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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
English is the closest thing there is today to a universal language. Upwards of 350 million speak it as their first language, with many more than that using it as a second language. It has the largest vocabulary of any language (550,000 separate entries in Webster's Third New International Dictionary).
English has become the diplomatic language of the United States, and the standard language of science, technology, business and communications. It has been the primary medium through which the Word of God has spread during these last centuries of Church History. Before giving several reasons why the English of 1611 was better suited as a vehicle for divine revelation, let us note briefly the preparations which led to the AV's translation.
The Authorized Version was the culmination of some 100 years of preparation. There was intensive study of the Greek Text ( not to mention Hebrew). The five Greek editions of Erasmus, the four of Stephanus, the nine of Beza provided the translators with a refined text, representative of that which was in the majority of manuscripts, and had been acknowledged (John 16:13) by God's people through the centuries.
There were no fewer than seven "preparatory" English translations: Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthews,Great, Taverners, Geneva and Bishops. The AV translators themselves were men of unparalleled scholarship, representing the combined intellectual might of Oxford and Cambridge. But far more importantly, they were marked by a holy awe and deep reverence for the Word of God. It is this latter that places them poles apart from the translating teams of today.
Coming back now to the English in which our Authorized Bible was written, it is an evidence of God's Providence that after nearly four centuries, so little can be found to be archaic. Certainly there are "profound differences" between current and Elizabethan English. But, the AV is not Elizabethan English!
As a comparison will show, there is a great difference between AV English and the wordy, affectatious Elizabethan style.
Far from our Bible being a product of that day's literary style, the English language after 1611 owes its development to the Authorized Version! "The King James Version was a landmark in the development of English prose. Its elegant yet natural style had enormous influence on English -speaking writers" (World Book Encyclopedia). This partially explains why the AV is ever fresh and lucid while most else from that period is quite difficult to read.
Edward F. Hills speaks on the misconception that the English of the AV is Elizabethan:
“The English of the King James Version is not the English of the early 17th century. To be exact, it is not a type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. It is biblical English, which was not used on ordinary occasions even by the translators who produced the King James Version. As H. Wheeler Robinson (1940) pointed out, one need only compare the preface written by the translators with the text of their translation to feel the difference in style. And the observations of W. A. Irwin (1952) are to the same purport. The King James Version, he reminds us, owes its merit, not to 17th-century English_ which was very difficult_ but to its faithful translation of the original. Its style is that of the Hebrew and of the New Testament Greek. Even in their use of thee and thou the translators were not following 17th-century English usage but biblical usage, for at the time these translators were doing their work these singular forms had already been replaced by the plural you in polite conversation.” (The King James Version Defended, Des Moines: Christian Research Press, 1984, p.218)
In 1604 when James I authorized preparations for a new English version of the Bible, a watershed was reached not only in the history of Bible translation, but of the history of the English language itself.
One hundred years ago John Burgon wrote: "If you and I believe that the original writings of the Scriptures were verbally inspired by God, then of necessity they must have been providentially preserved through the ages."
This is the crux of the matter; does God preserve that Word which he originally inspired? And if so, to what extent? Is it merely the concepts and basic message that is kept intact; or does preservation, as inspiration, extend to the words themselves?
That the Bible declares both the fact and extent of its preservation is made abundantly clear in the
"Know now that there shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the LORD" (2 Kings 10:10).
"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD; thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever" (Psalm 12:6,7).
"For the LORD is good, his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" (Psalm 100:5).
"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89).
"Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it" (Psalm 119:140).
"Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever" (Psalm 119:152).
"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever" (Psalm 119:160).
"Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5).
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8).
"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall
accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).
"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18).
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).
"And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail" (Luke 16:17).
"The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).
"But the word of the Lord endureth for ever" (1 Peter 1:25).
We have a strange anomaly today; Christians claimed to believe what the Bible says about it's own inspiration but virtually ignore the equally direct statements concerning preservation. To say that you
believe in the full inspiration of Scripture while at the same time accepting the textual theories inherent in the modern versions, is about as incongruous as taking Genesis one literally while holding to the theories of Darwin.
The questioning of the Bible's preservation is the starting point of all other kinds of apostasy. Satan in Genesis 3 did not begin his attack by questioning whether there was a God, or whether God created, or whether the doctrine of the Trinity is true. Nor did it begin with the question of whether God's Word was inspired in the originals. Apostasy began when Satan asked Eve, "Yea hath God said"?
"Eve, are you certain that you presently have a full recollection of what God said"? When doubt was given a bridgehead at this point, the other defenses soon fell. The same principles applies today: Has God preserved His word and kept intact His original word of inspiration or has He not? It is a fact, that the one common denominator in all the varied errors, deviations, and heresies is that their advocates will first criticize the standard received edition or translation of Scripture.
Like all other Bible truths, the Scripture's teaching on its own preservation is to be in the first instance accepted by faith. Edward F. Hills in his book, The King James Version Defended calls it " the logic of faith". The facts and evidence of such preservation will then follow.
The Bible's preservation is rooted in the eternal counsels of God. The Scriptures are as eternal as God Himself.
"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89).
The Old Testament text was preserved by the Aaronic priests and the scribes who grouped around them.
"Unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2).
In the New Testament dispensation every believer is a priest under Christ. Hence, the NT text has been preserved by faithful Christians in every walk of life. "Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you in all truth" (John 16:13).
It was not the pronouncements of church fathers or counsels that determined the text and canon of the New Testament. Rather, the Holy Spirit guided His own into the acceptance of the true word of God. Such copies proliferated, while defective ones were ignored. The Holy Spirit continues this work today in the questions that arise over the wording in the modern versions.
Preservation has to do with the actual words of Scripture, not merely the general teaching or concepts.
This is made clear in the list of verses just given. Advocates of the modern versions commonly say: "There is not a single doctrine missing." But what they fail to tell you is that the words which support and develop these doctrines are frequently missing. Thus, the force of the doctrine is diminished. As inspiration of the Scriptures is verbal so also Preservation must be verbal.
Preservation has taken place in the diffusion of God's word, not in its being hidden or stored. Stewart Custer in seeking to somehow equate the use of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus with the doctrine of preservation said: "God has preserved His word in the sands of Egypt" (stated in a debate at the Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Chicago, 1984).
To take such a position, would mean that believers have had the wrong text for 1800 years, and it has been only with the advent of two liberal British churchmen, and the retrieval of two disused Alexandrian manuscripts that we now have the "true preserved" word of God. No! The miracle of preservation was operative while the Scriptures were being disseminated. "The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it" (Psalm 68:11). "Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18).
As so few can read the original languages, God's promise to preserve His Word has no practical relevance if it does not extend to translations. The Scripture frequently affirms"...that we are born again by the Word of God" James 1:18; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Peter 1:23. If a translation cannot be equated with the actual Word of God, then ultimately this leads to the situation that one must know Hebrew and Greek before they can be saved, or built up in the faith. Romans 10:17; Matthew 4:4.
Further, the Bible's use of the term "preserved" demonstrates that it is an absolute and not a relative term. To speak of the Bible, or in this discussion, a translation as being "almost preserved" is a misnomer. Either it is preserved or it isn't, either it has errors or it doesn't. Either the flower fades and the grass withers or it does not.