Paul and Barnabas
Two Roads Diverged
Now we get to the place in Acts (15:36-41) where Paul and Barnabas have a strong disagreement--but they ultimately survive it. I am going to break with form here by quoting some sources on the trustworthiness of the King James Version text. I don't want my reader to think that all my objections to the New International Version are trivial. They are not. I've just not been focusing on some of the weightier issues. Now I shall give my reader an inkling of what's at stake while looking at the ethics of Paul and Barnabas diverging.
First an example of an anything-goes mentality so long as one likes what he is doing (reading):
At four o'clock in the morning, oncoming traffic is sparse, but each set of headlights purls through the fine hairs in Edgler Vess's ears. This is a pleasant sound, separate from the passing roar of engines and the Doppler-shift whine of other vehicles' tires on the pavement.
I've gathered from the preacher's sermon of 5/23/2004 that Barnabas's
example of taking the low road while Paul takes the high road (so to speak)
shows conflict resolved by going on two different roads, which
along with leaving the conflict within its original bounds, and with
the neutrality of the church, is how we're to deal with (some) conflicts.
According to his sermon if I've correctly understood it.
Personally, I believe we should use the KJV and not these modern versions, but mostly I hear modern versions (NIV) in our church, so I want to look at the above application of conflict resolution.
First there is the boundaries of the conflict. The worst kind would be where we'd hear modernized versions that dilute our core beliefs--"the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the creation account in Genesis, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, his miracles, his bodily resurrection and literal return"--for the sake of camaraderie in hearing modern language from the Bible. According to Deut. 13.6, we're not to spare one another's feelings when it comes to worshipping the correct God, the first commandment--to love God--takes precedence over the second--to love thy neighbor. I don't think that's the actual issue here as the preacher avoided using his regular NIV in his sermon on prayer last church-in-the-park-ing-lot, because it omitted the teaching. And on 4/18/2004 he again used older versions rather than the NIV to preach on Mark 16, because the newer ones leave something out. Ideally, I believe we should be hearing only the reliable KJV as not everyone will be able to sort out the faults of the newer versions, but I don't think we place hearing faulty critical passages in modern English above hearing correct important passages in KJV English.
The next level of conflict has to do with: (II Cor 6:14a) "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ..." Unbelievers (Westcott and Hort in particular) were involved in selecting the Greek text used in modern versions.
(d) Westcott and Hort--The Light That Failed410
In places where it's a judgment call how to render a reading, are we to trust an unbeliever who put together the text we read in English?
Still, I think our church recognizes that sincere intelligent Christians will hold different beliefs on non-critical matters, and we can with grace all be accommodated, and funny Bible versions will not be used to refute the brother who works it out from reliable texts though the language isn't modern. Not every Christian everywhere has that maturity, and supporting faulty Bible versions that may agree with him doesn't help maintain the peace, yet for our part it's not a problem.
That reduces the level of conflict to that of, (I Peter 5:5) "Likewise ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." There are places in translation where it's six of one or half a dozen of another. It could be translated either of two ways, in which case I think we should go with those who have come before us, while the modern versions strike out on their own.
Even though the name that Barnabas was called could be rendered either of two ways, I believe we should respect our elder translators by using "son of consolation" per the King James Version, but I keep hearing the preacher preach "son of exhortation" from the modern versions. The King James Version says, (Acts 4:36-37) "And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet," and the older (1526) Tyndale version put it, "And Joses which was also called of the apostles Barnabas (that is to saye the sonne of consolacion, beynge a levite, and off the countre off Cipers) had londe, and solde itt, and layde the pryce doune at the apostles fete." The (2nd) Wycliffite version (mid 1300's) has it, "Forsothe Joseph, that was named Barsabas of apostlis, that is to seie, the sone of coumfort, of the lynage of Leuy, a man of Cipre, whanne he hadde a feeld, seelde it, and brou3te the prijs, and leide it bifor the feet of apostlis." Of the two sides of the Greek paraklesis, the "consolation" side in English goes back some 650 years that I can document, so it's the traditional one. The "exhortation" side is the contemporary one.
This is not much of an issue, so one might ask, should we even bring it up? After all, there is no critical issue of faith involved in whether Barnabas is the son of exhortation or the son of prophecy. He could be either one and we'd still be Christians. Neither is there some difference of Christian practice derived from what Barnabas is the son of. If it makes no difference in faith or practice, is it even an issue?
Well, let's look at someone closer to home, ex-president the Ronald
Reagan. Suppose we wanted to give him a nickname according to what
he represented. Someone suggests that since he wrote his own speeches,
he should be called the son of exhortation. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear
down this wall." It's a good idea. Someone else suggests that
since in his speeches he made us feel good about being Americans,
he should be called the son of consolation. Also a good idea. Either
selection would work--they're not going to change history or anyone's
politics, so what difference does it make? A lot.
I had a landlady who when the Berlin wall got torn down, she went out to celebrate. She went to a bar, had some drinks, and ended up dancing topless on the bar. Now, this lady was in the entertainment business at one time of her life, a professional pianist on a cruise ship hobnobbing with movie stars. Reagan was once a movie star. So when the son of exhortation gives a successful speech, we see such a stunt, and file it away as such.
But what happens when the son of consolation gives the same speech, and the same wall comes down, and the same lady does her topless number? If it's the son of consolation, we remember that this lady was from Germany and had lived with the oppressive presence of the wall as long as she could remember. When that wall came down it was such a consolation to her that she had to celebrate and did so in the only way she knew how. That doesn't mean we approve of immodest attire, but we do think better of her in the second instance than we did in the first.
It's important in the same way the issue of a "wardrobe malfunction" at halftime at the Superbowl was important. It didn't affect the outcome of the game. It didn't affect anyone's team loyalty. But it was important because it affected the atmosphere of the game. Well, the King James Version has a more reverent atmosphere than modern versions, and that is important.
If you show a priest a mother nursing her infant, you expect him to see love rather than just the physical sensations involved even though they are both technically correct descriptions.
Let's go back to the landlady. I had known her for some time and
she wanted a male tenant for safety in her crime-ridden neighborhood,
and I needed a mature housemate--she was five years older than I.
Her birthday was coming up so I decided to get her something. I
discovered in the bookstore a stand of birthday cards with newspaper
headlines for the year of one's birth. She was born in 1942, so I
looked up that year to find the headline read,
As I was about to move into her downstairs room, I decided to go over in my mind what disturbed her so we'd get along better living in the same house. Well, I knew she freaked out hearing a door slam, or a window slam, and when a passerby leaned on the wall around her yard, she also freaked out to see the wall move. Then I remembered where and when she was born. She was born in a city that was being bombed and eventually shelled by the advancing Russians. Is it any wonder she grew up intolerant of loud bangs and walls moving! I had to be very careful.
So I was going over in my mind how I'd need to be considerate, and it helped me to picture those bad planes in the air bombing my landlady when she was a baby. As I was doing this I went to the post office to picked up my mail and read a letter from my Dad in which he enclosed a poem from one of his wartime comrades describing a sortie they flew over Germany in which they each downed a German plane. That was pretty cool reading about my Dad's exploits, but then I had to get back to thinking about the bad planes bombing my landlady, and then I read again the poem about the cool planes in the formation my Dad was flying.
You can probably guess what happened next. I started to get confused. Which were the good planes and which were the bad? I was finding it increasingly difficult to separate the two in my mind. Finally I stopped to sort it out. I made the inevitable conclusion: they were the same planes! I don't know if my Dad's fighter actually escorted one of the bombers that dropped its load on Berlin, but they were sure part of the same effort.
The point is our past doesn't magically disappear as we get older. My Dad helped win a war to make the world safe for democracy. Innocent babies got bombed in the effort. Then my Dad had his oldest son whom he named after himself. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict. I did two years of civilian alternative service. Now I was renting a room from one of the bombed babies grown up with personality disturbances so that people found it hard to get along with her. And I had to ask myself, does being for peace only mean that I don't fight in a conflict, or does it mean I actually live to bring peace? My landlady got along with me. She told me I was like an angel of God for how I helped her out.
My past doesn't magically disappear when I join a church or do this or that. I did all but a month of my civilian alternative service in the Shiloh commune where part of the requirement of membership was we each had to read twenty chapters of the (King James) Bible every week. That was in an effort to familiarize ourselves with scripture so that we wouldn't be diverted by some cult that takes some scripture alone and out of context. I continued to read twenty chapters a week for these years. Nobody ever told me to stop.
Then I ended up in a church where we had a preacher who used the KJV, and when that church folded, some went to various other churches, and I went with a member who preached (from the KJV) at the old folks home. I eventually was with a Negro church where the minister preached from the KJV using a style sometimes found in the South where he would sing the scripture. I was also with a church where every single member came from a different denominational background but we had the same King James Bible to unite us.
And I went to a Chinese Church for a number of years. A new sister in Christ from Singapore had complained to me that her fellowship group had made her break up with her unsaved fiancé of nine years by showing her where it plainly stated in the NIV) Bible that a widow may only marry someone "belong[ing] to" the lord, etc. The Greek manuscripts say only that she must marry "in" the Lord.
I tried to understand her situation. I studied Chinese for a couple of years and then joined a Chinese Church. I got to understand their culture, how their courtships are long term, and they expect to marry at the end. By and by, I started going to their mid-week Bible study. We were studying First Corinthians. We broke up into different language groups, and I went with the English speakers, including sisters form Singapore. They brought out their NIV's and I my KJV. But they couldn't understand the KJV, they wanted modern English. Fine, I brought along my J.B. Phillips.
When we got to the place where the NIV said the widow must marry only to someone belonging to the Lord, I pointed out that J.B. Phillips has it "let her be guided by the lord." I wanted to go to the KJV and look at the context and sort it all out, but they would none of it. They thought I was nuts. They all knew that a Christian can only marry another Christian. They said the NIV uses better Greek. Actually it doesn't, not by a long shot, but here it was not the Greek but the paraphrasing that was in question. I felt under enormous pressure when every Christian in the group says so, and their Bible that they use every Sunday says so too. I can only imagine what it would do to a young Christian who doesn't know any better.
They agreed that the children of a mixed marriage are sanctified and thus they sanctify the marriage, but they said that only applies if they were already married when one spouse converts. But according to Matt. 1:18-25 a sanctified child can sanctify an espousal also, so that they may proceed to marry. The Singapore sister's "engagement" was similar to the biblical espousal as there was every expectation to marry. Furthermore she need not have broken it off to better serve the Lord equally yoked to a believer she might find some day, not by the example of (Deut. 20:7) "And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her." No, she should have remained engaged according to (1 Cor. 7:17) "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.", unless he broke it off.
I don't mean to ramble. What I'm saying is that if the new versions zap the KJV dialect to make the world safe for modern English Bibles, like allied bombers bombing the stuffing out of German cities, then that is my Bible dialect being bombed, and as for my friends taking the hits, the NIV is the particular plane that got them.
In summary, although doctrinal matters are not the issue, or the ability to live according to one's own conscience, nevertheless it is important to me at least to be having the KJV used in services.
The second issue is to let them go each on their own way, Paul with Silas, Barnabas with Mark. And in fact I asked the preacher right off the bat if I'd be allowed to go just by the KJV if I wanted, and he said that was fine. He still preaches mostly from the NIV. In Sunday school I quote from the KJV and others will quote from it and from other versions. When there is a KJV word difficult to understand, instead of hearing it from another version, I bring along a concordance and a dictionary. If we see how the word was used the first time in the KJV, we can usually grasp its meaning, and if that fails, then we can get it from the dictionary. In a sermon a preacher may quote a reference book, so that he can preach to a modern audience using no other version than the KJV and get along fine. Our "faith cometh by hearing" series has a KJV option and other options. The KJV is one road to take, the newer versions another. That is not the issue.
The third criterion is the neutrality of the church. Here I believe the philosophy is that since the apostles quoted freely from the Septuagint, rather than the Hebrew or their own anointing, then we should feel free to use whatever translation becomes popular. I don't think that in every instance they used the Septuagint, but there is something to that argument, for a general neutrality in use of translation. I just don't think that's the whole story.
There are particular cases where that general neutrality is not really neutral. For example the greeting cards that use headlines during the year of one's birth that are for the sake of argument neutral. The publisher is trying to make a buck, not offend people. The editor just picks a striking headline for each year. But if I know my landlady got the stuffing bombed out of her as a baby, I cannot justify my neutrality by that editorial decision if I send her that card.
We have two services, a traditional and a contemporary. For the contemporary one, that general neutrality may suffice. That's one road. On the other road we are expecting traditional elements in our service, those pieces from the past that are good and are still with us. At least part of our congregation has a past that includes the KJV, and to me and at least one or two others that is important. The birthday card is chosen ultimately not to please the giver but the recipient. Likewise the service should be at least tolerable to the congregation irrespective of the whims of the preacher.
It is billed as a traditional service. We have some idea what that means as evidenced by the song selection. The King James Bible is known as the traditional version, used by some ministers in their past even, and the preacher has referred to it as the "old King James" on 4/18/2004 preaching on Mark 16, and I don't think he was calling it obsolete. The New International Version makes a lot of claims in the introduction, that it's suitable for liturgy, Bible study, memorization, etc., but it does not claim to be a traditional version (except for following traditional punctuation and sentence breakdowns).
I think it's a legitimate concern to want the King James Version used in the traditional service, and I would like that to occur. Either that or give up having a traditional service, calling them services one and two, and dividing up the songs as seems fit.
It's the old problem of counting the cost before starting construction on the tower. Is there enough money to build it? We want a traditional service, fine, we have the wherewithal to sing traditional songs. But what if there is some traditional element from the past of some of our members that they want to be accommodated? Are we able to continue the building?
Or the general coming upon a stronger city than he expected might have to diverge in his course. We have enough aborted projects. Why don't we proceed to the next stage in the road of a traditional service?
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Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.
I have used material from a number of sources for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. The sources are included in a notes file. Such uses must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.
Any particular questions or requests for permissions may be addressed to me, the author.
Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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