to see anything he cannot also see. The godless man is blind to his blindness, he thinks he can see! Biblical criticism springs from the false assumption that Christless men can know and judge these matters accurately because of their learning. The credibility or otherwise of the Scriptures cannot be established apart from a prior conviction that we have in our hands, the revealed, inspired, perfectly preserved Word of the living God.
There can be no common basis of interpretation of the facts of nature, history, or of the Bible itself between believer and unbeliever outside Scripture.
Ultimately, we know the Scripture to be the Word of God because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to this fact. It is an evidence of truly being born of God. Those who diminish or deny the sole authority of the Bible, or accept any other 'revelation' alongside it, are casting doubt on any work of God having taken place in their own hearts. It simply is not possible to be a Christian and accept any other authority beside God's Word. Apart from the Scriptures, we can know nothing of Christ. All other routes lead to another 'Jesus'.
When we know what the Bible says about its own preservation, then and only then, ought we to set about looking into the history of the various manuscripts and translations. Our task will then be somewhat different to that of others; we shall be looking to see how God has preserved His Word rather than if. Then we shall be able to establish which manuscripts are genuine and which are spurious on the basis of Scripture and not from the pseudo-science of critics. Certainly, those tainted with false teaching should be returned to the waste-bins. The cavalier work of men such as Westcott and Hort can then be discounted, for whatever their knowledge of the biblical languages, their unregenerate hearts and flagrant opposition to the Gospel rule out their work as being of any real value. Giving such people the task of working on the sacred text is like leaving thieves in charge of your valuables, don't expect much to be left on your return! Their Greek New Testament must be set aside as a deliberate perversion along with all modern versions that are based on it. These men cannot even be possibly right. Do not be browbeaten by the brash bullies who say you cannot judge in these things, because you cannot tell an alpha from an omega, or an aleph from a taw. Whilst you may not read the original languages, anyone with a good knowledge of Bible doctrine is well able to distinguish goats from sheep, truth from error. Look at the translations produced from these texts. Do they honour Christ? Do they diminish His person? Do they even hint that He is in any measure less than God? Look at the people who recommend and use them. Are they people who stay with the faith once delivered, or are they open to every new wind that blows? These are some of the questions everyone can and ought to ask.
Having identified the authentic biblical texts, there remains one more step. Most people have no access to books written in Hebrew and Greek. To stop at this point still leaves the believer in the hands of a 'priestly class' of scholars. Does the Word of God come to us through our own, or someone else's expert knowledge of the original languages? It would leave many able preachers and interpreters of Scripture unsure as to whether they were preaching God's Word, men like John Bunyan to whom only the English Bible was accessible. Those who have added a second or even third language to their own mother-tongue, even over a lifetime, will confess their knowledge and insights can never rival those of the native speaker. It will not be possible even for the greatest of scholars, and there have been some quite outstanding ones, separated as they are in time and space from the biblical languages, to have the same relationship to them as those who wrote and spoke them every day of their lives. Thus a difficulty still remains. No scholar, however good his understanding of Hebrew and Greek, will understand those languages in the way that the original writers did. This is simply not possible. Although they may come very close, various nuances of meaning will elude them. To rely on their expertise alone would be to trust ourselves to fallible human under-standing. Must the Word of God then come to us mediated by the imperfect knowledge of Hebrew and Greek scholars? We still have no reliable infallible Bible in a form understandable to us. What do the Scriptures say on this matter?
Replying to Satan when tempted, the last Adam demonstrated His confidence in the Word of God where the first Adam had doubted and denied it. "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
Man is to live by every word from God's mouth, something he can only do if God perfectly preserves it and in a language he can understand. If we are to live by God's Word, He will most certainly give it to us. This is the promise He has given, and our view of the Bible must be governed by this. The question is again not if, but how. If we stop at the Hebrew and Greek texts, languages of which we can at best have only an imperfect understanding, God's Word is still not really available to us. If we are to possess and live by God's Word, there can be no point in the whole process by which we receive the Word of God at which the work of the Holy Spirit comes to an end and the work of man takes over. As He revealed and inspired, as He preserved the texts, so God Himself will also superintend the translation to ensure not a word fails. He will also then illumine those same words to our inward eyes as we read it. The understanding of anything revealed to man by God presumes a work of the Spirit of God right to the point where it is being read and its truth enlightens our heart. In order to be born again a man must have access to the Word of God and that must be in a language he can understand. If we are born again, we must have heard the Word of God, and if we do not read Hebrew or Greek, it will have been in our own language. It is essential that we are reading the unadulterated Word of God, if we would be saved. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." 1 Peter 1:23-25
Our main objection to modern versions is that not only do they rely on spurious texts cobbled together on a whim by infidels intent on destroying the faith once delivered, but that they employ a translation methodology that has its origins in the godless philosophies of men who hate God. They do not preserve, but distort and falsify the sacred Word. Failure in the area of translation can lead to all kinds of abuses. We have all known those preachers who, wanting to secure the best possible support for their teaching, search around in various translations until they find the most suitable. Those with the ability will themselves translate parts, or even the whole Bible, to suit their own emphasis or particular teaching.
At every stage, from the revelation of the truth through to reading the Bible in one's own tongue, there must be a work of God's Spirit, if it is to bear fruit in the heart of sinful man. If what we are to have before us is indeed to be God's perfect Word, there can be no gap in this route for human handiwork, and most certainly none to be filled by godless infidel scholars. It is wholly inconceivable that having taken such infinite care God would not see the task through to the end. Translation is not an area where an exception can be made. What God reveals is written infallibly by inspiration, that which is inspired is perfectly preserved in the text and translation, which is in turn illumined to our hearts, and all by God's Spirit. There is no way in which anything less can be understood to be the Word of God. The claim to believe the Bible from 'cover to cover' can otherwise be nothing but a meaningless chant.
To refuse God's testimony is to make ourselves the deserving recipients of His wrath. We receive the Bible in every way as the book of the living God, and in faith as befits it. Its authority lies within itself, because its author is God. To quote Owen again: "The authority of God, the supreme Lord of all, the first and only absolute Truth, whose word is truth - speaking in and by the penmen of the Scriptures - evinced singly in and by the Scripture itself &endash; is the sole bottom and foundation, or formal reason, of our assenting to those Scriptures as his word, and of our submitting our hearts and consciences unto them with that faith and obedience which morally respect him, and are due to him alone." (Works, 16)
Consideration of texts, or matters of the authorship of individual books, of historical events recorded in Scripture, methods of translation, of principles of interpretation, can never enter into a marriage of convenience with autonomous human reason. There can be no discussion of any subject except on the basis of the teaching of Scripture itself and we must always be suspicious of those who water down this position.
We cannot and will not join those who seek to defend Scripture on any other basis than that of Scripture itself. All else is to operate from unbelief, we must first assume it is not the Word of God in order to prove that it is! There is really no need of any further evidence. Whatever anyone says about Scripture, we judge them and what they say by this word: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20
We may not ourselves be textual scholars, but this does not prevent us being able to recognise at a glance the work of godless and unbelieving men.
As every part of our life is to be lived in complete submission to Scripture, how then can we be obedient and order our lives according to God's Word, if that Word is not available to us in a perfect transcription of the original in our own language? Is Isaac Watts to be given access to God's Word, but John Bunyan denied it? Or perhaps, as in the Roman Church, the Word of God is to come to us mediated through a priestly class of scholars?
The process whereby the pure Word of God passes from one language to another must also be seen as part of the preserving work of God and is to be regulated by the teaching of Scripture concerning the nature of language as God gave it.
Modern versions of the Bible not only use unreliable texts, they also use an inappropriate translation methodology. The methods used are invariably based on a rejection of creation and the providential working of God both in the definition of 'meaning' and in an understanding of the nature of language. There are many evangelicals who will tell you that they believe the 'meaning' is inspired rather than the actual words. What they all fail to explain is how this mysterious 'meaning' is to be conveyed in a book by any other means than words. The meaning is conveyed by the precise choice of words, the way they are used, as well as through the grammar. To alter in any way or to rearrange the words will inevitably result in a change of meaning. A method must be used that perfectly reproduces in the receptor language the words that God has given and in the way He has given them. This can be only accomplished as the same God who gave the word overshadows the word He inspired, in the work of translation, so that the translation too thus becomes a work of God. Any translation that does not meet these criteria is unsafe and unreliable. We are not translating a cookery book. Indeed, if cookery books received the treatment as have some Bible translations, they would contain many inedible recipes. Any translation methodology that takes no account of the special nature of Scripture, but treats it as any other book, or is based on rationalistic assumptions rather than Bible truth, is totally unsuited to the work of Bible translation.
The first recorded piece of scientific activity took place before the fall and involved the use of language, even before Adam was given a wife. Here we see Adam working harmoniously with the Creator of all things and not against or apart from Him. Meaning is linked with creation. We see Adam living harmoniously with the rest of the created universe. "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field." Genesis 2:19-20
We see from these early chapters of Genesis that Adam was created with the facility to act, decide, think and express those thoughts. He was created with language.
It is not the place in an article such as this to lose ourselves in the complex technicalities of linguistics or literary theory. Nevertheless, sufficient can be said to demonstrate the godless sources of much thinking in this area. To reject what the Bible says about creation and God's eternal purposes is to deprive all things of their God-given meaning. The unbeliever is then left with the impossible task of finding meaning from within the created world itself. Many have tried to do exactly this and in failure, instead of returning to the God they rejected for an explanation, have concluded there can be no meaning to anything. Others have chosen another route. One man, regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, has had wide influence in the world of linguistics and literary theory, the Swiss professor of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. He is in the realm of linguistics what Sigmund Freud is to psychology and Emil Durkheim to sociology. Saussure rejects any absolute or God-given meaning. God, should He exist, even though He may be better placed to do so, would have to discover any meaning on the same basis as man. He is not the first to have made this mistake. Says God, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee." Psalm 50:21
Nothing can have a meaning given to it by a Creator according to its place in His plan. According to Saussure the meaning anything may possess is relative, to be defined in terms of the relations objects have with each other. In other words, a cow, for example, is cow because it is not quite the same as anything else with a leg at each corner, a head at one end, and a tail at the other. Its meaning is derived from everything else existing, and were it to exist on its own it could have no meaning, it could be neither described nor defined. Meaning is found once we have identified the relations and oppositions. We should note carefully in passing that this reflects closely the teachings of Karl Marx with respect to human consciousness, found in his early writings.
A central figure in modern Bible translation has been Eugene A. Nida. In a seminal work on Bible translating published in 1964, Toward a Science of Translating, he lists five developments he regards as most significant in their effect upon the theory of translation and therefore upon his own methods. He writes: "The first of these is the rapidly expanding field of structural linguistics. In Europe the influence of Ferdinand de Saussure has been unequaled." (p.21)
The link between translating the Bible and modern translating 'science' is made by Nida himself in the second of these points. "A second development is the application of present-day methods in structural linguistics to the special problems of Bible translation by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators."
There are two main streams of thought with respect to the origin of language. The behaviourist assumes language can be explained like much else as being 'habits' built up in an environment of social 'conditioning', similar in many ways to the process by which rats in a psychological laboratory 'learn' to obtain food by pressing the appropriate bar in their cage. Prominent exponents of this view would be J. B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, and of particular note, Leonard Bloomfield. The second view maintains there is more to man than what can be observed of his behaviour. He has a mind, and his capacities and activities can be described as 'mental' and 'rational'. Language is innate and not simply acquired. Noam Chomsky holds this view.
Noam Chomsky has been a major influence on the work of Nida, whose Bible translating methods are now used almost universally. Chomsky came to prominence in the 1960s as an outspoken critic of American policies in Vietnam. He was a 'hero of the New Left', risking imprisonment for paying only half his taxes, he also gave encouragement to young men to refuse military service. Whilst there may be reason for Bible believers to concur with Chomsky's view that grammar and language is first innate rather than being purely socially acquired, because he rejects any notion of language as being God-created, his views in the end will not be biblical. We can accept that there exists an intimate relationship between the structure of language and the innate properties and functioning of the mind, and as a result there will be an underlying grammatical structure common to all languages, but we are still not saying the same things as Chomsky. We contend that this is because God made language this way, also that the confusion of tongues at Babel supports this, Chomsky would hardly accept that. There are elements in Chomsky that may at first glance appear to mirror biblical teaching, but we must take care not to assume these things are necessarily the same as the teaching of Scripture.
According to Chomsky, his grammars are concerned with describing language as a purely formal system without necessarily any reference to meaning. Language being the instrument used to express meaning, he believes it is quite possible to describe the instrument without considering the use to which it may be put. The basic idea underlying Chomsky's 'generative' and 'transformational' grammar is that by following a number of distinct operations, rather like applying mathematical formulae, a sentence in its simplest form can be extended indefinitely. Theoretically at least, the number of grammatical sentences generated from the simplest form, according to this view, is infinite. Language is not fixed, but is a dynamic mechanism. Translation is perceived by Nida, and others following Chomsky, as something more than a comparison of corresponding structures. This generative mechanism lies at the heart of the so-called 'dynamic equivalence' method of translating as used in the New International Version. The sentence in the text in the source language is reduced, using quasi-mathematical formulae, to a simple kernel sentence, it is then transferred like this into the receptor language of the translation. By the same process, the simple sentence in the receptor language of the translation is now made to generate an equivalent to that of the original sentence in the source language.
Our primary objection to this method must be that it disregards the fact that the original words were God-given and so cannot be changed. Should this procedure be followed consistently, words will have been interfered with and changed in the Hebrew and Greek text even before a transfer is made into the language of the translation. To those in evangelical circles who have forsaken the biblical teaching on inspiration this is of little concern, since they feel that as the original document spoke meaningfully to its readers, so "only an equally meaningful translation can have this same power to inspire present-day receptors" (Nida, p.27). Here inspiration is understood in terms of the response of the reader to Scripture.
What all those using the New International Version are telling us is that the doctrine of verbal inspiration does not matter, that they have now discarded it.
Translation is a complex and difficult task to accomplish well. Anyone with anything more than a passing knowledge of a second language will testify to this. A word in one language will not cover the identical range of meaning as its equivalent in another. Tenses may be missing in one language that are found in another, and even should they exist, they will often be used in a different way.
What the French Revolution of 1789 was to the political world, Romanticism was in the world of music, painting, and literature. Its worship of the imagination and human creativity would create the universe anew. It preached a man-centred substitute salvation, often borrowing heavily from Christian phraseology. Translation was no longer a 'mechanical' process designed to make known a particular text, be it the Bible or Shakespeare, instead it was a vital creative act spring up from within the translator. A translation is to be inspired by a 'higher creative force' so that it is no longer simply an everyday task devoid of the original 'spirit' that shaped it, it is a re-creation. Almost preempting the work of Chomsky, the god-hating Shelley wrote in The Defence of Poetry: "It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as to seek to transfuse from one language to another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower &endash; and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel"
How these infidels knew their Bible! So we uncover the true parentage of modern exponents of 'dynamic' trans-lation methodology! They are giving us new bibles, 'inspired' recreations and not the inspired Word of the living God.
It needs must be the purpose of the translators to produce an accurate and readable word by word translation of the original languages so that the reader can be certain still to have in his hands the very words God gave and has preserved. In some instances Martin Luther found it necessary to create completely new words in German to reflect the original precisely, something the German language readily allows because of the tendency to use compound words. In his Circular Letter on Translation (1530), Luther uses the verbs übersetzen (to translate) and verdeutschen (to Germanise) almost interchangeably. The translators of the AV succeeded wonderfully in capturing the original phraseology so that all kinds of Hebrew expressions, not native to English, have found their way into our Bibles. It is unique English, biblical English, English formed by the Hebrew and Greek of the texts from which it came and not dictated to by the language into which it was transferred and yet it still remains eminently readable and understandable. It was certainly never the language of the common man, although the literate common man would have easily understood it. Those who accuse us of wanting to preserve 'Elizabethan English' have once more either misunderstood the facts, or are themselves guilty of misinterpreting them. A.T. Robertson writes in A Grammar of the Greek New Testament: "No one today speaks the English of the King James Version, or ever did for that matter, for though, like Shakespeare, it is the pure Anglo-Saxon, yet unlike Shakespeare it reproduces to a remarkable extent the spirit and language of the Bible."
That God was at work in a most wonderful and special way in giving us our Authorised Version must be apparent to every true believer. It was the purpose of all early Bible translators to make the complete text of the Bible accessible to the layman and not to re-create it! The language of the Authorised Version was never spoken by anyone. There was no attempt made by the AV translators to make the Hebrew and Greek conform to Elizabethan or Jacobean speech. The translators were interested in preserving the God-breathed originals in readable English rather than turning it into the 'language of the street'. When Bible translations are tied in to changeable contemporary language rather than the source texts of the eternal, unchangeable Word of God, new translations will continue to be in demand as present ones become dated. It seems that the publishers of modern copyrighted versions and the merry band of scholars they support have truly found a goose laying golden eggs.
What has been said about translation finds its counterpart in hermeneutics, or the interpretation of the Bible. Many commentators could save reams of paper by turning their often not inconsiderable skills to more profitable occupations than pandering to the doubts of infidel scholars and seeking to answer them on their own level of unbelief. Many 'problems' in Scripture are problems only to those denying the authenticity and authority of Scripture: eg. the authorship of the Pentateuch or Isaiah, the identity of Darius, the synoptic problem of the Gospels, etc., etc. All that many of these matters require to solve them is the response of a believing heart to the plain statements of Scripture.
It is hardly surprising that those who would have us treat the Bible as any other book, who prefer to overlook its providential preservation, see its 'inspiration' not as describing the nature of the text but the response of the reader, also promote rationalistic systems of biblical interpretation. Methods of interpreting secular literature are being applied shamelessly to the Word of God. Evangelicals, as usual, have been quick to be seen at the forefront in this latest fad. One of the most influential in this field has been the German philosopher, Hans Georg Gadamer, who has elaborated on ideas found in Heidegger. In his study Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer enquires after the meaning of the literary text. Has the author's intention any relevance to meaning, can we hope to understand texts from which we are separated by time and culture? Language is said to belong to the society in which I live before it belongs to me. The meaning of a literary work can never be exhausted by the intentions of the author. Passing from one culture and historical context to another, new meanings are gained, never anticipated by the author. Applied to Scripture such interpretative methods are disastrous. There can be no once-and-for-all-time 'objective' meaning. The possibility of a book containing timeless truths, readily accessible to men of all ages is thus ruled out. The Bible is said to 'mean' what it means to me today. At this point translating and interpretation overlap. What the Scripture is saying is determined by an understanding relative to our own modern situation, not by what God intended us and all men in all ages to know, and has caused to be infallibly recorded in His Word. According to these principles of interpretation, the Bible can only have a meaning for us relative to our modern age and in a language appropriate to our age. This sounds all too familiar, does it not? There are many variations on this theme, and even many other tunes, but why should we even listen to them, let alone whistle any of them ourselves?
- Preservation and Scripture Authority
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 5
- by David Norris
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 1
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 2
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 3
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 4
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 5
- Only One Authentic Word - Conclusion