Friday, October 17, 2008

More on Daniel Wallace Essay (5)

I'm not going to continue copying out everything in Wallace's essay so here's the link again: What I'm leaving out is a discussion of the different approaches to translation and some on his criteria for choosing a translation. Now he's going to recommend what he considers to be the best translations.

But before we look at these translations, I'd like to make three general comments. First, you might think there is no hope of ever knowing what the Word of God really says. There are so many translations that read so differently! How can anyone who does not know Greek or Hebrew really know what the Bible says?

Well, yes, this is exactly the effect of having so many different translations. The very fact of so many choices naturally raises the question, Which is the true Bible. At least Wallace acknowledges the effect, whereas James White didn't, but blamed the King-James-Only arguments for fostering mistrust of God's word. But then Wallace raises it only to dispense with it:

I am personally convinced that the Holy Spirit is sovereign over even the worst translations. Even in extremely biased or sectarian translations, all the major doctrines can be found. And if you know which translations are best, then you will be much better off! . . .
The KJV translators also affirmed that even inferior translations are God's word, and that their work was only to make better what was already good, but they had far better cause for that position than the modern versions apologists have. There is no doubt that God makes use of the new versions for the salvation and guidance of many of His people, but that doesn't justify them.

Yes, it is much the same argument that since the major doctrines can be found in the new versions overall, the fact that those doctrines are nevertheless left out in many verses shouldn't be regarded as a problem. It's a spurious argument. What matters is whether the verses WERE left out, or conversely, added into the textual tradition on which the KJV is based. What matters, that is, is the TRUTH, keeping in mind that either subtracting or adding to God's word is a serious offense that is punishable by being cut out of the Book of Life.

So to make so much of the fact that the omnipotent and merciful God, who can speak to people through a burning bush or the mouth of a donkey or an unbeliever, can make use of a flawed translation as well, evades the question that matters: how is there any justification at all for so many translations, for the burden on the body of Christ to discriminate among them, even to play textual critics, and for the irreverence such human interference in God's work demonstrates?
Third, to the question "Which translation is best?", there can be no singular answer. I suggest that every Christian who is serious about studying the Bible own at least two translations. He should have at least one dynamic equivalence translation (or phrase-for-phrase) and one formal equivalence translation (that is, word-for-word translation). In fact, it would be good to have two dynamic equivalence translations--because in this type of translation, the translator is also the interpreter. If his interpretation is correct, it can only clarify the meaning of the text; if it is incorrect, then it only clarifies the interpretation of the translator!

This is pretty standard advice these days and I took it for granted myself until I began to see the problems with the modern versions. Now it strikes me as symptomatic of those problems. It really only makes sense if you accept the whole system of thought that supports the new versions. If you step back from it you have to wonder if it can be a good thing for the average Christian to be given the responsibility of choosing Bibles at all. For what purpose was the church given pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists and so on except to take on certain tasks everyone in the body of Christ isn't gifted or called by God to pursue, such as ideally to provide a Spirit-inspired church-authorized Bible, done in the fear of God, for the whole body?

The unnecessary and distracting burden on the flock is one thing, but the very fact of many translations does erode trust in God's word, does place His word on a human footing which depreciates it in the public mind, however unconsciously, even encouraging in some the "liberal" attitude of putting their own judgment above God's word when they should submit to its judgment instead. There is really no excuse for the church's having accepted so many translations, or, of course, the original unauthorized revision in the first place.

Now, for the translations.

King James Version

The King James Bible has with good reason been termed, "the noblest monument of English prose" (RSV preface). Above all its rivals, the King James Version has had the greatest impact in shaping the English language. It is a literary masterpiece.

First of all, it is misleading to put the King James on a list with the new versions as merely one of the many "translations," because that implies they are all translations of the same Greek and Hebrew text and obscures the fact that not only is the English different among the various Bibles even when the source text is identical, but the Greek and Hebrew texts themselves are different, and NOT merely minimally so.

The King James is not simply one of the "versions," it is a completely different Bible based on a completely different set of Greek texts.

I also have to comment that to recognize that the King James had this enormous impact on the language, which it did, is to contradict that other claim Dr. Wallace made: that it needs to be changed to be accessible to the average person. No, obviously people adapted to the King James as the language did. The language grew in elegance and the people grew with it, and a good argument can be made that had it never been subjected to the tender ministrations of Westcott and Hort, the language, the culture and the church would continue to benefit.

There was probably reason even in 1881 to desire some revision for the sake of updating. Some will strenuously argue, not without some justification that should be taken seriously, that any updating at all was unnecessary and still is, but in any case there was no need at all for the extensive revision that was done instead. That revision amounts to a mutilation of the English, that very noble English prose that everyone always feels obliged to laud even while celebrating its eclipse by outrageously inferior substitutes. Someone who does that most likely has no genuine sense of the literary beauty of the King James anyway, but is only parroting the familiar testimony.

But, lest anyone wishes to revere it because it was "good enough for St. Paul," or some such nonsense, we must remember that the King James Bible of today is not the King James of 1611. It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes! Further, there are over 300 words in the King James that no longer mean what they meant in 1611. If one wishes to use a Bible that follows the same Greek and Hebrew texts as the King James, I recommend the New King James Version.2

This is a common argument I've seen answered dozens of times though the mistake persists. It really holds no water.

There is a discussion of it at Way of Life. org but the link became obsolete after I quoted this:

It is true that there were revisions. The first was in 1629 by Samuel Ward and John Bois, who had worked on the original translation. The second was in 1638 by the Cambridge University Press. The third was in 1762 by Dr. Thomas Paris of Trinity College, Cambridge. The fourth was in 1769 by Dr. Benjamin Blayney.

The changes, though, were of a very minor nature. They were largely a correction of printing errors, an updating of italics, spelling, and punctuation, and modernizing of some obsolete words. The changes also involved the addition of a large number of new marginal notes and cross-references.
[Quoting Dr. Donald Waite] "There were ONLY 136 SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES that were different words. The others were only 285 MINOR CHANGES OF FORM ONLY. Of these 285 MINOR CHANGES, there are 214 VERY MINOR CHANGES such as 'towards' for 'toward'; 'burnt' for 'burned'; 'amongst' for 'among'; 'lift' for 'lifted'; and 'you' for 'ye.' These kinds of changes represent 214 out of the 285 minor changes of form only."
And The New King James is far from merely an updated King James. I myself used the New King James for years because it's represented as merely an updated King James, but it turned out it isn't a mere updating. It has been altered in many places to conform it to the revised Greek texts:

The instances in which the NKJV breaks with the original KJV by substituting wording identical to that of corrupted modern Bible versions are too numerous to be considered coincidence. And, since Nelson tells us that the NKJV scholars spent "months of prayer, research, and discussion over the handling of a single word," we must conclude that these changes were neither coincidental nor accidental.
A long but not exhaustive list of such differences follows the above quote at the now-obsolete link, but it should be searchable at the site.

Dr. Cloud has other discussions of the problems with the NKJV at his site but links I post to specific pages on his site are always becoming obsolete. Just go to Way of Life dot org and search for the material which I'm sure is still there.

And here's a general answer to another essay by Dr. Wallace on the subject of the King James, Brandon Staggs' answer to Daniel Wallace:

Wallace goes on to say that "300 words found in the KJV no longer bear the same meaning." While this is generally accurate, it is dishonest of Wallace to use this as a point of debate when his desire is to replace the KJV with a text based on entirely different manuscripts, not just to update thelanguage. Even the so-called New King James Version discards readings from the KJV and replaces them with different readings where no language updates are "needed." The "need" for an update is debatable, but is a different debate. So far, no suitable updates exist, because all of them change meanings of the text while claiming to merely update the words. Rather than tampering with the text, as no modern scholar seems able to do anything without changing the text, we'd be better off improving the vocabulary of Bible readers by a mere 300 words instead of shoveling them dozens of conflicting Bible versions and creating doubt in the process.