The Problem of Dull Swords

I awoke this morning startled. My mind was thinking of a former student preparing to go to the mission field. I thought to myself, it’s good that he doesn’t need to translate the Scriptures before he gets there. He can build on the work of those that have gone before him. Evangelical missionaries have been translating the Scriptures since the eight translations made by William Carey in India at the beginning of the Great Century of Protestant Missions.

But then I thought about the Scriptures that are now available. Who controls the armament? And this woke me up with a start. Have Evangelicals turned over control of the armament to those who would dull the blade? To better understand the context of this question that woke me up with a start, a brief explanation is needed.

The Bible of the Protestant Reformation

Possibly or likely the greatest gift given by Martin Luther to the Protestant Reformation was a return to the text and authority of Holy Scriptures. The reader may ask, “What was the authority in the Western State Church prior to the Protestant Reformation?” It was:

  • Scripture + Tradition, or in actuality,
  • Tradition + Scripture.

Before the Protestant Reformation the Scriptures available to church leaders was only the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate, dated back to when Damasus, Bishop of Rome, commissioned Jerome to compile an authorized translation of the Bible into Latin in A.D. 383. An example of the doctrinal bias in this translation was his use of the verb “to do” + the noun “penance” to translate the Greek verb “to repent.” The blade of the New Testament was intentionally dulled for doctrinal or catechetical purposes.

The translation of this verb and many others were rectified by the Reformation Bibles translated directly from the Greek. Hence, Tyndale’s translated the verb μετανοέω differently to what was found in the Latin Vulgate:

  • Matthew 3:2 (Douai-Rheims), “And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 3:3 (Tyndale), “saynge; Repet the kyngdome of heue is at honde.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Douai-Rheims), “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Matthew 4:17 (Tyndale), “From that tyme Iesus begane to preache and to saye: repet for ye kigdome of heven is at honed”

The 1899 Douai-Rheims was faithfully translated from the text of the Latin Vulgate. It has 69 uses of the word “penance” often with various forms of the verb “to do,” such as “did penance,” “do penance,” “had/have done penance,” etc.

For almost a thousand years the Western church was required to use only the Latin Vulgate in its readings in church, in its studies in schools, and in its development of Christian doctrine. The blade had been dulled. The clarity of “repentance” (for example) had been replaced with the need for the act of “doing penance”— entering the Confessional Booth is the beginning of the Sacrament of Penance to receive absolution from a sin and receive the required penance to complete atonement for that sin.

Fortunately, Luther and his Protestant contemporaries returned the Word of God to its original sharpness on the issue of repentance. The greatest gift of the Protestant Reformation was a sharpened Bible, honed through direct translation from the Greek and Hebrew, as well as loosed from the confusion of the apocryphal books. Since the Protestant Reformation Four Centuries of Protestant scholars have found their highest authority in the words of Bible’s translated from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Enter 19th Century Secular Biblical Scholarship

In the late 19th Century the flames of secularism were fanned in academic circles. These flames burned in every area of theological studies. Two of the most crucial areas impacted, as far as biblical scholarship, were (1) approaching the Bible as a human book and (2) the question of original language texts.

In considering the Bible to be human, like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, biblical scholars raised their own intellectual abilities above those of the divine author. They reveled in their intellectual abilities to deconstruct the Bible and exhume its mythical elements. These scholars chipped away at the authority of the Bible from the inside out.

Meanwhile a more subtle secularism took hold of biblical scholarship. This renewed field of study deconstructed the original language text of the Bible. Conveniently ignoring that there was a culture of people who always spoke Greek and who had a Church more ancient in succession than was found in any Western Church region, Western Church scholars and their Protestant counterparts became viral to reconstruct a better original language text.

I once asked a New Testament scholar why Erasmus did not leave Bale and travel to Greece to find a full Greek text of the Book of Revelation. Apparently, Erasmus back-translated the Latin text into Greek to fill in gaps when he had no Greek text available to him. The New Testament scholar had no answer for me. Sure, the trip from Basel, Switzerland, to Athens, Greece, is 1,500 miles on today’s roads. But would not that trip be worth it to avoid back-translating from Latin into Greek, especially when establishing a new paradigm for the original language text? Textual criticism chips away at authority from the outside in.

These two fingers of secularism simmered within mainstream Protestant academic circles for about 100 years. Then they finally filtered down into Evangelical academia. It was English-language Evangelicalism that largely controlled (1) the worldwide Bible Society movement and (2) the 19th Century world missionary efforts.

Control of the Armament

The Bible societies had prospered on getting Bible’s into the hands of the common folk through Bible distribution and supporting missionaries who translated the Bible into the languages of the people where they ministered. In the early 20th Century a new kind of missionary emerged. These new ministers were the Wycliffe Bible Translators. They were energized by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. This was a new brand of Bible translators, founded by Cameron Townsend in 1942. They were non-denominational and non-theological. Their translators were “educators” not “missionaries.” They approached Bible translation from a purely secular linguistic approach, and intentionally avoided doctrinal controversies—if that were possible when translating the Bible.

One of the graduates of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Chicago was Eugene Nida. He would end up of playing a significant role in Bible translation on multiple fronts. Nida, and ordained Northern Baptist, joined the American Bible Society in 1943 and became its Executive Secretary for Translations in 1946, a post that he retained for 35 years.

In May 1946 Nida attended the smeeting in Elfinsward, England, when the United Bible Society was formed by joint agreement of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland, and the Netherlands Bible Society.

In November 1964 was perhaps the most important meetings of Nida. It included Olivier Béguin of the United Bible Society and Augustin Cardinal Bea of Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute and met at Crêt-Bérard, Lausanne, Switzerland. It was at this meeting that Nida sketched out the preliminary form of what became the 1968 “Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible.”

Briefly, these principles guided the United Bible Society’s efforts from 1968 to 1987, deeding oversight of all their original language texts and all their translations as follows:

“C. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a Working Committee, 2. a Review Committee, and 3. a Consultative Group.

“a. Working Committee Consisting of 4 to 6 persons equally divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. equal standing,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The 1968 “Guiding Principles” were revised in 1987 as “Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible the New Revised Edition Rome.” The same section as above was revised to read:

“2.3. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE 

“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a translation team, 2. a review panel, and 3. a consultative group.

“2.3.1. Translation team Consisting of not more than six persons of high competence from the Roman Catholic and other Christian constituencies and possessing four essential characteristics:

  1. comparable qualifications,
  2. complementary abilities,
  3. mutual respect, and
  4. capacity to work together.”

The reader will note the changes in the composition of the Translation Teams according to this document. This author will allow the reader to discern who may now control the weapons cache held by the United Bible Society since 1987.

It may be no surprise that many of the most important “readings” in the UBS Greek text now correspond to those of the Latin Vulgate.

Sharpening the Sword

It almost sounds sacrilegious from an Evangelical point-of-view to consider the need for sharpening the sword of the Word of God. Is not the inherent sharpness of God’s sword self-evident? According to Hebrews 4:12-13 the sword of the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts to the bone and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
Hebrews 4:12-13.

And yet, although this Word is quick and lively, whether it be the Thomas Jefferson Bible, the Jehovah’s Witness “New World Translation,” or the Douai-Rheims Bible, there are Bibles that have been intentionally dulled. And whereas we in the English-speaking world are insulated from the battles of Bible translation in the many languages of the world, we would do well to be aware of what is happening in these many languages and cultures.

So, this morning, as I woke up with a startle, thinking of my former student going out as a missionary, my prayer for him is—that he would be “Wise as a serpent and gentle as dove” (Matthew 10:16). May the Lord lead him to use the best Bible available to reach the hearts of those to whom he will be sent!

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Top 10 Reasons the Bible is Relevant for Spiritual-Historical Study

crespin inside cover

The Bible provides Evangelical historians a full pallet of colors by which they can divinely interpret the complexities of God’s work on the canvas of history. However, in the late 19th Century secularism descended like a pastel fog hiding biblical insights in the study of history in general and church history in particular. While 19th Century German scholars forged a path of secularism in biblical studies, historical study was not immune from that same secularization. In the field of history, dialectics* provided the secularizing tool by which divine authority was logically excised from historical study.

*Dialectics is described as: “development through stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism… [also] the theoretical application of this process esp. in the social sciences.” (Webster’s)

In this blurred and hazy environment, biblical input was shunned as the “thesis” or “basis” from which society evolved away. When applied to the ebb and flow of people and movements in the history of the churches, biblical insights were mummified and entombed as an obsolete forms of interpretation. Younger generations of students were taught to shun the biblical approaches of their Protestant forebears. The fallacy of composition grouped any living historian who wrote from a biblical a priori with his buried ancestors. Meanwhile the light of the Word of God in historical study dimmed.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Psa 119:105)

While the agnostic, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, liberal Protestant, etc., may view history as they chose, for the Evangelical historian the Bible contains rich insights to assist him to properly analyze the dark recesses of history.

Let me offer 10 areas that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in historical study.

  1. The Bible is the only inerrant and untainted intellectual authority given to humanity

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

The Bible provides the only book in world history by which mankind can and ought to judge all other sources of knowledge, whether they are primary sources or secondary sources. For the Evangelical Christian, only the Bible holds this position of absolute prominence.

  1. The Bible speaks with clear and adequate sufficiency to every issue that was, is, or will be considered in church history

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

As with the Bible’s authority, so God’s words speak with sufficiency, providing the student of church history the framework to properly understand its complexities.

  1. The Bible uniquely addresses us both the beginning and end of history

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)

Biblical revelation spans the entire scope of world history. It addresses events prior to the creation of humans to the end of the world. As such, the Bible exceeds the scope of earthly human history, providing a supra-earthly point of view by which to understand the history of humanity.

  1. The Bible offers us a worldview lens to interpret life (& history)

“You shall bind them [these words] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:8)

The Bible offers its readers and those who submit to its tenets the worldview lens by which they can properly interpret all of life and history.

  1. The Bible explains God’s sovereign work in history

“The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”(1 Sam 2:6-10)

Hannah’s amazing song affirms the sovereign work of God in all of history. He raises up and He brings low. He is literally in control of everything. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign hand.

  1. The Bible explains God’s particular saving work in history

“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, … that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:4-5, 12)

As God is in control of all of human history, so within this history He is calling out His people unto Himself. From the standpoint of the Apostle Paul this calling becomes efficacious when persons hear the gospel with a hearing of faith, and repent and believe.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)

  1. In the Bible, Christ gave His church its mission, purpose, and charter for all of history; then celebrating the fulfillment of the same

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Christ left one final command to His people. This injunction was passed down to His disciples in all forthcoming generations, languages groups, and places. So, it only follows that in any retelling of the history of God’s people, the Great Commission and its fulfillment will be found front and center.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)

So important is the Great Commission in God’s view of human history, that He has determined that its fulfillment with mark the end of the age!

  1. The Bible reveals four supreme world monarchies in history

We read of visions wherein are explained and interpreted world empires in Daniel 2 and 7. The German Protestant historian Johannes Sleidan considered these empires the “key of history”—as noted in his book titled, “The Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History” (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1561, 1563, 1566). These four chief monarchies were: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

  1. The Bible exemplifies social-denominational cycles of obedience and disobedience

The Bible provides information about the spiritual cycles of the people of Israel in the Books of Numbers, Judges and 2 Chronicles. There were seasons of obedience and disobedience to God, submission and disregard of His word. Within these extremes were found many variations, providing powerful types and antitypes for the benefit of future generations.

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)

  1. The Bible prophesies the fact of the good, the bad, and the ugly in church life

The letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were oracles to the churches in existence during the time of John. Yet, just as all these churches existed at the same time, so also each type of church exists throughout all of church history. These letters encourage and warn all churches throughout all of history—maybe even providing an interpretive grid for church historical study.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)