Friday, August 12, 2016

6 Surprising Ideas the KJV Translators Had about Other Bible Translations

About 88% of Americans have a Bible in their home, and when they reach for their Bibles, more than half of them are still reaching for the King James Version (KJV). Although the NIV tops Bible sales each year (KJV and NKJV are number 2 & 3), only 19% of Americans own that modern translation, and other modern translations take much smaller slices of the Bible sales pie.

“KJV only” churches, of course, believe that their translation is the only version that faithfully embodies the Word of God. All other translations are to be rejected out of hand. Such churches hold this faulty position based on a misunderstanding of the ancient manuscripts behind the Bible (we will have to discuss that misunderstanding in a future blog post). 

Yet, it is interesting that the KJV translators themselves had particular ideas about translations other than their own, and they lay out their views clearly and forcefully in the published Preface of the original edition of their eloquent translation. Ironically, their views are very different from those who champion their translation today. So here are 6 ideas the KJV translators had about other translations of the Bible.

1. Other translations are noble, helpful companions in the process of translation.
In addition to the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the 3 committees that worked on the KJV used other translations, both those in English that had gone before them, as well as translations in other languages. They used translations of the Bible to consider how best to interpret and render the original languages in the English of the early 17th Century. Thus, the KJV translators expressed thanks to God for other translations as a valuable resource in their work.

2. Other translations are part of a long, celebrated history of Christian mission.
In their Preface, the KJV translators detail the many, many tongues into which the Scriptures had been translated, and they celebrate this crossing of linguistic boundaries as important for the work of God. It seems that from the beginning of the Christian movement, translation work was in the heart of God as a part of his purposes. We may suggest that this work goes on to this day in the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators and others, who continue to pair down the over 1,800 languages in the world that lack a translated Bible. Translation work is important for gospel mission worldwide, a fact understood and celebrated by the KJV translators.

3. Other translations past and present should be celebrated rather than condemned, having been raised up by God for “the building and furnishing of [God’s] Church.”
According to the KJV translators, translation work is a work of edification and education for the church. Thus, other translations should be embraced as good, and they should be built upon. The KJV translators, speaking of other translators, write in their Preface, “Therefore blessed be they, and most honoured be their name, that breake the ice, and glueth onset upon that which helpeth forward to the saving of soules. Now what can bee more availeable thereto, then to deliver Gods booke unto Gods people in a tongue which they understand?” They continue later in the Preface, “Truly (good Christian Reader) wee never thought from the beginning, that we should neede to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principall good one, . . . .” In other words, they saw themselves as used by God to build upon the work of others in an ongoing process of providing translations for the people of God.

4. No translation is perfect, and even the poorest English translation, carried out by responsible scholars, not only contains the Word of God but is the Word of God.
The KJV translators give an analogy: “As the Kings Speech which hee uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian and Latine, is still the Kings Speech, though it be not interpreted by every Translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expresly for sense, every where.” They go on to note that even a man considered handsome may have a wart or two! The apostles and their fellow-writers of Scripture were infallible. Translators are not. So in translation, blemishes here and there are normal but do not lessen the Word as the Word of God. They suggest the pre-eminent example of this is the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the early church. It was not perfect, but it was embraced by the apostles and others as God’s good Word.

5. Translations (including the KJV) should be corrected and improved.
The KJV translators worked to correct places in other translations that needed correcting—even as they did ongoing work of correction on their own translation. They studied to correct the work of others, and they studied to continue to improve their own translation, seeking to grow in their understanding of God’s good Word. Consequently, modern translators who work to correct imperfections in the KJV, are very much working in the Spirit of the KJV translators themselves. 

6. A variety of translations is profitable for discerning the sense of the Scriptures.
The KJV translators at points included in the margins variations on how a passage could be translated (even as is done in some modern translations), and they believed that people having access to various translations is a very good thing. They suggested that the kingdom of God does not hinge on a rigid rendering of individual words and syllables, but that there is freedom in translating the sense of the text. They further say that this freedom follows God’s own pattern of using various words to express the same ideas at different points in Scripture.

In short, the KJV translators wanted to do an excellent translation “to make God’s holy Trueth to be yet more and more knowen unto the people . . .” and they saw translations other than their own as important ministry partners in that process. They thought that the Bible itself should be translated again and again, since it is more worthy of such work than any body of ancient literature. Consequently, the translators of the King James Version would be the first to affirm the importance of modern translations carrying on their legacy for the good of the Church and the advance of the gospel in the world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

All the Right Beliefs for All the Wrong Reasons

 –Michael Patton

Sometimes it is frustrating to introduce yourself to theological issues. Most people who get deeply involved in theology quickly realize how much they don’t know. Confident seminary students enter their training thinking that they are going to breeze their way through as they have their prejudices confirmed by their soon to be impressed professors. After the first year, their countenance is soured as their confidence turns into an insecure angel (or devil) on their shoulder who says, “Who did you think you were presuming God called you into ministry?” They begin to realize that they came to seminary to find out how much they did not know! Some get discouraged and leave, others harden in their categories becoming unable to learn. But the best adjust their expectations, knowing that an admission of ignorance is a fundamental foundation to learning.

There is an old dictum to knowledge. It goes something like this:
There are four types of people:
1. The one who doesn’t know, and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. He is a fool–shun him.
2. The one who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know. He is a student–help him learn.
3. The one who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows. He is an unenlightened person–enlighten him.
4. The one who knows and knows that he knows. He is a wise man–follow him.
I would like to add a fifth:
5. The one who knows but does not know how he knows. He is naive—deconstruct him.

This fifth category refers to those who have all the right beliefs for all the wrong reasons. This is very common in theological circles. I believe that it is prevalent within Evangelicalism as a basic creedal confession takes the place of doctrinal understanding. I know of many people who confess a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, but they really don’t know why they believe in this doctrine. I know of many people who believe that Christ rose bodily from the grave, but they could not give you even the most basic defense of their confession. Both the bodily resurrection of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity are good and right beliefs, but if someone cannot justify these beliefs, do they really believe them?

The fidest (one who defines faith as a blind leap into the dark) would answer with an unqualified, “Yes.” The evidentialist (one who believes that evidence plays a vital role in faith) would say, “Maybe, maybe not.” I side with the evidentialist. There is a large chasm between assent to a proposition and being convicted of that proposition. And there is a fine line between emotional conviction and conviction of the Holy Spirit. To answer the question How do you know that Christ rose from the grave? with a “I just know that I know!” answer is both insufficient and, dare I say, sinfully neglectful of our duty to engage our minds. It creates an unjustified dichotomy between the mind and the heart.

“The heart will not accept what the mind rejects.” These words are attributed to Jonathan Edwards (although I have never seen the reference). Nevertheless, I believe this is true. The one who knows but does not know how he knows is in great danger of one day losing what he knew. Why? Because the justification for this knowledge is unqualified and insufficient. Creating a dichotomy between the mind and the heart is a self-defense mechanism for those who are truly insecure about their faith. They don’t have enough confidence in their faith to subject it to the scrutiny that the mind demands. For these people, an introduction of the mind’s interrogation to their beliefs is like playing the lottery. There is a chance—a good chance—that it will not survive, so it is better not to take that chance. They simply “know that they know that they know.”
Or, as some would put it, they know because they have a “burning in their bosom”—that’s enough for them.

The problem with this fidestic approach to faith is that, in the end, everyone can claim this “burning in the bosom.” No one and no belief system is disqualified from its epistemological methodology. Two people with completely different belief systems can both have this subjective confidence with hearts on fire. Both can (and often do) claim that their conviction is from the Holy Spirit. Yet one of them is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that there is a subjective conviction of the Holy Spirit. But I believe that the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings is based upon the objective realities of the truths He represents. These truths are not acquired by a sound method of meditation or a blind adherence to what mom and dad taught you, but by wrestling with the issues and coming to your faith on your own. There has to be a deconstruction process that allows the Holy Spirit to bring about a conviction that we can truly credit to Him. We don’t have to disassociate His conviction with our studies. It is not an either/or but a both/and. God brings about conviction through our studies. This is the medium He uses. Yet unfortunately we often justify our lazy minds by placing the blame on Him for our intellectual disassociation.

Having all the right beliefs for all the wrong reasons. This is not a good thing. The reasons provide the foundation for our beliefs. If we do not construct a method of inquiry that has integrity, our beliefs will lack integrity. If our beliefs lack integrity, do we truly believe them?

We must learn to deconstruct our beliefs. No, not in the postmodern sense of the term. Postmodernism seeks to deconstruct without the intention of reconstructing. They do this because part of their presumed construction says that we cannot reconstruct (which is self-defeating). We deconstruct so that we can truly believe. We deconstruct so that we don’t have a faith of hibernated fear. We deconstruct so that when our fortress is rebuilt, it can weather any trial, internal or external. Ultimately, we deconstruct so that we can glorify God by loving Him with all our mind.

I know that this is difficult for many to hear. I know that the proposition is a fearful one. We are much more comfortable in our naive existence. But we must graduate our faith and encourage others to do the same. We must have the right beliefs for the right reasons.

I believe that a failure to do so, from a human standpoint, sets people up for their journey away from Christianity. This is why you see me singing this same tune so often.