November 22, 2017

A Review of a Review: a blog on the versions

Don Johnson

The latest issue of FrontLine magazine is on its way to your mailbox (if you are a subscriber… and you should be!). Our subject this time is the Bible versions issue — “Whither from Here? A Way Forward on the Text and Version Issue”. No doubt the subject is controversial and may cause some readers to have misgivings about raising it at this time.

We think that Christians should be informed about this issue in a way that helps them sort through the claims and counter-claims that are heard, often in heated debate. Sometimes the very heat of the debate causes believers to flee the arena when the issue is brought up. And of course such controversies can be unpleasant, so the desire to avoid the issue is understandable.

We should remember that controversy has been part of Church history since the beginning, even before the ink was dry on all of the New Testament books (read through the epistles, watching for controversy – you might be surprised at how much you see). When faced with controversy we need information to understand the issues and courage to make decisions that some brethren might not agree with.

We will highlight our new issue in the next day or two with some feature articles. Why don’t you call or write our office and get your own subscription started?

In the meantime, just before this issue hit the presses, your editor saw a blog written by one of our contributors on the subject. Mark Ward writes a review of a book on the versions by Rene Ouellette: “Review: A More Sure Word: Which Bible Can You Trust?” Dr. Ouellette is a fine Bible preacher whose preaching has been a blessing to me when I have heard him speak. However, in anticipation of our latest FrontLine, I’d like to summarize some of the points Mark makes in his review:

  • The arguments for and against manuscripts and versions often involves a multitude of details that even highly educated people have difficulty following – how can the average person be sure of claims made on the basis of these technicalities?

“I feel like I’m being snowed under with countless details about the Lucianic Recension, scribal practices, translation theories, ancient versions and lectionaries, and scattered examples from modern Bible translations. It’s all quite complicated and detailed, and I’m just a little incredulous that people without specialized training in these areas can really follow it all.”

  • It is often said that it doesn’t take a scholar to understand the arguments for or against particular versions – but if you can’t read Greek, you have to simply trust what someone else tells you, you can’t know whether their arguments are valid or not.

“If I were to supply all my notes, or organize them into a detailed review, for most readers it would probably boil down to my word against Ouellette’s. That’s because, despite Ouellette’s insistence that “it doesn’t take a scholar to understand the big picture of the Bible discussion,” I don’t see any way around a simple fact: if you can’t read Greek, you’re simply going to have to take someone’s word for that big picture. Because the big picture can only be formed by extensive understanding of the details. And those details are—both sides agree this far—written in Greek.”

“I don’t think it should be controversial for most Christians to admit that they don’t read Greek. So I think the real question about the New Testament text for most Bible-believing Christians is “Whom do I trust?” On the complicated and difficult issues of Greek lexicography and textual critical canons and manuscript families you’re going to have to trust someone.”

  • The average individual approaching this debate does know one thing well – contemporary English. The English we speak is quite different from the English of the King James Version.

“I’d like to focus my critique of this book instead on something you are an expert in: contemporary English. … So you know—you know, without having to trust some other authority—that the King James does not speak your language. It certainly fits, broadly speaking, in the same era as the English you speak, the one called by linguists “Modern English.” It is not totally unintelligible, and it’s definitely pretty. But it’s foreign, not so much because it comes from Britain, but because it comes from 400 years ago. Nobody in America—and nobody in Britain—speaks or writes like that anymore.”

“Can a 62-year-old woman with an eighth grade education be expected to learn a 400-year-old form of English before she can read her Bible?”

  • No one uses the English of the King James Version any longer – except when they are reading the King James Version.

“Ouellette says, “The English language reached its literary peak in the early 1600s. While the English language has changed, it has primarily deteriorated since that time.” So why doesn’t he speak in Jacobean-era English at home, or in his sermons, or in this book? Why does he use punctuation the KJV translators didn’t use, like quotation marks? Ouellette is taking God’s words away from the weakest people by encasing them in a language even he doesn’t speak.”

There is more, but I think you can see the direction Mark is going with this review. It might be helpful for you to read it.

The FBFI does not advocate for a new translation based on the TR, nor do we find the KJV impossible to understand. In fact, it is the text we use in our meetings. We are quite comfortable with it. More than comfortable, we love the KJV. But we think that our readers should be well informed and not discouraged by all the controversy that surrounds the Bible versions.

Watch for excerpts from our latest FrontLine the first two days of next week.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.