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Proof of what is unseen

Science and Religion Should Not Fight

Mark Ward

Spurgeon quotes one “Dr. M’Cosh” in The Treasury of David, and he has eloquent and insightful things to say, centuries ago, about the war between science and religion, reason and faith:

We have often mourned over the attempts made to set the works of God against the Word of God, and thereby excite, propagate, and perpetuate jealousies fitted to separate parties that ought to live in closest union.

In particular, we have always regretted that endeavours should have been made to depreciate nature with a view of exalting revelation; it has always appeared to us to be nothing else than the degrading of one part of God’s works in the hope thereby of exalting and recommending another.

Let not science and religion be reckoned as opposing citadels, frowning defiance upon each other, and their troops brandishing their armour in hostile attitude. They have too many common foes, if they would but think of it, in ignorance and prejudice, in passion and vice, under all their forms, to admit of their lawfully wasting their strength in a useless warfare with each other.

Science has a foundation, and so has religion; let them unite their foundations, and the basis will be broader, and they will be two compartments of one great fabric reared to the glory of God. Let the one be the outer and the other the inner court. In the one, let all look, and admire and adore; and in the other, let those who have faith kneel, and pray, and praise. Let the one be the sanctuary where human learning may present its richest incense as an offering to God, and the other the holiest of all, separated from it by a veil now rent in twain, and in which, on a blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, we pour out the love of a reconciled heart, and hear the oracles of the living God.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 1-26, vol. 1 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 270.

HT: Doug Bachorik

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 5, We Use Only the KJV—for Only Practical Reasons

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. On Monday, Objection 4: the NKJV uses critical text readings. Today, the too-long-awaited conclusion.

5. We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons

I’ve had several church leaders tell me that they see and even perhaps agree with my viewpoint, but that it’s extremely important to retain the KJV for practical reasons. Everyone in a church should be using the same Bible translation, they say. This is the only way the church can have Scripture memory programs and corporate reading. They fear the confusion that arises when someone says, “Well, that’s not what my Bible says.”

I think their concern is overblown; I have never seen this confusion happen in 20 years of being in churches where people carry multiple translations. And I would love to get that question in a Bible study. It would show that people are paying attention; it would be a great teaching moment. I think laypeople with high school educations can be taught to use multiple translations profitably. Pastors should teach them how, at least by example if not explicitly.

But even if confusion does arise as the English-speaking church transitions from the KJV to other versions, let’s consider that this is going to have to happen at some point. The KJV cannot last forever, because language won’t stop changing. And we will never reach a point at which every last English speaking Christian will agree that it’s time to move on from the KJV. Someone will always be able to complain about the degraded state of English and other people’s failure to live up to proper reading standards. History tells us that complainers about kids these days and their newfangled English will always get some amens. Some churches still use the Latin Vulgate. The KJV May have an equally long run.

But if we believe that edification requires intelligibility, as Paul taught the Corinthians, someone is going to have to bear the burden of change for the sake of these children—our children. Why not us?

If someone retains the KJV solely—truly and only—for practical reasons, then it should be no problem to switch to the NKJV or ESV. The practical reasons will apply to those versions just as much. Again, I think 1 Corinthians 14 says this is the direction pastors should go who are currently using the KJV.

Conclusion

Many people, particularly pastors, from KJV-Only circles have been gracious to me despite our disagreements. But there is no use denying that KJV-Onlyism has a reputation for irascibility. KJV-Onlyism is a conspiracy theory: it posits that all the evangelical Bible scholars who give us our technical commentaries, journal articles, and English Bible translations are either dupes or devils. They’re either unwittingly doing Satan’s work by undermining the message of Scripture, or (obviously worse) they’re knowingly participating in a nefarious and diabolical scheme to destroy the Christian faith.

I have tried to be self-reflective about the fact that in my work on this topic I may just be defending my tribe. I am one of the evangelical biblical studies academics; I make a living in that world, I’m at the conferences, I’m reviewing books. I make occasional written contributions to that world myself. I wanna be a scholar when I grow up. So, am I biased?

If I were, how could I know? It would be a blindspot. I can only plead: look at my fruits. Read my articles and books. Listen to my sermons. More importantly, go read some of the books by men I mentioned in the first post, the men who actually worked on the modern translations. Tell me these aren’t good men who love the Lord and teach the Word faithfully. Tell me they don’t have a level of theological substance and exegetical depth that is attractive to those who love Scripture. You don’t have to agree with them on everything (I don’t—they don’t agree among themselves on everything) to acknowledge the value they bring to Christ’s body. You just have to acknowledge that they’re not dupes or devils.

I think the best argument against KJV-Onlyism (aside from 1 Corinthians 14) is the huge shelf of excellent books and commentaries and journal articles and blog posts (etc.!) written by evangelical biblical scholars who don’t hold a KJV-Only viewpoint. I think young men in KJV-Only circles know this, because they’ve been on the internet since they were kids. I see a lot of movement among those young men away from KJV-Onlyism, and I’ve written a book to help them take the gentlest possible path out of their KJV-Only viewpoint. I have repeatedly said to them what I said to one just yesterday: “You know what I praise the Lord for most whenever I hear stories like yours (which is often)? The gracious attitude I see. May the Lord give you that kind of grace toward those who shaped you in KJV-Only circles.”

I hope and pray that answering a few more common objections, as I’ve done in this series, will be edifying and helpful for these men and those they lead.

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 4, The New King James Version Uses Critical Text Readings

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. This coming Wednesday, Objection 5: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons.

4. The New King James Version uses critical text readings.

Nearly every critic of my work on the KJV has insisted that I was sidestepping the real debate, the debate over textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. It must be said that I gave two pages of argument as to why I shouldn’t have to engage this debate, and to date, none of my critical reviewers has mentioned this fact or answered the arguments I made there.

So I won’t repeat them, nor will I discuss textual criticism. It is an entirely separate issue from the one I wished to discuss in the book, namely the scriptural and linguistic case for vernacular translation. Authorized is officially neutral on the question of textual criticism. Someone who prefers the Greek and Hebrew textual bases of the KJV can agree with my point 100%, and I think maybe a tiny few do.

But there is one common objection to my viewpoint that relates to textual criticism that I do feel I need to clear away. It’s a big reason there aren’t more people who prefer the Textus Receptus or Majority Text New Testament and yet use a vernacular translation of those texts. And it’s something I hate to bring up. Indeed, it is time for me to do something I avoided doing in the book. I am going to charge my theological opponents with sin—though a sin of omission rather than of commission. But I can’t avoid it: the KJV-Only movement as a whole, and many individuals within it, are not telling the truth, and the leaders at least should know better.

Here’s what I mean: repeatedly I have seen KJV-Only leaders say that 1) all the modern versions use a different textual basis than the KJV. The significant minority who know that the NKJV claims to use the same textual basis as the KJV have repeatedly said 2) that the NKJV actually incorporates a number of readings from the critical text.

Here is the NKJV editors’ claim:

Because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document [the KJV] translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.

But here’s a Greek professor at Ambassador Baptist College teaching on the topic:

My biggest personal gripe with the New King James, other than some of the changes we’re gonna show you, is that they went beyond the stated purpose. The stated purpose was, we’re going to keep everything from the traditional King James and we’re just going to try to modernize some of the words. The truth is out of these thousands and thousands of changes, there are thousands of times where the changes that they made actually match the Westcott-Hort/UBS/critical text Bibles. So they made changes that reflect a different textual view.

(4:45)

Here’s another quote from the same lecture:

There are people that have gone through and compiled lists of places where changes to the NKJV New Testament actually reflect the Westcott-Hort.

(18:10)

I have diligently sought for these lists, and the cupboard was bare.

Even the most gracious and careful KJV-Only brothers, such as Charles Surrett (also of Ambassador), have repeated the charge that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the text. Surrett, to his credit, then acknowledged that he hadn’t personally looked into that charge and couldn’t verify it. But he is still raising the possibility that the NKJV committee are liars without giving any evidence that they are. (He also, in his Certainty of the Words, casts doubt on the NKJV because there was only one Independent Baptist involved in its production, and that one, Surrett says, “is definitely not a TR advocate.” It isn’t enough that the NKJV use the TR; its progenitors have to believe in its perfection, or the NKJV can’t be trusted. One wonders, then, how it is that Surrett can trust the work of Scrivener himself [the scholar who put together the edition of the TR that Surrett defends], given that Scrivener was on the committee that revised the KJV to reflect the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament.)

Indeed, I have never once seen my KJV-Only brothers produce an example of a critical text reading in the NKJV. They are, as a group, calling the NKJV translators liars.

Now let me say immediately that I will not return the favor: I will not call my KJV-Only brothers “liars.” I do not believe that any individual KJV-Only brother has self-consciously told an untruth about the NKJV. A “lie” is something the liar knows to be false; I think my KJV-Only brothers sincerely believe what they’re saying. (And a few writers, such as David Cloud, have clearly told the truth about the textual basis of the NKJV.) But they have still, together, told a big untruth: friends who graduated from KJV-Only Bible colleges confirm that they were told that the NKJV was a critical text Bible (or were never told that it wasn’t). KJV-Only leaders in particular ought to know better, and that’s a moral ought.

After years trying to figure out what basis the KJV-Only apologists had for saying that the NKJV “includes critical text readings,” I think I have figured out what’s going on. It’s an understandable confusion. It starts with someone saying what is undoubtedly true, that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the margins. It does. Repeatedly. The preface says so, and they are evident everywhere in the New Testament. (Note: the KJV has textual critical notes, too.)

But then someone else hears that the NKJV “includes critical text readings” and fails to realize that they are not in the text—and an unkillable, untrue rumor is born.

Also, the NKJV may at times choose the same English rendering as some other contemporary translation using the critical text—but that’s surely bound to happen given that the critical text and the TR are so overwhelmingly similar. Such renderings do not constitute evidence that the NKJV is secretly using the critical text.

The KJV-Only brothers and sisters who shaped me in high school cared deeply about truth. It’s time KJV-Only leaders publicly pushed back against the inadvertent untruth many of them, even and especially the leaders, have been repeating for a long time. Someone in authority—Bible college professors especially, I think—ought to have checked. The NKJV does not include any critical text readings.

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 3, You Are Pushing Modern Versions Onlyism

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) On Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. On Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old.

And, uh, I promised only three days of posts—Mon, Wed, Fri; but things have expanded a little and I am now going to include two more bonus posts:

4. Next Monday: The New King James Version uses critical text readings.
5. Next Wednesday: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons

Here we go…

3. You are pushing Modern Versions Onlyism.

There’s actually a group in between the KJV-Only and not-KJV-Only worlds: a number of people in my own hometown crowd who are not KJV-Only but yet see no reason to move away from the KJV as their main pulpit Bible—or at least not now. These brothers resist the Onlyism in KJV-Onlyism, but they have various reasons for retaining use of the KJV in their own ministries. One of them in particular liked my book and recommended it, but sent me a friendly and constructive criticism: I should make sure I’m not creating a new tribe, a new Onlyism to replace the old, a Modern Versions Onlyism.

I felt this was indeed a helpful comment, and I want to affirm it. I want to say very clearly that I agree: let’s not make an “only-not-King-James” tribe to compete against the “KJV-Only” tribe. Given that, until two years ago, my own pastor preached from the KJV, I certainly do not want to say—or leave the impression that—using the KJV in preaching and evangelism is always and everywhere a sin. That would indeed make me guilty of the same kind of tribalism that I’ve critiqued in others.

And as I said in the book, I’m not telling anyone to throw away their copy of the KJV. I use the KJV daily, along with other good translations. But in church, where the choice of the pastor is going to be followed by the choice of most people, I urge readers, based on 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages, to use intelligible versions. If anything, then, I’m promoting intelligible-versions-onlyism, or rather, only-intelligible-versions-in-church-once-you’ve-become-acquainted-with-my-argument-in-Authorized-ism. If language didn’t change, I wouldn’t care about the age of our Bible translations. But language does change, so I do. The Bible says I should.

Let me also say that change cannot and must not come quickly in all churches. Pastors shouldn’t drive the sheep hard. I sympathize with the shepherd who says he has more important problems to deal with before he can get to the King James Onlyism among his sheep. But here’s what I consistently say to pastors: take a step this Sunday in the right doctrinal direction. If the ground is getting bare in spots in the pasture where you are, start taking baby steps toward the greener pasture over yonder. Map out some more steps for yourself. Here’s a suggested set:

  1. Start in your preaching by mentioning times when the KJV itself suggests alternate translations in the margin. Get the sheep used to the idea that translation is art as well as science, that there isn’t one-and-only-one right way to translate a given verse. There are options. Get them used to the idea, too, that the Bible in their hands is a translation.
  2. Have your church leadership read the preface to the KJV (or my abridgment and translation of it—and maybe even my reflections on it). Talk through it with them.
  3. After a while, begin mentioning times when a contemporary translation is helpful in understanding a given passage. Don’t denigrate the KJV (you should never do that at any point); just praise the ESV, NIV, CSB, NASB, NKJV, or NLT. Tell specific stories that show how you personally grew in your understanding through using a contemporary translation.
  4. Do a short series on bibliology in adult Sunday School.
  5. Have church leaders read my book, and ask their families to watch my related documentary. If this sounds self-serving, you probably have an inflated view of what kind of royalties authors get for obscure titles such as mine! Here’s what motivates me to include this step: I have written the book I knew I needed for ministry, a book offering the gentlest and most lay-accessible path out of KJV-Onlyism. If you can’t afford the book, talk to me.
  6. Praise good writers who are not KJV-Only, and put their books in people’s hands.
  7. Open up liberty to use contemporary translations in evangelism.
  8. Encourage people to read a different translation this year.
  9. Give some time for people to have the same positive Bible study experiences you’ve had using contemporary translations. Have them give their stories to the congregation.
  10. Take a vote (depending on your polity) on changing your pulpit and pew Bibles to a contemporary translation, but give liberty to Bible teachers to use what they prefer.

You don’t have to follow all my ten steps; they’re not Bible. But do something. 1 Corinthians 14 says you should.

And that’s the ultimate issue: none of what I have written on the KJV is worth much if my 1 Corinthians 14 argument isn’t rock solid. See for yourself if it is. Look at the places where Paul ties edification to intelligibility. If you use unintelligible words when intelligible ones are available, what would Paul tell you to do?

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

(1 Corinthians 14 ESV)
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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 2, Not All False Friends Are False Friends to All Readers

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) On Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Today, Objection 2. Friday, secret surprise Objections 3, 4, and 5.

2. Not all false friends are false friends to all readers.

This objection came from one of my most thoughtful and capable critics. I think he’s right in his criticism, though I’m stating his argument in a form more congenial to my viewpoint. Indeed, there are some very sharp readers of the KJV out there who have already caught some of the false friends I listed in the book (as well as others). I need to emphasize a little more, then, something I did say in the book.

In Authorized I defined a false friend as a word that is 1) still used today but 2) meant something different in 1611. And, crucially, I added this idea: false friends are words 3) that have “changed in such a way that modern readers are unlikely to notice” (119). Aa number of the examples I gave unquestionably meet these three criteria. But that third one is squirrelly, and I didn’t account for rodents adequately. Take this example that I gave in the book:

Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. (2 Tim. 3:2 KJVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available))

I wrote of this word incontinent:

Today this means men will lose control of their bowels. In 1611 it meant lacking in self-restraint. (45)

I do think some readers will stumble here and and fail to notice that incontinence is an odd character quality to put in a vice list. Incontinent, for some readers, meets all three criteria of a false friend. But surely some readers today, many readers, will notice that our modern sense doesn’t make sense in this context. Almost the definition of a skillful reader is that he or she will notice that a word doesn’t seem to fit in its context. So is incontinent still a false friend?

In a future edition of my book I’ll spell out these three criteria explicitly and be a little more careful to distinguish words that meet two from those that meet three. But I’ll say this: there is no saying once and for all which words are dead words, which are false friends, and which aren’t either. Different readers have different skill levels and knowledge bases. What kind of skill level should a Bible translation aim at? Defenders of the exclusive use of the KJV are commonly confused on this point. I often hear them say, “Complaints about KJV readability are ludicrous! It’s on a fifth-grade reading level, as computers prove!” But a short time later I hear them say, “Modern versions dumb down the Bible by using contemporary English!” It’s like an accessible reading level is a good thing in the KJV and a bad thing anywhere else.

So, sure, ideally every Christian would be a great reader. But they’re not, and they’re never going to be. Not many wise, not many noble are called. I think it is acceptable for contemporary translations to aim at somewhat different audiences. The NIV is pegged at a seventh grade level—and, again, before any KJV readers scoff, they should remember how many of their own have insisted that the KJV is on a fifth-grade level. The ESV and NASB, in my estimation, aim at a more difficult reading level. The CSB is somewhere in between. And as I said in the first edition of Authorized, I’m happy to use multiple different translations. I read only at a tenth grade level because of all the TV I watched as a kid (kidding…), and I still get help from translations pegged below and above my level.

Now, some readers of my book complained that some of my examples of false friends were not exactly important passages. Does it really matter if some of today’s readers stumble over incontinent (whether they know it or not)? It’s not like they’re changing Christian doctrine when they misunderstand a false friend.

And that’s true. But I can easily turn the tables here: if the false friends I cite are matters of no consequence, then why fight so hard to keep them as they are? Is it okay for our main Bible translation to include many words like incontinent when without self-control is readily available?

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite writers, commented once about “what C. S. Lewis…, in his book Studies in Words, called the ‘dangerous sense’ of an old word or phrase.” Then Jacobs quoted Lewis:

The dominant sense of any word lies uppermost in our minds. Wherever we meet the word, our natural impulse will be to give it that sense. When this operation results in nonsense, of course, we see our mistake and try over again. But if it makes tolerable sense our tendency is to go merrily on. We are often deceived. In an old author the word may mean something different. I call such senses dangerous senses because they lure us into misreadings.

Lewis saw what I see.

Now, not every reader falls into every potential trap. Not all “false friends” are false friends to all readers. I grant that. But at what point should we all be concerned about false friends that are false friends to some readers, especially in a book as important as the Bible? I made the case in the book that the point has come; the time is now; we need to keep the Bible in the hands of the plow boy as Tyndale taught us to do.

The KJV contains not only dead words, words we know we don’t know, but false friends, words we don’t know we don’t know. The list of those false friends will be shorter for some readers with prodigious reading skill and longer for others without knowledge of the historical form of English we call Elizabethan. But I am perfectly confident that there is not a single English speaker alive for whom the list has no entries.

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 1, The Modern Versions Are Copyrighted; They’re in It for the Money

Mark Ward

Since its release, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible has received what I would consider to be a very positive response. Except when it hasn’t. It’s one of those books that tends to collect mainly five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon. This is what happens when a book takes a side in a hot debate. And I did take a side. Clearly, I’m not KJV-Only.

But I have also heard from many brothers from the KJV-Only portion of the church who were grateful that I attempted to be gracious and, they said, evenhanded. My whole first chapter is about what the English-speaking Christian church loses as the KJV ceases to be our common standard. One of my friends questioned my sincerity when he read that chapter before the book came out. Why praise the KJV and lament its loss when, by the end of the book, I’m encouraging its use to recede? I was a bit shaken by this feedback; was I indeed being disingenuous? So I prayed and talked with others—and I determined that I meant every word I wrote. I see the Christian debate over the KJV as the weighing of legitimate values that stand in tension, not a fight between good and evil. It is good to maintain continuity with the Christian past when possible, to preserve good traditions, to avoid shaking up the sheep.

So I insist that faithful Christians can disagree on when exactly the effects of language change will render the King James Version sufficiently unintelligible that it needs to be replaced as the main translation of the English-speaking church. I think we have reached that point; other faithful, orthodox Christians do not. This is the debate I am trying to have with my brothers who prefer the KJV. I think—I hope—readers can tell that I am not a partisan hack. One KJV-Only pastor, who used to be on staff at one of the biggest KJV-Only churches in the nation, sent me a $50 Amazon gift card out of gratitude for my spirit, despite our disagreement. Then when my Authorized documentary came out, he sent me another one! Just yesterday as I write, I heard from a major leader of KJV-Onlyism in Britain. He signed his email to me with “warm greetings.” I thanked him. And I thank God. I don’t want to score points; I want to score people.

I have tried not to believe all my positive press, however. I have listened carefully to my one-star reviewers. Most of their objections were answered already in the book, particularly in chapter six, “Ten Objections to Reading Vernacular Bible Translations.” I also handled a few in a blog post I wrote for the Lexham Press blog after the book had been out for six months. But in a debate like this one, the objections never really end. And I think there are a few more that merit attention. This week on the blog I will handle a few more objections to reading vernacular Bible translations:

  • Today: 1. The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money.
  • Wednesday: 2. Not all false friends are false friends to all readers.
  • Friday: 3., 4., and 5.—secret surprise objections!

1. The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money.

The KJV-Only debate has long been a subject of my attention (sometimes obsessive attention, but if I call it a “calling” then most people don’t look at me quite so funny). Because of my long experience, I almost never hear anything new from either side. The discussion has long reached what I call the sloganeering stage. Everybody’s out in front of each other’s houses carrying signs. On one side we have variations on, “U R changing the Bible!” On the other we have variations on, “U R ignorant!” Slogans are what you shout at people you no longer hope to win over. And I refuse to treat a large group of fellow Christians this way. Because I have tried to keep listening to my KJV-Only brothers, I have occasionally heard them say something new. We’ll get to one of them in a few moments.

But on my way I have to talk through a two-part objection I’ve heard countless times but did not address in the first edition of Authorized; namely, “The modern versions are copyrighted; they exist solely so publishers can rake in big profits.”

Here’s Theodore Letis making the latter part of the charge (rather eloquently and punchily, I think!) in his The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind:

Pandora’s box has been pried open and the Bible, no longer in the possession of the Church and her specific theological criteria for a religious understanding of the translation task, is now a commodity of the “Bible society” and the Bible landlords of the corporate world. In this, one has an inkling of what must have enraged Luther when he saw Father Tetzel at work. Things had simply gone too far.

Ouch. The NIV is like a medieval indulgence, an egregious sin calling for a new Reformation.

Here’s Ambassador’s Charles Surrett in his Certainty of the Words: Biblical Principles of Textual Critcism:

The proliferation of English translations and versions of the Bible is a popular trend that has kept the presses running and the profits increasing for the publishing companies.

Here’s R. B. Ouellette in the West Coast Baptist College publication, A More Sure Word: Which Bible Can You Trust?:

[In most] of the world, the King James Bible text is free of copyright restrictions. This entire approach is quite different from the copyrights held today on modern Bible versions. The modern versions are tightly controlled by secular publishing empires for the primary purpose of revenue.

Here’s Shelton Smith, editor of the Sword of the Lord:

Other men and groups have created a new version because they needed something “new” to sell.… There was nothing wrong with the King James text, but bias and bucks have been the major factors in the constant influx of “new” Bibles.

So, should Bibles be copyrighted?

I didn’t reply to this argument in the book because I’ve always felt that the answer is so simple that I didn’t want to insult people by giving it out. But I’ve gotten this question so many times from sincere people that I cannot avoid it. It appears to cause genuine confusion.

My answer to this question is double Bible. Here’s Scripture quoting Scripture:

The Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV)

When a Christian does some work for other Christians, even spiritual work like preaching the gospel, the Bible says we should pay them money. When an ox spends thousands of hours getting the education necessary to translate ancient Greek and Hebrew, one should not muzzle this ox by making him translate for free. As I said in Authorized, translators need sandwiches. (A friend who read the book in manuscript and who is now with Wycliffe Bible Translators commented on that line: “Yes, and good ones.”)

When an organization such as Crossway works hard to gather resources, write up policy documents, enlist scholars, contract with proofers and typesetters, organize a marketing campaign, tag each English word in their English Standard Version with its underlying Hebrew and Greek word for software companion tools, and negotiate with rights holders—when they do all that for our benefit, they deserve a wage. A copyright is a way of protecting the wages of the Christian people at Crossway. It’s a way to keep them from investing lots of money and time only to see someone in China steal their labor by printing up a big batch of bootleg Bibles.

And did I mention that Crossway is a non-profit?

The first printer of what came to be known as the King James Version, Robert Barker, paid a tidy sum to have exclusive rights to printing the new Bible. I have zero idea about his spiritual life; maybe he was a greedy wretch, maybe he was an angel going around entertaining people unawares—I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a Bible verse telling me that his efforts to make certain he had a return on his investment were not inherently immoral. They were commanded in Scripture. As my wife’s sprightly grandmother once said to me, “Everybody’s gotta make a buck.”

As with major new cancer drugs, so with Bible translations: they are expensive endeavors requiring the extensive labors of large groups of skillful people. If a drug company knows that their new drug will be instantly copied and sold for a pittance, they won’t invest in the R&D required to produce it. We won’t have new cancer drugs.

That would be just fine with many users of the KJV, of course! No new English Bibles! But I wrote Authorized to show why they shouldn’t be pleased for all English Bible translation effectively to end in 1611: we need God’s word in our English. And I think—no, I know from vast experience over decades—that multiple translations complement one another, making for rich Bible study.

Now, surely, no one should make a new Bible translation solely for financial reasons, and I admit that when I first heard that a secular, for-profit business, HarperCollins, had a stake in the NIV, I was vaguely uncomfortable.

But Biblica (formerly known as the International Bible Society) is sensitive to this issue, and they are driven by Christian concern to answer it. Listen to what they say on their website:

The NIV is translated by an independent, self-governing team of Bible scholars. No publisher, commercial or otherwise (not even us]!), can tell them how to translate God’s Word. The translators come from dozens of denominations and churches, and they can only make changes to the text if 70% of the committee agrees—safeguarding against theological bias.

The profit motive is a subtle thing. It can corrupt otherwise good work. But it need not—or all business would be sin, and Scripture would never have instructed people to pay their pastors. The Christian people in charge of the NIV have set up safeguards to protect its content.

And I want to ask those who still insist that the NIV exists solely to make a profit: how much profit is it making? And how much is too much? Are the various organizations involved likely to be making a great deal of money, given that market forces will keep the prices on NIVs around the same as comparable Bibles from other publishers? Those who point to greed as the sole motivation for the production of modern versions, it seems to me, are making a serious charge without (in my experience) answering these simple questions or presenting any evidence. I made money on Authorized—I even took my family out for a meal at a fancy restaurant after I got my first royalty check. Was it wrong for us to enjoy our Five Guys Burgers and Fries? Should I have given Authorized away for free? I actually have done so on numerous occasions—does that help?

People who make this first objection are also guessing at the motives of people they do not know. I’m not much of a mover or a shaker in the academic biblical studies world; I play a bit part in the drama, a role that many other people could fill. But even lowly me knows personally a few of the scholars who have worked on the major modern Bible translations. One of them, who told me he wishes to remain anonymous, is my favorite. I’ve done some work for him and with him over several years, and I’ve gotten to know him in quite a number of email exchanges and personal conversations. I also read his adult son’s testimony about him, and it confirmed what I had already seen: this man is exceptionally godly, gracious, and generous. (Some of you know who I’m talking about.)

He’s also brilliant: he has multiple advanced degrees from prestigious universities and a long, respected career serving the academy and the church. And, get this, he gives away his books for free. I have twenty-two of them on my laptop right now, for which I have paid a grand total of zero dollars US. I’ve done the currency conversions, and that amounts to zero dollars Canadian, zero rubles Russian, and zero goats Afghani. Anyone with an internet connection and a PDF reader app can have the fruit of tens of thousands of hours of this man’s work over the course of decades.

I feel a personal offense on behalf of this godly man when someone tells me that the new Bible translations exist for profit. So I emailed him and asked: “What kind of car do you drive? Were you made wealthy by your work on the popular modern English translation of the Bible you helped translate?”

He wrote me back within two hours (he answers lots of private questions from random readers around the world, I happen to know):

My wife and I are a one-car family. We have a 2004 Honda Odyssey with about 180,000 miles on it. We have lived in the same house for our entire married life, a house bought for $65,000. It’s worth more now, of course, because of inflation.

No, we were not made wealthy by that work. Moreover, I can say for sure that money was not a motivation. I several times tried to hand on the work to other people, thinking that I was not needed and that other people could carry on if I bowed out. Other people wouldn’t hear it. I was gently but persuasively pressured into continuing. That was particularly so for one of the revisions. I told the leaders, “It is time for a younger generation,” but they said, “No, we want you.” I mention these things because the motivation was personal connection with people whom I respected, whose judgment I respected, and who recruited me. And their motivation for seeking me out was to try to make the [translation] the best quality that they could.

Philosophically, [the organization that produced this translation] is a ministry, not a business. I know, because I know [the leadership].… Of course, the employees, the printers, and the scholars who worked on the [translation] got paid, according to the principle that the laborer deserves his wages (1 Tim. 5:18).

There’s that verse again.

I haven’t met very many other Bible translators, but I’ve read their books. Let me give you just a brief rundown.

NIV

  • Doug Moo wrote what is widely acknowledged to be the best commentary on Romans.
  • Craig Blomberg has written good Bible commentaries and an insightful introduction to the Gospels that had a major impact on me.

CSB

  • Tom Schreiner, one of the top leaders in charge of the CSB, never fails to edify me with his careful, conservative study of Scripture.
  • Marty Abegg of the CSB teaches Sunday School at my friend’s church a few miles away from where I live.
  • Andreas Köstenberger has produced a solidly helpful volume on sex and gender that I have used for various projects.
  • Robert Stein has a commentary on Luke I’ve used many times, and in another book he made a key point about baptism that has helped me greatly over the years.

ESV

  • Vern Poythress is one of the smartest men I know, and he memorizes Scripture like you wouldn’t believe.
  • Gene L. Green wrote some of the most helpful articles on biblical linguistics that I’ve ever read.
  • Moisés Silva, a graduate of my alma mater, wrote some of the most helpful books on biblical linguistics that I’ve ever read, including the single most helpful paragraph about biblical hermeneutics that I’ve ever encountered.

I just can’t bring myself to believe that the people who love the Bible most, study it the hardest, give their whole lives to it, and help me see it more clearly, are slave of unrighteous mammon. And if its the publishers of these Bibles who are greedy, not them, I can’t know that. I have no access to the figures. I choose to believe the best—because all I know is that the translations help me understand God’s Word.

A new argument

And now, finally, I turn to the new argument I just heard for the first time. A pastor from KJV-Only circles who read Authorized and found it to be helpful emailed me with a question from his relatives: the problem with copyright, they told him, is that it constrains current translators. They can’t use the best words to translate a given verse—if those best words have already been used by existing translations (such as the KJV). In other words, the KJV already chose the best words, and everybody else has to use inferior ones because of copyright.

This objection makes sense if English is the only language you know. But if you’ve ever studied another language to the point where you could read, hear, or even (especially) speak it, you know it just doesn’t work. As the great writer on translation, David Bellos, has said, there is a near infinite number of ways to translate a text of any length.

We’re almost always talking about super minor differences here, questions like these from John 3:

  • Was Nicodemus “a ruler of the Jews” or “an important Jewish leader”?
  • Did he come to Jesus “one night” or “by night”?
  • Did he call Jesus “Rabbi” or should we translate this as “Teacher,” the way the New Testament itself does in John 20:16?
  • Did he think Jesus performed “miracles” or “signs”?

In each case, there are good reasons to go with one of the choices, and there are good reasons to go with the other. It’s not clear that there really is a “wrong” choice listed here. It depends on your purpose, your audience, and an undefinable thing we call “art.” And they all mean pretty much the same thing. You have to work to mistranslate the Bible (thank you, JWs, for showing it can be done!).

The best way to see how many viable options there are for translating individual words and phrases in Scripture is to go to a really cool project online called The Expanded Bible. It shows where some major translations differ, and it offers their differences as clickable choices.

If you really wanted to, using this site, you could cover the entire Bible, and what you’d end up with is Bible translations that all pretty much say the same thing in mildly different ways. There is no evangelical Bible that says Jesus wasn’t divine; or that adultery and idolatry are okay in some circumstances; or that, actually, Joseph sold his brothers into slavery and not the other way around.

Once recently I did scratch my head at the choice of the NIV translators to use “forebearance” instead of “patience” in the list of fruits of the Spirit. Why the big word when a small one is more common? But pretty much all the major translations choose pretty much all the same words—with the exception that the KJV (and NKJV) use “longsuffering,” which is no longer an active English word. Pretty well every major evangelical English Bible translation used “love,” “joy,” “peace,” “kindness,” “goodness,” and either “faith” (like the KJV) or “faithfulness.” No copyright lawyers, to my knowledge, have attacked any of these major translations for using the same words as the KJV or any other version.

The KJV is itself is sort of copyrighted in Britain. So sue me: I don’t want to get into the details. You can read them here. But it’s this simple:

In the United Kingdom, rights in the Authorized Version of the Bible (AV), also known as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV), are Crown copyright. Only a small number of publishers have entitlement to reproduce the KJV.

If copyrighting the Bible is morally wrong, should British Christians look for an alternative to the KJV?

Well, maybe—but not because the KJV is copyrighted.

TL;DR: copyrighting Bibles is okay because the Bible says the worker is worthy of his wages.

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