Questioning One’s Belief in Their Bible

There seems to be an unavoidable yet precarious conflict which necessarily arises whenever there is a discussion about original texts and Bible versions. That conflict contains the inevitable claim that this or that guy’s Bible is not the word of God in the same way that this or that guy’s Bible is. Given the gross proliferations of Bible versions especially, this inevitability is a very modern problem though lesser species of this inevitability existed in the past e.g., Rome’s Latin Vulgate vs. Tyndale’s English NT.

As history would have us remember the whole calling out the other guy’s Bible as not the Bible or not the NT in modern and post-modern times started with the critical text camp. This happened when Wescott and Hort and those of their textual persuasion jettisoned TR priority and in effect started from the ground up on a new Greek NT. It was in this time that the Byzantine Text-From was arbitrarily regarded as a less reliable text-form when determining the wording of the original NT. We now know through the CBGM that Byzantine texts are now seen in a far more favorable light by many believing and unbelieving text critics.

Those who held to the Traditional Text or the Ecclesiastical Text or now the Confessional Text retorted, resisted, and otherwise rejected the presuppositions of these modern text criticism as well as many or most of their conclusions. But that mattered little to the inteligencia until the modern text critical machine was firmly ensconced in both Christian and non-Christian academic institutions. As such, Christians started to argue against their exegetical and theological forebearers on no other grounds than the current interpretation of the manuscript evidence seemed to demand such an argument against their Christian forebearers.

Then the modern Christians holding a modern view of text-criticism began to print modern Bibles in English while simultaneously declaring that all versions of the Bible are equally the word of God because they are sufficiently reliable. And now in the present we have some Christians reading the Bible of their exegetical and theological forebearers with sufficient reliability to teach their children, to preach from the pulpit and to lead godly lives. We call this Bible the KJV. Then there are those who read this or that other translation or these or those other translations. As a result, when the discussion of which version comes to the fore someone is telling someone else that the Bible he/she is reading needs to be different.

This happened to me at my Ph.D. defense. I have accomplished all that is necessary both in achieving prior theology degrees as well as all that was necessary to enter my Ph.D. Dissertation Defense and yet one of my readers plainly said, “Why do you use the KJV? You need to get a new Bible.” The point being that even if you are on the verge of having your Ph.D. and you already have a post-graduate degree in tow, educated well-meaning people will flatly tell you the KJV needs to be replaced without giving an argument and without receiving yours, yet it is not the KJV people who have moved.

We hold to the English Bible the English-speaking Chruch has held to for over 400 years. All the other versions are movements away from that history, and again, the stated reason of my opposing interlocutors boils down to, “Well, I interpret the manuscript evidence from a more neutral and naturalistic point of view and therefore disagree with you KJV folks.” Well, no kidding. Anyone who does not start from a distinctively Christian Archimedean Point will not end with a distinctively Christian conclusion. On that point I just read a blog post written by P.J. Williams whose view of inerrancy was as equally as fluid as water itself. It seemed that there is no statement on inerrancy that he would not sign no matter how liberal or conservative.

So, what do we do with this idea that no matter what argument I make I am going to besmirch some fellow Christian’s belief in their Bible, and not matter how hard my opposing interlocutors try, every time they tell me that the KJV is not the standard sacred text of the English-speaking community they are taking a swing at my Bible and my belief? I can’t post this every time I go to make critiques of modern translations and modern text-critical method and conclusions, but in my mind, this is how I understand the inevitable questioning of someone’s belief in Scripture.

The answer is one of order and perhaps even chronology, thus (1) represents early developments or initial developments in a Christian’s thought on the version issue and the further down the line we go the more developed and mature their argument/belief becomes.

1.) Christian X believes that all or most or many English versions are equally God’s word. On this point, my aim is not to besmirch their belief in the Bible as much as to question the idea that two things which are substantively different cannot be the same. Furthermore, it is not possible that God both inspired the long ending in Mark and did not inspire the long ending in Mark. So there are at lest two defeaters for this possition – on logical and one theological. Certainly, one of the versions you hold to may be the word of God, but it is not possible that they are all the word of God at the same time and in the same way.

2.) Occasionally you run into someone who holds to one version of the Bible as the word of God in English while simultaneously claiming that version is not the KJV. So, these folks believe the NIV or the ESV or some other one is the word of God in English to the exclusion of all others. For these folks I applaud their conclusion. It is logical and more consistent both with exegesis and theology than #1. That said, in #1 the person has at least two defeaters for his own belief which arises from that very belief. For #2, the defeater comes when I say that the KJV is the standard sacred text and Christian X says that the ESV is the standard sacred text. It is feasible that we are both wrong, but it is not possible that we are both right. It is also feasible that one of us is right. So, at a minimum one of our positions serves as a defeater for the other’s.

3.) At this point, rather than hating each other’s guts and demonizing each other we begin cordial and meaningful discussion exchanging thoughts, arguments, insights etc. Still, after all that it is the Holy Spirit who will guide each of us into all truth. So, for the sake of our example, let us assume that the KJV is indeed the next iteration of the standard sacred text for the English-speaking community. The way that Christian X is going to come to the conclusion that the KJV is the standard sacred text of the English-speaking community is by the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through the KJV to Christian X who receives the very voice of God by faith. This is how any meaningful change happens in the Christian when they have a change in one of their Christian beliefs. It is no different for when a person goes from believing this version of the Bible is the standard sacred text to believing this other version is the standard sacred text.

4.) One of two things may happen given these personal and spiritual interactions. 1.) In our example, Christian X is led by the Spirit to recognize that the KJV is indeed the standard sacred text for English-speaking Christians. This of course is the most favorable. 2.) Neither change their position on this point. They both hold to their respective texts until the day they die. This is not the most favorable, but it happens all the time. Perhaps the most famous of such a situation is when Zwingli dies in battle, Luther, disagreeing strongly on points of communion and baptism with Zwingli, writes,

“Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.”

Martin Luther, Zwingli, Too, May Be Saved by God, (1532).

In summary, 1.) The Confessional Text side did not start the doubting game. The CT side did and to this day plainly admits that their method assumes doubt as part of the process of textual criticism, and they continue to peddle doubt among God’s people in phrases like “The original is in the text or apparatus” coupled with “We have something like 95% of the original text” coupled with “There are words in your Bible that are not God’s words, but rest assured they don’t affect any major doctrine” coupled with “Only the originals were inspired” as if immediate inspiration is the only way the historic orthodox have construed inspiration. 2.) While there is an inevitable clash of beliefs on which Scripture is the Scripture there is a charitable way of going about that discussion which expects first and foremost exegetical and theological rigor followed by scholarly rigor in the field of textual criticism done while our Christian pre-commitments about the Scriptural text remain intact. 3.) Though we may continue this discussion for years to come, we still may not agree but that should not keep us from making our case. In the end though you must ask which position has a positive and robust exegetical and theological grounding and which does not. If the modern CT position has such a grounding it is currently impossible to find by both TR and CT advocates.

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