A Plea for Realism: The Version Debate Lives On, Part 1

Borrowing from the subtitle of Don Carson’s The King James Version Debate, I would like to make one more “plea for realism” in the midst of the ongoing and often impassioned version debates.  I recognize that this issue is a matter over which genuine believers sincerely differ and that the reasons for such often strongly-held differences include denominational and/or local church traditions, historical biases, stylistic preferences, and theological presuppositions, among others.  Unfortunately, these differences have at times resulted in bitter controversy, vitriolic polemics and unwarranted division.

While embracing a single version to the exclusion of all others was not historically a test of orthodoxy or even a watershed issue within historical fundamentalism, I continue to be mystified (and saddened) by those who want to make it a litmus test for fellowship.  Having come out of a strong KJV-only heritage myself, I am well aware of the arguments and emotions that fuel the debate.  While I would like to think that we will eventually get beyond this impasse, virtually every semester, I find myself drawn into a discussion with a “concerned” pastor or prospective student whose first question is ‘what version or Greek text do you use in the classroom?’  Whereas I certainly respect another believer’s preference for a particular version, I am troubled when that preference becomes the measuring stick for evaluating the spiritual condition of other believers, churches, or institutions.  While I am not so naive to think that this three-part blog posting will persuade those deeply entrenched in a particular tradition, I would like to take this opportunity to state the position of Calvary Baptist Seminary and express my heartfelt desire that a spirit of Christian grace and forbearance might characterize the ongoing discussion.

Both individually and as an institution, we affirm that God has uniquely revealed Himself to mankind through His Word, the Bible.  In its entirety, the sixty-six canonical books of Scripture, comprised of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New, constitute God’s complete and authoritative written Word.  We further assert that the original manuscripts (the autographs) are God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and therefore infallible and inerrant in every respect.  That is, we affirm verbal, plenary inspiration.  Moreover, while certainly applying to matters of faith and practice, we hold that inerrancy, extends to any area to which the Bible speaks, including those of history and science.  As the Bible is God’s record concerning Himself, His creation, and His working through redemptive-history, His Word is the authoritative guide by which His people are to live and by which all of humanity will ultimately be judged.  We reject the notion of inspiration or authoritative status for any non- or extra-canonical work such as the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha.

We believe that God has preserved His Word through the ages in a variety of languages and translations and that no single version or translation tradition is the exclusive repository of God’s Word.  (We are not suggesting by this that all versions are equally valid or accurate, a point to which we will return later).  Moreover, the defining and critical terms “inspiration” and “inerrancy,” in their strict technical usage, are limited to the original manuscripts (or autographs). Yet, to the degree that a particular version accurately translates the words and faithfully conveys the message of the autographs, one can rightly speak of that translation as the Word of God.  In the next postings, I will address two key issues involved in the version question, namely, the nature of the text and the nature of the translation.

About Al Huss
I am a professor of New Testament at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA

5 Responses to A Plea for Realism: The Version Debate Lives On, Part 1

  1. craighurst says:

    I just had my whole side of our family over for Thanksgiving last week and this very subject came up. My wife had to nicely diffuse it as some were getting way too personal and emotionally involved in the discussion. I love talking about this but I don’t with family.

  2. Bob says:

    Yes, still a “hot topic” for some. I just lost missionary support because I gave an answer similar to the one that you gave. Not as detailed or well written, of course 🙂 I did mention that the Spanish translations that we use are more precise than any English version just based on the nature of languages. Thanks for addressing this subject. I’m thankful for your ministry and for that of my alma mater!

  3. Jim E says:

    This is like “wading into unknown waters”…you never know when the drop off will show up…but the comment of making this a “litmus test for fellowship” (though this is one of those “drop offs” to some) is why these views are often held…and not only with a Bible version…but with many other customs, ideas or behaviors in churches…to answer the question, Who are we going to fellowship with???…

    We have a tendency to, and embrace reducing the “terms of fellowship” down to a simple few…and like the old adage, it comes down to, “It’s Thee and Me, and I’m not so sure about Thee.”…there is a tendency, based on this or many other controversial subjects, to refine a very small “stripe” of behaviors for “admission”, so it is easier to control the thought and behavior of the group…sounds ominous but not so…it is a method to which mankind has reached for, not only in the spiritual realm but political, cultural, business, etc…but being able to fellowship with people with differing views on whatever the topic is the hard but ultimately important job in building spiritually strong churches and relationships…not turn them out based on a chosen litmus test…this didn’t solve a thing did it???…just another drop off…

  4. Steve P says:

    I’m engaged in a rather fruitless debate with a fundamentalist Baptist on this issue. I have recently taken the label “fundamentalist Baptist” for myself, but struggle with the King James claims that many think “fundamentalist” implies.

    The particular group I’ve come into contact with holds that the English actually supersedes the original text, and is fully inspired. It’s troubling because it implies corruption in the original languages, the very thing that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and others allege. This, I know, is the most extreme position, but it is the position that is spoken by the loudest voices. (Actually, it holds to double inspiration, as both the 1611 and subsequent spelling revision were wholly inspired, and that raises a whole new set of questions)

    The question I ask of is as follows: As fundamentalists we are supposed to defend the integrity of the Scriptures. What part does the version debate play in this defense? In the scenario above the answer is obvious, but what about the more “moderate” stances?

  5. Jim Peet says:

    I appreciated your three-part series. I posted over on Sharper Iron here

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