Preparing to teach a class this week, I had a thought that is less trivial than it may at first sound, and it’s this:
Regardless of what you do in your Scripture study, I believe it’s extremely important to learn the Word of God well in a single version. If your heart is to be a well that’s filled with the Scripture, if you want to give the Holy Spirit “something to work with,” your heart cannot be muddled. Use a sound translation and stick with it, especially in your devotional life.
A couple of other things flow out of this:
1. Loss of a common version is an intellectual and spiritual danger. I am not a KJV-onlyist. But I do believe the English-speaking Church and the Anglosphere in general lost something important in the loss of a common version. I’m not speaking about biblical illiteracy so much as I am about the ability to communicate effectively, rapidly, and cogently.
Confusion abounds. I see quotations in Christian books – ostensibly from the Bible – which are totally unrecognizable as being Scripture. This goes far beyond the use of “thee” and “thou” or gender-inclusive mangling. With literally dozens of versions to choose from, situated at various points along the spectrum of formal/dynamic equivalence, how can anyone (especially a new believer) communicate about his faith with other Christians? There is no common reference point and Scripture can no longer give our culture any imagery, bywords or proverbs. This is a spiritual deficit to our culture of the first order, and I believe it is also a subtle attack of the enemy of our souls.
Anyone who has ever taught a Bible class or led a small group has heard those wonderful words, “Mine doesn’t say that!” The result of all this is that in a little over 100 years we have effectively ensured that there is no common religious vocabulary in the English language. This weakens Christian education severely.
2. Doctrine is also imperiled in the current environment. A related problem is that we must now educate people out of the version they are reading (!) because it is literally impossible to teach doctrine out of some versions which are touted as easy to read. All Protestant Christians once knew what “justification” was, and if they didn’t they at least knew it was something important, because it was in the Bible.
Compare the climax of Romans 8 in any of the four popular English Bible translations (NIV, KJV, NKJV, NLT) to the way it reads in The Message:
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. [From The Message (MSG) Copyright © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson]
Notice how the teaching of Christ’s intercession is obscured, to say nothing of the idea that not even the worst of sins listed in Scripture can keep us from Christ. (That may cause some people to be shocked down the road when they see Him.)
This is nothing less than making an idol out of making it easy for people to read the Bible. We don’t wish to put obstacles before people who are approaching the Word, but modern versions which literally change the Word of God are not even capable of ministering God’s life to people in the first place. So why bother with them? They may even be serving to inoculate people against the Truth.
Peter said that some of what Paul wrote is had to understand. And I agree. But it is still the Word of God, and respect for its Author demands that we face the Word on its own terms.
If God’s Word is really sweeter than the honey and honeycomb, should we not love God with all our mind and make the effort to learn what it really says?
In conclusion, I don’t think I will live to see it, but I pray for the day when the English-speaking world might regain some of its spiritual vigor by enjoying together once again a Bible translation that is faithful, beautiful, and not under copyright.