David declares, “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it” (Ps. 68:11). The Lord not only has given His Word to this earth but also has preserved His Word throughout history. Thus, is it possible that He has also permitted that Word to be safely transmitted into other languages, such as our own beloved English language?
The Original versus a Copy
Our burden in this article takes us back to the great prophet Moses and his writing of the inspired Pentateuch, the term commonly designated for the first five books of the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 17:14–17, Moses prophetically reveals the coming of kings for Israel; he warns that when such leaders arise in history, they are not to multiply horses, wives, or gold. The prophet then commands in 17:18–21 that each king is to make a copy of the Pentateuch for himself in order to rule the nation by that Word.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.
Further reading of the words of Moses reveals that there were two identifications of this Word with the Ark of the Covenant: (1) The two tables of stone located inside the ark with the covenant (the ten commandments written upon them) and, (2) the original writing of the entire Pentateuch that was placed in holsters or sleeves on the sides of the ark (Deut. 31:25, 26). As the ten commandments were kept inside and under the lid of the ark itself, the greater Pentateuch was kept on the sides outside the ark. Moses declares that it is from these original scrolls that all future kings were to make a personal copy of the Pentateuch. It is obvious in Deuteronomy 17 that the king is responsible for such a copy in his reign. Whether the king wrote the copy himself, or had it copied, he was responsible for a copy by which to rule the kingdom. The emphasis is that each king is to have his own copy of the Law.
Several centuries later, we are brought to the reign and revival of Josiah (2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34). In his day the original scroll of the Law was discovered by Hilkiah the high priest, who in turn declared it to Shaphan the scribe. The evidence indicates that Hilkiah officially found the Law in the sleeves of the ark and brought it directly to Shaphan the scribe. Shaphan then proceeded to make a copy from that original Pentateuch; he read and remembered the command of the Law (Deut. 17:18, 19), and read to the king the copy of it. This made such an impression upon King Josiah that he called for the elders and the people to also hear a reading of the Law. Two very interesting verses should be noticed in this regard:
- 2 Kings 23:3b—“to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.”
- 2 Chron. 34:30b—“he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD.”
The phrase “that were written in this book” is to be distinguished from the phrase “all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD.” The former phrase represents the copy “written” by Shaphan the scribe. The phrase “the book ... found” in the house of the Lord refers to the original or autograph from the hand of Moses. This was an actual fulfillment of the command of Moses concerning future kings’ involvement of copying from the original Law.
The Absence of the Originals
How often we hear the claim that “we do not have the original writings of the books of the Bible.” While this statement is true, there is a reason for this absence. God never intended for all of His people to handle, own, and personally read or preserve the original copy of the Pentateuch, any more than all men were able to see and handle the Word of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ (as John the Beloved acknowledged that he had done, 1 John 1:1). While there certainly was a handling of the original, God’s plan included a later copying of that original by the king’s command. God commanded that the original two stones written upon (The Decalogue) be kept in the ark; He commanded that the scrolls of the Law (the Pentateuch) be placed in the sleeves of the ark. He ordained that kings make copies from the original. Although the kings would perpetuate the copies, He alone would preserve both the copy and the perpetuity of the copies. In other words, the original copy was for the king, not for the people.
Christians should not think of the original manuscripts of the Bible as being lost today. Rather we should consider them deliberately hidden. At the same time, God has preserved and hand-delivered His Word to kings. This is part of the preservation of the Bible itself.
Two Important Copies for Kings
We must carefully note two important Bible translations that have arisen in history to which Christians owe much. The first is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the “Septuagint” (285–265 BC); the second is the King James Bible of 1611. Both of these translations were authorized by kings. The Septuagint was authorized by King Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt. He invited 72 Jewish elders to Alexandria, Egypt, to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language. The King James Bible translation was authorized by King James of England through initially 54 Christian scholars of Cambridge, Oxford, and Westminster. Thus, these copies were brought into the two languages of Greek and English.
It must be acknowledged that many corrupted Greek Septuagint versions followed this original translation. Many scholars continue to have doubts about these other versions. Nevertheless, the original Septuagint initially became a received Greek text from a received Hebrew text.
The King James Bible came from a received text of a Hebrew and Greek text into the English language. For over 270 years the King James Bible was the preserved Word of God for the English-speaking world. It remained unchallenged until 1881, when the first steps were taken to attack the Received Text. The arrival of the Revised Standard Version initiated the migration toward a corrupted text.
The piety, linguistic abilities, and love for the Word of God found in the scholars of the beloved King James translation have never been matched in history. They received neither money nor gain; and despite the tremendous increase of other English versions since then, there remains to this very day a certain preserved aspect of this most honorable version. Even though the Elizabethan English of the Shakespearean period had been in decline for several years, yet it was believed that this literary form should be revived exclusively as this version’s English mode of expression. It was a sealed English that would not change or mutate into the contemporary philosophy.
The English Used by the King James Translators
There are many individuals over the recent decades who have attacked the beloved King James Bible and said that it was written in Old English. But this is not true. The King James Bible is written in what is known as Early Modern English. The history of the English language has three large periods. Old English (AD 150–1100), Middle English (1100–1500), and Modern English (fully-formed by 1550). Therefore, the King James Bible is clearly written in Modern English.
Another attack is upon its usage of words such as thee and thou. There are two important reasons for retaining these pronouns. Their use takes us back in the history of the English language to a more majestic and a loftier form of the pronouns. How different they are from the gutter slang English of today, which is an indication of a gross decline and mongrelization into “slob” language. (This is truly another characteristic of the end-time apostasy, even in language.) During the period of the King James Bible translation, a complete set of personal pronouns was used to identify the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd, singular or plural) and case (nominative, objective, possessive) more accurately than the pronouns we use today. Let us note this usage in three expressions of the nominative, the objective, and the possessive in that order.
First person singular: I, me, and my or mine
First person plural: we, us, and our or ours
Second person singular: thou, thee, and thy or thine
Second person plural: ye, you, and your or yours.
Third person singular: he or she, him or her, and his or hers
Third person plural: they, them, and their or theirs.
From the above breakdown of pronouns, we see that the contemporary Bibles have mainly abandoned the second person singular pronouns and have also used the words you and your to do double duty, functioning as both singular and plural. Whether one will acknowledge it or not, this has brought a “dumbing down” and debasing of the English language.
But there is another reason for retaining thee and thou in our Bible. It is to preserve a greater dignity and reverence in the style of writing, especially when the words are addressed to the God of heaven. We are living in a fleshly, slob-culture age that has continued to bring God down to its low-level living. In our conversation and living, nothing remains sacred anymore—life, marriage, family, nor the dignity of humanity. Yes, we live in the most debasing era of human history, and thus our language accommodates the mud and slime of our existence. Sad to say, we have drawn God’s written Word down to the gutter level of our living.
The Sword Against End-Time Apostasy
We must also acknowledge that in the English-speaking world the beloved King James Bible has been used by the providence of God to arise as the singular sword against Roman Catholicism; it has been the singular sword against the apostasy of Protestantism; and it has been the singular sword against Liberalism and Modernism. It must be emphatically declared, with no reservation, that there has been no other English version identified for its militancy against the apostasy of the End! All the nearly six hundred English versions and paraphrases that flood the commercial markets today have contributed to the promotion of Neo-Christianity that pervades the End Time.
The English Language: Chosen by God and the Devil
History bears record that God has used the English-speaking world more than any to spread the Gospel globally. God has used the English language to preach the deeper truth and insight of the Christian life throughout the world more than any other language. More books about God and related subjects have been written in English than in any other language. Yet, sad to say, more confusing versions of the Bible abound in English than in any other language. More college and university teaching is found in English than any other language. We take it as no small providence that Foundations Bible College was birthed in the English-speaking world.
But it also must be declared that the language the Devil is using to bring the downfall of truth and the Word of God in the public sector is the language of English. Yes, the language that was used for the promulgation of the Gospel is now the language declaring the “death of God” and the destruction and corruption of God’s Word in the minds of global humanity. The countries that aggressively lead the Christian apostasy today are America, England, and other English-speaking countries. Truly, the public Christianity of the English-speaking world has become the peddler of the apostasy around the world.
The Multi-Version Weapon of the End Time
A major weapon of the Devil through his tares of workers and scholars in the End Time is the multi-version movement. In this last Laodicean Church Age when every man believes the way he wants to believe about God, it seems that everyone lusts for his own version of the Bible. Yet despite all these versions, there is more confusion about the Bible, more questioning of it, and more doubting of it today than in any other time in history. This delusion within the ranks of the institutional church is ever-deepening. Most ministers of our contemporary spend much of their sermon time criticizing and questioning scriptures they read, even questioning whether they should be in the Bible. Such men believe they have been called to be Bible critics rather than Bible proclaimers. Is it not most proper to stop and consider the spirit behind the fevered debate over the many English Bible versions?
After the Liberals and Modernists (at the turn of the twentieth century) opened the door for the Protestant world to begin accepting more than one translation, the Neo-Evangelicals then brought the controversy into the evangelical world. The multi-Bible-version fever opened the door for the evangelical world to accept just about anything from the publishers marketing the Gospel. The versions became broader in their presentation as the liberty for “every man’s version” became a part of the Laodicean Church’s trendy mood and spirit of “doing that which is right in their own eyes.” Once the door opens, once the trend is accepted by the institutional church, then everyone is left to choose a version that pleases himself. With such an accepted spirit, who can say, or who should say which one is greater than the other?
God often uses forerunners before the final appointments of His plan. He used John the Baptist to “prepare the way” of the Lord, making the path straight for the Messiah’s public coming. He used pre-reformers before the Reformation’s reformers. The same was true in finally bringing forth the Word of God to the English-speaking world. God chose the beginnings of His Word in English with the versions such as the Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Geneva Bibles to be forerunners to prepare for the coming of a translation that would be the consummated English translation drawn from the previous ones. The King James Bible became the one upon which God placed His providential hand, preserving it over these past several centuries in the English-speaking world.
But we are now witnessing in the End Time the global falling away of the institutional Christian Church. The accepted trend of the versions is now rapidly mutating with every new version providing its unique contribution.
One important question needs to be asked. Is there a final version coming that will be the final Bible for the final Apostate Church? Is the multi-version debate we have been witnessing in the past one hundred years preparing the world for a coming final version? No doubt, this final version will have all the ingredients needed to be accepted by the World Church. Is the present plethora of English versions merely a collection of forerunners needed to acclimate the public church for diversity of thought and interpretation? If so, what will the final version be called? Though the New International Version has outsold in a given year the King James Bible as the new accepted version, what will be on the horizon next year, and the next, and the next? What surprising manuscript find will draw the church scholars into a carnal frenzy and cry, “We have found the true Bible”? The church of earth is accepting the trend of change even in their view of God, and His Son, and His written Word—ever changing with every generation.
As the NIV and the ESV are accepted today by a strong portion of the New Age Movement, what version out there will be accepted by all lifestyles, all beliefs, all religions, and all ethnic groups? The Antichrist will not make his debut necessarily denying the Word of God; he will appear by simply questioning (as the serpent), “Yea, hath God said?”
This serpentine spirit of questioning is the great controversy of the versions debate today. Our modern English world is now in the mood for new versions; they are strongly discontent with the old! The multi-version movement is part of the “Neo” movement for the final Apostate Church leading the rest of the religious world to ride the back of the scarlet-colored beast, the Antichrist. What will be the version to which all the modern English versions today have been leading us?
The original Pentateuch was stored in the side of the Ark resting and waiting for a king to copy and, by which, to rule the nation. This principle has been one of the unique characteristics of the King James Bible: it was copied or prepared for a king. The later versions have no such biblical identification.
But we must make it clear that we do not give allegiance to the “advanced revelation” view. We do not believe the beloved King James Bible is verbally and plenary inspired as the original manuscripts are. We do believe, however, that God has preserved this version for the English-speaking world. It is not to the unending debate of scholarship that we look; we look to the sovereign, providential workings of God. It is too late in the End Time to get another version; there is no time to try and test it as the King James Bible has been tested over the centuries. The present popular versions will eventually wane in their “rise to fame” while another version will have for a season their “day in the sun” of depraved humanity. While these others rise with boastings, popularity, global acceptance, and glamorous endorsements, the beloved and God-honored King James Bible has been, in these final days of the End Time, maligned, hated, and intimidated. And like His Word, God’s saints will be maligned, hated, and intimidated by the popular church. The popular church will long to be rid of both this English version and the Christians who have embraced it.
We must repeat for emphasis: no other version has ever been identified with the battle against the apostasy and Romanism as the beloved King James Bible. It must be clearly proclaimed that all other versions of modern times have been part of the Neo-Christianity movement! Even the most conservative version elevated today in Fundamentalism and in Evangelicalism has not and is not identified with the battle against Rome (the end-time Mother Harlot) and the global apostasy of Protestantism. However, the King James Bible has been hated by the Church of Rome and by the World Council of Churches over these centuries. How often you can tell the character of a thing by its enemies, as well as by its friends.
In his book Preserving the Preserved Word, my dear father Dr. O. Talmadge Spence gave seven precious principles to preserve the preserved Word of God:
- Preserve it in love. This means to simply preserve it, not prove it.
- Preserve it by always using it publicly. This means to publicly preserve, not publicly compare it.
- Preserve it by defending its English words publicly. This means to use its English words paramount to the English audience, not defending it by Biblical languages as a greater authority for the audience.
- Preserve it in English Bible departments in Christian schools. This means teach the Elizabethan English distinctives of that time of the unity of the KJV [King James Bible] in reaction to the contemporary time in which we live.
- Preserve it by witnessing and evangelizing—planting KJV [King James Bible] words for evangelism and revival. This means we teach that God has His Word in our English-speaking world.
- Preserve it in power. This means that an English word, under the work of the Holy Spirit, has the power of the Word of God behind it.
- Preserve it in the doctrine to others, too. This means that all the fundamental principles of the Gospel can be easily found in the KJV [King James Bible].
Within Fundamentalism (the last movement of Christendom to be identified with the beloved King James Bible), the greatest change foreseen is that of divisions over “What is the text?” Although there has always been some latitude in what the interpretation of the text is, we must not be divided on “what is the text.” One day we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (the bematos, 2 Cor. 5:10) and give account of ourselves. This accountability may include why we chose the version of Scripture we did as well as how we interpreted the Scripture. We take by personal faith the version of Scripture to which we have committed our lives. This too must be worked out with fear and trembling.
Our need is not better renderings, but rather a better understanding of that which has already been rendered through the years. As the English version controversy rages all around us concerning the King James Bible, may we not hurt the good and reliable while purporting that we have found the better.
May God have mercy on Fundamentalism as it has certainly entered the vestibule of the contemporary with its generic preaching, its contemporary music, and its scholastic intoxication with the multi-versions of the Bible.
“The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it.” May we be part of that company!