Adventism 202: How to Pick the Right Bible for Yourself

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Adventism 202: How to Pick the Right Bible for Yourself

Recap

For a series of this length, it is good to periodically include a recap or two. We’ve covered a lot of material so far and below is a brief synopsis.

In part one of the series, we covered the importance of theology and why it is absolutely crucial to move away from simply professing belief in a list of doctrines to actually see the interconnectedness of one’s faith. In addition, we covered some of the major arguments for the existence of God in an attempt to show that theism is just as rational a proposition as atheism or agnosticism.

Related Article: How to Press Into the Presence of God

In part two of the series, we engaged in a theological exercise to determine what is the least risky religion to follow. We discovered that Christianity makes some very bold claims, including that salvation, can only be found in Jesus Christ.[1] In addition, generally speaking, other religions seem to either provide an infinite number of do-overs to get things right with god/s (or the universe) or have a very wide salvation umbrella that covers Christians as well. Thus, we reasoned that Christianity is a good religion to practice since it is the “safest,” or the least risky. Yet a dilemma surfaced there: even if we want to be Christians, which version of Christianity should we follow?

Part three of the series was a search for God’s signature in the Bible, which would authenticate it as the Word of God. Once we established that the Bible was trustworthy, we committed to using it as a tool in identifying the right version of Christianity to practice—specifically, a Bible-based Christianity.

In part four we realized we needed to do a bit more work before we attempted to reconstruct the Christian faith from the Bible. We saw that we really shouldn’t assume we know how to use the Bible correctly (i.e. read, study, and apply it). We also reasoned that we first needed to study the history of the Bible’s formation, which would give us a clue on to how to properly use it. By the end of part four, we discovered that the Bible is a book of revelations from God, given to prophets, and communicated to the church and the world.

In parts five and six we covered the topic of inspiration—how God’s revelations become words on a page. We discovered that only prophets and apostles are qualified authors of Scripture, and we learned how to test individuals who make a claim to this office in the church. We also saw to what lengths God is willing to go to preserve His word from misleading or deceptive content.

Related Article: Embracing the Bible as a Story

So, where does that leave us? Well, we are now finally prepared to talk about how to actually use the Bible—that is, how to study and interpret it. Let’s dig in!

 

Learning to Study the Bible Correctly

Now that we have good reasons to believe there is a God, and that He has communicated his will to humanity through the Bible, it’s time to actually look at how to read and study his Word. We’ll do this in four steps. First, we’ll define hermeneutics. Next, we’ll identify tools and aids that can help us interpret the Bible accurately. Thirdly, we will discuss the power of presuppositions. Fourthly, we will identify some basic presuppositions (that are critical to a Biblical reading of Scripture). Lastly, we will establish the differences between Biblical hermeneutics and other types of hermeneutics. Let’s begin with defining hermeneutics.

 

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics can be described as the art or science of interpreting a text. We use hermeneutics routinely—whenever we seek to understand a piece of literature, be it the Bible, or Shakespeare. The simplest way to define hermeneutics is to just substitute the word “interpretation.”

 

Simple so far, right?

 

It seems straightforward but hermeneutics can get very complicated very quickly! For example, at times the word “hermeneutics” is prefixed with a modifier or adjective that adds a whole new shade of meaning to the raw definition. The preceding word typically describes a particular worldview or perspective. Here are a few examples:

  1. Feminist hermeneutics,
  2. Liberation-theology hermeneutics,
  3. Christo-centric hermeneutics.

So, what do all these modifiers mean? Take feminist hermeneutics, for example. Feminists are individuals who believe in the equality of the genders/sexes, so they oppose abusive patriarchy and misogyny in any form. Now, the Bible has plenty to say on the equality of the genders, and therefore it would be perfectly appropriate to employ a feminist hermeneutic when interpreting it, if one’s aim is to simply affirm the equality of men and women, especially in abusive patriarchal contexts. In this case, feminism acts as a lens for the Bible student. It would be approaching the Bible with a particular worldview that magnifies something one is already looking for.

The problem with feminist hermeneutics is if it goes too far and forgets the lessons we have learned previously about the revelation and inspiration of Scripture. If the foundation (the fact that the Bible comes from God and that God has preserved His word from being tainted with deception or falsehoods) is not retained, the Bible student could easily allow feminist ideology to corrupt the interpretation of Scripture or one’s view of Scripture itself. For example, some extreme feminists (though very few in number) regard the Bible with suspicion because they believe it was written by men with vested interests in preserving misogyny and abusive forms of patriarchy. Viewing the Bible or its writers with suspicion will seldom lead to a correct interpretation. As you can see, feminist hermeneutics has both a good and a bad side, depending on whether one goes to extremes.

Liberation-theology hermeneutics exhibits the same spectrum of positive and negative interpretive outcomes.

Related Article: What I Learned by Listening to the Bible

Christo-centric hermeneutics, on the other hand, does not suffer from the same weaknesses[2] because it is derived organically from the Bible itself. As Luke 24:27 shows, Christ is the center and overarching theme of Scripture.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27, NIV)

 

Basic Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics

What we want to utilize in our Bible study, especially in our task of reconstructing biblical doctrines in an interconnected way, is a “biblical hermeneutic.” Such a hermeneutic is derived from Scripture itself and contains many principles, including the following three:

  1. First and foremost, a biblical hermeneutic seeks to constantly solidify its methods by deriving its hermeneutic from Scripture itself.
  2. Secondly, a biblical hermeneutic rejects human theories and agendas that cannot be found in the text of Scripture.[3]
  3. Thirdly, a biblical hermeneutic uses the simple/clear statements in Scripture to clarify the complex/obscure ones.

Now that we know the basic principles of biblical hermeneutics, let’s look at some tools that help us understand the Bible better.

 

Hermeneutics: Tools of the Trade

The aids and tools of biblical hermeneutics can be divided into two categories: (1) inspired sources, and (2) uninspired resources.

The difference between “sources” and “resources” is important. Sources are normative (supremely authoritative), primary, and essential. Resources are subject to sources (as in they are subservient and do not have the authority of sources), secondary in importance, and ultimately non-essential. By “normative” I mean that sources are the standard. By “primary” I mean that sources should be consulted first. By essential I mean that sources are indispensable to the student’s objectives.

We can divide Bible study materials as seen below:

 

 

Inspired Sources

Uninspired Resources

A literal translation of the Bible,

or various translations of the Bible

 

Study Bible Notes

Concordances

Bible Software

Atlases

Bible Dictionaries

Theology Handbooks

Commentaries

 

To better grasp the difference between sources and resources, let’s think of the Bible as a map that helps us reach our study goals, which are:

 

(1) to understand and receive salvation,

(2) to achieve unity with other believers, and

(3) to be effective in mission.[4]

 

As a source, the Bible is like a map in black and white, completely sufficient to guide us in achieving our objectives. However, the resources add color and enrich the student’s journey towards the goal. The important thing to remember is that the Bible is all we need. If that is all we had, it would get us to where we need to go. Resources are nice (and they can certainly make the Bible come alive) but they are not essential, primary, or normative. The only essential aspect to a Bible study is having a Bible.

 

Which Bible Though?

Since having a Bible is critical to doing a Bible study, we need to think about what type of Bible we want to use. Though I typically use electronic Bibles these days, I would still recommend purchasing your own hardcopy if you don’t have one.[5] But before you purchase a new Bible it is important to think about which translation would be right for you.

 

The prophet Jeremiah provides a good paradigm for thinking about Bible translations. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight… (Jeremiah 15:16a, NIV)

 

Like Jeremiah, I like to think of the Bible as (spiritual) food. Though imperfect, we can extend this metaphor even further when comparing Bible translations. Most people agree that the best way to receive all the benefits and nutrients from the food we eat is to eat it in the rawest form that we are capable of digesting. The same is true for the Bible.[6]

 

Apples or Apple Pie?

Bibles can be broken down into 4 different types when it comes to translations: (1) original languages, (2) literal, (3) dynamic, and (4) paraphrase.[7] So how does this relate to food? Think about apples. One can consume apples in a variety of ways. Probably the best way, in terms of nutritional value, is eating an apple raw. The next level of nutrition might be something like dried apples. Perhaps the next best thing would be applesauce. Lastly, the furthest away from the original apple in nutritional value and yet utterly delicious would be apple pie.

Related Article: Which Translation is the Best?

The closer we can get to the original languages the better, but always keep in mind that the best way to eat an apple is in the rawest AND most digestible form that you can handle. Hebrew and Greek would be the equivalent of eating raw apples, full of nutrients, but hard work as it will take some serious chewing! If this is something you’d like to take on I’d recommend picking up a Hebrew or Greek grammar to start with, along with Bible software that contains the original languages so that you can look up words as you read. However, some of us will never have the time or opportunity to taste Hebrew or Greek, but do not let that discourage you! The Holy Spirit is more than capable of leading you into all truth regardless of your Bible translation. (John 16:13)

The next best thing after Hebrew and Greek (raw apples) are dried apples—or literal translations. Dried apples may still require some serious chewing like raw apples but dried apples are definitely sweeter and therefore more palatable. Literal translations attempt to do the impossible, which is to produce a word-for-word translation. Again, this is impossible regardless of the language the translator is trying to translate into. Language just isn’t that simple or clean. Some translations even try to preserve the original word order and sentence structure. An example of this would be the Young’s Literal Translation (YLT). Unfortunately, in Bible times (especially in Hebrew) people spoke and wrote like Yoda from Star Wars which can make reading the Bible a real chore and unnecessarily rough to read. Some examples of more reader-friendly literal translations are: King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), and New American Standard Bible (NASB). If you desire to get as close to the original languages as possible but don’t have the time or patience for Greek and Hebrew, a literal translation is what I would recommend. Studying one of the translations listed above can be challenging at times but the rewards are well worth the effort!

Related Article: Choosing a Translation

One more step further towards apple pie is a dynamic equivalent translation. By far the most famous of this type of translation is the New International Version (NIV). Dynamic equivalency is an attempt to translate the Bible “thought-for-thought” as opposed to “word-for-word” like in a literal translation. The NIV is very good at preserving the idiomatic speech and jargon of the Bible writers, and yet makes it accessible for today. I equate dynamic equivalent translations to applesauce. Smooth, sweet, and goes down easy. The bad side is that it doesn’t require much if any chewing, and in some ways has been “pre-chewed” (interpreted) for the eater! Since these translations seek to reproduce thoughts, a great degree of interpretation will inevitably accompany the translation. Examples of dynamic equivalent translations are the NIV and TNIV (Todays NIV).

Related Article: How to Faithfully Interpret the Bible Literally

The last type of translation is a paraphrase, which, technically speaking, is not a translation. Indeed, many (but not all) paraphrases do not even consult the original languages but are really a rewording of an existing English translation. The purpose of a paraphrase is to make the Bible understandable for everyone. I would compare a paraphrase to warm apple pie. The apples have been processed, cooked, sweetened with additives, packaged in a flaky mouthwatering crust and served with a side of vanilla ice cream. There are no difficulties to be had when eating apple pie; it is simply a joy and a pleasure. The problem is that apple pie is not entirely healthy. Sure, it still contains apples but the nutritional benefit will be very different when compared to that of raw apples. Paraphrases are great for seekers and new believers. They make the Bible accessible and simple. I personally enjoy picking up a paraphrase now and then for devotional purposes. But paraphrases are not so good for long-term serious Bible study. Though they can be a great place to start, especially if you’re trying to grasp the storyline and the major Bible themes, I would not recommend staying there. Have a plan to transition to a dynamic equivalent or literal translation when you feel comfortable doing so. Examples of paraphrase Bibles are The Message, New Living Translation (NLT), and The Clear Word. (Editorial Note: It should be noted that the Message Bible is translated from the original languages.)

 

Apples Translation Translation Examples
Raw Apples Hebrew & Koine Greek Nestle-Auland 28 (Greek), Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Hebrew)
Dried Apples Literal KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB, ESV, YLT
Apple Sauce Dynamic Equivalent NIV, TNIV
Apple Pie Paraphrase The Clear Word, NLT, The Message

 

Remember that the best way to receive all the benefits and nutrition from an article of food is to eat it in its rawest form you are capable of digesting. So, pick a Bible that is as close to the original languages as possible but that you are still able to “digest”—that is, to understand. Lastly, don’t let anyone judge you for the Bible you choose to read and use for study (even if it’s a paraphrase). The Holy Spirit can reach you through any Bible you pick up. (John 16:13)

Once you’ve picked your Bible translation, remember these two rules:

  • KNOW WHAT YOU ARE EATING!
  • DON’T SKIP MEALS!

Following these two rules will preserve you from several pitfalls in your journey towards a Biblical Christianity. Just as with any meal you’re about to feast on, know what you are eating. Remember what type of translation you’re consuming. Keeping in mind the benefits and shortcomings of the Bible version you use will help you stay humble and tentative about what you claim the Bible says. It will also make you alert to certain discrepancies or issues in the translation that don’t “jive” with what you’re certain of, based on translations closer to the Hebrew or Greek. In addition, skipping meals on a regular basis is a bad idea. It is important to read the Bible on a regular basis. Having a regular devotional life is vital to grasp a true understanding of Scripture. Regardless of the translation, the Bible is a complex book and should be studied on a regular basis to take advantage of its life-changing qualities.

 

Back to Resources

In addition to the Bible—the source of theology—resources such as concordances, dictionaries, atlases, etc. can be extremely helpful. The key is to remember that these resources are uninspired and should never be allowed to rule over the Bible. They should enhance what the Bible says, not change what the Bible says. As stated earlier in our analogy to a map, resources simply add color by way of historical context, theological intertextuality, etc. Nowadays there is a wealth of resources available online—many for free.[8]

 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line when it comes to Bible study comes from God Himself. In John 7:17 Jesus gives us a promise, and as we previously learned, he cannot lie. Read what Jesus has to say to you in regards to studying Scripture.

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. (John 7:17, NASB)

If we truly want to know God and are willing to obey what he tells us in Scripture, with the Holy Spirit’s help (John 16:13) we will ultimately understand God’s truth for ourselves.

So, these are the tools of the trade we call theology. But there is one last source or resource we need to address, which, if you’re an Adventist, is a huge elephant in the room. When it comes to Bible study and theology, “What Should we do with Ellen White?”

Click here to read the rest of Ingram’s series on Adventism 202

______

Notes.

[1] Of course, there are caveats to this claim in that God will not condemn someone for not coming to faith in Jesus Christ if they never had an opportunity to actually hear the gospel. But even so, the claim that salvation can only be found in Jesus is still true, whether we embrace the opportunity to know Christ in this life, or whether we will be granted this opportunity in the life to come because we lacked an occasion to know him now. In either case, salvation, wittingly or unwittingly, comes through Christ. It is the explicit rejection of Christ that will ultimately condemn people, not ignorance.

[2] That is, unless one begins to employ allegorical methods of interpretation, in which Christ is seen literally everywhere in Scripture.

[3] Though some feminist principles and liberation-theology principles can be derived from Scripture, other hermeneutical approaches are just plain wacky. If you’ve ever watched the history channel and its attempts to “explain” the Bible you’ll know what I’m talking about. Series like “UFOs and the Bible” and the like are seriously flawed approaches to understanding the Bible.

[4] These three goals were covered in a previous article.

[5] If you’re a fancy person check out EvangelicalBible.com. For researching good Bibles to purchase in terms of leather and paper quality check out the Bible Design Blog by Mark Bertram. Another good option is the Andrews Study Bible, which can be purchased from Andrews University Press.

[6] Adventists might be interested to learn that Ellen White (as well as several of the pioneers) used various translations of the Bible in addition to the KJV. Ellen White herself appears to have been an early adopter of new versions of the Bible. See the EGW Estate article The E.G. White Counsel on Versions of the Bible by Arthur L. White.

[7] Strictly speaking, the original languages and paraphrases are not translations. The original languages are the basis for translations and paraphrases are more akin to interpretations rather than translations.

[8] Bible Gateway (an online concordance) and Blue Letter Bible are great free online resources.

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a PhD student studying systematic theology at Andrews University. He serves as head of content development for The Compass Magazine.

  • pagophilus

    The problem you have is that there are differences in the original texts used by the various versions during the translation process. Whether these differences are as important as some make out is up for debate, but the differences are there and need to be addressed. In other words, the different versions don’t all tell you the same thing, and many of the newer ones are missing bits.

    Specifically looking at the Greek (New Testament) side of things, the Nestle-Aland and UBS Greek New Testaments are based ultimately on Westcott & Hort’s Greek New Testament and the question to be asked is, knowing what we know now about the characters of these two gentlemen, and knowing what was written in their letters to each other, knowing their personal biases and views on certain doctrinal matters, and knowing of their fascination with psychic phenomena (the occult), were they fit and proper people to put together a Greek New Testament and was their methodology sound, or did their personal biases and foibles come into their selection of readings? And therefore is their finished product worthy of consideration by people such as Adventists who have a high view of the Bible?

    Since most newer translations are based on these questionable texts, one has to beware that, even though one may be getting a more accurate translation (eg in the NASB), it is ultimately a more accurate translation of a less accurate or questionable original, and therefore one should check what it says against the Textus Receptus (KJV and a small number of others) to see if it agrees. No, the KJV is not perfect, but at least it is translated from better originals. So, whether Mrs White quote from other versions is moot. Did she ever quote a passage from another version which reads contrary to what the same passage reads in the KJV?

    • Ingram London

      Hi Pagophilus, thank you for commenting!

      You’ve raise some interesting points.

      You are correct that there is a another layer to the issue of translations in regards to which manuscripts are used. However, I think we should be clear that the no two manuscripts in existence today are exactly the same. That being said, I am personally of the opinion that the differences in manuscripts do not produce any serious theological contradictions or dilemmas if the Bible student studies systematically. But if we’re going to debate about what are the “best” manuscripts, it is not simply a matter of whether the “Westcott-Hort” text or the “Received” Text are correct. Any official text of the Koine Greek New Testament (including the Reviewed Text from Erasmus) is a compilation of manuscripts. In regards to the Nestle-Aland and UBS Greek New Testaments, these are formed by textual critics, and the committees that put these texts together are not trying to hide anything. Both texts (NA and UBS) provide the variants of every passage in the footnotes including the variants from the Received Text tradition. (NA is more exhaustive than UBS but neither ignores the Received Text variants). The committees (composed of NT scholars) when putting together updated new editions of these texts are not simply going to Westcott and Hort to find out what should be included or not in the text. They look at the actual manuscripts that we have and based on their analysis grade each variant reading and include these in the footnotes. (Again the UBS is not as extensive as NA but neither of them ignore the Received Text readings. I have never come across a passage in which the Greek of the Received Text is not either used as the main text or is included in the footnotes). To my knowledge, no textual critic or New Testament scholar is relying on Westcott and Hort to determine the composition of the Greek New Testament. So ultimately, I personally have to reject your premise that “newer translations are based on these questionable texts.” So regardless of Westcott and Hort’s personal religious beliefs (which I agree are not aligned with Adventism) it is a moot point, since no one to my knowledge is actually consulting their work. Textual criticism and translation committees simply take all the data (all the manuscripts) and compare and contrast them looking for clues as to what were most likely the words penned by the apostles. It is not a matter of deleting verses or phrases or rewording the original Greek. It is about trying to reconstruct the original Greek NT since we do not actually have the original autographs from the apostles to consult.

      But beyond this, we should be careful to dismiss scholarly work (even that of Westcott and Hort) simply on the basis that the researcher’s presuppositions or biases do not align with our own. Yes, we may and often should approach their work with suspicion and skepticism, but we should not fall for the logical fallacy of ad hominem and not actually take the time to evaluate arguments and assertions on the basis of the evidence that actually pertains to the research in question. I’m sure once could make a good case as to why many of the choices Westcott and Hort made were incorrect based on the faultiness of their Greek scholarship without resorting to attacks on their biases regardless of how troubling they are. Otherwise we might find that we need to throw out all of our Bibles since there is no officially translated Adventist version of the Bible, translated by Adventist scholars, with Adventist presuppositions and biases. (To my knowledge none of the KJV translators believed in the observance of the 7th day Sabbath or the truth about the state of the dead and yet we are more than able to defend these Scriptural truths from the KJV despite their own personal biases.)

      I would also like to address your statement that the newer translations may be more accurately translated but that they are more accurate translations of a “less accurate or questionable original.” You also claim that the KJV is translated from “better originals.” First, as I’m sure you would agree, we do not actually have access to the original autographs penned by the apostles. All we have are copies of copies. So I think it is difficult to say whether the NA or UBS (or any compilation newer than the Received Text) is less accurate than the Received Text based on the “originals.” How would we know that with absolute certainty since we don’t have the actual originals to compare them to?

      Now since we don’t have the originals this leaves us with the problem of trying to reconstruct them. This then leaves us with two options on how to deem whether one manuscript family is more accurate than another (all of which are copies of copies and no two are exactly alike). We can either weigh more heavily (1) the age of the manuscripts that support a particular reading or (2) the number of manuscripts that support a particular reading. I admit that the Received Text reading of the NT is definitely the more numerous and if you are persuaded that numerical superiority should be the basis of your decision in choosing a Bible then by all means stick with the KJV (for English speakers). However, if you give more weight to the age over numbers it then behooves you to give more credence to a manuscript family that is older and closer to the time of the apostles. When it comes to textual criticism and attempting to reconstruct the original autographs, It really comes down to what you believe is more likely, that either (1) the earlier and rarer manuscripts would be more accurate because there is less time (and thus less opportunity) for corruptions (additions and or deletions) to creep in, or (2) that the later but larger manuscript family is more accurate because they are more numerous (despite their variants not appearing until the middle ages). At the end of the day I believe that scholars (regardless of denominational affiliation and including our own Adventist scholars) have chosen to go with the earlier, rarer, manuscripts as the most logical choice in terms of weighting. But please don’t misunderstand me. No scholar that I’m aware of (and again regardless of denomination) blindly follows the early manuscripts to the letter. If the tenor of the whole of Scripture seems to not agree with the more ancient manuscripts they will go with the reading that seems to harmonize with the rest of the Bible (even if that reading comes from the Received Text) unless there is a really good reason not to depart from the earlier manuscripts. Again, what textual critics are doing is simply approaching the text and its preservation analytically and evaluating all of the data (i.e. all the manuscripts available). They can’t ignore the witness of earlier manuscripts simply because they do not agree with the Received Text. That would be poor scholarship and academically irresponsible.

      A couple more points on the issue of manuscripts and the originals. I think we sometimes make too much of a big deal about this in general. I think this is due to the fact that many of us have come into the Adventist church without learning proper Bible study methods. (By the way, I am in no way claiming to know the ultimate Bible study method. I’m still growing and learning as I hope we all are.) One of the unfortunate side-effects of coming into Adventism through a simple Bible study guide or traditional evangelistic campaign series is that we subconsciously accept a proof-text method of Bible study instead of learning to study the Bible systematically. Without follow-up studies that incorporate more organic, expository, readings of Scripture a person can get stuck with simply going to familiar proof-texts in order to bolster their beliefs without seeing: (1) the presence of that belief actually throughout Scripture, and (2) the interconnectedness of that belief with other doctrines. The Bible is a complex book and it would be impossible, even for Satan himself, let alone human beings, to hide the fundamental doctrines of Biblical truth in any translation or Greek text that you can pick up today. If studied systematically the Bible cannot fail to reveal truth. (One example of this is the phenomenon known as the “Johannine Comma.” Many KJV advocates claim that modern translations do away with the Trinity/Godhead because they lack the “full” verse of 1 John 5:7 which explicitly spells out the plurality of God in 3 persons. However, what KJV advocates seem to forget at times is that the concept of the plurality of God is all over the Bible and even without 1 John 5:7 the Threeness of God can still be proved from other verses. I’ve also heard the same thing about verses in modern translations that supposedly remove the deity of Christ. And yet every modern translation I know includes Thomas’ exclamation in John 20:28 in reference to Jesus “My Lord and my God!”)

      The other point I want to make is that I think it is a mistake for us evangelistically to think or teach that the KJV of the Bible is the “best” Bible to use. It can be perceived as cultish by non-Adventists. The first thing Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons do when they come knocking on your door is to get you to lose faith in the Bible that you hold in your hands. Jehovah’s Witnessess will try to get you use their New World Translation and Mormons will try to get you to put the Bible down and pick up the Book of Mormon. Though the KJV is widely accepted as a genuine production of the word of God, I think it would be a mistake to tell a congregation with visitors or enter into someone’s home to give a Bible study and start off by telling them that they need to away their personal copy of the Bible in a modern translation and instead adopt the King James Version of the Bible or you won’t be able to see what I have to share with you. What does this communicate to non-Adventists? It says that we can’t defend our doctrines unless we use the KJV. I personally do not believe that our doctrines are that flimsy. Beyond this we need to be familiar with other Bible versions (which would require us to use them) if we want to effectively reach people where they are. Our specific KJV canon-within-a-canon of proof texts may not read the way we would like in a non-KJV of the Bible, and we need to possess the flexibility to reach people regardless of the Bible they are using. (This may get tricky when a person is using a paraphrase but I think most people can understand why a paraphrase may not be the best for Bible study.) Just a personal example, my parents used to welcome Jehovah’s Witnesses into our home and they kept a copy of the New World Translation of the Bible in order to show our visitors from their very own “Scriptures” that their beliefs about the Godhead were inaccurate. We also have the example of the New Testament itself. The LXX (Septuagint) the Greek translation of the Old Testament diverges several times from the Masoretic text (and Dead Sea Scrolls) which was preserved in Hebrew. And yet the apostles seem to favor the Septuagint over the Hebrew reading of the Old Testament. If absolute accuracy and precision in regards to translation is required to understand the Bible then the apostles didn’t get the message. They almost always quote the LXX over Hebrew. Perhaps they did this because their audiences would have been more familiar with the LXX over the Hebrew. I’m not sure. But it still tells us that absolute precision in manuscripts and translations is not really necessarily to distill Biblical truth from the Scriptures. If an “inaccurate” translation was good enough for the apostles and their mission, why should we make a big deal of whether to go with the Received Text tradition over another? To me I think we have bigger issues to deal with in the church like Biblical literacy itself, hermeneutics and theological method, as opposed to what manuscripts or translations we should use. I hope this helps clarify my perspective on manuscripts. It was not something that I wanted to cover specifically in the article but thank you for the opportunity to add it here in the comments.

      • Ingram London

        Just a few more thoughts however on Ellen White that I would like to add …

        I’m assuming you agree that she was a prophet and messenger of the Lord sent for a special purpose, namely to help prepare a people for the 2nd Coming of Christ. If you take this as granted, don’t you think it would be odd of the Lord’s messenger to fail to warn the brethren in her day not to use new translations (even those “based” on Westcott-Hort) if indeed new translations are a threat to Adventism? And even beyond this, if there was actual danger in using new translations, why didn’t she herself refrain from using them? She apparently thought the new translations would be helpful and useful for Adventism if we are to believe her son’s testimony when he brought up the issue to her. (See below or the article I linked in the footnotes.) Furthermore there is this quote from Sister White that I think is interesting for what she says and for what she doesn’t say.

        “I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible, yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. But I saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another. True seekers for truth need not err; for not only is the Word of God plain and simple in declaring the way of life, but the Holy Spirit is given as a guide in understanding the way to life therein revealed.” EW 220, 221

        Let’s break this down. First of all Sister White declares that God has guarded the Bible. This means that whatever shape the Bible is in (at least in her day) one could still derive the truth needed from it in order to form correct doctrines and beliefs, including salvation. But notice she also says that in some instances the words of the Bible had been changed in order to make the sense of the Scriptures “more plain” in other words easier to understand. Now we know that most ancient manuscripts of the Bible (and the translations that weight them more heavily) have so called “missing words” and even “missing verses” that are present in the Received Text. Now I have a question for you? If you were writing a paraphrase or creating a version of the Bible that was easier for people to understand (i.e. “more plain”) would you be more likely to remove words or add words? My point, is that the Received Text seems to try to smooth out statements in the Bible (i.e. make them “more plain”). Thus I agree with most scholars that the older manuscripts (even when the language is a bit more rough or more difficult to understand) is probably closer to the original. (I say probably because again, no one has the originals so we can’t actually verify them.) But there is another wrinkle to this statement that she is making. Notice what she doesn’t say. She does not identify the KJV/AV as the only accurate version of the Bible, granted there may not have been other versions readily available at the time ( I would have to check on that, but regardless she never made a statement to that effect even after new versions became widely available.). Lastly, I want to highlight again what she affirms about the Bible. She still affirms that the Bible as a whole is still a perfect chain of truth. Thus, why I believe that if we study systematically, it doesn’t matter what version of the Bible you pick up, you can find and support Adventist doctrine, because Adventist theology is not based on isolated texts or proof-texting, it is a systematic reflection of what is present in the whole of Scripture.

        Now you did raise some pertinent points/questions in regards to Ellen White. You said, “So, whether Mrs White quote[d] from other versions is moot. Did she ever quote a passage from another version which reads contrary to what the same passage reads in the KJV?”

        My answer to this is, possibly. I’ll give a couple of examples that might be of interest to you…

        This first example is interesting because she quotes both the Received Text (KJV) in one place and she quotes a newer translation in a different place. When she is using the text John 5:39 homiletically she quotes the KJV just to make a point. But when she wants to use the text exegetically she uses the R.V. I’m sure you’re aware that the text in question is a command in the KJV but is simply a declarative/descriptive in modern translations changing the whole sense of the statement. She states:

        ‘No man, woman, or youth can attain to Christian perfection and neglect the study of the word of God. By carefully and closely searching His word we shall obey the injunction of Christ, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.”’ – Counsels on Sabbath School Work, 17.1 (see also pg 29)

        Here she quotes the KJV which reads as a command. But now look at Desire of Ages in which Ellen White is making a more exegetical interpretation of John 5:39.

        Instead of apologizing for the act of which they complained, or explaining His purpose in doing it, Jesus turned upon the rulers, and the accused became the accuser. He rebuked them for the hardness of their hearts, and their ignorance of the Scriptures. He declared that they had rejected the word of God, inasmuch as they had rejected Him whom God had sent. “Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of Me.” John 5:39, R. V. DA 211.4 (See Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach, p. 317 for more on this)

        Unfortunately, I don’t have my Greek Text with me as a I’m writing this reply to your comment, so I can’t show you if there is a difference in the underlying manuscripts or not. But clearly, Ellen White validated the R.V. translation as legitimate and when the verse is read in context in the Bible (even in the KJV) the flow of the text seems to lend itself towards a declarative accusation instead of an imperative command (as it is rendered in the KJV).

        But to me the most interesting case again comes from John 5 and the story of the man that was healed at the pool of Bethesda. But before looking at that please see this statement from Willie White (Ellen White’s son) about newer translations.

        “Before the revised version was published, there leaked out from the committee, statements regarding changes which they intended to make. Some of these I brought to Mother’s [Ellen White’s] attention, and she gave me very surprising information regarding these Scriptures. This led me to believe that the revision, when it came to hand, would be a matter of great service to us.” W. C. White, DF 579 (1931); Ministry, April, 1947, p. 17. [This was in regards to the 1880 R.V.]

        So the question is, how would newer versions be of “great service to us.” I think the story in John 5 of the pool of Bethesda may be one case. I’m sure you’re familiar with John 5:4 (KJV) in which the text explains the troubling of the waters.

        Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. (John 5:2-4)

        Now I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up this story never sounded quite right to me especially as a kid in Sabbath School. The KJV (Received Text) states verse 4 as a matter of fact and not as a possibility or just a commonly held tradition/belief. But this just doesn’t sound like something God would do. In fact it sounds, almost pagan. It’s sounds more like the lottery then God’s manner of bestowing grace and benevolence. But it interesting to note that modern translations leave out the portion about the angel coming to trouble the waters because it is not well support in the earliest manuscripts (though it is present in the Received Text and KJV). Now look at what Ellen White says in her chapter in Desire of Ages on this issue.

        “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.”

        At certain seasons the waters of this pool were agitated, and it was commonly believed that this was the result of supernatural power, and that whoever first after the troubling of the pool stepped into the waters, would be healed of whatever disease he had. DA 201.1-2

        Notice that she begins the chapter by quoting only John 5:2-3. She doesn’t quote verse 4. Instead she explains the situation as to why people were gathered around the pool. She says “it was commonly believed that this was the result of supernatural power.” Now you’ll notice that modern translations leave the whole verse 4 out because it is not present in the oldest manuscripts. This I believe is an example of what Ellen White was talking about when she said “yet when copies of it [the Bible] were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain…” I can definitely imagine some scribe somewhere adding verse 4 in an attempt to make the text more understandable by giving a clear reason as to why people were gathered around the pool. But by adding verse 4 it actually creates a theological problem because it makes God look like he runs a lottery system or casino for healing people!

        Now please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think that the KJV is defective so that it is impossible to understand the character of God or salvation, just because of that one verse or any other possible aberration in the received text. Again, a systematic study of Scripture will tell you what is the more likely and plausible situation in a passage. But what this does show is that modern translations can be helpful because they provide other options for readings that harmonize better with the rest of Scripture. On a side note, the great thing about modern translations is that they often include a translation of the Received Text in the margin so you’re not really missing out on anything by using a new translation if you pay attention to the notation indicators pointing to the reader to the margins.

        At the end of the day though, I don’t really like getting into these topics about manuscripts because I don’t see it as edifying. See the following quotation from Sister White…

        Some look to us gravely and say, “Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?” This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. Yes, they would just as easily stumble over plain facts that the common mind will accept, and discern the Divine, and to which God’s utterance is plain and beautiful, full of marrow and fatness. All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth. 1SM 16.2

        Though she is referring to errors in copying (which I believe accounts for the vast majority of variances in manuscripts), I believe this counsel is still applicable to our current discussion. We should not stumble over these issues. The bottom line for me is that people should read the Bible, regardless of the translation they pick up. If the Spirit is invited to be present, I do not believe any Bible can truly lead someone astray. That being said I understand that this topic has been a stumbling block for many especially over the past decade. (I think much of the contention over translations is due to Walter Veith and his Total Onslaught series. Though I respect the man and his passion for ministry, I think he made a serious mistake with his “Battle of the Bibles” lectures and should publicly come out and admit that he was in error on this topic in regards to the issue of translations.) Anyways, hopefully this is has been helpful. It has definitely made me think that perhaps it would have been good to include some of this information in the article. My desire to keep things simple may have gotten the better of me. In any case, I welcome any rebuttal or further commentary if you see some major flaws in my argumentation. I will try to respond as much as possible. I may even delay my next article on Ellen White and address this issue instead as the next installment. Thank you for raising this issue. At the end of the day, my desire is for our people to get back to the Bible and know Jesus better whether they choose to experience Him through the KJV or the NIV, I think either is a step in the right direction.

        Blessings. (Apologies for any formatting issues in my comment post. Disqus was being difficult for me.)