Tuesday, August 16, 2022

WM 247: Rejoinder to a "Toxic" Book Review

In WM 245 I mentioned that several folk had asked if I planned to offer a rejoinder to what has been called a “toxic” review of the new book I co-edited with Christian McShaffrey, titled Why I Preach from the Received Text: An Anthology of Essays by Reformed Ministers.

The book was released on Friday, July 22, 2022. By July 24, 2022 Mark Ward, noted anti-KJV activist, had posted a caustic review of this book to his blog (byfaithweunderstand.com), as well as to several online sites, including amazon and goodreads. On amazon he gave the book two stars. As of today, there are 11 reviews there. Every other review presently posted gives the book the maximum five stars.

Though the print in Why I Preach from the Received Text is fairly large (to make for ease of reading) and the chapters are short, the content does cover some 276 pages. So, in less than two days MW apparently got an e-version of the book, read it, and then posted a review of over 3,700 words! Note: His review is much longer than the 25 individual chapters of the book, which were limited to c. 2,500 words each.

After reading his review my main question is not whether Mark read the book. I think he probably skimmed through it. The question is, “Did he really understand what it is about?”

So, let me offer a summary of his review, as it falls into four parts:

First, Introduction:

He begins by noting that the essays in the anthology are more like “personal testimonies” rather than “careful arguments.” That’s true.

Nevertheless, he adds, the writers do make “properly academic claims.”

He notes the book includes a “spectrum of views” that “do not all perfectly cohere.” This also true.

He cites two “poles” on this spectrum, represented by the essay by Brett Mahlen on one side and the essay by Chris Myers on the other. He closes the intro:

“So I think I’ll describe the poles, which I take to be the contributions of Mahlen and Myers. And then I’ll examine what they said about the main issue at stake in the debate over the KJV: the current intelligibility of Elizabethan English.”

I have written quite a few book reviews for my blog and scores for printed journals. The first task of a reviewer is to understand the work he is reviewing and to understand the purpose of the author(s) in producing it.

After supposedly reading through Why I Preach From the Received Text, MW thinks the “main issue” with the book is what it has to say about the “intelligibility” of the KJV.

In fact, never once in the review does MW ever define or address what the book is really about. He never asks, Why do the Reformed ministers represented in the book choose to make use of the Received Text as their standard for preaching, teaching, and ministry as opposed to the modern critical text?

Never once does he make reference to WCF/2LBCF 1:8 and its statement that God has “immediately inspired” the Scriptures in the original Hebrew and Greek, and that these Scriptures have been “kept pure in all ages,” even though that paragraph is quoted in almost every single chapter in the book and attention is called it in the Introduction.

Instead, MW fixates on the fact that many of the writers, all of whom minister in the English-speaking world, also make related and tangential reference as to why they choose to use the classic Protestant translation, the AV, which is based on the Received Text.

Did he overlook the paragraph quoted below in the Introduction? It states:

We gave each contributor the same topic to consider, “Why I Preach from the Received Text.” In reading these essays it will become clear that all the contributors have high respect for the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible in English, as many make mention of this venerable translation in their respective essays. The reader should not, however, be confused about this book’s primary focus. Critics of the traditional text, in fact, often confuse our position with “King James Version-Onlyism,” a position which is inconsistent with WCF and LBCF 1:8. We did not ask our authors to address, “Why I Preach from the King James Version,” but “Why I Preach from the Received Text.” The primary purpose of this book is a defense of the traditional original Hebrew and Geek text of the Bible (16-17)?

Did he miss the closing sentence of the Introduction: “May the Lord use this book as an instrument to stimulate, revive, confirm, and defend intelligent and effective use of the traditional text of the Word of God” (19)?

We are left with only three possibilities: Either (1) he failed to read these parts of the Introduction, or (2) he read it but did not understand it; or (3) he read it and chose to ignore it. Sadly, it seems the latter is the case.

Second: A Brief Lecture on “Biblical Worldview”:

Here MW chooses to take it upon himself to lecture the readers of his review on the dangers of “tribalism.” The danger, he seems to suggest, is that if one comes to strong convictions about the text of Scripture and embraces the Confessional Text, he necessarily runs the risk of demonizing his opponents, acting uncharitably, and being filled with pride

Again, he designates two “poles” among the essays. On one side there are those he judges to be adequately charitable, as represented by Brett Mahlen, but on the other side, there are those he judges to be uncharitable, as represented by Chris Myers.

MW is especially unhappy with the essay titled “The Invincible Word” (pp. 185-193), written by Chris Myers, pastor of Phoenix Reformed Presbyterian Church, a RPCNA congregation in Phoenix, AZ.

MW takes particular offense at a contrast set up by Myers between, on one hand, “Satan’s Bible with gnostic heretics writing false scriptures and twisting the true scriptures” and, on the other hand, “the received and preserved Word of God” (189).

MW writes the following about Myers’s approach:

This “two-streams hypothesis” is very common outside of Confessional Bibliology; it is found, too, in all forms of KJV defense, especially in the extreme brand of KJV-Onlyism known as Ruckmanism (after Peter Ruckman, who called these two streams the Antiochene and Alexandrian streams).”

If you listen enough to MW you know this is a line of argumentation (i. e., reference to a “two-streams hypothesis”) which he is fond of using. The question, however, remains: Is it accurate to say this of Myers’s article?

Myers, in fact, says nothing in his article about a “two-streams hypothesis,” Ruckman, Antioch or Alexandria.

Ruckman certainly did not invent the idea of drawing a stark contract between things that are spiritually good/healthy and things that are spiritually evil/unhealthy.

Such contrasts abound in early Christianity. Jesus himself told parables contrasting the narrow and broad ways (Matt 7), wise and foolish builders (Matt 7), wheat and tares (Matt 13), sheep and goats (Matt 25). John contrasted light and dark (John 1:5; 3:19, et al). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5).

The term “synagogue of Satan” (used by Myers in his article) was not invented by Ruckman, but it appears in the book of Revelation (2:9; 3:9).

These types of contrast continue in post-apostolic Christianity. The Epistle of Barnabas begins with a contrast between “The Two Ways: The Way of Light and the Way of Darkness” (18-20). The Didache begins with the similar contrast between, “The Way of Life and the Way of Death” (1-5). The Didache, in fact, begins, “There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between these two Ways is great” (1).

Is it possible that Myers’ metaphors in his article are shaped more by Biblical and general Christian usage, than by Ruckman?

If Pastor Myers personally believes that it is spiritually corrupt and dangerous for modern texts and modern translations to remove portions of the Word of God that he believes are inspired and have been preserved by God (like the TE of Mark and the PA), does he not have a right to warn against their removal using strong and unequivocal language?

Pastor Myers clearly declares that he believes the stakes are high on this issue. He writes, “…. if we do not possess God’s Word, we cannot confidently preach God’s Word, and people will not be converted” (187).

Even given his strong convictions, however, he takes pains at points NOT to make personal attacks on those who have embraced modern texts and translations.

He writes, for example, that this is “not a battle against flesh and blood” (187).

He calls B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and A. A. Hodge “men of God” even though he disagrees with them on text and translation (189).

He later states that “many godly men” who have embraced modern textual criticism “may personally hold to the doctrine of providential preservation,” but, he adds, “this is inconsistent” (191).

I am not writing here simply to defend Pastor Myers’s article. He can put up his own defense. We as editors included the article because one of the goals of this anthology was to provide a platform for various perspectives on why and how the traditional text should be defended. Pastor Myers’s views represents one set of convictions among those who embrace the CB position.

Oddly enough, after accusing Pastor Myers of “demonizing” his opposition, it is MW who offers this final acerbic attack on Myers in his review:

“I respond to a great many arguments from KJV/TR defenders, and I ask the Lord for patience in this work. But Myers’ words are utter and complete foolishness unworthy of response; they are almost impossibly divisive; they are sin.”

Isn’t MW using here a “two-streams” approach to Myers article? Isn’t he creating a dualism of wisdom/foolishness; unity/division; and holiness/sin? When he accuses Myers of being foolish, divisive, and sinful is he not suggesting that he and his position are wise, unifying, and holy?

In fact, isn’t MW the one who “demonizes” Chris Myers in this review?

Third: MW’s Eight Headings on the Readability of the KJV (even though this book is not about the readability of the KJV):

The major part of MW’s 3, 700 word review is located in this third section, devoted to various references in the book to the KJV with which Ward takes exception. I will list each statement highlighted by MW with a brief discussion:

1.     KJV readability is not a real problem.

Here MW takes exception to a comment by Gavin Beers, a Free Church of Scotland Continuing minister. Sadly, MW misses out on the main point of Pastor Beers’s testimony in his article “From Atheism to the Authorized Version.” No doubt, Beers’s comments do not conform to MW’s narrative about the AV no longer being useful for evangelism and discipleship, so he diverts attention to a peripheral matter.

2.     KJV English is not colloquial.

MW here takes exception to one statement by Poul de Gier, a bivocational farmer/pastor of Dutch heritage in Alberta, Canada.

One wonders if MW bothered to read Pastor de Gier’s statement at the close of his article, “Some might think we are ‘King James Only’, but we consider that a dangerous position to hold” (70).

3.     Contemporary versions do not make difficult passages of Scriptures easier to understand.

Here MW disputes Australian pastor Philip Gardiner’s report that reading the book of Job in the NIV as a new Christian did not help him to understand the book.

4.     The KJV was purposefully archaic, even in its day—so there is no problem with archaism.

MW pulls one statement by Pastor Trevor Kirkland out of context, and ignores his larger argument.

5.     Uneducated people can read the KJV with adequate understanding.

MW disputes Brett Mahlen’s reported experience in his prison ministry with incarcerated persons from various educational backgrounds who prefer and have no problems understanding the AV. Again, this does not fit with WM’s narrative that the AV is unintelligible. He even tries to play off his own anecdotal experiences against those of Mahlen.

6.     The KJV follows the inspired Hebrew and Greek word order.

MW takes exception to a comment in Christian McShaffrey’s article regarding the AV’s general adherence to a formal correspondence method of translation. MW makes this comment a straw man. McShaffrey does not claim that the AV always follows the exact word order of the original, but was simply citing with approval and appreciation some places where it does do this.

7.     The KJV contains archaic words, but modern versions also contain difficult words.

MW takes exception to another brief comment by McShaffrey on the AV and again misses his larger point.

8.     Someday the KJV may need to be revised because of changes in English.

MW ends, as he puts it, on a “high note” by agreeing with Scott Meadows’s observation that there may come a time when the AV will need revision. He proceeds then to criticize Meadows, however, because Meadows does not think that time has yet arrived.


Consider overall: The bulk of MW’s review of the book, centered here in this third section of his review, is based on scattered and peripheral comments drawn from the book regarding the AV, without ever addressing the book’s main thrust on the value of the traditional Hebrew and Greek texts and the Protestant doctrine of preservation.

Fourth: Conclusion:

The conclusion consists of three paragraph.

In the first paragraph, MW begins by noting that he shares much “doctrinal belief” with the authors of the anthology, including a commitment to Calvinism and love of the Puritans. As far as I know, however, MW is not confessionally Reformed. He may be a Calvinistic independent Baptist, but he is not a confessional Reformed Baptist. This may explain why he is not able adequately to grasp, explain, or respond to the Confessional Text position.

Here are the last two paragraphs, divided and responded to in sections:

Paragraph two begins:

“But it takes an elaborate set of contrivances to convince people of something they can’t not know, namely that KJV English is unnecessarily archaic and, at places (due to half a millennium of language change), unintelligible.”


Response: Oddly enough, despite its alleged shortcomings as outlined by MW, the AV continues to be among the most read and appreciated Bible translations in the world. Nevertheless, this book is not about the AV but its underlying text.


Paragraph two continues:


“The writers in this book, for all their appeals to the Reformed tradition, do not represent the historic orthodox or Reformation position on the Bible. They claim a perfection for one edition of the Greek New Testament that is a tiny minority view. They tend to insist on the exclusive use of one translation, something the Reformers certainly did not do.”


Response: I would point readers to the discussion of the bibliology of the Protestant orthodox in R. Muller’s PRRD, Vol. 2 and in Richard F. Brash, “Ad Fontes!—The Concept of the ‘Originals’ of Scripture in Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy”, Westminster Journal of Theology 81 (2019): 123-139. Beyond these secondary sources, I would recommend reading the primary sources (e.g., Whitaker, Owen, Turretin).


We should also remember that truth is not determined by majority vote.


We should also take notice that this book does not advocate “exclusive use” of the KJV, and, in fact, it is not, at core, about translations.


Paragraph two continues:


“They misuse Bible passages such as Psalm 12:6–7, which (I have shown in a recent paper) have never in the history of the church until the advent of KJV-Onlyism been used the way KJV/TR defenders use this passage.”


Response: I examined MW’s claims about Psalm 12:6-7 and the preservation of Scripture and found it wanting in WM 245.


He adds:


“And they divide the church unnecessarily.”


Response: Divisions, however, are not always bad. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul writes, “For there must also be heresies [divisions] among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”


The ending of the second paragraph reads as follows:


“The editors picked some of the most capable and gracious men of their sect, but at the lay and pastoral levels their views are almost always accompanied by a spirit of arrogance and strife. And the editors of this book included at least one essay in which the English translations used by countless faithful Christians were called Satanic.”


Response: I have already responded to MW’s mischaracterization of Chris Myers’s article above. Myers has a right to warn against any text or translation that he believes compromises the integrity of Scripture.


MW begins the third and final paragraph:


“I see in this book an effort to marginalize some TR defenders who cannot speak with any of the intelligence and grace (most of) these authors used.”


Response: I see here a mark of inconsistency. In the previous paragraph he said our views are “almost always accompanied by a spirit of arrogance and strife,” but he now says the authors in this anthology generally speak with “intelligence and grace.” Which is it?


He concludes the review:


“But I cannot recommend this book, and I am dismayed that the tiny Confessional Bibliology movement has gathered enough strength to publish it. I pray that its days will be few.”


Response: We are not surprised that MW could not recommend the book. We would have been shocked if he had. We encourage anyone interested to read the book and think for themselves. If they do this, we believe such readers will see that MW’s review does not present an accurate or fair review or evaluation of our book’s content and purpose.


So, Tolle lege, take up and read.



Mark Ward said...

1. I read every word of the book—every chapter, and all front and back matter. I dedicated time to reading it quickly because I wanted to make sure to represent you accurately in lectures I was set to deliver mere days after the book's release.

2. I love the King James Version and am not opposed to it.

These are the only responses I will give. I am content to let fellow Christians read my review, read your book, and come to their own conclusions.


C.B. Falls said...

"Critics of the traditional text, in fact, often confuse our position with “King James Version-Onlyism,” a position which is inconsistent with WCF and LBCF 1:8."

How do you define KJV-Onlyism, and on what authority or grounds do you base your definition?

R. L. Vaughn said...

MW: “I see in this book an effort to marginalize some TR defenders who cannot speak with any of the intelligence and grace (most of) these authors used.”

Maybe it is just me, but I found this statement almost incomprehensible.

MW: “But I cannot recommend this book, and I am dismayed that the tiny Confessional Bibliology movement has gathered enough strength to publish it. I pray that its days will be few.”

I think about this in contrast to my own review of Mark's book Authorized. I gave it a "qualified" recommendation. Qualified in the sense that I did not agree with his premise but thought his book a well-written promotion and defense of his premise. A source of honest debate between believers, with which folks on either side should be familiar.

Mark, now I am dismayed that a tiny unimportant preacher recommended Authorized, even in a qualified way, and now pray that its days will be few. If I'da thought, I woulda shook the dust off my feet after I read it. (Written with only part of my tongue-in-cheek.)

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


In answer to your question, I think if the term is to have any meaning the "Only" in KJVO must mean such a person who holds this position believes that the KJV is the ONLY Bible that can be used, even by those who do not speak English. This would mean it was specially inspired.

I think such a view would be heretical, since I hold to the view expressed in WCF/2LBCF 1:8 that the Bible was "immediately inspired" in the original Hebrew and Greek. Translations are accurate to the degree that they fittingly convey the originals.

That said, as an English speaker I prefer the AV as the classic Protestant translation based on the traditional text.

As I have pointed out, one of the problems with Mark Ward is that he has repeatedly conflated the Confessional Text position with KJVO. This is neither fair nor accurate.

Even Ward himself has admitted that this conflation is incorrect. See his comment on this post: http://www.jeffriddle.net/2022/07/wm-243-responding-to-another-comment-by.html

Hope this helps. I'd also love to hear Mark Ward provide his definition of KJVO.


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Yes, I really did not understand MW's statement (“I see in this book an effort to marginalize some TR defenders who cannot speak with any of the intelligence and grace (most of) these authors used.”) either. Not sure what he meant. Far as I know this was not something Christian and I were trying to do with the book.


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

For those who've been following the conversation on book reviews, accuracy, and charity, here is my 2019 review from the BLQ of Mark Ward's Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the KJB: