The Preserved Word of God for English-Speaking Peoples

“Preserved” is the key word in KJV-Onlyism these days. Just about every KJV-Only doctrinal statement I see uses that word “preserved.” But I’ve been thinking for a long time along with famous systematic theologian Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what they think it means.

A new friend from KJV-Only circles contacted me on Facebook, asking me how I would assess the bibliology statement from a KJV-Only mission board. It turns out that the language is used elsewhere, and my best guess is that the original source is Heartland Baptist Bible College. So I’m going to use their text. I will bold the statements that concern me in this post, the ones about preservation.

Here’s Heartland:

We believe the Holy Bible was written by men supernaturally inspired: that it has truth for its matter without any admixture of error; that it is and shall remain to the end of the age, the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to man; and that it is the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

We believe the Authorized (King James) Version, Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God kept intact for English-speaking peoples by way of God’s divine providence and work of preservation; and that the Authorized Version translators were not “inspired,” but were merely God’s instruments used to preserve His words for English-speaking peoples.

By Holy Bible we mean that collection of sixty-six books, from Genesis to Revelation, which, as originally written and providentially preserved, does not only contain and convey the Word of God, but is the very Word of God.

By inspiration we mean that the books of the Bible were written by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Ghost in such a definite way that their writings were supernaturally and verbally inspired and free from error, as no other writings have ever been or ever will be inspired.

By providentially preserved we mean that God through the ages has, in His divine providence, preserved the very words that He inspired; that the Hebrew Old Testament text, as found in the Traditional Masoretic Text, and the Greek New Testament text, as found in the Textus Receptus, are indeed the products of God’s providential preservation and are altogether the complete, preserved, inerrant Word of God.

We therefore believe and require that the Authorized Version (King James Version) be the only English version used and or endorsed by the staff, faculty, and student body of this college.

There is much here that I joyfully affirm, of course: inspiration, inerrancy, the 66-book canon, the final authority of the Bible. I don’t want to fail to stress my wholehearted agreement with these historically orthodox beliefs. And I believe the people confessing them are truly my brothers.

But I find the language of “preservation” applied (repeatedly and insistently) to a translation to be confusing and misleading at best. We must guard against all language in doctrinal statements—where precise language is the whole point—which suggests that any one translation is perfect, or that it is the best available, or that all other translations should be avoided and viewed as untrustworthy. The Bible simply does not teach these things, even by “good and necessary consequence.” If the Bible is our “supreme standard,” and it is, we must refuse to go beyond its claims in doctrinal statements. When we do, we are building our doctrine on the same foundation on which Wile E. Coyote often found himself.

I’m going to bracket in this post the question of whether the Bible teaches that God will preserve his words in an unbroken line of perfect manuscript copies. I certainly have an opinion on this important question, but it actually isn’t relevant here. No matter what answer a KJV-Only brother might give to that question, I would like to urge him to stop using “preservation” language of any translations; this word properly belongs only in a discussion of the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words God inspired.

“To Preserve, v.”

I looked up “preserve” in the three major contemporary dictionaries I always use. Here are the relevant senses, or so it seems to me:

New Oxford American:

maintain (something) in its original or existing state: all records of the past were zealously preserved

Merriam-Webster:

1 to keep safe from injury, harm, or destruction: protect
2 to keep alive, intact, or free from decay

American Heritage:

To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged: fossils preserved in sediments; a film preserved in the archives.

I have earnestly tried, with some encouragement from two intelligent friends (one KJV-Only and one not), to read “preserved” in KJV-Only doctrinal statements to mean something different than “maintained in its original, unaltered, unchanged, intact state.” Maybe by calling a translation “preserved” they’re only saying that an accurate translation of God’s preserved words are themselves God’s words. I can affirm that, but I don’t think that’s what preserved means in standard English. English can bend pretty far under appropriate circumstances, but I’m just not seeing it. No, to “preserve” is to “keep intact.”

To call a translation a tool for “preservation” of the source text is therefore a serious confusion of categories. It’s like saying that an ornamental bush trimmed to look like a mushroom really is a mushroom. It’s like saying that a bus is a plane because, clearly, they are both oblong vehicles which can move many people at once.

I am troubled when Heartland calls the KJV “the Word of God kept intact for English-speaking peoples” (the language I see more commonly [here’s an example] is that the KJV is “the preserved word of God for English-speaking peoples”). Never mind for the moment that the English speaking peoples speak a different English than they did 400 years ago (that’s the problem my new book focuses on); I want to know: what is this “preservation” language supposed to mean when applied to a translation? If a translation “preserves” God’s words, then that translation would seem to be keeping them in perfect or unaltered condition.

What “Preserve” Appears to Mean

And that, friends, is either nonsensical or a doctrinal innovation I can’t accept. Let me state the obvious: every word in the KJV is completely different from every word in the Hebrew and Greek. Ἀ-γ-ά-π-η is 100% different from l-o-v-e. The KJV in that sense “alters” every last jot and tittle of the originals by putting them in an entirely different language with an entirely different script (I borrow this point from Bible translator and linguist Mark Strauss). Sure, the originals and the KJV mean the same things, and I’m glad to affirm that they do. But it’s still nonsensical to say that the KJV (or any translation) “preserves” the originals—if “preserve” means “keep intact.”

But I don’t like to attribute nonsense to people; I want to believe that Heartland is affirming something definite. So when this doctrinal statement confesses that a particular Bible translation revision made by a few dozen Anglicans between 1604–1611 was the object of “God’s divine providence and work of preservation” to the exclusion of all others (they’re not even allowed to “use” other translations, much less “endorse” them), they seem to me to be saying that the KJV can serve as a standard fully equal to the originals. By words like “intact” they seem to me to be saying that the KJV is perfect. I spoke at length on the phone with a Heartland professor in the last year (a gifted and dedicated guy), and when I asked him whether he would update any of the language of the KJV if he could, he said, “Well, you can’t alter the Word of God.”

This—viewing the KJV as perfect and inviolable—is a significant deviation from orthodox bibliology. Yes, a translation is God’s word, and this is important to affirm; but a translation is not God’s word in the same, ultimate sense as those originals. If we’re unsure what a passage means, the ultimate appeal is to the inspired Greek and Hebrew. Translations don’t trump the originals. Ever. And they don’t fully equal them. Nowhere does the Bible itself tell us to expect perfect Bible translations. “All Scripture is God-breathed,” yes—and the human subjects involved were “holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21; Bibliology 101). The KJV—and Reina Valera and Louis Segond—translators are not properly considered among the group of men moved by the Spirit. The Bible never tells us to expect this.

I’m not even sure what a perfect translation looks like: what is a “perfect” translation of a difficult word like στοιχεῖον (stoicheion) in Col 2:20? What’s a perfect translation of the disputed phrase in Rom 1:5, ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (hupakoen pisteos), often translated “obedience of faith”? To have a perfect translation means, in these and many other cases, making perfect interpretations of those phrases—do we really think all those Anglicans managed it? They certainly didn’t think so.

And what about the tiny judgment calls abounding in Bible translation—ones for which the KJV translators themselves felt compelled to add notes mentioning alternative renderings? Is it “trusted” or “hoped” in Eph 1:12? The KJV translators weren’t certain:

What about the even tinier judgment calls—like the one I came across while reading a new translation of the NT during my lunch break:

“The foxes have lairs…” The KJV has, of course, “The foxes have holes…” Which is it? Is it the more general holes or the more specific lairs? The referent is clearly the same in each case, and the lexicons give both glosses. Which translation is “perfect” and “intact”?

And what about the times when a MT/TR-based translation into another language, like the Spanish Reina-Valera of 1909, makes a different interpretation of a text than does the KJV? Who’s got God’s words, the English speakers or the Spanish ones? To pick a random example, the last word in Numbers 23:21 is translated them by the KJV and él (“him”) by the Reina Valera of 1909. Presumably this is a matter of interpretation on someone’s part. Who got it right? Who has God’s word there and who doesn’t?

KJV-Onlyism is a search for a perfect, physically accessible doctrinal standard: the KJV. I suppose I wouldn’t mind having a perfect translation, but that isn’t what God gave us, or promised to give us.

The Preserved Vulgate

One of the signal errors of the Roman Catholic Church was that for many centuries it treated their preferred Latin translation as possessing an authority which even they now recognize it did not. I say they recognize this because it is my understanding that Catholic translations are now made from the Greek and Hebrew originals. Even today there are Catholics who wish to go back to the days of the Latin rite. But some of the Vulgate’s translations, like poenitentiam agite, led to major problems over centuries. (Footnote: interestingly, the TR now preferred by the KJV-Only was originally accompanied with a new translation into Latin by Erasmus.)

No one, I guarantee you, stood up one day in any Catholic church and said, “Starting next Sunday, we’re going to read the Bible and conduct our services using a language no one can understand.” So how in the world did it happen? Slowly. Latin became Spanish and Italian and Portuguese and French; and the last one on that list just happened to pour numerous words (from multiple French dialects in different parts of France, it turns out) into the language of a nearby island country through successive invasions, and we got modern English. But the Latin Vulgate was “preserved.” It remained basically unchanged, kept intact. And eventually it became unintelligible to the common people.

One of the reasons we can’t have a perfect translation is that you can’t say a language is, once and for all. A language is always changing, always becoming something new and slightly different, until the changes add up and misunderstandings begin to occur more and more often. The “English-speaking peoples” of today don’t all speak precisely the same English—witness Kenyan, UK, Aussie, South African, Guyanese, Singaporean and other Englishes. And the “English-speaking peoples” of today most certainly don’t speak the English of the Elizabethans. One of the reasons translations can’t be perfect bullseyes is that languages are moving targets.

Charitable Hermeneutics

It just so happens that a friend of mine knows the now-deceased (?) gentleman who says he came up with the “preserved word of God for English-speaking peoples” language. I have not been able to track down more information, but my friend says this guy said he didn’t mean for that language to become what it has become.

So I’m not sure what the language originally meant, but I believe I know what it’s being used to mean now. The most charitable interpretation I can put on the common KJVO language—“The KJV is God’s preserved Word for English-speaking peoples”—goes something like this: they want to accord exclusive status to the KJV, but they recognize they can’t call it “inspired” (to be clear, I applaud this recognition). So instead they call it “preserved” (or “intact”)—which is somehow less than “inspired” but still makes the KJV superior to all other English Bible translations; yea, even perfect.

I have looked at hundreds of KJV-Only doctrinal statements, and not one of them explains whether other English translations are also “God’s preserved word”; this tends to leave the impression that they are not. More commonly (maybe 25% of the time?) these statements reject all other English translations, as Heartland does, and they insist that only the KJV will be “used” in their church or school or mission board. Recently I’ve even seen a few of them calling the KJV itself the “ultimate authority” for faith and practice.

They don’t actually tend to call the KJV “perfect” outright, but that’s the only thing I can get out of all the “preservation” language when applied to a translation.

Brass Vernacular Tacks

Some KJV-Only leaders, the ones working on developing the theological rationale for the movement, have come up with some impressive argumentation for their viewpoint. It is not irrational, I think, to conclude from “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” that we need every one of God’s words. It’s not a huge step from there to assume that, well, we must have all these words somewhere. It’s not an impossible step from there to say that a good God would give us all the words, and just those words, in our language.

I do think there are significant flaws in this reasoning, and I’ve discussed some of them in the past. But I’m supposed to be bracketing this question… So let me get to brass tacks, two foundational reasons why I’m skeptical of TR-Only views:

  1. The Bible never tells us to expect perfect translations. The Septuagint used by Jesus and the apostles was not perfect, just good. (Don’t believe me? Listen to the KJV translators in their own preface: “The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it.”) I don’t want language in my doctrinal statement to claim more than the Bible claims.
  2. And after spending multiple years on the issue of vernacular Bible translation and the KJV, I’m utterly convinced of this: the end point (I’d actually say the beginning point) of TR-Only reasoning is that we have have to accord top or exclusive status the KJV. And that means we have to read and memorize and teach from a translation people can’t fully understand because we no longer speak the English it uses. And that just can’t be right. What good is it to have all the right words if people can’t understand them? Paul speaks directly to this issue in 1 Cor 14. And the KJV translators do, too, in their excellent preface:

Without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, “Read this, I pray thee,” he was fain to make this answer, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”

This is why I’m always saying to the TR-Only: give us a translation of the Bible into our English using whatever texts you prefer.

Crossing Sea and Land

In the two weeks since my book’s release I’ve started to get letters from people who are in the process of leaving KJV-Onlyism. KJV-Onlyism has little to fear from me: I get the impression that these people were already skeptical and bought my book immediately upon release because they knew it would help them know how and why to leave KJV-Only bibliology behind. Also, I want to say that I cautioned all of them to be respectful and gracious toward—and grateful for—their heritage. I think it’s ugly to feel arrogant over people you agreed with yesterday, a denial of 1 Cor 4:7.

I also think it’s ugly to crow about the proselytes one has made within Christianity; that is, from one doctrinal view to another, even if one is aberrant. I don’t feel like saying to the KJVOs, “See my converts? Ha, take that!”; I just feel sad. I feel sad that we can’t be unified because of the KJVOs’ doctrinal innovation. I feel sad for the missionary, the assistant pastor, and the senior pastor who’ve contacted me recently and told me of their return to bibliological orthodoxy—because I know they’re going to lose friendships, and I don’t want them to be cast adrift relationally. I feel sad for the kids who are taught verses they can’t understand when the NIV and ESV are a click away. The idea that Christians would forbid not just the endorsement but the “use” (!) of Bible translations other than a 400-year-old one people struggle to read—I’m just at a loss. This is divisive extremism of the saddest and most unnecessary kind: how could regenerated people engage in it? This whole topic fills me with dread.

But the Bible fills me with hope: regenerated people have God’s Spirit; they have gifts and brains and love and Christ’s righteousness. Loving, rational, Bible-based appeals can make a difference. I’m seeing that difference, even if the results are currently small. So here’s my double appeal to the KJV-Only: 1) take advantage of the riches of modern English vernacular Bible translation: “all are yours” (1 Cor 3). And 2) don’t go beyond the Bible to “preserve” the Bible.

KJVParallelBible.org Launches!

I’ve been so busy with the launch of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, I failed to announce the soft launch of KJVParallelBible.org to either of my blog readers! The launch is “soft” because it’s a strong proof-of-concept, not a full New Testament. But a lot of the work is done; I just have to get a few more volunteers and a bit more time for me to process the completed work of other volunteers and put it up on the site.

The project is supposed to show intuitively that the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text (CT) are so minor—and the similarities so overwhelming—that the TR-Only (who are almost always also KJV-Only) would be forced to acknowledge, “Boy, this is what we’ve been fighting over?”

So I was disappointed, though not surprised, when the first email I got through the contact form looked like it came from an ardent KJV-Only partisan who was finding a conspiracy to advance the perpetual virginity of Mary in Matt 1:25 (which would mean he looked at the very first page on the site, but possibly no others…).

Nonetheless, I followed up with the guy, and it turns out I misjudged him. He seems to me to be a genuine searcher, not a partisan. And he isn’t KJV-Only. I ended up writing the following in our exchange, an exchange I found instructive and edifying. I was glad to have read him wrong initially, and glad he had the grace to explain himself.

* * *

Yes, the TR, by calling Jesus Mary’s “firstborn,” makes it difficult to hold to Mary’s perpetual virginity. And yes, the Critical Text (CT) leaves that possibility open by calling Jesus only “a son” of Mary.

But I think you’re reading the motivation of a person or persons that are very, very remote from you. I also think that to read intention into one difference commits you to finding a pattern: you have to look at hundreds of differences and discern unified theological purposes behind them. I think you’ll find that rather difficult…

I also think, to be fair, you need to try to come up with an alternate story for every difference. Indeed, why wouldn’t it work the other way? The indefinite article—”a son”—doesn’t require the perpetual virginity view, it just leaves it open. So what’s to stop a zealous, orthodox scribe from “clarifying” that Jesus was only her firstborn? Why not say that the TR “added” to the New Testament rather than that the CT “removed” text or “changed” it?

It’s a lot easier to view the differences as something far less exciting than a conspiracy to alter God’s word.

But… If you aren’t insisting on exclusive use of the KJV, then my disagreement with you over textual criticism matters comparatively little. I care about vernacular translation far above right textual critical views.

I prefer the CT, yes. But since the point of my KJVParallelBible.org project is to highlight the similarities between the CT and TR and show how minor are the differences, I just don’t find a lot of energy in my heart to push me to disabuse you of textual critical notions I disagree with. I’m not saying, “You’re not worth my time”; not at all. I’m saying that as long as you accept the need for a vernacular Bible, I’m completely happy if you still prefer the TR.

I suppose, if I had to read between the lines in your response and offer one response of my own, it would be that every attempt to “throw out” the “bad” manuscripts seems to find itself attached to a narrative about who allegedly tampered with them. I look at the TR vs. the CT—the historical heirs of each supposed major line of manuscripts (Byzantine and Alexandrian)—and I just have a hard time building such a narrative. There are so, so many outliers for any story you could tell. And so many differences for which I just can’t find a story to tell in the first place. Is it that the star “came to rest” over baby Jesus or “came and stood” over him? What doctrinal motivation, what narrative, can you build to explain that difference?

I think one of the things that this project has done for me is shown me the sheer number of non-doctrinal statements there are in the New Testament. Don’t get me wrong, it all adds up to sound doctrine. And I want to incorporate every word. But I’m hard-pressed to find a doctrinal difference between…

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

…and…

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in purity.

And that’s actually one of the more substantive differences out there. (I got this one from 1 Tim 4, a passage I picked at random.)

Most differences seem to me to be even less significant than that one. Like this:

Requiting one’s parents is “good and acceptable before God” or it’s merely “acceptable before God.” (This is from 1 Tim 5.)

What’s the difference here? I don’t see one. (If there’s a problem for understanding the verse, it’s not in the inclusion or non-inclusion of the word “good.” It’s in the “false friend” in the KJV, the word “acceptable” is a “false friend.” In 1611 [or perhaps in British English? I’m a bit unclear on this one] it had a more positive ring that isn’t available to us now. For them it meant “pleasing”—four out of five stars. For us it means two stars: “The performances varied from excellent to acceptable” [see Merriam-Webster].)

And in both 1 Tim 4 and 1 Tim 5, the two texts are nearly identical. Any manuscript tossed out as “bad” is likely to agree 99% with the “good” ones—so why call them “bad”? I want people to use this site and conclude, “Why are we fighting about this!?”

I often feel like the TR side wants to tell stories that could easily be countered with different stories that would work just as well. The fact is we don’t know what was motivating long-dead scribes. I think they’d laugh uproariously at some of our guesses. And then I think the TR side wants to find one plausible story and run with it around the globe—without being willing to come up with a story that actually includes all the evidence.

I take that back, sort of. They do have a story that includes all the evidence: the meaningless variants were placed there to throw us off the scent, I’ve heard them say. They’re supposed to fool us into accepting the meaningful ones. That sounds like classic conspiracy-theory thinking to me, especially when you consider what it takes to change a text that exists in multiple locales in a world without planes.

So when the TR view tells contestable stories about meaningful variants, when it resorts to conspiracy theories to explain the non-meaningful ones, and when the TR position in my experience is used to support the KJV 99% of the time (am I wrong?), I find it hard to accept. If they all move to the NKJV or MEV, I’ll take note. Then we’ll talk.

Because I can still respect someone who takes a TR position (or a Majority Text position)—as long as they support vernacular translation. Give me a contemporary, intelligible translation of a “bad” Greek New Testament any day over an archaic, sometimes unintelligible translation (unintelligible because of language change, not because of bad translating) of a “good” Greek New Testament.

Endorsements for Authorized

My new book is out today in print and digital formats.

I’ve been trying to pick a moment when it was “born”… Was it when my favorite seminary professor said, “You prefer the Textus Receptus? Fine. Make a new translation of it”? Was it when my long-time pastor called the KJV an “impediment” to Bible study? Was it when I watched thousands of kids at a Christian camp memorize a verse I knew they didn’t understand? Yes, it was all those things. But the one moment when the real kernel of the book crystalized in my mind was when I realized that the word “halt” in 1 Kings 18:21 meant something different than I had always assumed. I quickly discovered that other long-time KJV readers had made the same perfectly natural mistake. I stumbled onto the concept of “false friends,” and then I started to see them pretty much any time I read a KJV passage of any length. This was something the Christian world needed to know about.

A few other links of interest:

Endorsements

Here are some trusted names in the area of Bible translation who saw at least some value in the book. Regular readers of this blog will be shocked to find that several of them noticed humor in my writing; I really broke the mold to write this book. was shocked to get these endorsements. I’m grateful to the Lord and to these men.

*  *  *

“This lightly written and frequently amusing book gently hides the competent scholarship that underlies it. For those who are convinced of the superiority of the KJV, whether for stylistic, cultural, pedagogical, theological, or traditional reasons, this is the book to read. Mercifully, Dr. Ward does not pummel his readers or sneer at those who take another position. Patiently, chapter by chapter, example by example, he makes his case—all of his work geared toward fostering more and better Bible reading. Highly recommended.”

D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL)

* * *

“Mark Ward’s Authorized: the Use and Misuse of the King James Bible is a very cogent, concise, clear, and helpful book on the subject of Bible translations. It is full of information about how language changes and doesn’t change, and it is full of wisdom about how Christians should respond to these processes. Ward argues that we should find virtue both in the old and the new, both in ‘formal’ translations and in ‘functional’ ones. His argument is firmly based in the presupposition that Scripture is God’s word, and that we need it for our salvation and for living the Christian life. And he follows his own advice: he writes in the vernacular—to contemporary readers, in an ‘I-you’ dialogue. So the book is useful, both for beginning Bible students and for linguists. Particularly, it has the potential to gentle our arguments about translations, to reconcile factions, and, to that extent, to unify the church.”

John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando)

* * *

“This is hands down the most interesting, educating, delightful and understandable work that I’ve read on the question of which English Bible translation to use. In addition to being factually accurate, it’s unusually balanced. I found the first chapter, on potential losses from jettisoning the KJV, to be as compelling in its arguments as the chapters following and making the case for multiplying translations. It’s charitable—I can’t imagine any reader, no matter what his position on the issue, feeling abused or slighted. And it’s pleasurable—rarely the case with an academic work. But truly, this one’s a page-turner.”

Mark Minnick, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Church Ministries, Bob Jones Seminary; senior pastor, Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Greenville, SC)

* * *

“Mark Ward’s book on the King James Version is first of all a delightful book to read. I had a hard time putting it down once I started it. Another virtue of the book is that Ward grew up loving the KJV, and thus we have a friendly criticism of its use today instead of an attack from an outsider. Ward is convincing in arguing that the KJV should not be one’s primary Bible today since it is too antiquated for contemporary readers. In fact, he shows that the KJV translators would agree with that assessment, for they were excellent scholars who desired to translate the Bible into the vernacular. As Ward says, there is no need to dispense with the KJV altogether, and the best practice is to use a number of translations, and thankfully we are blessed with many fine English translations today.”

Tom Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)

* * *

“Ward combines good writing and common sense to explain why English speakers today should both appreciate the KJV and benefit from excellent modern translations.”

Andrew David Naselli, associate professor of New Testament and theology, Bethlehem College & Seminary (Minneapolis)

* * *

“Just because you know all of the words in an old sentence of English doesn’t mean you know what they meant when they were written. Mark Ward shows us, with a light but authoritative touch, that if we want the Bible to speak to us the way it did to those alive when it was written, we must adjust the vocabulary with meanings only scholars can make out—a revelation of a new kind.”

John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics, Columbia University; host of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley

* * *

“This volume by Mark Ward is everything a book should be that deals with a controversial topic like the abiding value of the King James Version. It is engaging, readable, often humorous, and clever in its arguments. Most importantly, it is accurate in its facts, balanced in its presentation, and irenic in tone. I would highly recommend it not only for those involved in the KJV-only debate, but for anyone with an interest in Bible translation.”

Mark L. Strauss, university professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego

* * *

“Can anything useful still be said on the use of the King James Version? Yes, and Mark Ward has said it. Mark focuses on those gaps between Elizabethan and contemporary English that are hard to spot and therefore cause confusion for today’s readers. He writes with compassion, humility, sympathy, clarity, and good humor about a topic that can still spark heated arguments. Authorized makes a contribution, even if a late one, to discussion by avoiding the topic of Koine Greek textual criticism and focusing on something every reader of the KJV is supposed to know: English.”

Kevin Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis)

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“Authorized is a little book that packs a punch. It deals with a common issue in a helpful, humorous, and respectful way. It is worthy of any Christian’s time.”

Tim Challies, author and blogger

Wise Words from Lesslie Newbigin on Pluralism and Secularism

I’m listening to Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks (Eerdmans, 1988). My local library had it among their digital audio loans, and I thought it was high time I went through a Newbigin book. The book comes from lectures he delivered in Princeton’s Warfield lectures of 1984—and yet it sounds like things that didn’t hit the evangelical mainstream for a decade or more after that. Remarkable.

(Newbigin makes dismissive comments about fundamentalism,  particularly its supposedly blinkered view of science, but I’ve come to realize that the whole point of mentions of fundamentalism is dismissiveness. Outside of some scholarly works in which careful definition is attempted, “fundamentalism” only ever means, “The dummies to my right.” These dummies never get to speak, because presumably all they could say is “Bar, bar, bar.” Ah, well. The book is still packed with wisdom.)

This quote jumped out at me this morning:

Of course, as contemporary history proves, Christians can live and bear witness under any regime, whatever its ideology. But Christians can never seek refuge in a ghetto where their faith is not proclaimed as public truth for all. They can never agree that there is one law for themselves and another for the world. They can never admit that there are areas of human life where the writ of Christ does not run. They can never accept that there are orders of creation or powers or dominions that exist otherwise than to serve Christ. Whatever the institutional relationship between the church and the state—and there are many possible relationships, no one of which is necessarily the right one for all times and places—the church can never cease to remind governments that they are under the rule of Christ and that he alone is the judge of all they do. The church can never accept the thesis that the central shrine of public life is empty, in other words, that there has been no public revelation before the eyes of all the world of the purpose for which all things and all peoples have been created and which all governments must serve. It can never accept an ultimate pluralism as a creed even if it must—as of course it must—acknowledge plurality as a fact. In fact, it cannot accept the idea … of a secular society in which, on principle, there are no commonly acknowledged norms. We know now, I think, that the only possible product of that ideal is a pagan society. Human nature abhors a vacuum. The shrine does not remain empty. If the one true image, Jesus Christ, is not there, an idol will take its place.

These words made me think of none other than Stanley Fish, who said in an epochal First Things piece,

A person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch….

A religion deprived of the opportunity to transform the culture in its every detail is hardly a religion at all.

So, on the one hand, I’m not aiming for a theocracy. I can’t go around immanentizing eschatons all day. That’s not my job. I’m Awaiting the King; he will do that. I acknowledge the fact of pluralism. But I can’t accept that pluralism is a good, only a lesser evil—a lesser evil than coercing people’s consciences to confess belief in something they don’t believe in. I like the ad-hoc nature of the church-state relation suggested by Newbigin, because it seems to me that that’s what most Christians will get. They have to be able to live and think Christianly under any regime. But as Jamie Smith points out, sometimes prophets who stand athwart society get elected to high office; they’ve got to be able to get to the work of construction, of bringing change. They can’t cease to be Christians at that time and suddenly become convinced pluralists. I think that every day, and in every way, we push for whatever good we can get away with without doing any evil (like coercing consciences).

Some Thoughts on Some Thoughts on the Future of Christian Higher Ed

Alan Jacobs and Carl Trueman are probably right to fear that the sexual revolution will “annihilate” a number of Christian institutions of higher learning once discrimination for sexual orientation fully and officially becomes the new racism. But my alma mater survived the loss of its tax-exemption; I do think there are Christian parents who will be willing to send their children off to schools that are unaccredited. I was born to a pair, both of whom were college-educated and knew what they were doing. And I will do it. I will.

Call me a dreamer, but I wonder if the death of certain institutions and the compromise of others will actually galvanize the Christian community, causing them to view my alma mater—and any other school that will not bow the knee to unfettered Eros—in a new light. I don’t know. Darkness and low enrollment may continue for a night, but a “baby boom” of a freshman class may be coming in the morning, along with a lot of transfer students.

An alternative model I’ve recently heard involves churches putting together Bible colleges that complement the education being offered in secular institutions. This is not ideal; I’d rather ask my kids to “joyfully accept the plundering of their property” (Heb 10:34) through unaccredited degrees at “Benedict-Option” Christian schools in the hills than ask them to navigate the challenges of a capital-S Secular education during their formative years. I certainly wasn’t ready as a college freshman to withstand those challenges.