God Blessing Bible Translations (White)

 I’ve mentioned James White’s helpful book on the King James only controversy here before.  I was recently thinking about Bible translations so I picked up this book again and found a helpful section on how God blesses translations of the Bible.  Thankfully in our day, we have many good translations and we don’t have to be “married” to one since all have some strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s how White put it when responding to a question that implied since the KJV has been blessed more than other translations we should use it alone:

God has indeed blessed the KJV, for which we can all be very thankful.  And I do not doubt for a second that he will continue to bless those who read it and obey it.  But God blessed the Septuagint too.  And the Vulgate.  And translations in dozens of different languages.  God has blessed the NASB, and the NIV, and many others.  God blesses those who seek his will and follow it.  Those who find his will in the NIV are just as blessed as those who find it in the KJV.  Limiting God’s blessing to a particular translation is historically untenable and spiritually dangerous.

Well said! I’m thankful for the KJV, but I’m likewise thankful for the NASB, the NLT, the [H]CSB, the NIV, the ESV, the Geneva Bible, and so forth.  I’m also thankful for the men and women who spent so much time and work to get good translations published.  I’ve been blessed by reading the NLT, by studying the NASB, by consulting the Geneva Bible, and by memorizing parts of the NIV.  I consider it a major blessing to have these helpful translations available!

The above quote is found on page 302 of The King James Only Controversy by James White.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Circular Reasoning and KJV Only-ism

  (This is a slightly edited repost from February, 2013.)

One reason I do not buy into the KJV Only logic is because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis his; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

I highly recommend White’s book for those of you who are “KJV Only” and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

shane lems

KJV-Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty

One major desire of many KJV-Only groups is the desire for absolute certainty when it comes to Bible translation.  James White calls it “the argument for certainty” and says that it is “the glue that holds…KJV-Onlyism together.”  Many KJV-Only groups say that we must have absolute certainty in Bible translation; the KJV is the perfect translation, therefore we are absolutely certain it (and no other translation) is inspired and infallible.  “It is argued that unless we embrace the KJV as our final authority, we have no final authority at all and, hence, all is subjectivity and uncertainty.  People to not want subjectivity but desire certainty and clarity, and so we must hold to the traditional text” (White, 132).

White gives a helpful critique of the desire for absolute certainty.

“This argument is extremely powerful and should not be underestimated.  Many people fulfill their longing for certainty in religious matters by swearing allegiance to a particular leader or system.  For example, many Roman Catholics find the idea of an infallible pope very comforting, for when things get confusing they always can turn to a source of absolute authority.   In a similar way many Mormons look to their Prophet and Apostles in Salt Lake City, and Jehovah’s Witnesses look to the Governing Body at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn.  Others find a TV preacher or evangelist and, without stating it in so many words, invest him or her with some level of infallible religious authority.  The fact that groups offering this kind of trust-us-and-we-will-give-you-absolute-certainty-in-all-religious-matters system continue to attract followers and should tell us that the lure of complete certainty is strong indeed.”

“Protestants, however, should be quick to question any such notion. … As imperfect human beings we will make mistakes.  Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a glass darkly in this life.  There are things that are unclear, that are simply not as plain as they someday will be.  The KJV translators themselves said in their preface…, ‘As it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.’  Those who offer certainty beyond all questions, the translators would rightly say, are being presumptuous with God’s truth.”

“If we say that we can have no certainty regarding the biblical text unless we embrace the KJV (or the TR), we are only moving the questions one step back and hoping no one notices.  How can we be certain of the textual choices of Desiderius Erasmus, or Stephanus, or Theodore Beza?  How can we be certain that the Anglican churchmen who chose amongst the variant readings of those three men were themselves inspired?  Are we not in reality saying, ‘I must have certainty, therefore, without any factual or even scriptural reason for doing so, I will invest the KJV translators with ultimate authority’?  This truly is what KJV Only advocates are doing when they close their eyes to the historical realities regarding the biblical text (p. 133-134).

In the words of Scott Clark, this is the QIRC (the quest for illegitimate religious certainty): “…to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (Recovering the Reformed Confession, 39).  KJV-Only groups view the KJV as the “standard by which orthodoxy is measured” (ibid.).  This is a fundamentalist mindset rather than a Reformed one, since neither Scriptures nor the confessions clearly tell us which Bible translation to use.  Bible translation is a matter of wisdom, prayer, and Christian liberty, not standard-of-orthodoxy-absolute-certainty matter.  If you think about it, it isn’t hard to see how legalism and the QIRC go hand in hand.

The above quotes by James White are from King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

KJV Only-ism and Circular Reasoning

  At the outset of this post, I want to be clear: I’m not against the KJV.  However, for various reasons I am against the KJV Only mindset.  Here’s one reason: because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis mine; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

Later I’ll come back to White’s book, The King James Only Controversy.  For now, let me say I highly recommend it for those of you who are KJV Only people and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

Tyndale’s Cry: Scripture in Our Own Language!

  Before recently, I read about the English reformer William Tyndale but I never read anything he himself wrote.  So I started reading The Obedience of a Christian Man, a treatise he wrote in 1528.  This is an incredible book.  Scripture simply dripped from his pen; he wrote as if he had memorized the entire Bible.  He doesn’t just throw a bunch of proof texts together or write in a biblicistic way.  He simply knew the Bible so well he could not help but refer to it without ceasing.  To be honest, Tyndale’s writing makes a lot of the conservative evangelical books I read seem quite elementary.

For one example of Tyndale’s biblical brilliance, here are some reasons why he firmly believed the Bible should be translated into common language(s).  I’ve edited it slightly to make it easier to read.

“First, God gave the children of Israel a law by the hand of Moses in their mother tongue.  And all the prophets wrote in their mother tongue.  And all the Psalms were in the mother tongue.  …Moreover, Moses said that the people of Israel should know the law inside and out.  How did it happen that God’s word pertaineth less unto us than unto them?  Yea, how did it happen that our Moseses (the priests and prelates of Rome) forbid us and command us the contrary, and threaten us if we do, and do not want us to speak even one word of God?  How can we put God’s word into practice in our household and for our children when we are violently kept from it and know it not?  How can we give reason for the hope that is within us when we do not know what to hope for?”

“Christ commandeth to search the scriptures.  When Paul preached, the others (Bereans) searched the scriptures daily, whether they were as he alleged them.  Why shall not I do likewise, whether it be the scripture that thou papists allegedst?”

“The sermons which thou readest in the Acts of the Apostles and all that the apostles preached were no doubt preached in the mother tongue.  Why then may they not be written in the mother tongue?  The 119th Psalm saith that happy are they which search the testimonies of the Lord, that is to say, that which God testifieth and witnesseth unto us.  But how shall I do that when ye will not let me have his testimonies or witnesses in a tongue which I understand?  Will ye resist God?  Will ye forbid him to give his Spirit unto laypeople as well as unto you?  Hath he not made the English tongue?  Why forbid ye him to speak in the English tongue, then, as well as in the Latin?”

This is a goal all of us should aim for: to know, understand, and love the Bible so much that it becomes an ordinary part of our talk, thought, and writing.  Reading Tyndale is convicting and encouraging at the same time.  Convicting because I don’t know the Bible nearly like he did; encouraging because it makes me want to know it better.

shane lems

A Literal Translation?

I used to think “literal” Bible translations were the best.  I no longer hold that view for several different reasons which would take too much time to discuss here.  However, I do want to point out just one small part of this bigger discussion by noting a helpful section of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text?.

To begin, I agree with this: “A good translation accurately contextualizes a communicative act in another language” (p. 387).  In this context, Vanhoozer also writes the following.

“What is a faithful translation?  Fidelity should not be confused with reiteration.  It is the literalist who attempts what we might call a ‘reproductive’ translation.  The literalist tries to erase himself or herself from the interpretive process, to be so obedient to the text that the first step – submission – is also the last.  The literalist ‘does not aim to appropriate and bring home…[but] to remain ‘inside’ the source.’  Perhaps the most obvious example of this kind is the interlinear translation.  Yet as [George] Steiner archly observes, the interlinear is less a translation than a translation help: ‘It sets a dictionary equivalent from the target-langauge above each word in the source-language.  Strictly defined, a word-for-word interlinear is nothing else but a total glossary, set out horizontally in discrete units and omitting the criteria of normal syntax and word order in the language of the user.'”

“The notion that only word-for-word translations are faithful rests on a faulty view of semantics that sees words, rather than speech acts, as the fundamental unit of meaning.  Faithful translation, however, is not a matter of matching locutions [i.e. propositional statements] so much as finding equivalent illocutions [i.e. the force of the statements].  As we have seen [in the earlier parts of the book], the literal sense is the sense of the literary act (an illocution) (p. 388).”

Well said.  One can slavishly attempt to render a word-for-word (and even syntax-for-syntax) translation yet miss the main thrust of the text.  The same words in the same order may mean radically things in a different context (time, location, culture, etc.).  This also leads me to wonder what role the Enlightenment played in translation preferences and methods, but again, that would take too much time/space here.  The main point is to remember that “literal” Bible translations are certainly not flawless.  In other words, Bible translations can be too literal.  I highly recommend Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning if you want to wrestle through this a bit on your own.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The New Living Translation

Along with quite a few other translations of the Bible, I’ve been using the New Living Translation for a while now (the updated edition).  Though it is not my favorite translation, and though I’ve seen some weaknesses in the translation, there are certain aspects of it I appreciate.  For example, I like the modern language – this is a good translation to use for those not accustomed to detailed grammatical phrases, older language, and unfamiliar vocabulary.  Sometimes I use the NLT in a prison setting or when I preach at a funeral (or other event) where the people are not very familiar with biblical language.

I like the NLT for OT and Gospel narratives (specifically as I’m working through Joshua).  However, I’m not as excited about the NLT in some of the Pauline epistles, because smoothing things out too much can take away from the tighter epistle constructions and thoughts.

In case you’re interested, here are some scholars and teachers that worked on the NLT Bible translation team.

OT: Daniel Block, Gordon Wenham, R.K. Harrison, V. Phillips Long, Bill T. Arnold, Ray B. Dillard, Al Wolters, Mark Futato, Doug Green, Richard Pratt, Willem VanGemeren, Joyce Baldwin, and Douglas Gropp (just to name a few).

NT: Craig Blomberg, Don Hagner, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner, Moises Silva, Klyne Snodgrass, Greg Beale, Robert Mounce, and F.F. Bruce (just to name a few).

To be honest, I’m not really “married” to a specific translation.  I try to do most of my work out of the original, though I do tend to gravitate around the NIV and ESV. I sometimes use the NKJ as well, but I’m not a Majority Text guy.  Furthermore, the archaic English grammar and stiff translation method of the NKJ can be pretty frustrating – try reading a long OT narrative from the NKJ out loud to people who never speak or read this type of old English.  You get a few puzzled looks as you’re stumbling through the odd grammatical phrases.  For example, take Joshua 8.4: it will come about, when they come out against us as at the first, that we shall flee before them. Who speaks like that? (By the way “at the first” simply means “like they did before.”)  As a side note, I’m not one who thinks that archaic grammar is more reverent than everyday grammar.

When people ask about translations, I say two things 1) don’t make your favorite translation a litmus test of orthodoxy and 2) use a few different translations in your reading – some “word for word” (NASB, NKJ) and some “thought for thought” (NIV, NLT) and some in between (ESV, RSV).  Remember that every translation makes thousands of interpretive moves as they translate the original to English.

Looking back at the last 10 years of my Christian walk, I noticed that my Bible reading time has increased when I purchase a new translation, because I want to see how they translated my favorite passages.  This leads me to read more of it and it becomes an enjoyable reading experience for me.

All in all, while I don’t think the NLT will ever be my primary translation, I do think it is valuable to have on my shelf.  It is an OK translation to consult when doing textual work, biblical studies, and as I said above, reading the Word to people who are unfamiliar with the scriptures.  If you’re not familiar with it and have been wanting to check out a different translation, you may want to check out the NLT.

shane lems