Inspiration and Preservation

Daniel Wallace on  has an interesting post on Bible.org entitled Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism.  In this post the author states:

not only do they put preservation on exactly the same level as inspiration, but they also can be more certain about the text, since they advocate a printed edition. But their argumentation is so palpably weak on other fronts that we will only make two observations here: (a) since the TR itself went through several different editions by Erasmus and others, TR advocates need to clarify which edition is the inspired one; (b) one simply cannot argue for the theological necessity of public accessibility throughout church history and for the TR in the same breath—for the TR did not exist during the first 1500 years of the Christian era. (Rather inconsistent, for example, is the logic of Theo Letis when he, on the one hand, argues that God must have preserved the pure text in an open, public, and accessible manner for Christians in every generation and, on the other hand, he argues that “the Latin and non-majority readings [of the TR] were indeed restorations of ancient readings that fell out of the medieval Greek tradition”!

He goes further and says:

As we have argued concerning the faulty assumption that preservation must be through “majority rule,” the scriptures nowhere tell us how God would preserve the NT text. What is ironic is that as much ink as MT/TR advocates spill on pressing the point that theirs is the only biblical view, when it comes to the preserved text being found in the majority of witnesses, they never quote one verse. Although they accuse other textual critics of rationalism, their argument for preservation via the majority has only a rational basis, not a biblical one. “God must have done this”—not because the Bible says so, but because logic dictates that this must be the case.

A statement that I found extremely interesting was the following:

the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church. In fact, it was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth century (in the Westminster Confession of 1646). The recent arrival of such a doctrine, of course, does not necessarily argue against it—but neither does its youthfulness argue for it. Perhaps what needs to be explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant by providential preservation.

I must add this comment here:  At this point I have no idea as to the veracity of this claim.  It is interesting, however, because we have seen the argument over and over by one particular person who visits this blog that the TR/KJVO view is based upon a historical view of preservation.  I would certainly like to see more detail on this from both sides of the issue.

The following struck a chord with me, though I’m not exactly sure at this time how much I agree:

if the doctrine of the preservation of scripture has neither ancient historical roots, nor any direct biblical basis, what can we legitimately say about the text of the New Testament? My own preference is to speak of God’s providential care of the text as can be seen throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doctrine. If this makes us theologically uncomfortable, it should at the same time make us at ease historically, for the NT is the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world—both in terms of the quantity of manuscripts and in their temporal proximity to the originals. Not only this, but the fact that no major doctrine is affected by any viable textual variant surely speaks of God’s providential care of the text. Just because there is no verse to prove this does not make it any less true.

A very interesting argument in the inspiration=preservation discussion is given:

there is a tacit assumption on the part of Pickering that everything a biblical author writes is inspired. But this is almost certainly not true, as can be seen by the lost epistles of Paul and the agrapha of Jesus. The argument is this: there seem to be a few, fairly well-attested (in patristic literature), authentic sayings of Jesus which are not found in the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament. Of course, evangelicals would claim that they are inerrant. But they would not be inspired because inspiration refers strictly to what is inscripturated within the canon. Further, Paul seems to have written three or four letters to the Corinthians, perhaps a now-lost letter to the Laodiceans, and apparently more than a few letters before 2 Thessalonians. If some NT epistles could be lost, and even some authentic sayings of Jesus could show up outside the NT, then either they were not inspired or else they were inspired but not preserved. Assuming the former to be true, then the question facing us in Mark’s Gospel is whether an inspired writer can author non-inspired material within the same document—material which is now lost. Such a possibility admittedly opens up a Pandora’s box for evangelicals, and certainly deserves critical thought and dialogue. Nevertheless, the analogies with the lost epistles of Paul and the authentic, non-canonical agrapha of Jesus seem to damage Pickering’s contention that if the last portion of Mark’s Gospel is lost, then inspiration is defeated.

The author concludes by saying:

In sum, there is no valid doctrinal argument for either the Textus Receptus or the majority text. A theological a priori has no place in textual criticism. That is not to say that the majority text is to be rejected outright. There may, in fact, be good arguments for the majority text which are not theologically motivated. But until TR/MT advocates make converts of those who do not share with them their peculiar views of preservation and inspiration, their theory must remain highly suspect.

It will probably take reading and re-reading for me to digest all that is said here.  I must say, however, that there is much to commend this article, though I may not embrace all that is said.  I believe it provides a relatively balanced approach to the debate in that it takes the arguments of the MT/TR/KJVO seriously and seeks to answer them Biblically, doctrinally, textually, and historically.

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We’ve Moved, Pardon the Mess

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Justifying the Means of a Version’s Rise to Popularity

Another King James Only Double Standard?

Over a month ago, Erik posed the question: Does King James Onlyism come out of imperialism? over at the Fundamentally Changed blog. The discussion spilled out onto this site as well. My answer to that specific question was, “no.” I do not believe King James Onlyism is a result of imperialism. I have never found imperialistic tendencies within the arguments I’ve read supporting the KJVO position. However, I do believe that imperialism was a factor contributing to the rise of the King James Version (check out the links for the discussion).

Apparently, so did others. Even those who support the KJVO view chimed in at the comments section to give a nod to the idea that English imperialism aided the King James Version’s rise to prominence. Of course, none tried to justify the abuses of the imperialistic system nor everything that ensued during the height of the British Empire. However, the use of imperialism to spread the gospel, the Bible (particularly the KJV), and the modern missions movement was seen as a justifiable mean on the basis of the fact that God providentially used this situation for the furtherance of His cause.

Here’s what some of our King James Only commentators said about this:

Erik’s puerile argument could be easily turned on him as the Critical Text view was propogated at the zenith of the British Empire by the Anglican Establishment, I would not be so crass as to couple this incidental fact with the rise of imperialism. If anything, the RSV is tainted more with imperialism as it is the translation propagated by the imperialists. – PS Furgeson

If we believe that God is in charge and that history unfolds according to His sovereign will, then we are happy to see several points.
1. The Bible had an important place in English History: Alfred, Wycliffe, Tyndale, KJV.
2. God blessed England: the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the spread of British culture all over the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, which included the spread of the Bible.
3. The Bible spread to all the British colonies.
4. The Bible was preached to the world by British and American missionaries: China, India, and Africa.
5. The Sovereign God providentially used Great Britain to spread His Word all over the world—Praise the Lord!
6. We recognize God’s sovereignty, we see His providence, and we see that the King James Version was the Bible of this people. – Kent Brandenburg

In 1611 the English language was spoken by a mere 3% of the world’s population, but today English has become the closest thing to a universal language in history. He used the King James Bible to carry His words to the far ends of the earth, where it was translated into hundreds of languages by English and American missionaries for over 300 years. The sun never set on the British empire. It was even taken to space by American astronauts and read from there. God knew He would use England, its language and the King James Bible to accomplish all these things long before they happened. It is the only Bible God has providentially used in this way. It is the only Bible believed by thousands upon thousands of believers to be the inspired, infallible and 100% true words of God. – Will Kinney

I for one certainly recognise the perfection of the KJB and the greatness of the British Empire, and see a link between the two; I certainly argue for English to be used in missionary work and for people everywhere to eventually use the KJB; I certainly argue for a national view which is based on the KJB. However, I probably would not accept descriptions of my view as put forward by those who are not for it. – Bibleprotector

I interpret this as saying the English speaking people are not more specially important in the history and development of Christianity in the civilised world than any other language group. But, hasn’t the great modern push for cross-cultural evangelism since William Carey been largely born by the English-speaking peoples, as they took the Gospel (and the KJV as an integral part of that) to every corner of the globe, in the wake of English imperial ‘conquests’ ? – Edwin Clive

Now, I agree. History certainly is His Story. God is in sovereign control, and He uses all sorts of means to accomplish His ends. Of this there is no doubt. But the double standard that I see is this: how can we allow ourselves to think that God providentially uses some historical circumstances for good, when those circumstances involve evil, but not allow the same in other situations? I’m referring to the rise of Bible versions. The King James Onlyist is basically saying, “Yes, imperialism, and all its ills, were used of God for the rise of the King James Version.” But then he turns around and says, “(The means by which) the modern versions rose to popularity are evil, and therefore the modern versions are evil.”

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Jack the Ripper and the King James Bible

What does Jack the Ripper have to do with the King James Bible? Well, apparently he represents judgment on those of us who abandoned that old faithful translation of generations past. In 1881 the Revised Version came out and met with widespread approval. So seven years later, in 1888, 5 women faced a gruesome death at the heads of a maniac dubbed Jack the Ripper. Who’d have known this was retribution for abandoning the King James Bible?

Here’s the comment we received right here yesterday which alleges this very thing, that Jack the Ripper was judgment on Britain for abandoning the King James Bible.

I would think 1881 is a good year to note as a line of demarcation of overlap and underlap of the Church of the Laodiceans and the Church in Philadelphia because after all, that is when the Laodiceans started to accept the old/new Bible which after 7 years were rewarded for their deeds by being visited by Jack the Ripper (by their fruits ye shall know them). The Philadelphian Church Age will continue as long as the Rapture because there are going to be those who stand for the faith once delivered to the saints until that time. Revelation 3 says (well at least it does in my Bible) …

Re 3:10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Now of course, the 2001 ESV is to blame for America’s tragic terror incident of 911. But we could turn the tables on the KJB. In 1607 the translation work for the KJB was being done in earnest. That’s also the year that the England’s Bristol Channel flooded, killing over 2,000 people. (That’s a lot more than 5.) Then around the time the King James Bible was finally gaining or surpassing the place of the Geneva Bible as the most used English Bible, there was the Great Plague of London which killed over 100,000 people (1665-1666). Surely that was judgment on England for abandoning the old Geneva Bible.

This comment illustrates that sometimes, people will see connections where they want to see them. It’s hard reasoning with this mentality. For those on either side of the KJB debate, let us work toward a careful and calm interaction, not a conspiracy theory-driven mentality that frankly doesn’t edify anyone.

**Picture adapted from an 1880 Punch cartoon, “The Nemesis of Neglect”, accessed at Wikipedia, 12/27/2010.

What Modern Translators Should Learn

Since my recent post on the pro’s of the King James Version, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between the KJV and its successors. One of the greatest strengths of the King James Version was not in its translation from Greek but the work of molding the English language to conform to the Greek as the translators understood it.

When you read most modern translations – like the New International Version or the New Living Translation – you are reading good attempts at translation. What you are not reading is good attempts at writing. The word usage and flow of these translations could be so much better. The same is true for literal translations like NASB, which frankly I find unreadable.

What the King James translators did know was their own language, which was was possibly just as important as their knowledge of the original language. They knew the nuances and philology of words.

What do I mean by this? Consider the use of the word subtil (sic) in Genesis 3:1 describing  the nature of the serpent who tempted Eve. Why choose that word when other words existed in their vocabulary? And why spell it the way they did, since in Middle English it was most commonly spelled sotil?

The Latin word that underlies subtil is subtilis – a textile term. It literally means “woven into the fabric.” In other words, the translators wanted to convey something much bigger than just craftiness, which is the translation in most modern translations. To their readers, subtil meant a type of temptation that was woven in among the fabric of truth. While the Hebrew word ‘ayrum could mean shrewdness or cleverness, in the context the translators felt a more sinister word was needed. And English had that sinister word in subtil.

These later translators were following Tyndale’s lead in his use of sotyller but they adapted his spelling significantly. They connected it much more with the Latin spelling, breaking the tie with the French spelling that was in use. Who knows what was going through their minds, but perhaps they had in mind the crafty political deceits of the age they were only just emerging from.

This kind of thing is all over the King James Version. For better or for worse, they were particular not just in capturing the meaning of the original words but also the mood. They did this through their knowledge of their own language.

I think this kind of knowledge and use of English is absent in many modern translations. It is certainly absent in the New King James Version where the editors attempted to patch the King James Version but did so without consideration of the flow of the English text. (Are there any English versions which flow more poorly than the NKJV and NASB? Well, maybe Young’s.)

Now, since I don’t espouse the KJVO arguments, I don’t believe the KJV is the only inspired Word of God for the English-speaking people. In fact, I have no problem referring to most English translations as the Word of God. Currently, we use the NIV in our congregation (which is one of my least favorite English Bibles, but it was there when we got there) and I use the ESV in personal study (which I love).

But I find myself longing for a modern translation with the same respect for the English language that I see in the King James.

When you read the works of the people who translate the Bible in our era, do they impress you as being masters of the English language? I find the works of most of these people to be tolerably well written but not masterful. Even the greats of modern translation like Bruce Metzger (RSV, NRSV) and J.I. Packer (ESV) are good writers but not great ones. They wrote great content but their English is nothing special. There’s not a literary master in the bunch (and I don’t mean just someone who sells a lot of Christian books).

No, instead of literary mastery we get Eugene Petersen’s The Message and The Contemporary English Version which attempt to capture the original in a sort of street English.

It is probably just my perception, but I feel as if modern translators do not revere the English language. I feel as if it is just a technical medium to them rather than a complex array of beauty, pregnant with expressive potential. English is one of the most expressive and beautifully, chaotically elegant languages of the modern world. I would love to see the kinetic potential of English truly unleashed.

What do you think?

Just so everyone is clear, by KJV I mean the entire product – from Tyndale’s first work in the mid 16th century down to the Standard Edition of 1769. I am not referring to one particular edition of the KJV or even just to the KJV itself but rather the larger effort which culminated in the Standard Edition.

Autographa & Apographa: John Owen on Inspiration and Preservation

This is a repost of Dr. Paul Henebury’s recent post on his blog. Dr. Henebury is the President of Veritas School of Theology.

Introduction

The greatest British theologian of the 17th Century was, in the opinion of many, John Owen.  Owen made distinctive contributions in a number of theological loci.  His book on the mutual relationship within the Trinity and our communion with each of the Divine Persons is still the best work on the subject.[1] Likewise, his manifesto for congregational-independency[2] offers some of the best arguments for Pastor-led congregational form of church government, and his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ[3] is considered the book on the Reformed view of particular redemption.  Owen’s teaching on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible is also most instructive, especially in view of what has been and is being taught in some evangelical seminaries and books.

The Importance of Divine Inspiration

Owen’s views on the crucial matter of the relationship of the Bible as we have it and the autographs are worth pondering.  He, like all solid evangelicals, rests the authority of the Bibles we have, not upon some inner impression of its validity, but upon its original theopneustic character.  In his, The Divine Original of the Scripture he asserted, “That the whole authority of the scripture in itself depends solely on its divine original, is confessed by all who acknowledge its authority.”[4] Thus the autographs were from God and delivered to men.  We possess “the words of truth from God Himself.”[5]

Inspiration he defined as “an indwelling and organizing power in the chosen penmen.” [6] Thus, “they invented not words themselves…but only expressed the words they received.”[7] Indeed, “the word that came unto them was a book which they took in and gave out without any alteration of one tittle or syllable (Ezek. ii 8-10, iii 3; Rev. x 9-11).”[8] As Owen writes in his great work on the Holy Spirit:

He did not speak in them or by them, and leave it unto their natural faculties, their minds, or memories, to understand and remember the things spoken by him, and so declare them to others; but he himself acted their faculties, making use of them to express his words, not their own conceptions.[9]

It is because of its divine provenance that the Scripture gains “the power and to require obedience, in the name of God.”[10] The Scriptures “being what they are, they declare whose they are.”[11] Even so, being as the Bible is the Word of God, every man is bound to believe it.[12]

All this notwithstanding, Owen refuses to ground his doctrine of Scripture solely on the internal testimony of the Spirit.  As he says in his The Reason of Faith, “If anyone…shall now ask us wherefore we believe the Scripture to be the word of God; we do not answer, ‘It is because the Holy Spirit hath enlightened our minds, wrought faith in us, and enabled us to believe it.’”[13] Such a declaration may at first seem to be a deviation from the tradition inherited from the Reformation.  But Owen demonstrates that there has to be an external reason for the credibility of our faith in Scripture as the Word of God.[14] Divine revelation must have the character of truth through and through, and it is this character which the Spirit causes us recognize through faith.[15]

The Role of Apographa

Where John Owen, together with many of his contemporaries, differed from modern expressions of inspiration was in the close connection he saw between the Scriptures as originally given and the Scriptures as we now have them.  For example, he wrote:

Sacred Scripture claims this name for itself.  It has its origin from God…[s]o that what God once said to the Church through the medium of Prophets, Apostles, and other inspired writers was still spoken directly by God, and that not only in the primary sense to those whom He delegated this task of reducing His revealed will to written form, but also, no less so in a secondary sense, He speaks to us now in His written word…, as in days past He spoke through the mouths of His holy prophets.[16]

In contrast to the way inspiration and (if at all) preservation is taught nowadays, men like Owen saw a real continuity between the autographs and what were often termed the “apographs,” or copies of the originals.  “It is true”, Owen said, “we have not the Autographa …but the apographa or “copies” which we have contain every iota that was in them.[17]

As we have already inferred, in saying this Owen was not alone.  Francis Turretin of the Genevan Academy also held this view:

By original texts, we do not mean the autographs…, which certainly do not now exist.  We mean their “apographs” 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.”[18]

Did this show a pre-Enlightenment naiveté?  Not at all.  Owen was well aware that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available in his day contained variant readings, transpositions, corrections, and other glosses.  But he saw the supervening hand of God in transmission of the texts.  For example, he wrote, “For the first transcribers of the original copies, and those who… have done the like work from them…[i]t is known, it is granted, that failings have been amongst them, and that various lections are from thence risen.”[19]

It is of interest to note that Owen’s recent translator contrasts the view of the Puritan with that of BB Warfield, especially in the areas of the extent of the understanding of inerrancy and the identity of the Text.  Stephen Westcott says that,

Owen saw inerrant as not meaning just that all “between the boards of the Bible” was inspired and without error…, but rather that inerrant necessarily meant plenary inspiration, and plenary inspiration that the Bible lacks nothing, and is thus a full and perfect rule and guide for all of life –not just for “religion”, and he saw inspiration as involving three essential factors: content inspiration, verbal inspiration, and divine preservation.[20]

Summarizing Owen’s View

From the above quotations the following three points can be drawn:

  1. The Divine authority of the Bible rests in itself.  It is self-attesting:

“That God, who is prima Veritas, ‘the first and sovereign Truth,’…should write a book, or at least immediately indite it, commanding us to receive it as his under the penalty of his eternal displeasure, and yet that book not make a sufficient discovery of itself to be his, to be from him, is past all belief.”[21]

  1. This authority rested in the first instance in Scripture’s inherent status as God-given, and not in the inner testimony of the Spirit to His Word.
  1. Although He allowed the human authors to remain individual personalities, the Holy Spirit nevertheless “acted their faculties” in order to produce His words in written form.  Owen taught that the nature of the Spirit presupposed this kind of inspiration,[22] even if, strictly speaking, “It is the graphe that is theopneustos.”[23]
  1. Although we no longer possess the original manuscripts of the Bible, the apographa or copies do communicate to us what the Holy Spirit said in the autographs.[24] Owen, unlike some Evangelicals today, held to a strong doctrine of Preservation.[25]

This assertion gives the lie to the thesis of people like Sandeen and Rogers and McKim[26] who have claimed that the belief that Scripture’s authority extends to all aspects of life is due to the influence of the Enlightenment. [27] But it also reminds us that God has not just set His Word in the world and then left it up to frail men to preserve it unsupervised.  In a very real sense the Bible through which God actively communicates today is foremost His Word, not our attempt to reproduce it.


[1] John Owen, On Communion with God, Works II, (London: Banner of Truth, 1966).

[2] Owen, The True Nature of a Gospel Church, Works XVI, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968).

[3] The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Works X, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968).

[4] The Divine Original of the Scripture, Works XVI, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968), 297.

[5] Ibid., 305

[6] A Defense of Sacred Scripture.  Appended to his Biblical Theology, (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 789.

[7] Divine Original, 305

[8] Divine Original, 299.

[9] A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit.  Works III, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 132-133.

[10] Divine Original, 308

[11] Ibid., 311

[12] Ibid., 335

[13] The Reason of Faith, Works IV, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 60

[14] Ibid., 61-69

[15] Ibid., 68

[16] Defense, 788. (cf. also Works XVI, 357).

[17] Divine Original, 300-301.

[18] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992), 1.106.

[19] John Owen, Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture. Works XVI, 355.

[20] Stephen Westcott, “Editors Introduction,” – John Owen, Defense, 772-773.

[21] Cf. also, Works XVI, 317-318, and, 335.  Calvin said, “We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.5. (1.72).

[22] Owen, A Discourse Concerning The Holy Spirit, Works III, 131.

[23] Divine Original, 300.

[24] Likewise, see the opinion of William Whitaker recorded by John Woodbridge in his rebuttal of Rogers and McKim in Douglas Moo (ed.), Biblical Authority and Conservative Perspectives, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 46.

[25] See Owen, Divine Original of the Scripture, 354-355.

[26] See also the attacks on men like Carl F.H. Henry by the likes of Donald Bloesch.

[27] We are aware of the fact that men like Owen, Voetius, Turretin, and Thomas Boston believed that the Masoretic punctuation marks were divinely inspired.  They were mistaken.  But this does not mean that they were wrong in the matter before us. Furthermore, it may not be out of place to add that in the debate about the Majority Text versus the minority Critical Text.  For what it is worth, Stephen Westcott believes that Owen, were he alive, would side with the MT.  “For Owen, the Reformation, and the Puritans [to even put it in those terms] …would be to settle the dispute!” – “Editor’s Introduction,” to John Owen, A Defense of Sacred Scripture, 773.

Some of the Pro’s of the KJV

We’ve spent quite a bit of energy on reasons why the KJVO position does not line up with textual evidence. Here are some good reasons to use the KJV, at the very least as one of the literal translations on your resource shelf:

  1. The King James translation was the last English translation where the text expanded the language rather than the language restricting the translation.
  2. The King James translation is just plain good at what it was meant for. It is an excellent literal translation – possibly still the finest of the genre.
  3. The King James translation is a scholarly Late Reformation Period translation – the pinnacle of English scholarship of the time. The New Testament especially is mostly a revision of the work of Tyndale (under the guise of being a revision of the Bishop’s Bible), whose linguistic work was truly centuries ahead of his time.
  4. The King James translation has a truly majestic, virtually transcendent English. It was intentionally created to be archaic to connect it to the great heritage of faith it represented.
  5. The King James translation contains familiar phrasings. A lot of the verses I quote from memory are still KJ.

That’s just five reasons. I’m sure we can come up with some more.