Volume 33 | Number 5 | June/July 2005

Inglés Español

PDF Version

In This Issue:

Ask for the Old Paths

Why So Many English Bible Versions Today?


By Dr. H. T. Spence

In recent weeks the American Bible Society has stated that the growing number of English Bible versions on the market today has reached over five hundred. When both Higher and Lower Biblical Criticism arose over 150 years ago in the Liberal and Modernist camps, no one would have imagined the rise of hundreds of English translations vying for the popular market. Who would have thought that the discovery of a manuscript in a wastebasket of a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai would have caused the Protestant world to clamor over a text that has become the womb of the new English-translation movement throughout the English-speaking world? Not even the contemporary translators have been able to agree upon that one text—the overwhelming vast majority of the English versions today have sprung from that one manuscript. When one of these versions has made its way into the market, another one rises to declare its uniqueness and peculiarities.

Yet in spite of 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 the Scripture they read and questioning whether it should even be in the Bible. They believe they have been called to be Bible Critics rather than Bible Proclaimers. Is it not proper to stop and consider the spirit behind the fevered debate over the multi-English Bible versions?

The Growing Acceptance of the Apocrypha

One of the attacks today against the 1611 publication of the King James Version concerns its inclusion of the Apocrypha. The Greek word apocrypha means "obscure in origin" or that which is viewed as unauthentic and heretical. The Apocrypha contains the fourteen or fifteen books added by the Roman Catholic Church; until recently these have been rejected by non-Romanists. These books were written during the two hundred years preceding Christ and one hundred years following Christ's birth. The Roman Catholic Church, during the Council of Trent (beginning in 1546), decreed them canonized, except for the Prayer of Manasseh and I and II Esdras. They declared that this "decree pronounces an anathema upon anyone who does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts."

But why do we as Christians reject the Apocrypha books? (1) These books were not included in the original Hebrew Old Testament preserved by the Jews. (2) They were not written in the Hebrew language, which alone was used by the inspired writers of the Old Testament. (3) They were not received as inspired Scripture by the churches during the first four centuries after Christ. (4) They contain teachings which are contrary to the Bible; for example, II Maccabees teaches praying to the dead and making offerings to atone for the sins of the dead, as well as the presentation of deceased saints interceding in heaven for those on earth. (5) Neither the Lord Jesus nor the Apostles quote from those writings. (6) Some of the apocryphal books, though written as history, are actually fiction. This can be seen in the books of Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. (7) The early church leaders rejected these books from the canon of Scripture.

It is true that the early King James Version as well as many other Reformation Bibles included the Apocrypha. But these books were included as historical references only, and not to be viewed by the readers as additions to the canon of Scripture. When the King James Version used them, they were placed between the two testaments as an appendix and not intermingled throughout the Old Testament as done in the Romanist's Bible. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England includes the statement that "the Church of England doth not apply to the Apocrypha books to establish any doctrine or scriptural authority."

With the passing away of John Paul II and the crowning of a new pope as the Supreme Pontiff, the Romanist Church has greatly increased in popularity around the world, especially in America. It has opened the door for the newer Bibles to include the Apocrypha for the sake of not only the growing number of Roman Catholics reading a Bible but also the growing number of inquisitive non-Romanists who desire to know more about the "mother" church.

The Mega Churches

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. This multi-Bible version "delight" opened the door for the Evangelical world to accept just about anything coming from publishers marketing the gospel. The versions have become broader in their presentation as the liberty for "every man's version" becomes a part of the Laodicean Church's trendy mood and spirit—that of "doing that which is right in your own eyes." Once the door opens, once the trend is accepted by the institutional church, then each individual 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?

Rick Warren, one of the gurus of the Mega Church movement, has truly become an innovator and redefiner of the concept of the Church for the twenty-first century. This "feel-good" assurance movement, desiring to provide for the "felt-need" of the world, is riddled with contemporary Christian music, keeping the evangelistic net filled with bad fish for the so-called betterment of the church.

Warren's ministry is now promoting another version called The Message, a paraphrased version of the Bible by Eugene Peterson. The "liberties" taken in this fashionable Bible reveal the wide spectrum of "interpretative" translation. An example of such liberties is found in Matthew 6:9, which in the King James Version reads, "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." In The Message the verse reads, "Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are." Or in John 14:28 the King James Version reads, "my Father is greater than I." In The Message it reads, "The Father is the goal and purpose of my life." This is only a small representation of various versions endeavoring to strip God's Word of its power and deeper meaning. It is clearly evident that this trend has been set, and the "Tares" are fast at keeping confusion stirred as to what the Word of God actually says.

The Bible for the Common Man

It may be surprising to note that the common man of the English-speaking world has only had his own copy of the Scriptures for a short time. Out of the past six thousand years, only in the last three hundred years has the common Englishman carried a personal copy of the Bible in his language. In previous centuries hand-copied scrolls could be found only at temples or synagogues; only a few had access to the hand-copied New Testament writings. During those days one had to learn the Word of God by "listening" in a tabernacle, a temple, a synagogue, or a local body of a church.

The written Word of God did not come into the English until the days of Wyclif in the 1300s; these were hand copied for only his band of poor preachers called the Lollards. The common man did not have his own copy; he had only heard it read in Latin in a church now and then. Even with the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, the Matthew Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the early King James, not everyone could own a copy because of its expense. Only in the mid-1700s did the Bible become more commonly owned. Today one can purchase a Bible for $1.00 at the Dollar Store or be given one free through the Gideon Society. God waited to allow the common man to have his own personal Bible until the crucial End Time.

The Coming Final Bible Version

God often uses "forerunners" before the final appointments in His plan. He used John the Baptist to "prepare the way" of the Lord, making the path straight for His coming. He used "pre-reformers" before the Reformation's reformers. The same is true in finally bringing forth the Word of God to the English-speaking world: God chose the beginnings with the Wyclif, Tyndale, Geneva versions, and others to be forerunners to prepare for the coming of a translation that would be a consummated English translation drawing from the previous ones. The King James Version became the one upon which God placed His providential hand preserving it over these past several centuries in the English-speaking world.

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 own unique contribution. As there was a moving of God to prepare and pave the way for the coming appointed English version, is there a "coming version" that will be the final "Bible" for the final Apostate Church?

Is the multi-version debate 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 church" for diversity of thought and interpretation? What will the final "version" be called? Though the New International Version in recent years has outsold the KJV as the new "accepted" version, what will be on the horizon next year and the next, and the next? What surprising 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 Word, ever changing with every generation. As the NIV is 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 come at the beginning necessarily denying the Word of God but simply questioning as the serpent, "Yea, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1). This is the great controversy of the "versions" debate today—it is a serpentine debate.

Our modern English world is now in the mood for new versions; they are strongly discontent with the old. It is part of the Neo movement for the final apostate church that will lead the rest of the religious world to ride the back of the scarlet colored beast (Rev. 17:3). What will be the "version" to which all of the English versions today are leading?

Preserving the Preserved Word

According to Deuteronomy 17:18 and 31:26, the scroll of Moses' writing was placed in the "side" [sleeve, or holster] of the Ark of the Covenant. Future kings of Israel were to make a copy from that original. This principle has been one of the unique characteristics of the King James Version: it was copied or prepared for a king. The later versions have no such biblical identification.

We do not give allegiance to the "advanced revelation" view or that the beloved King James Version is as inspired as the original manuscripts. But we do believe that God has preserved this version for the English-speaking world. It is not so much the unending debate of scholarship to which we look, but to the sovereign workings of God throughout its history. It is too late in the End Time to get another version; there is no time to try and test it as the KJV has been. The present popular versions will eventually wane in their "rise to fame" while another version will have for a season its day in the sun of depraved humanity. While these others rise with boastings, popularity, global acceptance, and glamorous endorsements, the beloved KJV (that God has honored) has been in these final days of the End Time maligned, hated, intimidated, belittled (as God's saints will be by the popular church), and retired to never publicly battle the apostasy again.

No other version has ever been identified with the battle against the apostasy and Romanism as the beloved KJV. All of the versions of modern times have been part of the Neo-Christianity movement; this must be acknowledged. Even the most "conservative" version elevated today in Fundamentalism and 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 KJV has been hated by the Church of Rome over these centuries as well as by the World Council of Churches. How often you can tell the character of a thing by its enemies . . . and by its friends.

My dear earthly father (shortly before his death in the year 2000) gave seven precious principles for teaching others to preserve the preserved Word of God:

  1. Preserve it in Love. This means to simply preserve it, not prove it.

  2. Preserve it by always using it publicly. This means to publicly preserve, not publicly compare it.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 in reaction to the contemporary time in which we live.

  5. Preserve it by witnessing and evangelizing—planting KJV words for evangelism and revival. This means we teach that God has His Word in our English-speaking world.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

Let us preserve the Preserved Word of God by practicing these principles.

Conclusion

The psychology of these apostate times reveals that man has fallen in love with "the new thing." This love includes a desire for a modern English version. The battle for the preservation of the King James Version is not as simple as a battle between brethren. If the battle for "a better rendering" is going to become so important, it will lead this sinful, confused, depraved generation to question "when will Christianity finally prove they have the Word of God, so called, or the right Bible?" If we are going to help this generation, we had better retreat to the Rock of our defense that we gave up in our hope for something new. The Lord spoke of the risk we take if we offend even one of "the least of these."

The greatest change foreseen among Fundamentalists now (the last of Christendom to be identified with the beloved KJV) is our division over "What is the Text?" Although there has always been some latitude in what is the interpretation of the Text, we must not be divided on "What is the Text?"

It is biblically true that we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (the bematos; II Corinthians 5:10;) and give account of ourselves. This accountability may include why we chose the version of Scripture we did and how we interpreted Scripture. We take by personal faith the version of Scripture we have committed our lives to. This too must be worked out with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12,13).

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 KJV, 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 into the vestibule of the "contemporary" with its generic preaching, Neo- Evangelical music, and scholastic intoxication with the multi-version debate.