Will the Real Bible Please Stand Up: A Discussion of the King James Only Debate

INTRODUCTION

The fire of controversy has been raging in conservative churches for the last several decades. It is a fire that has consumed churches, scarred relationships beyond repair and caused the name of Christ to be soiled by the unchristlike behavior of those who take His name. It is a controversy concerning the most important issue that thinking men and women have had to deal with since the beginning of time. That is, what constitutes the revelation of God?

Those who have not denied the truth that is within them (Rom. 1:18-23), realize that a Being exists who is so far beyond them and so qualitatively different from them that they cannot comprehend anything about Him. They realize that the only way they can know anything about Him is if He takes the initiative in revealing Himself to them. Christians believe that He has indeed done this in two ways. First, God has made Himself known through His creation itself.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Psalm 19:1

“…that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Romans. 1:19

Second, He has made Himself known through His oral and written word.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy. 3:16

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of the human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter. 1:20-21

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. “Hebrews. 4:12

But what constitutes the Word of God? Most evangelicals would respond, “Why, the Bible of course!” Some, however, would ask a second question. “But which Bible? Is the New International Version the Word of God? Is it the New American Standard? Is it the King James or the New King James? Don’t you know that they each disagree in various places? How can they all be the Word of God?”

It is this question, and the underlying assumption of the questioner that there can be only one version of the Word of God (the 1611 King James) that is at the root of this controversy.

This booklet is intended to address the issues that have been raised and to answer some of the questions that may be causing confusion in the minds of believers. It is not intended to argue specifically for the superiority of one version over another and certainly not intended to dissuade anyone from reading and studying the King James Bible. Instead, the purpose of this booklet is to refute the claim that ONLY the KJV is the real Bible and that all other translations are faulty at best, and part of a New Age conspiracy at worst. If you are presently using the KJV, God bless you as you read His Word. The beauty of the language, the familiarities of the cadence, and years of memorizing Scripture in the KJV are all legitimate reasons for staying with it. But there are no legitimate reasons for allowing the issue of Bible versions to divide churches and separate brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us all “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

CHAPTER 1: I READ THE KING JAMES BECAUSE…

Christians express a number of reasons for preferring the KJV to the more modern translations of Scripture. If one were to systematize these arguments, they would fall into three categories. The first group is made up of those who prefer the KJV because of its literary style and familiarity. Many, having grown up with the KJV, find it comfortable to use and easy to memorize. The beauty of the language, with its Shakespearean rhythms and cadences cannot be denied. It should also be emphasized before proceeding further, that the KJV remains a fine translation. One will find nothing in the KJV, or any other of the primary modern translations, which deny or undermine any of the basic points of Christian doctrine. However, there are problems that should be recognized by those choosing to use the KJV. Although the KJV is a fine translation, and a remarkable work of scholarship for its time, we now have the advantage of 400 years of archaeological evidence and scholarly methodology that were unavailable to the translators of the KJV. As a result, while acknowledging the quality of the KJV, we must likewise acknowledge its shortcomings, as we must with any translation, including the New International Version and the New American Standard Version. These issues will be dealt with in more detail later in this booklet.

The second group is composed of advocates who proclaim the superiority of the KJV based on the belief that it is founded on a superior Greek text base. That is, the Greek manuscripts used to translate the KJV New Testament (NT) reflect the original manuscripts more accurately than those manuscripts used in the translation of the modern versions. Since the same Hebrew manuscripts are used to translate both the KJV Old Testament (OT) and the modern versions of the OT, the textual debate revolves only around the NT. The arguments for and against the various manuscript families will follow.

The third group comprises those who make the claims that not only are the manuscripts behind the KJV translation more faithful to the original writings of the biblical authors, but furthermore, that God superintended the translation of the KJV, thereby making the KJV divinely inspired. This group rejects all other English translations of the Bible and believes that the KJV of 1611 is perfect in all respects. Furthermore, there is usually an implicit or explicit conspiratorial tone underlying these arguments. Generally, the conspiracy theory is something to this effect: all translations written after 1611 have been a part of Satan’s plan to pave the way for the anti-Christ and his one world religion.

For this group, the translation is the standard. Peter S. Ruckman, one of the leading defenders of this contingent, has gone so far as to make the claim that it is the English translation that should be used to correct the Greek manuscripts. That is, when there is a discrepancy between the KJV and the Greek, we are to throw out the Greek! Listen to a quote from his book, A Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence:

“Where the majority of Greek manuscripts stand against the A.V. 1611, put them in file 13″ (meaning the trash) (p. 130).

“When the Greek says one thing and the A.V. says another, throw out the Greek” (p. 137).

Those who would place themselves in the first group described above should remain with the KJV if they choose. There is no reason to change Bibles if one’s preference is for this fine version. Those in the second group are involved in a scholarly discussion concerning the primacy of Greek manuscripts. By and large, these issues do not impact the man and woman in the pew. The scholars involved in these discussions recognize the various arguments on both sides and respect opposing viewpoints. It is the theories and claims of this last group that will be addressed in this booklet. They are divisive in nature and it is a divisiveness based on irrationality and a lack of logical or scholarly argument.

This booklet will endeavor to set forth some of the primary arguments of this school of thought and demonstrate the faulty reasoning upon which they are built. This effort is made not with the intent to dissuade anyone from using the KJV, but in order to foster a spirit of charity rather than judgement.

CHAPTER TWO: THE TEXTUAL ISSUES

A great deal of the controversy surrounding the question of Bible versions begins with the text base that the translators employ in their work of translation. There exists at this time well over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of all or part of the NT, over 2,200 lectionaries which consist of passages from the NT, and over 36,000 citations of the NT in the writings of the church fathers. No one can deny the fact that more textual evidence exists on which to test the accuracy of the NT than exists for any other ancient work of literature.

As the original texts of Scripture were copied and then those copies were copied, and then copies of those copies were copied, it is understandable that changes would take place to some degree in the manuscripts. Quite often, a scribe would make notes in the margin of his manuscript. If this manuscript were then to be copied by another, the second scribe might well include some of the notes of the first scribe in the actual text. Or, the copyist may copy the same line twice, or skip a line. Or the copyist may invert the word order or skip over a word all together. To see how easy this would be to do, simply copy the first few chapters of any book you wish and then have someone compare it to the original. Add to this the fact that you are copying from a modern printed page while the early church was copying handwritten manuscripts and you will soon see and understand how easy it was for a copyist to make mistakes that would be incorporated into the text. Because these kinds of changes have taken place, scholars have recognized that groups of manuscripts originating in the same geographic location and chronological era reflect the same textual variants. As a result, they have adopted a means of categorizing the manuscripts. This provides assistance in determining which wording and spelling should be preferred in cases of disagreement. These categories have been labeled the Byzantine, the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Caesarean families of manuscripts. The texts have been grouped into these families based on similar phraseology, spelling, grammatical peculiarities and other common features.

IT MUST BE NOTED that these four text-types are not in great opposition to one another. In over 90 percent of the NT, readings are identical, word-for-word, regardless of the family. Of the remaining 10 percent, most of the differences are fairly irrelevant, such as the insertion of the definite article “the” before a noun. Less than 2 percent of these differences would significantly alter the meaning of a passage, and NOT ONE of them would contradict or alter any of the basic points of Christian doctrine. So then, when all is said and done, this controversy concerns LESS THAN ONE-HALF OF ONE PERCENT OF THE BIBLE. The other 99.5 percent everyone agrees on.

The question, then, is how do we determine which manuscripts most accurately reflect the original autographs? There are a number of criteria used to determine this. Perhaps the most important is the date of the manuscript. If a manuscript from the 2nd century differs with a manuscript from the 10th century, the earlier manuscript would be given more credence. This is so because the earlier manuscript is chronologically closer to the original and therefore has had less of a chance of becoming corrupted. Other criteria have to do with geographical orientation. If a particular reading is found in several widely separated areas, the agreement of the text is evidence of its accuracy. There are many additional criteria used to determine the accuracy of a particular textual reading that I cannot go into in this short booklet. Suffice it to say that the determination of which text to use is not a matter of whim but of scholarly investigation.

The crux of the textual issue lies with the fact that the translators of the KJV had access to very few and very late manuscripts all of which were from only one textual tradition, the Byzantine. They relied primarily on an edition of the Greek NT published by Stephanus which was itself only a slight revision of the Greek NT published by the Roman Catholic humanist scholar Erasmus. None of the manuscripts Erasmus used for his Greek NT contained the entire NT and none of them were dated prior to the 12th century. As a matter of fact, he did not possess any manuscripts that included the last six verses of Revelation. So in order to complete his Greek NT, Erasmus took the Latin Vulgate, the official Roman Catholic translation, translated that Latin into what he thought would have been the Greek, and used that in his Greek NT. As a result, although he did well with what he had, several words and phrases are found in his Greek NT that are found in no Greek manuscript whatsoever. This problem also appears elsewhere in Erasmus’ work. It was this Greek NT from which the KJV was originally translated. The “Textus Receptus”, which is commonly thought to be the Greek text on which the KJV was based, was not even published until 13 years after the 1611 KJV, although later editions of the KJV were corrected by the TR.

In saying all this, it is important to note that the Greek texts behind the KJV are all from one family of texts, and those of a very late date. The TR itself is not even an accurate reflection of the Byzantine tradition. The Byzantine text-type is found in several thousand witnesses, while the TR did not refer to one one-hundredth of that evidence.

All this was said in order to say this. Those who would argue that the KJV is based on superior textual evidence are simply wrong. The earliest manuscripts we possess are from the Alexandrian tradition while the Byzantine reflects the latest manuscripts. Throughout all of the writings of the church fathers prior to the middle of the fourth century, not one of them reflects the Byzantine textual tradition.

Some, who stand behind the KJV as the “only” real bible, use arguments for the defense of the Byzantine tradition that fail the test of logic. Some have said that since the majority of believers in the history of the church have used the KJV, then it must be the “right” bible. In response to this, we must ask a number of questions of our own. Who are “believers” and “the church” in this context? Are they evangelicals, meaning regenerate believers and the church made up of believers? If this is the case, Erasmus himself, the man behind the KJV’s Greek text, might very well be excluded. Or do we mean “Christendom” in general, covering everyone from the Plymouth Brethren to the Eastern Orthodox? If this were the case, infant baptism and hierarchical church government would be incumbent upon us. The majority of Christendom holds to these beliefs. The truth can never be determined by majority vote. In either case, how many people have ever thought through these issues and “believed” anything about the Greek texts underlying their Bible. Another argument used by some is that God providentially preserved the Byzantine tradition. This is undoubtedly true. It is also true that He has providentially preserved the Western, Caesarean, and the Alexandrian traditions. As a matter of fact, before too long, most of the people of the world will be reading translations of the Bible based on non-Byzantine texts. Surely this is just as much in the providence of God as was the dissemination of the KJV.

To sum up, we must recognize the fact that the good English translations, whether from the Byzantine or the Alexandrian families of texts, are more than 99% accurate to the original autographs and the differences that do exist do not in any way affect the core doctrines of Christianity. However, since we do not possess the original writings, as long as there is less than 100% certainty on all points, Christian scholars have a responsibility to continue their textual work.

As a result of the last 400 years of archaeology and scholarship, we now know that the earliest and most accurate Greek manuscripts are those of the Alexandrian family of texts. It is these texts that are the primary base of the modern translations. The translators of the KJV did not disagree with this analysis, they simply did not possess, and did not have available to them, any but a very few texts of the Byzantine tradition. The manuscript evidence available today is far superior to that which was available to the KJV translator’s in 1611. It is important to remember that while it is true that God only wrote one Bible, it was not the KJV; it was the original autographs coming from the pen of God’s apostles and prophets.

CHAPTER THREE: THE FAULTY REASONING OF THE KING JAMES ONLY ADVOCATES

The teachings of the “KJV Only” group are chock full of irrational and illogical arguments. In this chapter I will quote some of their arguments and attempt to demonstrate the lack of cohesive thought that lies behind them. I take the following from a taped interview with G.A. Riplinger, the author of a book entitled New Age Bible Versions, during her appearance on the Southwest Radio Church. Although there may be specific points at which individual proponents will differ, Riplinger is a good representative of this view. The following are either word for word quotes or accurate paraphrases of Riplinger’s statements.

Speaking of some of her students at Kent State University, Riplinger states,

“Those who used the New International Version or New American Standard Bible were beset by emotional problems or difficulties in their walk with the Lord. This changed when they switched to the KJV.”

This is really not an argument at all. One cannot prove an assertion by resorting to personal case histories of individual experience. If this were to be a valid argument, she would have to go on to demonstrate not only that some who read the NASB or NIV have emotional problems but she would also need to prove that those who read the KJV are not beset by those same difficulties. Surely she would not wish to make such an absurd claim. In addition, she would also need to provide concrete evidence linking emotional difficulty or emotional stability with the Bible version one happens to read. This, of course, would be impossible on its face. There are as many emotionally distraught people who read the KJV as there are reading any other version of the Bible.

She goes on to say,

“In the NIV 64,000 words are missing.”

First of all, 64,000 words seem to be a great exaggeration. If she actually counted, it would be quite an impressive feat. But let’s take the statement on its face. The issue is not that the NIV differs in places from the KJV. Riplinger is assuming that the KJV is the more accurate translation. In the arena of logic this is called “begging the question.” Riplinger is assuming that which she is supposedly attempting to prove. The issue is not whether or not the NIV agrees with the KJV, but whether or not the NIV or the KJV accurately reflects the Greek text. Someone can just as easily say, “The KJV is adding to the word of God because it has 64,000 more words that the NIV.” This, however, would be equally fallacious.

“The NIV was own by Zondervan (a Christian book publisher) and then sold to a secular company, Harper-Collins, and then sold to Rupert Murdoch who owns media outlets that print and broadcast material which would be unacceptable to Christians.”

This is a classic case of guilt by association. The quality or lack of quality of a translation is not impacted by which corporation happens to own it at any given time. In fact, I would greatly doubt that Rupert Murdoch even knows what an NIV is. If Riplinger thinks these companies are interested in anything other than making money she is greatly mistaken. If the NIV suddenly stopped selling they would stop publishing it immediately. Would that then make it a good translation in her eyes? This is really no argument at all.

“Edwin Palmer, the chief architect of the NIV committee says, ‘The Holy Sprit did not beget the Son.’ This is contrary to historic Christian teaching. The new translations do not translate ‘monogenes’ as ‘only begotten’ because they don’t believe that the Holy Spirit begat the Son.”

The Church has never held the view that the Son was begotten of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Scripture states quite clearly that the Son was begotten of the Father (John 1:14). Luke says that the Holy Spirit conceived the Son, but conceived and begotten are two different terms that Scripture never correlates. Once again we see Riplinger’s lack of ability in the area in which she is attempting to pass herself off as an expert and scholar.

“The new versions have omitted the Holy Spirit. They have changed the readings to only “spirit”.

Again, the Bible from which she is reading is not apparent, but the small concordance in the back of one NASB that this author has examined contains an entire section devoted to verses that mention the “Holy Spirit”, all of which also occur in the NIV. Additionally, there are many verses in the KJV that refer to the Holy Spirit only as the “Spirit” in virtually every book of the NT: (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:10, 12; Lk. 2:27; John 1:32; Acts 2:4; Rom. 8:16; etc.).

This demonstrates another problem that frequently comes up in Riplinger’s interviews and writings. Riplinger continually imputes sinister motives to the new versions when the arguments she uses are equally true of the KJV. The following quote is another example of this.

“New versions consistently deny the deity of Christ. They consistently omit the title ‘Christ’. They are denying that Jesus is the Christ.”

Once again, if this is true, the translators of the new versions have done a horrible job. The deity of Jesus and the title “Christ” are everywhere in the new translations. And, once again, the charge made against the new translations is equally true of the KJV. I began to search my KJV concordance for instances in which Jesus is addressed simply as Jesus or addressed as Jesus Christ. I started with the book of Acts and stopped after just 5 chapters because there was no need to continue. In only the first five chapters of Acts in the KJV the name “Jesus Christ” is used 5 times while the name “Jesus”, without any title attached, is used 17 times. If we were to see what Riplinger sees it would be obvious that the translators of the KJV were denying that Jesus is the Christ. Of course, counting words is a very poor way of determining theology.

I might add that she also has a tremendous problem with Jude 25. The NIV says,

“To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”

The KJV however, according to Riplinger’s logic, apparently denies the deity of Christ because in the KJV, the name “Jesus Christ” is nowhere to be found! This is how the KJV translates this same verse:

“To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.

Riplinger also makes the absurd connection that since some occult channellers have called themselves “Jesus”, the new versions must be in alliance with them because the name “Jesus” is used in the new versions. Well, it was our Lord’s name, after all! If Ms. Riplinger would simply look at a concordance, or better yet, actually read her KJV, she would see the Lord referred to as only “Jesus” more times than she could count. Does this mean the translators of the KJV were also conspiring with occultists? Of course not!

“The NIV and NASB consistently remove the means of salvation. They omit the phrase ‘in Him’ when it talks of belief. See 2 Cor. 5:21.”

Let’s examine this. When we read the KJV we see this:

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Now let’s read the NASB:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

As far as I can see, the NASB says the same thing and does include “in Him”. If I wanted to be picky I could even point out that the NASB, unlike the KJV, capitalizes all references to Christ, thereby emphasizing His deity. The KJV does not. If one were to think like Ms. Riplinger one might smell a conspiracy here! But let’s take a look at the NIV. Maybe it omits “in Him”:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“…that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, as opposed to “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” There it is, folks! The word order was changed! True, it means the same thing. True, one could argue that it could even be more understandable. But the word order was changed! Obviously there’s something sinister going on here! How utterly ridiculous. She also has the same problem here that we have previously encountered. That of which she accuses the NASB and NIV can equally be said of the KJV. Just look up these verses in the KJV, all of which say to believe, but none of which say “in him”, simply because in the context, the “in him” is clearly understood to be Jesus.

Acts 13:39; Acts 15:7; Rom. 4:11; Rom. 6:8; 2 Cor. 4:13.

But Ms. Riplinger doesn’t stop there.

“In Luke 23:42 the thief on the cross addresses Christ as Lord. In the new versions, its just “Jesus”. Calling Him Jesus would not get you into heaven, but calling Him Lord would.”

So now Riplinger is saying that salvation is not a matter of God drawing people to place their trust in Christ and His atoning work for the forgiveness of their sin and for eternal life, but rather, salvation depends upon whether or not one speaks the correct words. If, as one prays to trust Christ as their Savior, one neglects to address Him as Lord, according to Riplinger, one is not really saved. She would probably deny this if pressed on it, but it is exactly what she is saying. This kind of thinking is dangerously similar to the theology of the prosperity teachers. If you say the right words, you’ll get what you want. It is not, however, biblical theology.

I need to point out once more that she neglects to explain all of the hundreds of places in the KJV where He is not referred to as Lord. When Paul speaks of him as “Jesus” only, has Paul stopped believing that He was also Lord? Not only does Riplinger demonstrate her incompetence in handling the Word of God, but also a complete lack of knowledge concerning the basic rules of logic.

Elsewhere she says,

“The new versions omit the word ‘fornication’ and substitute ‘immorality’. I asked my students at Kent State University to define immorality. They gave responses ranging from air pollution to not adopting pets from the animal shelter. They never said, ‘sex before marriage is wrong.’”

Do we now go to young, unsaved, college students for an interpretation of Scripture? Whether or not one prefers the word fornication to immorality is beside the point. Immorality is a legitimate translation of the Greek word pornea, which means more than simply sex before marriage, but a whole range of sexual impurity. For Ms. Riplinger to take a poll of unbelieving college students concerning what amounts to the interpretation of a biblical term, without giving any kind of context, and then to attempt to use the results to bolster her argument for the KJV is another example of the total absence of objective evidence to support her case, as well as additional proof of her lack of scholarly ability.

This lack of a scholarly mindset is demonstrated in the following quotation as well.

“The new versions omit Hell and substitute Hades. The Editors of the NIV said, ‘This was done because there is a discussion as to what “Hell” means. In the face of these theological discussions the translators simply do not translate the word. They leave each reader to decide for himself.’ Well, didn’t God say that every man did that which was right in his own eyes, and that that was a sin for him to do? So the translators didn’t translate, the transliterated Hades. If they were going to do that why didn’t they also transliterate the word for heaven? So there’s something very purposeful going on here.”

Ms. Riplinger seems to forget that one of the primary reasons for the Reformation was the desire to allow each believer the right to interpret the Bible for himself. Didn’t Paul commend the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see whether what Paul said was true? Now, according to Riplinger, allowing people to discern the Scriptures for themselves is “doing what is right in their own eyes”! The fact of the matter is that the KJV has caused a great deal of confusion by translating Hades as Hell. It also translates Sheol and Gehenna as “Hell.” If all of these different words are referring to the same place, why didn’t the authors of Scripture simply choose to use one of them and thus avoid confusion? Furthermore, if Hades is Hell, then in Rev. 20:14 it is Hell that is thrown into the lake of fire. Most people are under the impression that Hell is eternal. If that were so, it would be the lake of fire that is Hell. So Hell is being thrown into Hell. If Hades is Hell, then it is not eternal for it is thrown into the lake of fire. Confused yet? How much easier to stick with Hades and the lake of fire. Transliterating the word so that people can see the differences which are explicit in the text is not some kind of sinister plot. As for not transliterating the word for heaven (uranos), the simple answer is that there is no reason to do so. There is only one Greek term for heaven and I am unaware of any confusion or debate concerning the eternal destination of believers. As you can see, the arguments of the “KJV Only” proponents are really no arguments at all. They employ guilt by association, faulty reasoning, fallacious logic and outright misrepresentation in order to attempt to prove their point. The next chapter will demonstrate that not only do they derive their opinions from poor scholarship but also from a conspiratorial mindset.

CHAPTER FOUR: THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Another characteristic of those who claim that the KJV is the “only” true Bible is that they tend to have a very conspiratorial view of things. The new versions, they claim, are a part of Satan’s plan to pave the way for the Antichrist and the coming one world religion. Following are some additional quotes from G.A. Riplinger.

“The Vaticanus manuscripts leave out Revelation and add Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. If Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are best, as the new Bible translators say they are, I recommend they be followed in toto…This would leave out Revelation and add Shepherd of Hermas.”

These statements clearly demonstrate the fact that Riplinger lacks any knowledge whatsoever concerning textual criticism, translation, or canonicity. A given writing is not recognized as Scripture because it is found in any particular manuscript. We recognize the 66 books of the Bible as Scripture because the church, led by the Holy Spirit, recognized their inspiration. There are some 5,000 manuscripts of the NT in existence. Of those 5,000 the vast majority are fragmentary, preserving a few verses or a few books. Only about 50 of these 5,000 contain the entire NT. One of these 50, by the way, is Sinaiticus, which does include Revelation. So she is being a bit disingenuous when she mentions that manuscript in the above statement. What we are speaking of are manuscripts that date back 1500 years or more. Very few of these will be complete. It should also be noted that the manuscripts used by Erasmus to produce the Greek text which stands behind the KJV, were missing much more than just the passage of Revelation that was referred to previously. But if you take all the manuscripts together, they each fill in the gaps found in others. That should be common knowledge to anyone writing on this subject.

She also finds something conspiratorial in the fact that extra-biblical material is found along with the Scriptures in the Vaticanus manuscripts. It must be understood that the process of canonicity took place over the first 350 years of the church. There were many Christian documents circulating among the churches. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas were simply two of these. Neither was ever recognized as Scripture, but neither does either one contain the kind of statements which Riplinger attributes to them. For instance, she claims that the Epistle of Barnabas says, “Satan is Lord”. If one were to read this document one would search in vain for such a statement. One would, however, find very orthodox statements concerning Satan:

“For these are evil days, with the worker of evil himself in the ascendant.”

“It behooves us, my brothers, to inquire very closely into this matter of our salvation; for fear the evil one should insinuate his wicked wiles into our hearts, and manage to cast us out from the life that lies before us.”

“Accordingly, let us be specially wary in these final days, for all our past years of faith will be no good to us if now, in these lawless times and in face of the many trials that lie ahead of us, we fail to offer such resistance as becomes God’s children to the insidious infiltration of the dark one.”

“So no assumption that we are among the called must ever tempt us to relax our efforts, or fall asleep in our sins; otherwise the prince of evil will obtain control over us.”

“The way of the dark lord is devious and fraught with damnation.”

Riplinger also makes erroneous statements concerning the writing called the Shepherd of Hermas. She says that this letter makes statements such as:

“Take the name of the Beast.” “Give up to the Beast.” “Form a one world government.” “Kill those not receiving the name of the Beast.”

When the church finally arrived at a consensus concerning what should be included in the NT canon in A.D. 367, they listed as Scripture only our current 27 books. However, they also allowed new converts to read two additional books which, though not regarded as Scripture, were seen as being extremely helpful in a new believer’s process of discipleship. One of these was the Shepherd of Hermas. It makes no statement that can remotely be twisted to say what she claims.

There are only two possibilities for the absurdities that Riplinger here puts forth. Either she has read this somewhere else and repeated it without investigating the original sources, which would simply support my suspicions concerning her lack of scholarship in this area, or, she is being purposely dishonest. I prefer to believe she is simply a poor scholar, but the more one reads, the more one must doubt.

“The new versions omit “Jesus”, “God”, “Holy One of Israel” & “only begotten”. These are omitted because they are too specific. The translators of the new versions want to generalize everything so that they can usher in the one world church.”

This is so ludicrous as to be laughable. If the translators are involved in some kind of conspiracy to “generalize” the person of God as Riplinger claims, they did one horrendous job of it. All one need do to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the claim that the new versions omit “Jesus” and “God” is to open an NASB or NIV to any page in the NT. There you will find innumerable mentions of Jesus and God. If they were trying to condition people to think of God in more general terms they sure overlooked a lot of very specific terminology. As for “Holy One of Israel”, if one were to make a comparison of only the Book of Isaiah using a KJV concordance and a parallel Bible containing the KJV, NASB, and NIV, one would find at least 25 occurrences of “Holy One of Israel”. These occurrences appeared in all three versions. I found no instance of this term appearing in the KJV where it did not occur in the other versions. I ask again, if the translators did leave out this term in one or two or several other places, did they do it for the reason Riplinger gives? Obviously not. The number of occurrences of specific names for God used in the new versions makes her argument completely specious.

What about her argument concerning the use of the term “only begotten”? We must first understand that the words of Scripture that were inspired by God were, in this case, Greek. One cannot lay claim to inspiration on behalf of the words of another language that are chosen for translation. No language can be translated exactly. There are always shades of meaning contained in one language for which there is no exact word in another language. Often there are several words with similar meanings that can translate a given word from one language to another. With that in mind we must ask Riplinger, “What’s your point?” The NIV, instead of using the words “only begotten”, uses the words “one and only”. That is exactly the meaning behind the Greek word being translated. Elsewhere, the word “begotten” is used in the KJV as a verb, such as in Acts 13:33, “Thou art My Son, this day I have begotten thee.” The NIV says, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Yes, the words are different. Is the meaning different? Not in the least. If one desires some internal evidence for this correlation one need only look at the book of 1 John in the KJV.

1 John 5:1 says

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.”

Can you see the parallel being made between “born” and “begotten”? As a matter of fact, the terms “born”, “begat”, and “begotten” in this verse are all translations of the same Greek word. So we see even the King James translators using different words to translate the same original word. We see the same thing in 1 John 5:18:

“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”

Here again we see the same parallelism. “Born” is simply another word for “begotten”. The Greek word behind each is the same.

One other problem must be pointed out before we move on. Riplinger continually lumps together all translations produced after the KJV as “the modern translations” or “the New Age Translations”. I would like to point out that although she does the same thing here, her argument concerning the term “begotten” does not apply to the NASB that retains the term “begotten” throughout. Another case of shoddy scholarship.

Acts 22:16 in the KJV says, ‘And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ The new versions only say “calling on His name.” Whoever receives the mark of the beast will receive it “in his name” (the name of the Anti-Christ), so we don’t want to receive “his name”, we want to call upon the “name of the Lord.”

First of all, the Scripture never says that the mark of the beast is received “in his name”. It is referred to as “his mark”, but never spoken of as received “in his name”. So her premise is false to begin with.

In addition, she once again assumes what she is trying to prove. Because the new versions differ on a point from the KJV does not mean that the KJV is correct and the new versions wrong. She begins with the premise that the KJV is always correct which leads her into circular reasoning.

Also, we again see Riplinger’s habit of imbuing words with some kind of mystical, magical power. If she would simply read the Bible as it is written instead of looking for conspiracy she would have no problem understanding that the phrase “in His name” in Acts 22:16 is speaking of Christ. It is extremely clear. After all, this is an account of Saul’s conversion. Who did Paul call on, the Antichrist or Jesus? If you believe Riplinger, there is some doubt about that.

She also is once more accusing the new versions of something that is also true of the KJV. There are over a dozen uses of “in His name” in the Psalms alone and the phrase is used in a great number of NT books as well. As a matter of fact, Acts 3:16 in the KJV say only “in His name” while the same verse in the NIV and NASB do use the name of Jesus. If what she says is true of the new versions, it must, if she will be intellectually honest, be said of the KJV as well.

Rev. 14:1 (KJV) says that we will have the Father’s name written on our foreheads. The NASB and NIV say, ‘his name and his Father’s.’ ‘His name’ is the name of the beast.”

First of all, she misquotes Rev. 14:1. The Scripture doesn’t say that “we” will have the Father’s name written on our foreheads. It says that the 144,000 will have it written on their foreheads. Furthermore, she once again attaches significance to words without regard to their context. To say that the “his” in the NIV and NASB is the beast is absurd.

We see in the work of G.A. Riplinger a problem common to “KJV Only” proponents. They are so convinced that sinister motives lay behind the modern versions that they grasp at anything that seems to support their theories. Unfortunately for them, a little careful thought and study reveal that their theories fall of their own weight.

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The Homogeneous Church

I like people like me. Well, maybe “like” isn’t quite the right word. What I mean is, I’m comfortable with people like me. It’s understandable, I suppose. I have much in common with those who are like me. We have no problem finding things to talk about. We’ve had common experiences and share a common background. We may even share the same friends and acquaintances. We speak in the same way, and in many respects, we think in the same way. All of these commonalities work together to make me comfortable with people who are like me. There’s nothing right or wrong with that. It’s just the way I am. I think it’s the way we are.

Unfortunately, “the way we are” can sometimes cause us to act in ways which are, indeed, matters of right and wrong. When our natural sense of comfort with the familiar morphs into bigotry and hatred for those who are not like us, our comfort has become sin. When we allow our comfort to cage us in when we should be reaching out, we are stunted in our growth and unable to be and do that which Christ has commanded.

This is particularly pertinent in relation to the church. Much contemporary ministry philosophy is based upon this reality that people are more comfortable with those who are much like themselves.

This has resulted in at least two significant problems, both having to do with the gospel.

First, there’s the problem of proclamation. For the last thirty or forty years, the church has been chasing its own tail as it seeks to catch up to the culture and be “relevant”. The quote attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, “I must follow my people, for I am their leader”, is never more apt than when applied to the behavior of the church in its pursuit of the culture.

The idea seems to be that if we can be more like the culture, or like a specific subset of the culture, then they will be comfortable with us. If they are comfortable with us, then we’ll be able to convince them that not only are we just like them, but Jesus is just like them, too. And if they think Jesus is just like them, they might want to follow Him. Why they would want to follow someone who is just like them, however, remains a mystery.

As is usually the case, there is a kernel of truth in this. Jesus became like us in his incarnation, and that is a glorious and necessary truth, but what makes the gospel unique is the way in which He is not like us. I don’t need someone who is just like me. I’m sinful. I need someone holy. I’m human. I need someone divine. I cannot stand under the wrath of God. I need someone who has stood there in my place. I cannot raise myself from death to life. I need someone who can raise me up because He Himself has been raised.

The commonalities are important. But it is the differences that give us hope.

Another problem has to do with ecclesiology. From the very beginning, the guru’s of the Church Growth Movement have contended that to grow a church we need to focus upon a specific demographic, and seek to make our churches reflective of that particular group. The idea is that people will be more receptive to the gospel when it is presented to them in their own environment…within their own comfort zone. This has affected the way in which we “do church”. Church must be made to be a comfortable place and people are most comfortable around their own kind.

The result has been a church planting strategy which is focused upon specific groups…Baby-boomer churches, Baby-buster churches, Gen-X churches, and on and on and on. Depending upon your definition of church growth “success”, you will have little problem finding examples of it.

Some would ask, “Isn’t that a good thing?” And I would answer, “No. It is not.”

To ask the question, “Isn’t that a good thing?” is altogether different from asking, “Has God ever used these churches to draw people into His kingdom?” If one were to ask the latter, the answer would be an unequivocal, “Yes. I have no doubt that He has.” But that is not evidence of correct, and by “correct” I mean “biblical”, church planting or church growth strategy. It is evidence of the extreme graciousness of God in accomplishing His purposes even in the face of our foolishness. Moses was not only foolish, but positively disobedient, when he struck the rock. In spite of this, God graciously provided water for His people.

There is no doubt that individuals have come to know Christ through these ministries. Nonetheless, it must be said that this kind of ministry philosophy is not a good thing. More than that, it is a wrong thing in that it runs precisely counter to the biblical ideal of what the church is to be, and also counter to the biblical example of what the church is to accomplish before a watching world.

As one reads the New Testament, one is struck by the fact that whenever a problem of cultural or racial division arose within the church, the solution to the problem was not separation. The solution was to foster ever increasing union around the gospel and its implications.

The church of Christ is to be a witness to the power of the gospel to change lives and minds and hearts, as Peter’s was changed when he saw the sheet descend from heaven. The church is to be a witness to the power of the gospel to break down walls of division between races and ages and cultures. The church is to be an earthly representative, imperfect though it is, of the heavenly glory, in which men from every tongue and tribe and nation are gathered together, worshipping the One who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.

That is what the church is to be. But when we say that we are a church for this group or for that group, and that these group labels form the identity of our church, we are defeating one of the very purposes for which God has established His church.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. After all, if I’m honest about it, I know that the pragmatists among us are…well…my kind of people. The day will come, and quickly, I pray, when we will all be His kind of people.

The Recreational Church

(Published in Touchstone Magazine, May 2006)  

Though not an extreme environmentalist, I do sometimes find myself contemplating the number of trees that are destroyed in order to fill my mailbox with so much unsolicited paper. Every now and then, however, something is found in the pile of flyers, solicitations and credit card offers that causes me to take a second look.

Not long ago, I found another of those ministry magazines that every pastor periodically finds among his stacks of mail. It’s slick and it’s glossy and it’s received by (not “subscribed to by”) over 150,000 pastors and church leaders! I know this, because it says so on the cover, complete with exclamation point.

Pastor Biker
Like all the other magazines of this type I’ve received over the years, this one promises me the key that I need to turn my dull, traditional, irrelevant church into a dynamic, explosive, cutting edge community consisting of, as evidenced by the pictures, beautiful young people from Southern California. There’s nothing wrong with beautiful young people from Southern California . I’m sure that many of them are quite nice. There simply aren’t that many of them here in New York .

The magazine also holds out the promise that one day, I too might be able to ride a bright, shiny Harley Davidson, just like the pastor on the cover. I never knew that so many pastors rode motorcycles until I started getting these magazines. I had a motorcycle once, but it wasn’t a Harley. I crashed it. I’ll never be on a magazine cover now.

Granted, they don’t come out and say that my church is dull, traditional, and irrelevant. That seems to be the message, though. “I didn’t want to build a church building,” says the pastor/biker. “I knew that’s not the future. I believe that people’s lives are so hard nowadays that when they come to church, it should be recreational.”

“Recreational.” That’s a term that would never come to mind when describing my church. We don’t have X-Box’s in the foyer for the kids to play. Neither do we have a Krispy Kreme franchise in the courtyard or a theatre in the basement. “Recreational”? No. That wouldn’t describe us.

God’s Work
I get the impression that I should feel bad about that. But I don’t. Maybe I’ve missed something along the way, but when did providing people with recreation become the purpose of the church? When did Christ change His call from “Take up your cross and follow me” to “Come to this place that we don’t really want to call a church, and recreate”? When did the nature of the Lord’s Day change from being a time when the people of God gather together for God-centered worship and the preaching of His word to something that is, as this church’s worship leader describes it, “an event that even the most anti-religious person can come [to] and feel comfortable”?

“Feel comfortable”. How is an unbeliever to feel comfortable sitting there in the midst of a peculiar people who are offering worship to a holy God with whom, according to the Scripture, he is at enmity? How is an “anti-religious” person to feel comfortable in a place where the gospel being proclaimed is to him foolishness and a stumbling block?

Of course, as Paul writes these things in 1 Corinthians, he does put forth a third option. To the unbeliever, the gospel will be foolishness, or a stumbling block, or the power of God unto salvation. But for Paul, whether unbelievers heard the gospel as foolishness, or a stumbling block, or the power of God, had nothing to do with whether or not they were comfortable. It had nothing to do with their felt needs, either. The result of the gospel, Paul believed, was dependent upon the work of God in an individual’s life.

It had to be this way, Paul says, so that issues would not get confused. Has someone professed Christ as the result of the genuine work of God? Or are they here among the people of God because of the recreation? That was a real concern for Paul. And his method of addressing that concern was to make sure that nothing stood in competition with the proclamation of the word of God.

I’m not so sure that Paul would be very enthused about a “recreational” church. Apparently, he didn’t think it was necessary. He says,

I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Paul’s Answer
Like I said, maybe I’ve missed something. But it seems to me that the contemporary evangelical church has succumbed to what C. S. Lewis referred to as “chronological snobbery”. Yes, things have changed, in ways too numerous to count. But people haven’t. Human beings are the same as they have ever been. They are fallen. They are lost. They are blind. They are unable to understand spiritual things. They can do nothing that is good. They do not seek God. They are, in fact, at enmity with Him.

These are truths the Scripture clearly sets forth. The Scripture also sets forth the solution to this human condition. So why are we looking elsewhere? Paul said that the solution is found only in preaching Christ crucified. Why do we think the solution lies in making church recreational?

Some would answer, “We need to do these things in order to convince the unbeliever of the good news of the gospel.” And therein lies the problem. We do not and cannot convince anyone of the truth of the gospel. That is a spiritual work accomplished by the Spirit of God. “But,” the reply comes, “If we simply preach, then many will turn away. They won’t want to hear it.” Precisely. They will turn away if God is not working within them. And that’s ok.

As the sixth chapter of John’s gospel begins, Jesus has developed what the magazine would consider a very successful ministry. He was healing, and feeding people, and as a result, huge crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Then he made what many today would consider a great strategic blunder. He began to preach. He preached about His own primacy. He preached about His own sovereignty, even in the realm of salvation. He preached about eating His body and drinking His blood. He preached about His resurrection. And the crowds departed.

In Luke 16 we read of Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham while his former master suffers in the flames. His master requests of Abraham that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers of the terrible place to which they are heading. Surely, the spectacle of someone raised from the dead will convince them. Abraham, however, knows better. “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

Two chapters later, in Luke 18, we are told of the rich, young ruler who comes to Jesus, asking that question we all love to be asked, “How can I inherit eternal life?” How does Jesus answer? He doesn’t bother with felt needs. He doesn’t try to make the gospel palatable. Knowing that the young man’s heart was wed to his wealth, Jesus aims for the tender spot. The man turns away in despair, unable to trade the temporal for the eternal. And Jesus lets him go.

Tickled Ears
As Timothy labors in his ministry to the Ephesian church, he is exhorted to do one thing, primarily: Preach the word. Paul commands Timothy to preach doctrine, and to preach in a way that does not tickle the ears of his hearers. In other words, he is to preach in such a way that many will turn away.

That takes more than 15 minutes worth of amusing, emotion-laden stories. Is there really a difference between preaching to felt needs and tickling the ears of those who will not tolerate sound doctrine? If God is who He says He is – holy, glorious, majestic – how dare we call something, focused upon the needs, desires, and enjoyments of man, and call it worship?

How can one with a biblical view of worship say what this worship leader, quoted in that magazine said? “We take a day that traditionally has been a very holy, sacred day and turn it into an event that even the most anti-religious person can come down [sic] and feel comfortable.”

No thanks. I don’t want a Harley that much.

Dear Shepherd

Dear Shepherd,

I am one of your sheep. Being a sheep, I possess certain “sheeply” characteristics, as well as certain needs common to sheep. For instance, I can’t do much in the way of defending myself. I’m not completely helpless, but there is a reason why the specific task of guarding the sheep has been given to you. I need you. I don’t have the time or the expertise to keep up on all of schemes that the wolves are constantly coming up with in order to destroy me. I need you to do that. I need you to protect me. I need you to be in your study. I need you to read. I need you to be aware of the dangers. The wolves are here. Sometimes they get right in among the flock. I need you to do your job.

I’m a sheep. That means I need to be watched over so that I do not stray from the rest of the flock. That’s when I can really get into trouble. I am prone to wander. I move along, living my life, and before I know it I’ve been separated from the rest of the sheep. I find myself out there on my own, and that’s no place for a sheep to be. Will you keep watch over me? When you see me begin to wander, will you come after me, and lead me back to the safety of the flock?

I’m a sheep. Being a sheep, I need to eat. That is, I need to be led to the food. You need to do that for me. As the Great Shepherd said, “If you love Me, feed my sheep.” You serve Him by serving me. But you’ve got to serve Him in the way He has instructed. Shepherds don’t serve the sheep by acquiescing to their every whim and desire. Shepherds serve the sheep by doing what shepherds are supposed to do. Shepherds serve the sheep by guarding, by leading and by feeding. Frankly, if left to myself I’ll eat anything I can find. I may come across good grass now and then, but I’m more likely to come across that which will not nourish me, or perhaps will even do me harm. I don’t know the difference between good grass and poison. That’s why I need a shepherd to lead me to food that will strengthen me and not kill me.

I’m a sheep. Being a sheep, in addition to those things I need, there are some things that I don’t need. I don’t need to be entertained. I certainly don’t need to be entertained by my shepherd. When you try to entertain me, you’re not doing what the Great Shepherd has told you to do. And if I can be blunt, shepherds aren’t very good entertainers, anyway. When you try to be an entertainer you usually just look silly. Neither do I need you to “spice up” my diet. What the Great Shepherd provides for my nourishment is all I want and all I need.

Your sheep don’t need you to be spending all your time focusing on ways to bring more sheep into the flock, either. If you are faithful to being the kind of under-shepherd that the Great Shepherd has called you to be, He’ll take care of growing the flock if that’s what He wants to do. But frankly, some of these sheep you’ve been pulling in are a little peculiar looking. Some of them look less like sheep and more like…wolves.

I beg you. Be a shepherd to me. I don’t need a celebrity and I don’t need a CEO. I just need a shepherd. Can you be content with that? From what I can see, the Great Shepherd considers the work of a shepherd to be a very high calling, indeed. How do you see it?

On behalf of the flock,

a sheep