Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oh that the churches would rethink the Bible versions problem

I continue to read in Burgon's Revision Revised. Mastering Burgon is no doubt beyond me but he continues to inspire -- and sadden -- me as I read. Reading him makes me cry. I feel the force of his truthfulness and his knowledge, even the Holy Spirit in his work. But what his writing reveals is a state of the Lord's church so misled by profane minds, the word of God worked throughout now with a leaven of doubt and corruption to such a degree the grief overtakes me at times. He himself did not expect that such a thing could occur. He maintained that the flaws in the Revision could not stand the scrutiny of sane minds, which he supposed would prevail. That the corrupted work should prevail instead he regarded as a terrible thing to contemplate, but he didn't allow that it could prevail. To read him now of course is to recognize that it was his warnings the churches discarded while accepting the corrupted Bibles that have come down from Westcott and Hort.

How is it that their text of the Bible got to be so accepted by so many pastors and churches? I puzzle over this a great deal as I read through Burgon again. What explanation is there but that it's God's judgment against the Church, judgment beginning at the house of God? The Anglican Church that commissioned the revision in the first place was already beginning to be infected with the 19th century rationalism which threw much of the Bible into doubt. Burgon comments that some of the new revision reflects this infection.

But how did it spread so far? It's astonishing how so many well-known teachers today seem to take it for granted, as well as many thousands of unknown pastors. In their sermons they may depend on a favorite variation on the W&H text but refer to other variations (even to the KJV which is not such a variation but an entirely different Bible) to resolve sticky points of interpretation. They ponder the principles of Greek that have been passed down from Westcott and Hort, apparently unaware that Burgon refuted them with great care and demonstrably great knowledge. In principle there's nothing wrong with comparing texts for the sake of clarity, I suppose, although isn't there something wrong with the simple fact that pastors are put in this position at all? In any case it demonstrates the degree to which the status quo of multiple Bibles is taken for granted, and the degree to which W&H's thinking prevails, and if these are seriously in error then the pastors and their churches are unfortunately the victims of a great hoax.

Occasionally I search for new editions of the Bible I might consider as a replacement for my King James, since I've been holding to the view that an updating would be a good thing -- I mean, of course, the Bible based on the same Greek texts as the King James, known as the Received Text or Textus Receptus, before Westcott and Hort substituted their preferred texts that Burgon has shown to be corrupt. I've also considered the Geneva Bible that preceded the King James because it was the Bible of the Puritans, but I don't want another Bible with archaic language and I believe the best opinion is that the King James was an improvement over the Geneva despite the political machinations that went on over its commissioning. There are a couple of modern translations from the Textus Receptus, but the problem is that they were done by individuals, and however well-intentioned those individuals no doubt are I don't want to tie my understanding of God's word to a source that doesn't have some recognizable church authority behind him. And I don't want a Bible that is VERY different from the King James, either. I want one that preserves its basic rhythms and patterns intact. I want FEW changes, the fewer the better, which was also the philosophy of the KJV translators themselves as they set about revising the previous work by Tyndale and others. Just the updating of the worst archaisms that stumble people. OR really good footnotes. Nothing I've seen sufficiently meets my criteria.

So I'm reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the King James it's going to have to be. Or I suppose I should call it the Authorized Version. I've read on the one hand that King James himself was a bad man, even a "sodomizer," and on the other that such accusations are politically-motivated slander, and I'm not in a position to judge any of that, BUT surely we all know that the king did not do the translation himself and that the best scholars in the realm were called in to do that work. BUT calling it the Authorized Version would nevertheless be no doubt a good habit to cultivate if I can.

It would be a major help to all of us if at least it were always made clear that the King James and its predecessors were translations from a different set of Greek (and Hebrew) texts than the vast majority of Bibles produced since Westcott and Hort. Really, it's quite strange that this is not often made clear. For instance, it is just about never brought up when the reliability of the Bible texts is discussed, although their reliability certainly depends on WHICH texts are taken as authoritative.

Just for one example, Ron Rhodes on Manuscript Support for the Bible's Reliability makes not one mention of the "textus receptus," or "received text" or "king james" in this connection.

He quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) on the reliability of the scriptures without mentioning that they had no knowledge of any scriptures other than the King James and its predecessors.

The Westminster Confession makes a very important point here.
The fact is, the God who had the power and sovereign control to inspire the Scriptures in the first place is surely going to continue to exercise His power and sovereign control in the preservation of Scripture.
Actually, God's preservational work is illustrated in the text of the Bible.
By examining how Christ viewed the Old Testament, we see that He had full confidence that the Scriptures He used had been faithfully preserved through the centuries.

Because Christ raised no doubts about the adequacy of the Scripture as His contemporaries knew them, we can safely assume that the first-century text of the Old Testament was a wholly adequate representation of the divine word originally given.

Jesus regarded the extant copies of His day as so approximate to the originals in their message that He appealed to those copies as authoritative.

The respect that Jesus and His apostles held for the extant Old Testament text is, at base, an expression of the confidence in God's providential preservation of the copies and translations as substantially identical with the inspired originals.
Hence, the Bible itself indicates that copies can faithfully reflect the original text and therefore function authoritatively.

This is all misleading since it completely ignores the sea change that was brought about by Westcott and Hort in 1881.

I took it all for granted myself of course since I encountered it in every church I attended, and Bible studies as well. A particular Bible study quite strongly recommended the NASB as the best, most accurate translation, for instance, as did a couple of churches as I recall, though without mentioning that it's a translation from the Westcott and Hort textual family and not from the Traditional Text of the Authorized Version. That is, it's based on the same set of Greek texts as the NIV, the ESV, the Living Bible, and so on, which is a completely different set of Greek texts than the Authorized Version was based on, as well as the Geneva Bible, the Tyndale and all the other previous English Bibles.

In this typical frame of reference, the King James/Authorized Version is treated as merely one of the many "translations" rather than a completely different Bible, although it is not just another "translation," because it is not based on the same underlying texts. Yet the whole discussion is usually falsely framed entirely as a matter of different "translations" and the most important difference is not even mentioned, the fact that the Greek texts (and the Hebrew as well) are different.

The translations themselves are also a problem as they were very badly done, from an inferior grasp of the Greek and even an inferior grasp of English idiom, but we have to start with the textual problem as the first major problem. What we have is a proliferation of Bibles in the English language, the great majority of which are translations from sets of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that to one extent or another derive from the texts promoted by Westcott and Hort in 1881. The exact text they promoted is usually modified now in various ways, but it's still basically the same text they came up with, based on the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, which Burgon denounces as corrupt.

The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus Greek texts were chosen by W&H as superior to the texts from which the King James Bible was translated merely because they are older. The idea is if it's older it's closer to the originals and therefore more reliable. The fact that they differ a great deal from the texts the KJV and its precursors relied on seems only to add to the esteem in which they are held, as if they show that the formerly trusted texts are inferior, though such a position only serves to undermine faith in God's preservation of His word over the centuries.

Lord, have mercy on Your people and open our eyes to see Your hand in this frowning Providence, to repent of the sins that have brought this disaster upon us, that Your word may be pure among us again and Your glory our utmost concern and Your Spirit our guide.