The Bible Version Controversy
Is the King James Version the only perfect translation of the Bible?
A controversy of immense silliness has recently broken out among Evangelicals regarding the validity of modern, conservative translations of the Bible like the New American Standard, the New International, and the New King James. The controversy was ignited by a book written by Gail Riplinger entitled New Age Bible Versions.
The only thing sillier than the controversy is the book that sparked it. Remember the old joke? — “If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for me!” Well, Riplinger tries to convert the joke into gospel.
A Ridiculous Thesis
Her thesis is that the King James Version is the one and only pure translation (in any language!) and that all the new translations that have flooded the market in recent years (including the most conservative) are part of a Satanic, New Age conspiracy to undermine the deity of Jesus and the credibility of God’s Word.
The book is mean-spirited and vicious in its attacks upon the godly evangelical scholars who labored so hard to produce the modern versions, not to undermine the Word, but to make it more understandable to the average reader.
Unfortunately the book has spawned an army of Riplinger disciples who feel it is their god-ordained duty to go forth and purify the Church by demanding the exclusive use of the King James Version. Picking up on their mentor’s divisive spirit, they are labeling as heretics all fellow Christians and Christian leaders who prefer to use some version other than the King James.
To illustrate how insane this silliness has become, consider a recent article that appeared in the newsletter of one of Riplinger’s most enthusiastic supporters, a prophecy teacher by the name of Texe Marrs. Calling the new conservative translations “unholy” and “grotesque,” he proceeded to condemn four leading prophecy teachers because they refused to endorse Riplinger’s book and join with him in certifying the King James Version as the only reliable translation. The four he condemned as “misguided leaders” and “false witnesses” were Dave Hunt, Peter LaLonde, Arno Froese, and John Ankerberg. Two of these, Hunt and Ankerberg, happen to be among the leading defenders of the Christian faith today!
Even more incredible is the fact that all four men use the King James Version in their preaching and teaching — and Marrs knows that they do! Still, they must be condemned as heretics because they refuse to denounce the “Satanic, New Age” versions.
An Exercise in Foolishness
Another thing that makes all this so tragic is that it would be very difficult to find a book that is more foolish than the one Riplinger has written.
To begin with, she has no credentials for writing the book. On the back cover, the book declares that she has the B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. degrees and has done additional post-graduate work at Harvard and Cornell. What the book does not tell you is that all these degrees are in the field of interior design! Throughout the book, she pontificates on the meaning of various Greek and Hebrew words and texts, when the truth is that she cannot read either language!
The result, again, is silliness gone to seed. For example, she claims the new translations try to identify Jesus with Satan, and she bases this absurd claim on the fact that the new translations remove the name “Lucifer” from Isaiah 14:12, replacing it with a term that refers to Jesus.
Let’s consider this argument for a moment. The King James and New American Standard versions read as follows:
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” (KJV)
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!” (NASB)
As you can see, the NASB, like all modern translations, deletes any reference to Lucifer. Instead, the modern translations refer to “the shining one” or “the morning star.” Since Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation 22:16 as “the bright morning star,” Riplinger jumps to the conclusion that the modern translations have substituted Jesus for Satan!
What she seems to be totally unaware of is that the word, Lucifer, is not in the Hebrew text. It comes, instead, from the Latin Vulgate translation where it was used by Jerome because it is the Latin word for morning star or Venus.
The height of Riplinger’s foolishness comes when she presents a bizarre invention of her imagination called “acrostic algebra.” You have to see it to believe it:
In step one she “subtracts” NIV from NASV and comes up with ASI. Then she adds back the two letters that were cancelled — N and V, producing ASI + NV. Then she subtracts AV (American Versions) and is left with the letters SIN.
Is that profound? What makes this especially ludicrous is the fact that she uses NASV as her abbreviation for the New American Standard Bible only in the equation. Throughout the rest of her book she refers to it as the NASB!
An Irresponsible Book
Enough said? Not exactly, for you see, Riplinger’s book is more than foolish. It is also irresponsible. It is full of misquotes, and it traffics in character assassination.
James White, a leading Christian apologist, sums up the book by saying, “…New Age Bible Versions is not a nice book. It plainly and obviously identifies anyone who was involved in the production of modern Bible versions… as not just non-Christians, but anti-Christians who… want everyone to worship Lucifer.” He goes on to point out that he has only once or twice ever encountered a work that contained more misrepresentations of facts and documentation.
Dave Hunt, another defender of the faith, states that Riplinger’s writing is “driven by a misleading style and loaded with contrived ‘evidence.’ She starts off misrepresenting people and continues to do so throughout the entire book…” Hunt further observes that “perhaps the most reprehensible aspect of the book is its penchant for guilt by association, and quite often that ‘association’ is contrived by the author.”
The bottom line is that this book which is causing so much trouble in the Church today is full of misrepresentations, distortions, and slander. It is a mean-spirited, unscholarly, and petty attempt to defend the King James Version as the only acceptable translation of the Bible. The King James Version deserves a better defense.
Why the New Versions?
Actually, the King James Version does not need to be defended. It served the English speaking peoples of the world very well for 300 years. But with the advent of the 20th Century, it became increasingly clear that a new English translation was needed. This was due to several factors, none of which were related to any New Age conspiracy.
For one thing, many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament had been discovered that were much older than the ones the King James Version was based on. Also, thousands of other Greek language manuscripts dating from the First Century had also been discovered, and these manuscripts gave scholars a much better understanding of the meaning and nuances of Greek words at the time the New Testament was written.
Perhaps most important was the fact that the English language had changed drastically during the 300 years since 1611 when the King James Version was produced. Reading “King James English” was becoming increasingly difficult for English speaking people. Many words had changed in their meaning, and some had come to mean exactly the opposite of their original meaning.
The Modern Translations
To overcome these and other difficulties, many efforts have been launched in this century to provide a more accurate and readable English translation. The two most significant conservative translations thus far produced are the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version. Both are excellent. By “conservative” I mean they were produced by scholars who believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
The NASB is more literal than the NIV and thus does not read as smoothly. The NIV is a “dynamic” translation that attempts to communicate the meaning of the text without necessarily using its precise language. To portray these wonderful new translations as a devilish plot is a travesty, and Riplinger needs to repent for having done so.
Even those who dearly love the King James Version have come to recognize its inadequacies and its growing limitation to communicate clearly to modern English speaking peoples. That’s the reason a revision has been recently produced that is called The New King James Version. It is also an excellent modern translation.
I love the King James Version, and I thank God for it, but I use the New American Standard Version in my teaching and preaching because I consider it to be the most accurate.
In my study of the Word, I use all the versions I have discussed above because I have found that the more versions I consult, the better I will understand what I am reading. In addition, I often consult The Living Bible Paraphrase. It is not a translation. Rather, it is what the title says — a paraphrase, which means that it is like a commentary. I have found it especially valuable in studying the Old Testament.
Two New Testament translations that I have found particularly helpful are the ones by J.B. Phillips and David Stern. Phillip’s translation, The New Testament in Modern English, really brings the text alive and makes it exciting reading. It came out in 1958. My parents gave me a copy as a high school graduation present, and it revolutionized my attitude toward the Bible. It made the Scriptures easy to read and understand, and I began reading the Bible regularly for the first time in my life.
Stern’s translation, called The Jewish New Testament, returns the book to its Jewish roots, reviving the Jewish names and phrases. Consider this familiar passage from Luke 1:26-31: “In the sixth month, the angel Gavri’el was sent by God to a city in the Galil called Natzeret, to a virgin engaged to a man named Yosef, of the house of David; the virgin’s name was Miryam. Approaching her, the angel said, “Shalom, favored lady! Adonai is with you!… Don’t be afraid, Miryam, for you have found favor with God. Look! You will become pregnant, you will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua. He will be great, he will be called Son of HaElyon…”
Are all the modern translations okay? Of course not. There are some that are an abomination because they were translated by non-evangelicals who do not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures. But Riplinger’s book does not focus on these. Strangely enough, she focuses her attack on the two most outstanding conservative translations, probably because they are the ones that are challenging the use of the King James among Evangelicals.
Please keep in mind that the Bible was originally written in three languages — Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The King James Version is a translation, and like all other translations, it has its strengths and weaknesses. It is not perfect. No translation is. The original “autographs” (as scholars call the original manuscripts) were inerrant, but all the subsequent translations contain errors. The King James translators admit this themselves in their introduction.
Modern Evangelical scholars are not Satanic ghouls who are trying to “undermine” God’s Word, They are sincerely trying to produce the most faithful translation possible. If someone doesn’t like what they produce, then they should simply say so, but they have no right to attack their motives or their character.
Interesting Bible Facts
- The first translation of the Bible based on Hebrew and Greek manuscripts was done by Jerome between 382 and 405 A.D. It became known as the Latin Vulgate, and it served as the basic translation for all of Western Civilization for over a thousand years, until the mid-1500’s.
- Chapter divisions were developed in the 1200’s by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbery.
- Verse divisions were created in the 1500’s by Robert Estienne, printer to the King of France.