Thursday, October 9, 2008

The strange logic of James White

In this age of uncertainty, the last thing we need is the suspicion that the Word of God is somehow faulty and misleading. Yet many, even within Christendom, have set about to undermine the authority of Scripture. This happens in places of radical higher criticism, but it also happens in places where we are least expecting.

James White, in The King James Only Controversy, deals with this sense of uncertainty in God's word promoted by those who defend the KJV as the only reliable Bible.

So opens the Foreword to James White's book, by Dr. Mike Baird. Having spent some time studying the controversy myself and having arrived at an anti-new-versions position if not quite a KJV-only position, I was horrified at this statement. There is certainly an undermining of the authority of Scripture that we are presently having to deal with, but this was first of all brought about by the Revision of 1881 which cast all kinds of doubt on the Bible that had been held as authoritative for the previous 250 years.

The undermining then continues with the current proliferation of the new versions that are based largely on that 1881 Revision, and especially by the many differences to be found among all the versions. The mere existence of so many Bibles in itself raises the question, Which is the Word of God? Yet the new versions defenders blame this effect on the KJV-only people, who have been trying to bring this problem to the attention of Christians, instead of their own camp where the blame belongs. Perhaps they think if nobody mentions it, the undermining doesn't actually exist?

Moving from the Foreword to White's Introduction, I find a rather odd confirmation of what I just said. He writes of a Christian friend's concern about the discrepancy between her own Bible and her pastor's. The pastor had preached on Matthew 18:11, quoting it as "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost," which is how the New American Standard reads. She and her husband, however, have the New International Version, which does not have Matthew 18:11 at ALL. Not having noticed the footnote in their NIV that gave this verse, they were "puzzled and wondered why the NIV would 'delete' this verse."

Well, yeah, it's a reasonable question why the NIV would delete that verse. Of course White is insinuating by putting "delete" in quotes that the pastor's version must have added that verse instead, which is the position of the new versions defenders. (Well, it's either one or the other, isn't it? Either the verse was wrongly added at some point in the past or it was wrongly deleted. I see no other alternative myself. The NIV's putting in a footnote suggests they believe it was wrongly added in the past but they feel obliged to note that it does exist in some manuscripts).

Shouldn't it be obvious that this discrepancy between two of the modern versions these people encountered demonstrates that the different versions themselves naturally raise doubts in people's minds about which is the true word of God? But instead of acknowledging this natural confusion, White dismisses this couple's concern as just an expression of "a large measure of ignorance when it comes to the text of the Scriptures" among good Christians, and goes on to suggest that they simply need to be educated in why there are so many different translations and all will be well. He's certainly right when he says that "It is this kind of confusion that provides the perfect breeding ground for controversy." Indeed it is. The mere existence of such differences breeds doubt. He's here agreed that this is so. But all is resolved in Dr. White's view when the explanation of the situation is given the poor confused Christian. What that explanation is will have to wait, but of course it's a rationalization of the need for all these differences that in some magical way removes the natural doubt of his friends, assuring them on his authority that they are wrong to doubt.

Now, although this is obviously all about the natural confusion created by the new versions themselves, what does Dr. White then do but go on immediately to make this confusion into a problem created by the King James Only people. I could almost not believe my eyes, but right after giving this example he immediately says:

The King James Only controversy, by its very nature, brings disruption and contention right into the pews of the local Christian church.

Let me get this straight: He gives an example of people's natural confusion about the discrepancies between two of the NEW VERSIONS, but then immediately goes on to blame this confusion on the King James Only position?

Could I ask here how anyone takes this book seriously? In just these first two pages haven't we encountered a bizarre failure of reasoning and a bias that overrides all logic?