Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random thoughts on the KJV situation

Sometimes I ponder whether I should accept the KJV-only position that the English of 1611 was specifically inspired* by God and shouldn't be changed for any reason, even to update it so that the average person now might have fewer problems with it. What's compelling about this position is the idea that the KJV just IS the word of God and we aren't to tamper with the word of God.

But I can't stick with this position for long because it makes 1611 English into a special language, THE language of the Bible. It reminds me of the Jewish claim that Hebrew is God's own holy language, or the Muslim claim that Arabic is God's own language, and didn't the Roman church do the same with Latin at one time? There's a cultic superstitious and above all chauvinistic (cultural pride) feel to it that bothers me. In the case of the Hebrew and Arabic claims, there is the idea that special subtle God-given meanings lie embedded in the language that are not available to the rest of humanity. Perhaps something similar was claimed for Latin, I don't know, but they sure fought the idea of the people getting the Bible in their own language.

Now some KJV-only defenders go so far as to claim something similar for the English of the KJV. There are degrees of this position, the most extreme claiming that the English of the KJV is the true inspired language of God, even over the original Greek of the New Testament writers. The simplest version is just that God gave it so we shouldn't think of changing it. I do believe that in the KJV we definitely have God's inspired* word and I also believe that He providentially preserved it by means of the selection of the translators of the time. I can't say the same for any of the translations or versions that have come down from the Westcott and Hort revision. None are in that sense God's word at all. God's word has nevertheless been partially preserved in them almost in spite of themselves, but they are a corruption and should be thrown out.

But although I believe the KJV IS God's word as is, I also believe that it could be updated without losing its inspired* status, if the updating were done by men of the same caliber as the original KJV translators. As a practical matter I'm convinced this isn't going to happen, and even convinced that any such project in present circumstances would have far worse consequences than insisting on leaving it as is. But in principle I believe it could be properly done, so I'm not a 1611-English-only KJVO advocate. I believe the Lord gave His word to the entire human race and English simply happens to have been particularly blessed in the last few centuries. It is also true that the KJV makes a fine foundation for translations into new languages. But all this is merely God's providence in historical reality. That is, in fact the KJV is the perfect preserved Bible of our day, but in principle the perfect preserved Bible could just as well have been in the Chinese language as in English. Or Russian -- or updated English.

It does bother me that some KJV English words that aren't even archaic are nevertheless misread by many because they are not used by the average person now with the same meaning they had then. A couple of simple little examples are "mean" and "dumb." "Mean" in the KJV contexts I'm thinking of denotes: ...low in rank or birth; ...base; ...despicable. ... worthy of little or no regard. ...Of little value; humble; poor...

But an unwary modern reader may read it more like "cruel."

As for "dumb," surely we know in the KJV it means mute or unable to speak, as in "deaf and dumb," but I've heard it quite seriously explained to mean "mentally challenged."

These are the only two that come to mind, but there are others; one in particular I keep trying to remember but I'm afraid some of my Senior Moments are turning into Senior Months.

Those are reasons we might need to update the KJV anyway. Actually, I'd probably end up just wanting to see these words learned by readers rather than changing them.

Another thought that has been rolling around in my head is something Scott Johnson raised in his latest installment on the KJV: Why so many have been taken in by the new versions. It is a matter of spiritual discernment after all. If you have the Holy Spirit shouldn't you be able to recognize there is a problem there and reject them?

Well, yes, the power is certainly potentially there, but how many of us have completely put off the flesh? How easy is it for any of us to break out of a spiritual deception on our own? It was VERY hard for me to get out from under the charismatic movement for instance. And even after I knew the new versions were bad I gave in to the pressure of the Christian community around me to deny my own discernment. Pastors who accept the new versions are usually not only in a congregation of likeminded people but may be part of a community that includes their seminary colleagues, or a network of contacts within their denomination and so on, other men they admire, and often rightly so, for their exemplary Christian lives. These are all mutually reinforcing factors.

In my case the first recognition that the new Bibles were not to be trusted came just before I left the charismatics, having seen the errors there about the same time, which makes me think it helps a great deal to have at least one toe already out of the Door of Deception, as it were, in order to be open to the possibility that there is even more deception in your life than you had any idea could be so. I remember telling an elder in my charismatic church that I thought Gail Riplinger had something important to say, and getting the answer back that I needed to "test her fruit" because her book had produced the "bad fruit" of "divisiveness" in the churches. "That's not fruit!" I blurted out. That way of turning God's word against itself, so typical of charismatic thinking, had to be one of the last straws before I left that church. Truth does have a way of being a divisive influence against falseness.

I have to suppose that there is some degree of dissonance over the Bible versions in the spirit of anyone who has the Holy Spirit, perhaps at what you'd call a subliminal level, hardly noticeable, and of course we know we can drive the Spirit away too, by leaning too heavily unto our own understanding. I had a definite feeling of dissonance, an unease, a sort of grating feeling in my spirit, but I think I could have gone on in that condition to the end of my life if circumstances had never brought it to the surface of my mind.

Then too, we all have spiritual gifts in different proportions. Some have more of the gift of spiritual discernment than others do. We're the Body of Christ, composed of many members of many spiritual gifts and talents of all kinds and degrees. The ones who have it also have the responsibility to help those who don't have it, or have less of it.

And last, it may be that few of us pray enough these days, get alone with the Lord enough, fast to know His mind enough. God uses all these means to teach our spirits. If these means of grace were practiced with a serious commitment of time and concentration, we'd shake off the dullness of our spiritual condition in short order. Or, also, we just don't obey the commands enough to put on the full armor of God, test the spirits, guard our hearts, remain watchful. (I do think if we kept up the former -- prayer mostly -- it would be easier to keep up this latter too though. It all starts with looking to the Lord).

Real Christians are truly a sleeping giant, The power of God is potential in us, but what will wake us out of our sleep? What would get even a few of us to rise up as the body of Christ we are and confront the enemy who has been only too efficient at keeping us useless?
*I realize later that "inspired" is the wrong word. Only that which God himself inspired in the original writer can be called "inspired." So I should say the translation of the KJV was "preserved" or "overseen" or "guided" by God.