Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV": Review: Part 4: Quality of Manuscripts

Image:  The postscript to the book of 1 Timothy in the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus:  "The first (letter) to Timothy written from Laodicea"

This is the fourth part in a series reviewing the brief article by Daniel Stanfield titled “Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV.”  In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, I responded to the preface and first two paragraphs.  With this post we move on to the third of four paragraphs. Here is Stanfield’s third paragraph in full (in italic) followed by my response:

3. Quality of manuscripts - NASB The KJV was based on the manuscripts which were few in number, local in geography, and late in date. Archeology has, since the KJV, made almost all important manuscript discoveries - everything from the Dead Sea Scrolls back to the Rosetta Stone, all occur after the KJV. These new manuscripts can be found in conclusive families, based on history and geography, with standardized variations of content and recognizable progression of modifications. Today's critical texts are very broad based and careful reconstructions of the original writings, and cannot be reasonably discounted out-of-hand, nor can the published arguments of those who would demand the exclusive use of the Textus Receptus be validated, or even accepted as reasonable. To suppose that the much older, much more widely distributed manuscripts, in many languages, which have been discovered over the last 390 years are all corrupted and inferior to the sources for the KJV is incredible, to say the least.

JTR Response:  I begin by again noting that Stanfield says he arranged these topics “in order of significance.”  In my view the issue of the text (manuscripts) from which a translation is made should be a primary consideration and not a secondary (or tertiary) concern.  This issue should be addressed sooner rather than later.  I also must call attention to the fact that this paragraph has a number of confusing statements, factual errors, and misleading arguments.

Stanfield starts by asserting that the KJV was based on texts “few in number, local in geography, and late in date.”  I assume he means by this that the actual number of individual Greek and versional manuscripts to which the KJV translators had access was limited.  I have two responses:  First, in fact, we do not have exact or exhaustive historical information on the individual original language manuscripts used by the KJV translators.  Thus, we must have some humility in criticizing them in this area.  Second and most importantly, we do know that the manuscripts they relied primarily upon were the traditional Hebrew Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the traditional Byzantine or Majority Text of the New Testament.  Contrary to Stanfield’s statement, the traditional text used by the Reformation era Protestant translators generally represent the vast majority of extant original language manuscripts, cover a wide geographical area, and have an early attestation.

With specific regard to the Old Testament, the KJV translators made use of the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text.  Many modern versions have adopted alternative translations of various Old Testament passages based on readings found in the LXX, the Vulgate, or the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.  For a counterweight to this trend, one should consult, however, Cambridge professor Geoffrey Khan’s A Short Introduction to the Tiberian Masoretic Bible and its Reading Tradition (Gorgias Press, 2013).  Khan contends for the antiquity not only of the Masoretic Hebrew consonantal text but also the Masoretic pronunciation and reading tradition.  He states, for example, “Contrary to a view that is still widely held today, the reading tradition was not a medieval creation of the Masoretes but was an ancient tradition that the Masoretes recorded by their notation system” (p. 47).

With specific regard to the early date of the traditional text of the New Testament, it is represented, for example, in the fifth century uncial Codex Alexandrinus, a manuscript on par with codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus with regard to antiquity.  Alexandrinus was given to Charles I in 1627 and was not published until it appeared in Brian Walton’s Polyglott in 1657, so it was not used by the KJV translators.  Its readings, however, generally support the traditional text followed by the KJV translators.  Furthermore, Harry Sturz has demonstrated that traditional (Byzantine) readings are also commonly found in the earliest New Testament papyri.  The book to read is Harry A. Sturz, The Byzantine Text Type & New Testament Textual Criticism (Thomas Nelson, 1984).  Sturz, by the way, is not a KJV-Onlyist or even a supporter of the Majority Text or the TR, but an advocate of “thoroughgoing eclecticism.”

Stanfield also makes reference to the significance of archaeological finds that have happened since the KJV was completed.  He mentions two such finds in particular.  He first mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in 1947) which do indeed have importance for translations of the Old Testament.  Many of these texts found at Qumran, in fact, support the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text, while others provide alternative readings to the traditional text which have been adapted in some modern translations of the Old Testament.  Traditionalists, however, continued to advocate the superiority of the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text, the same text used by the KJV translators.  The Dead Sea Scroll discovery has had no significant impact on the translation of the New Testament.  Secondly, he mentions the Rosetta Stone (discovered c. 1799 and translated in the early nineteenth century).  This mention is a little harder to understand.  The significance of the Rosetta Stone is the fact that it provided a key to translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.  It has had relatively no impact on the translation of the Bible.

The next comments which Stanfield makes are particularly confusing.  He states:  “These new manuscripts can be found in conclusive families, based on history and geography, with standardized variations of content and recognizable progression of modifications.”  He seems to be referring here to the division of Greek New Testament manuscripts into genealogical families.  This statement is confusing, because one might think he is referring to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Rosetta Stone, but these have absolutely nothing to do with the New Testament Greek manuscripts.  Furthermore, the genealogical approach to text criticism, popularized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by scholars like Westcott and Hort who advocated for the superiority of the so-called “neutral text,” has largely been abandoned in contemporary post-modern approaches to text criticism.  The book to read here is David C. Parker, Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Stanfield proceeds to make reference to the superiority of today’s modern critical text.  He refers to them as “careful reconstructions of the original writings.”  There are several problematic issues with his approach here.  First, it reflects the modern idea, popularized by the likes of B. B. Warfield and Bruce Metzger, that the text of Scripture has been woefully corrupted and must be reconstructed by modern scholars.  Evangelicals like Warfield introduced the notion that the Bible was without error in its “original autographs” but corrupt in the preserved apographs (copies).  As Theodore Letis has pointed out, however, this view essentially suggests a Platonic idea of the text of Scripture.  It also represents a departure from the doctrine of Scripture found in Reformed confessions, like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).  Contrary to the modern approach, the Protestant and Reformed Fathers held that the Bible had been infallibly and providentially preserved in all ages through the extant copies.  They did not advocate the scholarly reconstruction of an elusive original autograph.  Again, their focus was preservation not reconstruction.  Second, the approach Stanfield advocates (seeing the goal of text criticism as the reconstruction of the original autograph) has been largely abandoned by modern academic text critical scholars who see the attempt to reconstruct an original autograph as not only impossible but inadequate.  Modern text critics no longer speak of trying to get back to the “original text” of the Bible.  Instead, they prefer to speak of many “living texts” of the Bible, each of which is as valuable as any other, whether they represent orthodox or heterodox readings.

Stanfield concludes with a particularly negative assessment of the affirmation and defense of the traditional, received text of Scripture.  In his opinion, such a view cannot be validated or “even accepted as reasonable.”  To the contrary, however, a consistent and reasonable defense of the traditional text of the Reformation Bible can be defended and certainly should not be rejected without due consideration of its merits.  Why should traditional Christians and faithful churches abandon the text of the Reformation in favor of the text of the Enlightenment?   

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Vision (3.26.15): And the LORD struck the child...

Here are some notes from the exposition from last Sunday’s sermon, “Sin Has Consequences” from 2 Samuel 12:15-31:

And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick (2 Samuel 12:15).

No sooner does Nathan leave David after their confrontation than the child born of David’s illicit relationship with Bathsheba is stricken (v. 15).  Notice the active agency of the LORD in meting out this punishment.  Many times we speak with much more reticence about such things.  We make God out to be a passive agent.  God allowed thus and such to happen.  God permitted thus and such to happen. And perhaps that is indeed the right language to use, because we are not inspired like the writer of 2 Samuel so as to know the mind of God.  But here we need to pay heed to the fact that the inspired reader does not describe God acting as a passive agent but as an active agent.  “And the LORD struck the child….”

I can just hear the cultured despisers of the Biblical God (the type of people who believe themselves to be more righteous than God and more ethical than God and who sets themselves up as God’s judges) now saying something like:  “I just can’t believe in a God who would strike down innocent children.”  But that child was not an innocent child. From the moment of his conception he was a sinner, and the wrath of God was abiding upon him.  If you do not have a doctrine of “original sin” you have no way to explain why there are miscarriages and the early death of infants.

It is likely no coincidence that when David composed Psalm 51, his psalm of penitence, he wrote:

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

I think David might have written that line as he reflected not only on his own sinful state, but also on the sinful state of his dear child who was justly stricken by the LORD.  That child was stricken by the LORD because of the sin of his first parent Adam but also because of his near parent David.  The notion that children are pure blank slates that are only corrupted by the ills of culture and society is the thinking of the French Philosopher Jeanne-Jacques Rousseau and not Scripture—certainly not a chastened and penitent David.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

John Owen on Apparent Contradictions in Scripture

When preaching last Sunday afternoon on “Stephen’s Final Sermon” in Acts 7 I spent a bit of time addressing Stephen’s mention of 75 Israelite souls who came to Egypt at the time of Joseph (Acts 7:14) in comparison to 70 as mentioned elsewhere in the OT (cf. Gen 46:26-27; Exod 1;5; Deut 10:22).  One solution I suggested was that Stephen's number included the offspring of Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh.  If so, here is a place where the NT supplements information from the OT.  I also noted that given enough time, light, reason, and information solutions can be reached for all apparent tensions that arise in Biblical hermeneutics.  Along the way I also shared this quotation from John Owen:
We have seen that there are some difficult passages in the Bible, occurring frequently but irregularly throughout the Scriptures, and so there are some apparent contradictions scattered therein which are to be diligently searched into and reconciled—something which can only be achieved by legitimate interpretation (Biblical Theology, p. 814).

Indeed, the path of pre-critical interpreters was to seek rationally satisfying harmonization in the face of “apparent contradictions.”  For Owen solutions can only come through diligent and faithful interpretation.  In the quote above from Adversus Fanaticos, Owen’s point was that solutions to such tensions did not come from seeking mystical experiential insight but from soundly and soberly dividing the word.


Friday, March 20, 2015

"Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV": Review: Part 3: Quality of language translation

Image:  Engraving portrait of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) by Simon de Passe, 1618.

This is the third part in a series reviewing the brief article by Daniel Stanfield titled “Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV.”  In Parts 1 and 2, I responded to the preface and first paragraph.  With this post we move on to the second of four paragraphs. Here is Stanfield’s second paragraph in full (in italic) followed by my response:

2. Quality of language translation - NASB The King James version is excellent, but we have since learned a great deal about both ancient Greek and Hebrew. Our understanding of Greek has grown significantly, particularly with the discovery that the Greek Bible was in common Greek, but our understanding of Hebrew has vastly improved since the 17th century, during which time the ancient Hebrew was very poorly understood. The NASB clearly benefits from a better understanding of the languages, and presents not only closer translations, but provides notes for certain aspects of translation, as discussed above. When the NASB and KJV differ on the rendering of a text, which is not based on variance in the manuscripts, the NASB is usually more favorable to the original languages. Also, slight variations in words chosen and sentance [sic] forms used throughout the NASB reflect our current understanding of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, which has improved dramatically in 400 years.

JTR Response:  The author begins by acknowledging that the KJV is “excellent,” but he then proceeds to suggest that linguistic advances in understanding of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages in the modern era (and, supposedly, the utilization of these advances in modern translations, like the NASB) have made the KJV outdated.  I know it is a brief article and one aimed at a popular audience, but the major problem with this entire paragraph is the total lack of examples of these supposed advances and direct citations, examples, and comparisons between the NASB and KJV to prove this point.

I would begin by challenging the whole notion that our understanding of the Hebrew and Greek languages has so dramatically improved since the time of the Reformation era that the old translations are obsolete.  One might argue that we know more about some aspects of things like vocabulary, especially with the Hebrew Bible. I might have expected to have seen some mention of the KJV’s use of “unicorn” (modern translations prefer “oxen,” cf. Deut 33:17; Ps. 22:21; Isa 34:7); “dragons” (cf. “jackals,” cf. Job 30:29; Ps. 44:19; etc.); or “peacocks,” (“baboons” cf. 1 Kgs 10:22; 2 Chron 9:21).  Surely though, these differences (which were not even cited in the article) are minor.  Need I raise again the specter of “peck-measure” (Matt 5:15 NASB)!

On the other hand, in fact, one might even argue, to the contrary, that the learned men who translated the KJV were more steeped in the ancient languages and had acquired a level of learning that is impossible to equal in the modern setting. For more on this the book to read is Adam Nicholson, God’s Secretaries:  The Making of the King James Bible (Harper Collins, 2003). Here, for example, are  a few excerpts from Nicholson’s sketch of Lancelot Andrewes (p. 33):

The man was a library, the repository of sixteen centuries of Christian culture, he could speak fifteen modern languages and six ancient, but the heart and bulk of his existence was his sense of himself as a worm.

People like Lancelot Andrewes no longer exist.

It is because people like Lancelot Andrewes flourished in the first decade of the seventeenth century—and do not now—that the greatest translation of the Bible could be made then, and cannot now.

While on this subject, I am not quite sure what is meant by the article’s reference to the supposed modern “discovery” that the Greek Bible was in “common Greek.”  Surely the KJV translators could distinguish between the classical Greek of Homer, the Hellenistic Greek of the LXX, and the koine Greek of the NT.

Finally, I want to challenge the article’s statement that when the NASB and KJV differ, and the difference is not based on the text, that the NASB provides a reading that is “usually … more favorable to the original languages.”  Again, no concrete examples are supplied and no terms for frequency are given as to what constitutes “usually.”

When I read this section, a verse came to mind that I had studied in some detail for an academic article I wrote several years ago for The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on whether or not there are women prophets in Acts.  My argument in the article was that although Peter quoted the well-known passage from Joel about sons and daughters prophesying in Acts 2:17, nowhere in Acts does Luke describe women serving in the office of prophet.  As a sign of the new age, women could prophesy (the verb referring to a specific activity of the apostolic period) but they were not prophets (the noun referring to an extraordinary church office).  In fact, the feminine noun “prophetess [Greek:  prophetis]” never appears in Acts and only twice appears in the NT (Anna in Luke 2:36 and “Jezebel” in Rev 2:20).

This brings me to Acts 21:9, the verse that came to mind when I read this article on the NASB.   Acts 21:9 describes the four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist.  Here is a comparison of the verse in four translations (emphasis added):

KJV Acts 21:9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.

NIV Acts 21:9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

NASB Acts 21:9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

NKJV Acts 21:9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

This comparison makes clear that the NASB translation varies from the others.  The KJV, NIV, and NKJV all translate the final phrase as a verb (“to prophesy”).  The NASB translates the same phrase as a noun (“prophets”).  Which translation is closer to the Greek original?  Here is the verse in transliterated Greek:  touto de hesan thugateres tessares parthenoi propheteuousi.   The final word is in fact a feminine nominative plural participle from the verb propheteuo, “to prophesy.”  Clearly, the KJV (and the other translations), which renders the participle as a verb in a relative pronoun clause, is closer to the original text than the NASB, which renders the participle as a noun.  One wonders why the NASB chose to translate “prophetesses.”  Were they influenced by modern feministic and egalitarian readings of the NT which desired to find women in public church offices?  We do not know.  The point is that here is at least one example where the KJV provides a more faithful translation of the original than the NASB.


Thought for the Day: Wendell Berry on Materialism

"Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire."

Wendell Berry, from "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer" (New Collected Poems, p. 148). 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Vision (3.19.15): David's Repentance: "I have sinned against the LORD"

Image:  The 9th century Aramaic Tel Dan Stele, discovered in the early 1990s, is one of the earliest references outside of the Bible to the dynasty established by King David in ancient Israel. 

Note: Here are some sermon notes from the exposition of 2 Samuel 12:13 from last Sunday morning’s message:

“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Samuel 12:13).

Over lunch on a recent Sunday at CRBC we had a lively discussion about David.  Several said, “You know Pastor, this study of 2 Samuel is making me feel as though I don’t like David very much.  How could he be called a man after God’s own heart?”  One person pointed out, however, that, unlike Saul, David responded to God’s rebukes with genuine repentance.

It is hard to over-estimate how important v. 13 is to 2 Samuel 12.  It is the hinge or the axis upon which everything turns.  It says so much in so few words.

We have in this brief single verse both David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness.

How will David respond to Nathan’s parable and this rebuke?  Will he say to his men, “Off with Nathan’s head!”  No, it is a mark of David’s spiritual authenticity, his spiritual life, that he says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”  Perhaps David said more.  Indeed, if we turn to Psalm 51 we have an entire psalm dedicated to David’s repentance (see especially the inspired title and the sentiment in v. 4 which echoes the words here:  “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight….).  Note that David’s saying he has sinned against God does not mean he denies that he has also sinned against men.  But he recognizes that however great the horizontal aspect of his sin, the greater sin was the vertical.

From a human perspective we cannot judge men’s hearts.  We do not know if repentance is genuine and evangelical or mere natural remorse, the tears of a child whose hand is caught in the cookie jar and who is only sorry his deeds were exposed.  Paul called this the difference between “godly sorrow” and “the sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

But the next line in v. 13 gives us the divine verdict on David’s repentance:  “And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (v. 13b).  Notice:

1.  The response to David’s repentance is immediate and unconditional.  The Lord does not say:  Well, David, “If you shape up and fly right, then I’ll forgive you.”  Or, “If you say three Hail Mary’s and four Our Fathers then I will grant the sacrament of reconciliation.”  Nathan simply announces a divine declaration of sovereign forgiveness.  Kings can forgive the transgressions of their servant subjects.

2.  It says the LORD put away (abar:  pass over, carry away, take away)  David’s sin.  Where did that sin go?  We have to go to the NT revelation to know the answer. It was laid upon Christ our sin-bearer, who not only became the means of God’s expiation of sin but also his propitiation of sin.  Compare:

1 John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

The OT saints were saved by looking forward to Christ and his cross work; the NT saints are saved by looking back to Christ and his cross work.

3.  The promise that David would not die was a promise of the extension of his earthly life.  He would not drop dead like Uzzah or like Ananias and Sapphira.  But it also assures us, more importantly, that David would not experience the second death, spiritual death.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

John Owen: Adversus Fanaticos

I just finished reading John Owen’s “A Defense of Sacred Scripture Against Modern Fanaticism” (published as an appendix in John Owen, Biblical Theology:  The History of Theology from Adam to Christ [Soli Deo Gloria, 1994]:  pp. 769-854).  This is Stephen P. Westcott’s English translation/interpretation of Owen’s original Latin work which appeared under the title, “Pro Sacris Scripturis Adversus Huius Temporis Fanaticos Exercitationes Apologeticae Quattuor.

Owen published this work in 1659 along with two others which addressed the nature of Scripture:  “Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures” and “A Vindication of the Purity and Integrity of the Hebrew and Greek Texts of the Old and New Testaments.”

In this work, Owen’s primary opponents are those “commonly called ‘quiverers’ or ‘Quakers’” (p. 777), though he also takes exception with others, whether they be “Jews, Romanists, Enthusiasts, pseudo-friends or open enemies of the Christian religion” (p. 817) who, in his view, deny the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Owen’s rebuttal of Quakers (the “charismatics” of his day) necessarily involved his affirmation of cessationism in light of the sufficiency of Scripture:

We believe and confess that the Bible is the complete and perfect rule, delivered to us by God that we might achieve our salvation and His greater glory, and thus, since the completion of the canon of Scripture (as scholars call it), there have been no new revelations concerning the common faith of the saints or the due worship of God, and so none are to be expected or admitted (p. 826).

For Owen, the Quaker appeal to the “inner light” or to experience challenged both the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as the final arbiter of questions of doctrine and practice:

By what rule?  Shall men be allowed to make their own spirits the touchstone, and judge the spirits by their own spirits?  Who then would find any limit to the heap of interpretations that would arise?  No, there must be some common rule for the testing of spirits and settling of controversies, or the former will be unrestricted and the latter unending.  And I have already shown that the Bible is just such a rule….  It is a necessity to have our faculties trained by practice to “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14), and in what other school or gymnasium may spiritual discernment be nurtured?  Where else can we go but to the Word of God? (p. 813).

You get the sense that Owen would not suffer long with evangelical new Calvinists who want to be “open yet cautious” towards continuationism.  Westcott is on target when he says that Owen was “supremely the theologian of the infallible Bible” (p. 772). 

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV": Review: Part 2: Readability

This is the second part in a series reviewing the brief online article by Daniel Stanfield titled “Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV.”  In Part 1, I responded to the preface.  With this post we move on to the first of four paragraphs. Here is Stanfield’s first paragraph in full (in italic) followed by my response:

1. Readability - NASB The New American Standard Bible uses contemporary language and punctuation, the King James version does not, being written almost 400 years ago, and virtually unchanged for about 120 years. The crux of the matter of readability is the difficulty of the Elizabethan English of the KJV, which is laborious to read even for those who are well educated and familiar with the texts, when compared to reading the same texts in the clearly written NASB in it's [sic] familiar modern format and natural vocabulary. Other readability issues include the use of quotations and poetic stanzas, small caps for Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, and capitalization of pronouns referring to deity. The NASB also recognizes Greek translations of Hebrew names and translates the names consistently, as opposed to the KJV which gives us multiple names for the same person; for example, the KJV calls Judah, the son of Israel, "Judas" in Matthew 1:2, because that's how it is in Greek. The NASB simply calls him Judah in both the Old and New Testaments; this is simpler to understand and just as accurate.

JTR Response:  In the preface Stanfield states that his four paragraphs will be “in order of significance.”  We might begin the review by challenging whether or not the issue of “readability” should occupy first place in evaluating a translation.  Certainly, if one translation were completely indecipherable and another amazingly lucid, readability would be a first place consideration.  I do not think this is the case, however, in comparing the NASB and the KJV.  In my view the most important issue and the starting point for evaluating a translation should be the text which underlies the translation (which Stanfield addresses in paragraph 3).  We must begin with which underlying original language text is to be accepted as authoritative: the traditional text or the modern critical text. Does Mark end at 16:8 or 16:20?  Is John 7:53—8:11 part of the text or not?  This is particularly true if we hold to the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration.  We first have to know which words to translate before we can determine how to translate them or how to make them readable.

That being said, let’s address the points here on readability.  Stanfield begins with a familiar complaint:  The KJV is too hard for the modern reader to comprehend.  He notes “the difficulty of the Elizabethan English” (note:  Technically, it should probably be called Jacobean English).  He further claims that the KJV is “laborious to read,” even for the well-educated, especially in comparison to a modern translation like the NASB with its “natural vocabulary” (note:  This did make me think of the NASB’s use of “peck-measure” in Matthew 5:15!).  In response, I would note three things:

First, the difficulty of reading the KJV is overstated.  It simply is not that difficult to understand.  As a personal anecdote, my family reads from the KJV in our family devotions and my children (the youngest is now eight) generally do not have problems comprehending the meaning.  Granted, it does push your vocabulary.  Having a good Study Bible to consult or a word list like that published by the Trinitarian Bible Society will prove helpful, as will aids in reading from any translation (e.g., having a good dictionary to look up the meaning of “peck-measure”).

Second, the main problem with comprehension might not have so much to do so much with “readability” as it does with illumination.  This is a serious flaw in the modern approach which often assumes that the reason unbelievers and immature believers do not read and understand the Bible is because the vocabulary and grammar are too hard to understand.  Paul had a different explanation (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Being a good Bible reader requires illumination and discipline.

Third, sidelining the KJV in favor of the NASB or any other modern translation also neglects the intellectual, literary, and pedagogical benefits that accrue from exposure to the beauty and grandeur of the KJV as a Western cultural achievement.  The “readability” of the KJV helps make one a more literate person in general.  This makes one a better reader of the Bible but also of other literature in general, both theological and secular.  Why is the KJV praised in the English department but bad-mouthed in the religion department?

The article next mentions several other issues which it claims aid in comprehension of the text’s meaning, including use of quotation marks, poetic stanza formatting, setting OT quotes in small caps, and capitalization of pronouns referring to the deity (which even the NASB does not do to the degree that the NKJV does).  Such devises are used in the NASB but not the KJV.  What is not recognized here is that each of these “improvements” requires an interpretation by the translator.  When the translator chooses one option he often shuts the reader off from the entertainment of alternative possibilities.  It is not always clear, for example, when a quotation is being made or who is making it (e.g., Is Paul making the statement in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or is he quoting an opponent?).  Nor is it always clear if the text is to be taken as poetry or prose (e.g., Is Philippians 2:5-11 a hymn fragment or Paul’s original prose composition?). Likewise, it is not always clear whether a speaker is quoting directly from the OT, paraphrasing a passage from memory, or merely making an allusion (cf. Hebrews 10:5).  Finally, assigning pronoun references to God can also be confusing (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 where the NKJV uses “He” and the NASB and KJV use “he”).  Again, such modern changes in translation often represent interpretations that might not necessarily improve the reader’s comprehension of the original.

Finally, Stanfield notes that the NASB is superior to the KJV because it consistently translates Biblical names using the same word in each place where the original name occurs.  He cites, in particular, the fact that the genealogy of Matthew 1:2 in the NASB reads “Judah” rather than “Judas” (KJV).  He is correct that the KJV does not follow the practice of rigidly or woodenly translating each original language word (much less name) by the same English word.  This decision is explained in KJV preface:  “The Translators to the Reader.”  I offer two responses:

First, the NASB does not, in fact, follow a rigid or “consistent” practice in translating names.  For example, though it does translate the Greek name Ioudas as “Judah” in Matthew 1:2, making it conform to its English translation of the Hebrew OT, it renders the exact same Greek name as “Judas” in reference to “Judas Iscariot” (Matthew 10:4); “Judas” Jesus’ half-brother (Matthew 13:55); and “Judas the son of James” (Acts 1:13) and not as “Judah.” Furthermore, it translates this same Greek name as “Jude” in the book of Jude (see 1:1).  Sometimes, in fact, it is the KJV that makes an internally “consistent” translation where the NASB demurs.  Example:  In Acts 7:45 the KJV translates the Greek name Iesous as “Jesus” while the NASB renders it as “Joshua” (though it obviously renders the same Greek name as “Jesus” elsewhere in the NT).

Second, I do not think that a rigid one-to-one correspondence translation method for names is particularly helpful in a translation.  It is good that we have various English names, for example, to distinguish “Judas Iscariot” from “Jude” the NT author and that Jesus is called "Jesus" in the NT and not "Joshua."  This is a fact that both the NASB and the KJV recognize, and it does not make one superior to another on this score.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV": Review.Part 1: Preface

A friend and regular reader of the blog recently sent me a link to this online article by Daniel Stanfield comparing the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the King James Version (KJV).  Though complimentary of the KJV, the author, who describes himself on his website as “a life-long Christian worker and Bible student, and a careful expository Bible student” and also as “largely self-taught,” makes clear his preference for the NASB (as the title of the article obviously evidences:  “Why I prefer the NASB over the KJV”).  The friend asked for my evaluation of this brief comparison, so I am going to offer a series of responses.

The Stanfield article consists of a preface paragraph followed by four content paragraphs.  In this series, I will work my way through the article reproducing it in full (in italic), paragraph by paragraph, and offering a brief response.  Here is part one (the preface):

Both the NASB and the KJV Bibles are very accurate literal translations, of excellent scholarship, using the best copies of the original languages which were available to them. Both works clearly and accurately represent the Word of God. Literary quality is excellent for both works, and style is identical. In many places the NASB reads exactly or nearly the same as the KJV. When choosing between these two versions, there are various areas of contrast which I have listed in order of significance.

JTR Response:  I appreciate the fact that the author does not immediately dismiss the KJV as outdated and irrelevant.  I take exception, however, (1) to the general slant of the introduction and (2) to one factual matter.

First, as regards slant, he states that the KJV and NASB used “the best copies of the original languages which were available to them.” This implies that the text used by the KJV translators is inferior to the text used by the NASB translators, because we now have superior copies.  This begs the question as to whether or not the traditional Reformation text used by the KJV translators (the Hebrew MT for the OT and the Greek TR for the NT) are, in fact, necessarily inferior to the modern critical reconstructions of the OT and NT, which has become the basis for modern translations.  I and others do not believe that the modern critical text does, in fact, represent an improvement.  I know Stanfield’s article is brief and non-technical, but an argument for this perspective must at least be presented before it might be entertained and certainly before it might be accepted.  This argument also contains an inherent contradiction.  If the best translations are necessarily the ones that use the most recent version of the modern critical text, then one should abandon the NASB (1971, last updated in 1995) in favor of translations based on more recent editions of the modern critical texts (like the NRSV or ESV).

Second, as regards a fact, he states that “style is identical” for the KJV and the NASB.  Clearly, however, this is mistaken. In fact, in the paragraphs following the preface, the author himself points to several ways that the NASB is different in translation style from the KJV (e.g., the NASB sets off direct quotations with quotation marks, uses a stanza format for poetry, puts OT quotations in small caps,  and capitalizes pronouns referring to the deity).

Perhaps what the author means to imply is that both the NASB and the KJV follow in the venerable literary style of Tyndale (for the NT at least) and other English translations that predate them both (e.g., Matthew’s Bible, Bishops’ Bible, Geneva Bible, etc.).  This is a claim that is often made (I believe falsely) for English translations which derive from the Revised Version (NT-1881; OT-1885), which was the watershed English translation whose daughter versions eventually dethroned the KJV from its position of dominant English usage.  In fact, if you read the preface to any copy of the NASB, the editors will tell you that it comes from a revision of the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 which, in turn, came from the Revised Version of 1881/1885.  Its stylistic roots are not in Tyndale of the sixteenth century but in Wescott and Hort and the Revision Committee of the nineteenth century.

This point is readily illustrated if one compares passages in the various translations.  Let’s take one example (chosen at random) from the NT:  Matthew 5:14-15 in the Sermon on the Mount.  Compare three translations which come from what we might call the Tyndale “style stream”:

Tyndale (1525):     Matthew 5: 14 Ye are ye light of the worlde. A cite yt is set on an hill cannot be hid  15 nether do men lyght a cadell and put it vnder a busshell but on a candelstick and it lighteth all that are in the house
Geneva (1599 ed.):  Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill, cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

KJV (1611):  Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

And here are four that come from the what might be called the modern, Revised Version “style stream”:

ASV (1901):  Matthew 5:14:  Ye are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  15 Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.

RSV (1946/1952):  Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

NASB (1971, 1995) Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.

ESV (2001) Matthew 5:14  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Here are some ways that the NASB differs from the Tyndale/KJV style for Matthew 5:14-15:

1.  NASB uses “you” rather than “ye” in v. 14.
2.  NASB omits relative pronoun “that” in v. 14.
3.  NASB uses “hidden” rather than “hid” in v. 14.
4.  NASB uses “nor” rather than “neither” in v. 15.
4.  NASB italicizes “men” in v. 15.
5.  NASB uses “peck-measure” rather than “bushel” in v. 15.
6.  NASB uses “lampstand” rather than “candlestick” in v. 15.
7.  NASB uses “gives” rather than “giveth” in v. 15.
8.  NASB uses relative pronoun “who” rather than “that.”

Though on the surface one might say the two traditions are “exactly or nearly the same,”  a closer look makes plain that there are clear and consistent differences in vocabulary and syntax.  If one compares passages in Tyndale/Geneva/KJV with those in RSV/ASV/NASB/ESV throughout, he can discern two different and distinct “style streams.”  This difference is even more obvious in those passages also affected by textual issues. 

Such comparison sufficiently illustrates that the KJV NT is nearly similar in style to the Tyndale NT.  It clearly disproves, however, that the NASB is identical in style to the Tyndale/KJV tradition.  Here is a table showing the two major style traditions among English translations:

Tyndale English Style Tradition
Modern English Style Tradition
Tyndale NT (1525)
Revised Version (1881/1885)
Geneva Bible (1560; 1599)
American Standard Version (1901)
King James Version (1611)
Revised Standard Version (1946/1952)

New American Standard Bible (1971, Updated 1995)

New Revised Standard Version (1989)

English Standard Version (2001)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Vision (3.12.15): Spiritual Lessons from 2 Samuel 11

Image:  A field of hyssop herb plants.

The notes below are adapted from the application from last Sunday morning’s sermon on 2 Samuel 11:

The account in 2 Samuel 11 of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his duplicitous plot to murder her husband could well be considered an almost clinical account or illustration of how sin operates.  Such an analysis might include the following:

Sin so often involves willfully being in the wrong places at the wrong times (“But David tarried still at Jerusalem” [v. 1]).

Sin so often involves the entertaining, the feeding, the calculations toward, the planning, and the orchestration of lustful pursuits (cf. “And David sent/said/wrote….” [vv. 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 , 14]).

Sin so often justifies itself by straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.  The text says that David committed adultery with Bathsheba but adds that she wasn’t in a state of ritual impurity (v. 4).  This something like saying, “I am a bank robber, but I never commit heists on Sundays!”

Sin gets progressively worse in an attempt to hide other sins.

Sin is persistent.  It does not easily give up and go away.

Sin is social.  It involves others and drags them down with it.

Sin is selfish and only protects self-interests.

Sin sears the conscience and makes one numb and insensitive to its hurt and pain (cf. David’s disingenuous words to Joab at the death of Uriah:  “for the sword devoureth one as well as another” [v. 25]).”

But I think we might just as well say that this chapter is not so much about the sin of David as it is the uprightness of Uriah.

Uriah thought not of the satisfactions of his own lusts but of the honor of the Lord and the fellowship of his brethren in arms (v. 11).

Where David caved in to sin, Uriah said resolutely, “I will not do this thing” (v. 11).

Uriah, though he was not an Israelite according to the flesh, was a true Israelite.

Let me also return to the final words of this chapter.  The story is going to continue in chapter 12.  But for now, it seems that David has literally gotten away with murder.  Read through the chapter 11 and there are no moral judgments drawn along the way.  The facts and details are simply described.  But then we come to the final words:  “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD [But evil was the thing which David did in the eyes (of the LORD)]” (v. 27b).

Dale Ralph Davis observes:  “the silence of God does not indicate the absence of God” (2 Samuel, p. 121).  Psalm 11:4 says, “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.”  Dale Ralph Davis continues:  “Yahweh may be silent but he is not sightless….  David may have Bathsheba’s flesh and Uriah’s blood, but he will have to face Yahweh’s eyes.”

Finally, there are two more things this account tells us:

First, it is a warning.  If a man like David could fall into such sin, so might we.  The best of men are men at best.  Paul said:

1 Corinthians 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

Second, it is a reminder of our need for a sinless Savior.  What David could not do and what even an upright man like Uriah could not do—live a completely upright and godly and completely consistent life—Christ has done for us. Compare:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle