A Critique of
“God’s Word In Our Hands: The Bible Preserved For Us”
James B. Williams, General Editor
Published by Ambassador Emerald International
Critique by Shane Montgomery, Pastor, Th. M.
Casa Grande Baptist Church, Casa Grande, AZ, USA
The opinions given in this critique are just that: opinions. I am a Baptist pastor serving the Lord. I read this book cover-to-cover because I promised some pastor friends that I would. They disagree with my “King James Only” position, as it is called, and they also believed me to be open-minded enough to give the book an honest read, which I did. Of course it is impossible to read any book without approaching it from your own belief system, but I truly wanted to understand the position of those that believe me to be wrong. I do not consider those that don’t use the King James to be heretics (declaring heresy is a local church issue anyway), but I do believe that they have made an unwise choice that will hinder God’s blessings upon their ministry, and that they are confused about God’s promise of preservation. I could be wrong and I accept that.
The Title and Theme
I personally believe the title of this book to be misleading. From the title and cover, one would get the strong impression that the main purpose of this book is to teach on the preservation of the Word of God. While this may be the overt theme, the underlying theme is very clearly a refutation of the “King James Only” position. The authors admit that they do not understand “how this movement has risen to such national (even international) heights” (pg. 195). The book was written to refute those that believe that “if a pastor or church uses a conservative English translation other than the KJV, they have departed from the Faith and are headed toward ecclesiastical, theological, or personal compromise.” (pg. 335). They believe that “the versions issue is creating a line of separation between truth and error.” (pg. 391). They give a chart, listing names of Christians of the past and present, which implies that most godly Christians believe what they do (i.e. Scofield, Torrey, Rice). One could just as easily make the chart lean the other way by including people the authors left out (i.e. Dr. Robert C. Gray, Dr. Tom Malone, Dr. Lee Roberson, Dr. Clarence Sexton, Dr. Jack Trieber; B. M. Cedarholm). However, what “men” have said (no matter how “great” they are or were) is not near as important as what God says in His Word.
I found a lot of this book to be quite heavy and found myself wondering how confused a layman would be who approached the book with the desire to understand about the preservation of the Word of God. (I read the section on Isaiah 40:8 [pg. 97-99] and I still don’t know what he was trying to tell me about that passage). Though the authors begin by stating that “no document on earth is so trustworthy as this document” (pg. viii, emphasis mine), I believe that a layman would instead leave with an understanding of the position of the authors:
“We believe that the Bible teaches that God has providentially preserved His written word. This preservation exists in the totality of the ancient language manuscripts of that revelation.” (opening page, emphasis mine).
Chapter Three was written to systematically dissect every passage of Scripture that speaks of the preservation of the Word of God and use Greek and Hebrew to prove that the verse does not prove the preservation of God’s Word “in our hands.”
This left me wondering how much one would be helped in the end. Either he would be a Christian that already believed the King James to be God’s authoritative Word in English and this belief would be greatly tested by reading the book; or, he would be a Christian who didn’t understand the issue at hand and he would now believe that it was his new mission to set out to find God’s authoritative Word in the “totality of the ancient language manuscripts”. Without access to those manuscripts or the skills to use and compare them, he would now be at the mercy of the “scholars” to tell him what the Bible “really” says in the “originals”. Though the authors insist that the “division over translation” (pg. xviii) should stop, it has always been true that Christians divide over doctrine, which they should. The doctrine of preservation set forth in this book basically teaches that God gave His Word perfectly and then left it’s preservation up to imperfect man, similar to the teaching of “theistic evolution”. It teaches that God “chose” not to keep His Words pure and preserved here on earth. In the end, I believe that this is an insult to our perfect God!
The writers continually acknowledge “that God has providentially preserved His written word” (pg. ix). They acknowledge that we must “embrace by faith” that the Word of God was “preserved from mental and mechanical blunders, error of the head and errors of the hand” (pg. viii). They even acknowledge that “preservation is a providential act of God by which He worked through man’s efforts to make sure that His Word has still survived for us.” They say that God “took full responsibility in accurately sustaining His Word for future generations.” (pg. 209). They admit in Chapter Four that “God has used many unusual events and people to preserve His words for us.” (pg. 132) They list many bizarre examples (i.e. explorers, priests, antiquity dealers, theologians, monasteries, czars, communists, kings, the Vatican, and “even waste baskets” [pg. 141]). They acknowledge that “the sovereign Lord who gave us His Word has used these people (believers, sceptics, liberals) to help preserve the text of the Scriptures.” (pg. 177) This is exactly what King James people believe, but in a more specific way (i.e. God also used local churches of the past and dedicated translators!).
The authors ask the question, “Is our Lord here guaranteeing the preservation of all the written words of Scripture?” and say the answer is an emphatic “yes.” (pg. 106). Then, in the same paragraph, they say that the passages of Scripture that teach preservation “do not” guarantee that “all the words will be always available at all times.” (pg. 106). They say that God has “not chosen to guarantee that level of perfection in preservation [the perfection of inspiration]” (pg. 294). They explain by saying, “For reasons He has not revealed, God has chosen to preserve His Word, not in a single document, but in the totality of original language manuscripts and ancient translations.” (p. 111). This seems to be contradictory to me, and without proof. They conclude that “God's Word transcends written documents, even the physical universe, and will be completely and ultimately fulfilled if not one copy remains. The power and effectiveness and duration of the Word of God, and man's responsibility to obey it, do not demand the presence or even the existence of any physical copy.” (pg. 376). If this definition were true, then God’s Word could not exist on earth at all and preservation would still be in force. How can man “obey” something that he doesn’t have?
As quoted above, the authors do not believe that the Bible has been preserved in English in a particular translation. They do, however, mention some of the English translations. Those are the KJV, the NKJV, the NASV, the NIV, and the RSV. They say that there are “some good” translations and some “very poor” ones (pg. xi), without guiding the reader to know which are which. They continually mention “conservative, newer translations” (pg. xviii and xix), without giving the reader direction on which versions. They make the statement that “the NKJV and the NASB and the NIV are the Word of God.” (pg. 183). If they differ (which they do!), which is correct? The criteria they give for choosing a translation is that it must be “based on fidelity to the original text, orthodoxy in interpretation, relevance to the language of the time, and suitability for reading.” Which versions meet this? They don’t tell us. Overall, they probably push the NASV the hardest (i.e. see pg. 102 and 422).
Disparaging the KJV?
While opening by saying that they “do not disparage the King James Version” (pg. xiv), and acknowledging that it is “trustworthy” (pg. xiv), many statements are made throughout the book which do disparage the King James Version:
- Imply that the King James does not convey “understandable, everyday English” (pg. 28)
- “a translation they have great difficulty in understanding” (pg. 29)
- claim that “book of life” (KJV) in Revelation 22:19 is “tree of life” in “all” Greek manuscripts (pg. 186). However, this is not true, see http://www.purewords.org/kjb1611/html/rev22_19.htm and http://members.aol.com/basfawlty/rev2219.htm and http://av1611.com/kjbp/faq/holland_re22_19.html - the KJV came from a different “era of English” (pg. 304) However, did the KJV translators use the English they did on purpose for power and beaty (i.e. compare the English they used in the dedicatory)?
- they say that “Elizabethan English is becoming increasingly unintelligible.” (pg. 387).
- they refer to the King James as an “artifact” (pg. 389).
- they say that the King James has “arcane grammar” (pg. 390).
Would an honest seeker reading this book be lead to use the King James Version of the Bible? The translators used the “thee’s and thou’s” to give the reader more understanding than the modern day, overused “you.”
Disparaging KJV Believers
The authors are very thorough in their references, but they did not give a reference to back up their claim that J. J. Ray and David Otis Fuller “relied extensively on the writings of Seventh Day Adventist Benjamin Wilkinson, even to the point of plagiarizing his works.” (pg. 30). They say that Gail Riplinger’s measurement of reading difficulty between the English versions is “faulty” without giving any proof. (pg. 424).
The writers continuously accuse King James believers of attacking others. However, they accuse King James Only people of “burying their heads in the sand” (pg. 182). They also say that many who espouse the King James Bible as the only preserved Word of God take a “careless, and sometimes cavalier approach to handling Scripture”. (pg. 367). They say that the “faith vs. science” view to preservation is “reminiscent of the Roman Catholic charges against the Reformers in regard to the Mass.” (pg. 371). They even go so far as to imply that those who believe in the KJV are guilty of “idolatry” (pg. 371). They say that the rationale for the defence of the “preservation of God’s Word in the infallible King James Bible leading inexorably back to Roman Catholicism.” (pg. 374). They accuse KJV people of “redefining the doctrine of inspiration and…building a cult following.” (pg. 386). They also claim that it is “arrogant” to assume that God intends to speak to the world today in King James English. (pg 386). These are pretty strong attacks against those that believe that God has preserved His Word in English!
The authors claim that we can “hold God’s Word in our hands in the various conservative English translations available to us in our day” (pg. 29), but they do not tell us which versions meet this criteria or explain which is correct when they differ (and they do!). Their explanation is as follows: “where differences do occur, we are usually left with two good choices and so must determine the best reading and maintain the other as a variant reading.” (pg. 152) However, the authors do not tell us how to determine which to choose. They even acknowledge that there are “numerous verses...whose meanings are affected by the variants; some of those variants do affect the theology of those particular verses. But even in these instances, our doctrine is not affected since there are so many other verses which teach the doctrine in question.” (pg. 164) I must admit that this sounds a bit ominous to me. Textual criticism is defined in the book as “anyone who compares various readings and makes decisions concerning the best readings.” (pg. 165). Doesn’t this make the one determining the “best” reading the authority, instead of the Bible being the authority? Chapter Nine acknowledges that people don’t consider the Bible authoritative anymore. They also acknowledge that “large numbers of Americans have lost that confidence in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.” (pg. xi). However, wouldn’t the multiplicity of English versions be a major contributor to this problem?
I personally believe that this book was written to “re-educate” those that believe that God has preserved His written Word in English in the King James Version only. If this KJV “movement” is growing, it is because English-speaking Christians are frustrated by all of the complicated verbiage which aims to take the final authority out of the hands of the English-speaking Bible believer and put it into the hands of the “scholars.” There are more quotes in this book from “godly men” than there are from God Himself in His Word. The reader is supposed to be awed by all of this scholarship and knowledge and feel intimidated into finally admitting that God “did not” preserve His Word in English, but only in the “totality” of the manuscripts and translations (which all differ). They consider it too large a leap of faith to believe that God “got it right” 400 years ago by using the translators of the King James Bible. I am going to continue to believe that God did get it right (Psalms 12:6-7). I’m also going to continue to let the English Bible (King James Version) correct me and the scholars rather than us correct the Bible.
As given in the title, the issue is “preservation.” Did God preserve His Words? All Bible believing Christians would agree: yes! Did God preserve His Word in the language of the evangelising world for the past few centuries? The authors would argue: no! They would go so far as to consider those of us who do as “ignorant, arrogant,” idolatrous Christians. How sad that such accusations are thrown at Christians who simply believe God meant what He said.