"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 2, Number 3, March, 1999
The foundational premise of the modern infallible English Bible movement is a belief that because God gave the original Scriptures in a perfect, infallible and inerrant form, He is thereby obligated to preserve the inspired Scripture in an absolutely perfect and uncorrupted form throughout all subsequent time. And, furthermore, since God evidently has not done that with the original language Scriptures (no two manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, for example, being exactly alike in every detail), therefore--they conclude by leap of "faith" (really presumption)--God must have preserved it in some other form. This leads to a "quantum leap" in presumption as they fix on the King James Version of the Bible in English as the proffered infallibly-preserved modern day Scripture. Conveniently ignored are legitimate questions: why this version and no other? and, why in this language and no other? and what of the very numerous differences between the various editions of the KJV published since 1611? (no two being identical in all details-- except for photographic reprints--which being true, how can THIS meet the standard of an infallibly-preserved Scripture?).
The fact of the matter is, the basic premise that there is a Divine promise to infallibly preserve Scripture from any alterations of whatever sort in the copying and translating process is defective. No such promise is given in Scripture (and alleged "proof-texts" for this doctrine, such as Psalm 12:6-7; Matthew 5:17, 18; and Matthew 24:35; are without exception misinterpreted and misapplied).
That there is no Biblical promise of perfect preservation of Scripture in the process of copying and translating has been asserted repeatedly by devout, well-informed scholars. In a previous issue of AISI (1:6, June, 1998), we reproduced just such a statement by British New Testament scholar and advocate of the Byzantine text-type John William Burgon (1813-1888): ". . . That by a perpetual miracle, Sacred Manuscripts would be protected all down the ages against depraving influences of whatever sort,--was not to have been expected; certainly, was never promised." (REVISION REVISED, p. 335). And he certainly means promised by God.
Recently, we ran across another, similar comment by Burgon's contemporary and fellow-Byzantine text defender F. H. A. Scrivener. In his INTRODUCTION TO THE CRITICISM OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1883. Third edition), Scrivener gives his expert testimony--and that he was expert in such matters no one familiar with the facts will dispute. In the 19th century, no one had a fuller acquaintance than he with the minutiae and details of the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament as well as the various editions of the KJV, and no one was a more meticulous recorder and publisher of such details.
Scrivener opens his volume:
"1. When God was pleased to make known to man His purpose of redeeming us through the death of His Son, He employed for this end the general laws, and worked according to the ordinary course of His Providential government, so far as they were available for the furtherance of His merciful design. A revelation from heaven, in its very notion, implies supernatural interposition; yet neither in the first promulgation nor in the subsequent propagation of Christ's religion, can we mark any WASTE of miracles. So far as they were needed for the assurance of honest seekers after truth, they were freely resorted to: whensoever the principles which move mankind in the affairs of common life were adequate to the exigencies of the case, more unusual and (as we might have thought) more powerful means of producing conviction were withheld, as at once superfluous and ineffectual. Those who heard not Moses and the prophets would scarcely be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
2. As it was with respect to the EVIDENCES of our faith, so also with regard to the volume of Scripture. God willed that His Church should enjoy the benefit of His written word, at once as a rule of doctrine and as a guide unto holy living. For this cause He so enlightened the minds of the Apostles and Evangelists by His Spirit, that they recorded what He had imprinted on their hearts or brought to their remembrance, without the risk of error in anything essential to the verity of the Gospel. But this main point once secured, the rest was left, in a great measure, to themselves. The style, the tone, the language, perhaps the special occasion of writing, seem to have depended much on the taste and judgment of the several penmen. Thus in St. Paul's Epistles we note the profound thinker, the great scholar, the consummate orator: St John puts forth the simple utterings of his gentle, untutored, affectionate soul: in St Peter's speeches and letters may be traced the impetuous earnestness of his noble yet not faultless character. Their individual tempers and faculties and intellectual habits are clearly discernible, even while they are speaking to us in the power and by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
3. Now this self-same parsimony in the employment of miracles which we observe with reference to Christian evidences and to the inspiration of Scripture, we might look beforehand, from the analogy of divine things, when we proceed to consider the methods by which Scripture has been preserved and handed down to us. God MIGHT, if He would, have stamped His revealed will visibly on the heavens, that all should read it there: He MIGHT have so completely filled the minds of His servants the Prophets and the Evangelists, that they should have become mere passive instruments in the promulgation of His counsel, and the writings they have delivered to us have borne no traces whatever of their individual characters: but for certain causes which we can perceive, and doubtless for others beyond the reach of our capacities, He has chosen to do neither the one nor the other. And so again with the subject we propose to discuss in the present work, namely, the relation our existing text of the New Testament bears to that which originally came from the hands of the sacred penmen. Their autographs MIGHT have been preserved in the Church as the perfect standards by which all accidental variations of the numberless copies scattered throughout the world should be corrected to the end of time: but we know that these autographs perished utterly in the very infancy of Christian history. Or if it be too much to expect that the autographs of the inspired writers should escape the fate which has overtaken that of every other known relique of ancient literature, God MIGHT have so guided the hand or fixed the devout attention both of copyists during the long space of fourteen hundred years before the invention of printing, and of compositors and printers of the Bible for the last four centuries, that no jot or tittle should have been changed of all that was written therein. Such a course of Providential arrangement we must confess to be quite possible, but it could have been brought about and maintained by nothing short of a continuous, unceasing miracle;--by making fallible men (nay, many such in every generation) for one purpose absolutely infallible. If this complete identity of all copies of Holy Scripture prove to be a fact, we must of course receive it as such, and refer it to its sole Author: yet we may confidently pronounce beforehand, that such a fact could not have been reasonably anticipated, and is not at all agreeable to the general tenour of God's dealings with us.
4. No one who has taken the trouble to examine any two editions of the Greek New Testament needs to be told that this supposed complete resemblance of various copies of the holy books is not founded in fact. Even several impressions derived from the same standard edition, and professing to exhibit a text positively the same, differ from their archetype and from each other, in errors of the press which no amount of care or diligence has yet been able to get rid of. If we extend our researches to the manuscript copies of Scripture or of its versions which abound in every great library in Christendom, we see in the very best of them variations which we must at once impute to the fault of the scribe, together with many others of a graver and more perplexing nature, regarding which we can form no probable judgment, without calling to our aid the resources of critical learning" [pp.1-3, all capitals substituted for italics in the originals].
Or, to summarize Scrivener, God did perform a miracle when Scripture was originally written, and while He COULD have continued to perform a miracle in the copying (and, we would add, translation) process to prevent the least scribal variation from the original, He did not do so, the facts of the manuscripts and printed editions eloquently testifying against such an occurrence.
To the above opinions, we may add that of highly-respected 19th-century American Baptist theologian J. L. Dagg (1794- 1884). In his MANUAL OF THEOLOGY (Harrisonburg, Va.: Gano Books, 1982 reprint of 1857 edition), he addressed the serious question--are variations in existing Bible manuscripts a barrier to confidence in the Scriptures? His reply is exactly on target:
"The Bible though a revelation from God, does not come immediately from him to us who read it, but is received through the medium of human agency. It is an important question, whether its truth and authority are impaired by passing through this medium. Human agency was employed in the first writing of the Scriptures, and afterwards in transmitting them, by means of copies and translations, to distant places, and succeeding generations" (p. 22).
"The men who originally wrote the Holy Scriptures, performed the work under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such was the extent of this influence, that the writing, when it came forth from their hands, was said to be given by inspiration of God. . . .The men who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, were the instruments that God used to speak and write his word" (pp. 22, 23).
On the other hand,
"Although the Scriptures were originally penned under the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit, it does not follow, that a continued miracle has been wrought to preserve them from all error in transcribing. On the contrary, we know that manuscripts differ from each other; and where readings are various, but one of them can be correct. A miracle was needed in the original production of the Scriptures; and, accordingly, a miracle was wrought; but the preservation of the inspired word, in as much perfection as was necessary to answer the purpose for which it was given, did not require a miracle, and accordingly it was committed to the providence of God. Yet the providence which has preserved the divine oracles, has been special and remarkable. . . .
The consequence is, that, although the various readings found in the existing manuscripts, are numerous, we are able, in every case, to determine the correct reading, so far as is necessary for the establishment of our faith, or the direction of our practice in every important particular. So little, after all, do the copies differ from each other, that these minute differences, when viewed in contrast with their general agreement, render the fact of that agreement the more impressive, and may be said to serve practically, rather to increase, than impair, our confidence in their general correctness. Their utmost deviations do not change the direction of the line of truth; and if they seem in some points to widen that line a very little, the path that lies between their widest boundaries, is too narrow to permit us to stray" (pp. 24, 25).
Or, to summarize Dagg: the miracle of inspiration was operative only in the original writing of Scripture and only the originals are infallible. Rather than involving the direct work of the Holy Spirit, the copying process was committed to the general providence of God, which, though permitting scribal mistakes and variations to occur, nevertheless restricted those variations so that the doctrinal integrity of the Bible was preserved intact.
But what about translations?
"As copies of the Holy Scriptures, though made by fallible hands, are sufficient for the guidance in the study of divine truth; so translations, though made with uninspired human skill, are sufficient for those who have not access to the inspired original . . . . [God] has bestowed the knowledge necessary for the translation of his word on a sufficient number of faithful men, to answer the purpose of his benevolence; and the least accurate of the translations with which the common people are favored, is full of divine truth, and able to make wise to salvation" (p. 25).
How desperately our present generation of preachers, Bible college students and church members needs to lend an attentive ear to the sane and sensible analysis of these men, rather than embracing a fraudulent (though seemingly attractive) substitute for the truth!
"In our time, when the conceiving of new nations (for which there is no contraceptive) overpopulates the councils of the United Nations, we are apt to forget how novel the new United States must have seemed back in the late eighteenth century." (Daniel Boorstin, THE EXPLORING SPIRIT, Vintage Books, 1977, p. 27)
"Th[e] vast ocean of superhighways [is] nearly as free of culture as the sea traversed by the Mayflower Pilgrims." (Ibid., p. 62).
"Just as we prefer to stay home and 'see it on television,' so we find it more comfortable to sit in our own century and be reminded of ourselves. Despite our facilities for all other forms of travel, we find ourselves peculiarly ill-equipped and ill-disposed to travel back through time. When we go there, we are inclined to see everything with the fashionable myopia of our age. We look for materials to teach the place of Women in History, material for Black Studies, or data on what we pretentiously call "the Environment." The past, which should be the Land of the Otherwise, opening our imagination to possibilities not visible in our time and place, becomes a Land of the More-So, which we plunder to document what we already believe." (Ibid., 81).
"The great works of science inevitably bury their predecessors, and the best science fiction becomes obsolete by the fulfillment of its prophecies. But the great works of literature, of history, of philosophy, and of speculation enrich and revive their predecessors," (Ibid., p. 83).
"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, and honor to whom honor." Romans 13:1-7, NKJB
The Scriptures present at least two principles regarding the issue of the Church and the State. The first is expressed by Paul in the passage above.
Clearly, the believer individually and all believers collectively are commanded to be in submission to human government. Governments are ordained of God and are for the benefit of mankind. Almost any kind of government is better than anarchy and mob rule. Jesus Himself commanded us to render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar (Matthew 22:21), a teaching of Jesus which Paul had expressly in mind in this passage in Romans.
On the other hand, the Scriptures also teach a second principle. That principle is that there are times when the believer must obey a higher power than the State, that of God Himself. Peter said, "We ought to obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29). Paul likewise wrote, ". . . or, do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
Obedience and disobedience to the State are both scriptural principles. There is no conflict between them, rightly understood and practiced. The command to obey the State is a general principle, not an absolutely universal dictum. There are times when the believer may, with God's blessing, disobey the government. The three Hebrew men refused to obey Nebuchadnezzar and bow to his idol, an act which would be in direct disobedience to the first two of the Ten Commandments. Daniel continued his customary praying three times in the day, in spite of the decree of the king. Peter and John continued to preach Christ crucified in spite of the Sanhedrin's order to cease and desist.
The problem is defining at what point the State has gone beyond its legitimate bounds in demanding obedience. Can the government tax our church properties? Can it dictate curriculum in our schools? Can it demand that our churches meet building and fire codes imposed on all buildings used for public assemblies? Can the State require that our Christian school buildings conform to fire codes? Are we free to refuse to register our buses or have them state- inspected? Where is the line to be biblically drawn?
There is an over-riding principle in the matter of disobedience to the State. That principle strictly involves matters of religious liberty. Each case of biblical disobedience to the State noted above involved matters of religious liberty: the infringement on the believer's divinely- given right to believe and practice his religious convictions.
If this principle is valid and true to the Scriptures, then the individual Christian and the churches which are collective bodies of Christians are not absolutely free from obedience to the State. The believer must pay his taxes. He must obey traffic laws. In his business, he must play by the rules established by the government. If he builds houses, those houses must conform to building codes. If he drives a car, it must be licensed and he also must be licensed to drive on public roads. He must pay federal and state taxes on gasoline. He must register for the draft. None of these is a religious matter and the Christian has no right from God to disobey these and all similar laws and regulations. To resist these legitimate functions of the State is to resist the powers ordained of God, and thereby to resist God.
What then of the churches? Our liberty as churches from the imposed rule of the government is limited likewise solely to religious matters. We do not have the right under God to refuse a routine fire inspection. We cannot refuse to license our church buses and vans, nor can we refuse state safety inspections of our vehicles. We have no excuse for failing to get occupancy permits for our churches. This is not a matter of religious liberty. Any other kind of meeting hall-- whether built by a lodge, the VFW or a labor union--would have to conform to the same regulations. And should the states impose property taxes on our church properties, I can see no biblical principle by which we could refuse to pay them. It is only when the government infringes on our right to teach as we under God see fit (for example, by banning personal evangelism in public places)--then, and only then, do we have the God-given right and solemn duty to disobey.
By failing to clearly distinguish these principles and to understand where our obligation to obey the State stops and where our obligation to obey God rather than man begins, many a Christian and many a church has stirred up unnecessary conflict with the civil authorities, conflict which is not pleasing to God.
We fail to see that, on the whole, the State is a friend of the churches. We are protected from crime and vandalism by government-provided police. We are protected from fire by the government-provided fire department. A fire inspection may reveal a fire hazard and thereby prevent a costly fire and potential lawsuits, should a child be injured or killed. State vehicle inspection of buses may prevent a fatal crash from faulty brakes or a worn tire. The government is not our adversary in these things. It is a co-laborer with us for the good of mankind.
When we resist the State in matters not involved in religious liberty, we resist God and fight against Him. We damage our credibility and testimony in the community. We make the cause of Christ subject to just and legitimate censure by thinking people. We will get enough opposition in the essential and necessary religious matters. We do not need to make extra trouble for ourselves by going "beyond that which is written."
This little volume was into its 22nd printing only a year and a half after it was first published, and ultimately some 700,000 copies in some 20 languages were printed. Frankly, I don't think it was THAT good.
E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), an American Methodist missionary, went to India in 1907 and ministered there for decades. From clear declarations in the book, Jones adhered to the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. This volume, written after 17 years of service in India, addresses the question of how to get the Gospel to Indians and their receptiveness to it. At the time of writing, India was still under British rule, as it had been for a couple of centuries. Jones frankly declares that the greatest hindrance to acceptance of the Gospel by the Indians is the unnecessary baggage of Western civilization and Western ecclesiastical tradition which have been ordinarily attached to the Gospel. The "cultural imperialism" of Western missionaries--trying not only to win Indians to Christ, but also seeking to "elevate" them to Western styles of dress, custom, civic institutions etc., has hindered the spread of the Gospel, because the Gospel became associated in the popular mind with the often-hated (and deservedly so) imperialist masters.
A second great obstacle to evangelizing India is the unChristian conduct of many professing Christians, both in India, and especially in Western Europe and America. The corruption, immorality, violence, lust for land and power (remember: World War I was just over) which typify so- called "Christian" Europe has little to endear itself to the Indians. All too many of the "Christian" Europeans and Americans in India (businessmen, government officials, military leaders) were known to be drunkards, adulterers, dishonest, violent or otherwise corrupt, and were characterized by attitudes of racial superiority.
Jones asserts, rightly, that the real need is to present Christ Himself to India, without the trappings of Western civilization and a concerted attempt to "Westernize" the Indians. The missionaries' enterprise is to present the Christ of Scripture, not Western Christianity, to the Indians. This principle applies on every mission field.
Jones is, I think, vastly overly optimistic about India's receptivity to the Gospel. He asserts that India is becoming "Christianized," that is, it is adopting Christ's ethical, practical teachings, while not yet accepting His person, but there is hope, he affirms, that that will soon follow. Next to nothing is said about the depravity of man, or the spiritual blindness which is the lot of every lost man, and the deep spiritual darkness which enshrouds India. I wonder how Jones would have evaluated the situation thirty or forty years later, after the independence and division of India.
The book is highly philosophical, and not infrequently a bit nebulous and hazy (the very nature of most "philosophy"). If you have easy access to a copy, and have a few hours to give, it might be worth reading, but I do not think it is a book to be sought out.
Some notable quotes:
"I have found that all real evangelistic work begins in the evangelist. Around the world the problem of Christian work is the problem of the Christian worker. As family training cannot rise above family character, so Christian service cannot rise above the Christian servant" (p. 21).
"Christianity must be defined as Christ, not the Old Testament, not Western civilization, not even the system built around him in the West, but Christ himself and to be a Christian is to follow him" (p. 26).
"Christ must be interpreted in terms of Christian experience rather than through mere argument" (p. 26).
"[A] great unbiased economist came to the conclusion that 'almost every economic evil in India is rooted in religious and social custom.' " (p. 43).
"A Hindu teacher said to me one day, 'I want to become a Christian, but I do so in spite of the lives of the Europeans I have seen here.' " (p. 112).
An Indian philosopher said "Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians--you are not like him." (p. 121).
"Another Hindu put the matter just as strongly. . . '[I]f you Christians had lived more like Jesus Christ, this process of conversion would have gone on much more rapidly.' " (p. 122).
"I have found a good many nervous Christians since coming home who are afraid that this whole thing of Christianity might fall to pieces if someone should get too critical, or if science should get too scientific. Many of the saints are now painfully nervous. They remind me of a lady missionary with whom I walked home one night after a very tense meeting in a Hindu theater. She said, 'Mr. Jones, I am physically exhausted from that meeting to-night.' When I asked her the reason she said, 'Well, I didn't know what they were going to ask you next, and I didn't know what you were going to answer, so I've been sitting up there in the gallery holding on to the bench with all my might for two hours, and I'm physically exhausted!' There are many like our sister who are metaphorically holding to their seats with all their might lest Christianity fall to pieces under criticism!" (p. 139).
"Jesus does not need to be protected. He needs to be presented. He protects himself. . . . He did not come to bring a set of truths to set alongside of other truths, as some have superficially imagined, he came to be Truth; and if one goes far enough with truth, it will lead him by the hand till he faces him who is Truth itself" (p. 141).
"Pliny the Elder had said, 'There is nothing certain save the absence of certainty,' and Plato longed for 'some sure word from God' that would be a raft to carry him across the uncertain seas of human existence. The apostles brought certainty" (p. 146).
"Christ interpreted through experience and backed by fine living is almost irresistible to India to-day" (p. 161).
Jesus, truly known, is "One who exacts worship instead of submitting to appraisal" (p. 168).
"Jesus the mystic appeals to India, the land of mysticism. But Jesus the mystic was amazingly concrete and practical. Into an atmosphere filled with speculation and wordy disputation where 'men are often drunk with the wine of their own wordiness' he brings the refreshing sense of practical reality. He taught, but he did not speculate. He never used such words as 'perhaps,' 'may be,' 'I think so.' Even his words had a concrete feeling about them. They fell upon the soul with the authority of certainty" (p. 191).