Traditional service

Traditional Bible

My goal in this series is to show that modern English Bibles in general, and the New International Version in particular, are out of order in a traditional church service where the speech of the KJV would be welcome. My point of departure is an article by the renowned H.H. Fowler in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage published in the U.S.A. by Oxford University Press, 1946:

     PEDANTRY may be defined, for the purpose of this book, as the saying of things in language so learned or so demonstrably accurate as to imply a slur upon the generality, who are not capable or not desirous of such displays. The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance. It is therefore not very profitable to dogmatize here on the subject; an essay would establish not what pedantry is, but only the place in the scale occupied by the author; & that, so far as it is worth inquiring into, can better be ascertained from the treatment of details, to some of which accordingly, with slight classification, reference is now made. ...

It is my contention that the language of the King James Version is demonstrably better for use in a Bible than our every day English into which modern versions (NIV) have been translated, and that the textus receptus is but reasonably accurate Greek compared to the inferior texts used by virtually all modern English versions--the NKJV even compromising in places. Other people like the NIV, but I know of one church that uses it seemingly exclusive of other versions but will revert to the KJV for some formal ceremonies. And I with my trusty KJV will nevertheless use a NIV in, say, a political or commercial context where I don't want to sully the Bible dialect.

Looking at cases and degrees in such a relative manner, we find, yes, the introduction of the NIV saying their version is suitable for liturgy, memorization, religious instruction etc., but the layman must largely rely on experts to validate such claims, so I want to give my reader an arena where he may consider himself the expert. The NIV introduction makes no claim that it is traditional--other than the punctuation--, so I am going to criticize an otherwise passable preacher we will name "Right-On" for using the NIV in a traditional service as he muddles through the book of Acts.

Before I start this series in Acts, though, I want to demonstrate a problem using the NIV as if it were traditional, but so as not to embarrass any particular denomination by using as a sample one of their programs, I shall start a little further afield.

In February, 2005 I'd been reading Reed Arvin's book The Will published by Scribner, 2000, and I noticed a timeline anomaly within the integration of a failed preacher's faith with a budding lawyer's career.

We have the novice lawyer/ex seminary student Henry, classmate of Sarah age 27 (page 145) returning to his hometown in Kansas in the beginning of the summer (page 12). He is in the computer age--witness the bank records--,carries a laptop computer, and sends encrypted e-mail (p. 293). Such technology places the story in the late '90's at the very earliest.

The latest this story could have happened would have been the summer of 2001, because (page 153) he was booked on the 12:15 plane out of Kansas City and had plenty of time to drive in and make it. It was a couple hours drive (page 23). On page 155 the plane was ahead of schedule. After Sept. 11, 2001, plane schedules became more complicated. Arvin couldn't have known that when he published the book in 2000 but still it places an upper limit on the date of the story. Also on page 182 Henry says he can make it from Chicago to the sheriff's office in Council Grove in 5 hours. The drive from Kansas City takes two hours (p. 23), the flight is 1¼ hours (p. 183), give him fifteen minutes to change clothes (p. 183), and a half hour on each end to negotiate the airport, and there's no time left for the security checks of post 9-11-2001.

Now, let's look at Raymond Boyd, the "birdman." On page 119 we see he was briefly a bank officer in town 25 years ago. Because of the time of the current story, that would have been sometime in the early 70's to 1976 at the very latest. In fact we see (page 276) that after Tyler was discharged from 'Nam on 2-26-73 he and Ellen (p. 315) were lovers in 1973 and by Tyler's design, ex-prostitute Helen compromised Boyd to get him to participate in their evil scheme, which would have happened sometime between 1973 and at the very latest 1976. With me so far?

Okay, we see on page 215 the shrink's assessment that Boyd's trauma of having killed a man in that scheme (1973-1976) pushed him over the edge, so he developed a repetitive strategy, a compulsion manifesting his mental instability, talking about "plague and bloodshed -- sulfur and hailstones." The book explains (e.g. p. 36) that the birdman's ramblings continued into the childhood of Henry, through his teenage years, of ceaseless spellbinding ramblings, the same ramblings that started back in 1973-76 sometime, the birdman being mentally deranged.

Okay, on 1-17-1993 Tyler signed his will (page 21) and then Henry's dad the town's lawyer who crafted the will died in 1994. Because of the resulting crisis of faith, Henry quit the seminary in the second semester three weeks before the end of an academic year (p. 16), four months later he was in law school--still 1994--, three years later 1997 (page 205) is graduated top 5% of his law class (page 22), does law review and then some court clerking for the state supreme court (page 14), say a year or two, 1998/9, and works for Wilson, Lougherby and Mathers two years (page 14), actually twenty-six months (p. 115), into 2000 or 2001.

On page 224 we learn that Henry hadn't built up a real sweat doing physical activity outside of racquetball for more than three years. Racquetball goes with his white collar work since graduation. He went to law school in Kansas. He was sometimes bored. In Kansas there is plenty of farm work available to work up a sweat. We figure that's what he did more than three years ago but not four. Three years after his law school graduation of 1997 would put him in the year 2000 for the story, not 2001.

Finally Tyler himself dies and Henry the son of the lawyer having inherited the position of executor of the will comes to town, summer of 2000. Henry takes Boyd out to the oil wells which really sets off the birdman who goes back to his ramblings of "plague and bloodshed", "burning sulfur and hailstones", "I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur!", "This is what the Lord says, thoughts will come into your mind. You will devise an evil scheme." This is an elaboration of the birdman's ramblings that have been going on for twenty five years since 1975, 25 years before the current 2000, two years after Tyler's 1973 discharge. So far the time line seems consistent.

Then we see (page 237) Helen's affair with Tyler starting in 1973, March of the same year she got arrested (page 274), then changed her name and came to Council Grove (page 275) less than a month after her arrest--April, 1973--, and started immediately at the bank where Boyd had only been there a few weeks (page 282), and on page 255 we find it pegged down that Raymond Boyd worked in the bank for about five months in 1973 which would bring him up until about September, 1973, when he was terminated for cause.

So from the summer of 1973 when Boyd approved the loan for Tyler until the beginning of the summer of 2000 when Henry comes to manage the will's reading is 27 years not 25. Okay, maybe the 25 was approximate but then why does everyone say 25 in the book?

Now, comes the real problem. On page 150 Henry idly looks through his motel room's Gideon Bible and, surprise of surprise, discovers those very ramblings--from the oil well as carried on since 1973--which anyone can find in Ezekiel 38:10,22. But the words the book quoted were straight out of the New International Version of the Bible which indeed the Gideons have taken to distributing lately, instead of the traditional King James Version, but the Old Testament of the NIV was not published until 1978, so how could the birdman have incorporated it into his repetitive ramblings back in 1973?

How could that have happened? I mean, just because Zondervan published the NIV (Old Testament--Ezekiel) in 1978 doesn't mean the people in small town Kansas read it that year. It could have taken years for it to have caught on at Evangel Baptist Church, if at all. This is backward "hick" Kansas, remember, not progressive Chicago. They could still be using the KJV. And even if they started using the NIV, how would that have affected the birdman? He was not exactly the socialite to go to church and keep up with the latest trends. He hadn't done church things like Bible reading for 25 [27] years (page 297).

His intense religious fervor would probably be better supported by the KJV anyway. Considering that the author added an element of religious faith to the plot, I think his book would have been better had he kept it consistent in the timeline.

Now, just as neither author nor editor caught this problem, so might problems have got by the translators and editors of the NIV. But they don't claim their version as traditional, you may point out. True, but figuring my reader lacks the expertise to fully grasp the weightier issues that would disqualify the NIV from any church service, I am giving him something in his range that he would readily understand disqualifies the NIV from a traditional church service. Of course, you are free to pursue heavier fare elsewhere.

I shall, however, cite a parrallel example of a Gideon Bible quotation from another work of fiction.

I sat for quite some time, adjusting to the change of light. There was a single picture on the wall, turned to an angle of ten degrees. A woodland scene. Something restful for those who could not find slumber as the freeway thrummed. I wanted to read, too. The Gideon Bible was in a drawer of the crummy, chipped dresser. I paged through Deuteronomy trying to find the words that had been in my mezuzah, as if they were a message in a bottle. I read: "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the ordinances and judgments, the law I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you." Jehovah's line. It meant noting to me. It was the rumble of rhetoric, the weight of the words that seemed connected to the world of unchosen obligation and duty that I was seeking to shirk.
--Scott Turow, The Laws of our Fathers100

This is similar to the birdman's quote in that it wasn't understood, at least not at first. However, here it has the familiar ring of the King James Version which the Gideon's had distributed into motels/hotels for ages. I don't know why they've switched to modern versions--takes away the continuity.

At any rate, let's compare that to the actual KJV wording. (Deut. 4:1-2) "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." Here I quoted the following verse too. If one looks closely he will see a slight change in wording from the Bible text "unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you" to the quote we find in the book, "unto statutes and unto the ordinances and judgments, the law I teach you"--emphasis added. Evidently the Jewish mind is harking back to the Septuagint: "hear the ordinances and judgments, all that I teach you." It kind of got mixed in with the actual quote from a Gideon Bible.

What makes it so curious is the following verse saying, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it." LORD has become Lord, a diminution, and "the judgments, which I teach" has become "the ordinances and judgments, the law I teach," an addition. Usually we let such monkeying pass as we say, but it conveys the same idea in different words, but please consider here the idea wasn't being conveyed at all, just the words. That is the only issue. In neither novel would the character have read the words in question from a Gideon Bible. This is jsut a novel, but God seems to have wanted a continuity with the words he gare us.

Also to be considered is that we don't even understand everything we read in the Bible, nobody does. Our modern translators sure don't. Having a very reliable English (KJV) Bible, we might just be betrer off leaving well enough alone.

I know a woman who has instructed her children to study only the King James Version. If they are having trouble with the English of a passage, they are allowed to look in a modern version to get a better idea, but they must return to the KJV. She explains to them that the modern versions only show what the translators understood at the time of their translation. If God wants to show her children something the modern translators missed--and how could they not miss thigs?--then it will have to be done through that version he's set up for our use in English, our lack of study and scholarship notwithstanding.


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2002, 2006, Earl S. Gosnell III

Creative Commons Licence 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 which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.

I have used such material for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. Such use must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.

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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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