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Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

Our Readers Contribute

One thing particularly enjoyable in preparing this rubric for almost each issue is that you, the reader, often send in articles which can be used—and often are. Some of these articles are of religious significance (or concern); others are informative; some can be rather humorous. I can assure those who send in articles, that these are read with interest. If every article is not used, it is not because it is unimportant. I often have more material than I can use in the articles. Some articles, though interesting and thought-provoking, are not always suitable to the purpose this writer has in mind.

This time I do want to share several articles recently sent to me. And thank you all for sending them.

“Powerful, Imperfect Bible”

The first article I present is from The Church Herald, July-August 1998. The magazine is of the Reformed Church in America. The author is the Rev. J. Samuel Hofman, RCA missionary in Chiapas, Mexico. Though the author makes some valid points concerning difficulties in translating the Bible, at the same time his presentation appears to belittle the idea of an infallible Bible—particularly after its translation from many sorts of manuscripts. He writes of hearing a television program one Sunday:

One featured a conservative evangelical minister who described “how a perfect God used imperfect people to write a perfect book.” He said that God through the Holy Spirit enabled the writers of Scripture to write a perfect book without error or mistake. He spoke firmly about “the inspired, inerrant Word of God.”

He clarified that this infallibility and inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts. Then he affirmed that although we have only copies of copies of copies of those manuscripts, God preserved the reliability of the Scriptures throughout the centuries.

This brought back memories to me of the theological debates on the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures when I was in seminary forty years ago. The conservatives insisted that God had verbally dictated the thoughts of the writers, but added that the words were definitely theirs, pointing out that the personalities and cultural backgrounds of the various authors are reflected in what they wrote. On the other extreme, the liberal theologians referred to the Bible only as “great religious literature.”

For years there has been strife over just how and how much of the Bible is inspired. Forty years ago I would have sided with the conservatives in asserting that the Bible in its original manuscripts is infallible and inerrant. But it is no longer an issue for me now, due to our working on the revision of the Bible in the Tzeltal Indian language. This translation experience has shown me how irrelevant is the claim of infallibility and inerrancy.

The author goes on to explain that in translating, and comparing also various other translations, he repeatedly encounters footnotes as, “The Hebrew is unclear.” He noted also how translations differ and the explanation is appended, “Some manuscripts say this and other manuscripts say that.” Therefore the author concludes:

All of which tells me that Christians have wasted a lot of energy and words arguing about whether the original manuscripts of the Bible were infallibly and verbally inspired by God. The fact is that those manuscripts no longer exist. The copies of copies of copies that we have are not without error. And our translations, no matter how well they are done, are not perfect either.

So instead of holding up a Bible and proclaiming that it is infallible and inerrant, perhaps we need to be a bit more realistic and say that it is authoritative and trustworthy in what it teaches. And we can affirm that whoever believes its message will find eternal fellowship with God.

Two things stand out. The author admits forsaking the convictions which were his in his early training. Secondly, the presentation of the author serves to create doubt and question in the mind of the reader. What are we to believe now with respect to the Bible? May we only say that it is “authoritative and trustworthy in what it teaches?” But if it is not infallible and inspired, how can we believe in its trustworthiness? What the author says of “copies of copies of copies” is true. What he declares about the difficulties of accurate translating is undoubtedly true. But does he not minimize or ignore the guidance of the Spirit not only in “inbreathing” the writers of Scripture, but also in guiding translators (whose resolve is to maintain as literally as possible the presentation of the manuscripts judged closest to the original writings into a new language)?

It is very foolish to present the Bible other than infallible and inspired. Scripture claims this for itself. The doubt created ultimately results in disbelief of any of the Word.

Bring Back the Original

From Southern California, out of the San Bernardino County Sun, August 1, 1998, comes the following:

A slickly designed black-and-yellow press packet appeared on my desk the other day trumpeting a new Bible.

“It’s here!” the words on the folder seemed to short.

What’s where? The “WWJD? New Testament.” In bookstores now.

The “WWJD?” or “What Would Jesus Do?” movement continues to, well, move into new markets.

First came “WWJD?” bracelets and necklaces. The slogan began to spread to T-shirts, key chains, hats and pens. It was only a matter of time before a “WWJD?” Bible appeared.

Many Christians will praise the “WWJD? New Testament” … because the modern translation will be easy for people to understand, especially the kids. They’ll also probably enjoy the analysis of Jesus’ words and deeds in the “What Would Jesus Do?” sections. 

For example, authors Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz expand on Jesus Christ’s teaching. Writing about good conduct, they say: “Doing what Jesus would do may make you different. You may end up doing the opposite of everyone else. Jesus wants you to do the right thing—even if your friends are offended.”

That’s all well and good. But I’m getting weary of Bibles that offer advice, analysis, and revised wording. Often, these Bibles are written in up-to-date language that differs from Bibles of 30 years ago.

Whatever happened to the old-fashioned King James version, like the one I received as a gift in the 1960s from the chapel in Minnesota where I attended Sunday school?

To this day, it’s my favorite Bible.

…The “WWJD? New Testament” will serve youth well. But to adult Bible readers, I recommend tackling the analysis-free King James version. Decide for yourself what the Bible means.

It is interesting that a religion writer in a secular newspaper admits to a preference for the King James version of the Bible. The writer points out its beautiful and poetic way of expressing God’s Word. But more important still is the fact that the translators were concerned about accuracy in translation. Even the “old-fashioned” “thees” and “thous” conform to that. So, yes, give me too the most accurate as well as poetic King James.

Study Links Religion, Obesity

A slim young lady submitted an article which borders on the humorous. It is a study of the relationship between religion and obesity. It could not have been a study sponsored by the government, I presume, since religion is involved. Of course, the government would separate itself from all religion—though it does sponsor other nonsensical studies of divers sorts.

The article, appearing in a paper called Spotlight, stated:

People who are firmly religious are much more likely to be flabby than those who are soft on God, according to a study.

“Overeating may be one sin that pastors and priests regularly overlook,” concludes Kenneth Ferraro, a Purdue University sociology professor who is author of the study.

Ferraro analyzed data involving 3,615 Americans and found a “surprising” tendency that the most faithful, regardless of denomination, are obese. The study gauged religiosity by asking questions about attendance at services and reading of religious material.

One reason for the correlation, he says, is in a society that worships thinness, “overweight people find comfort in religious settings.”

He found the percentage of obesity highest in states where religious affiliation was most prevalent, such as Michigan, Mississippi and Indiana, and lowest in states with the least religious populations—Massachusetts, Hawaii and Colorado. Ferraro also compared denominations.

He found that Southern Baptists in the South are most likely to be obese, followed by fundamentalist Protestants and mainline Protestant groups, such as Methodists and Baptists outside the South. Thinnest are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. People who said they had no religious affiliation or belief ranked near the middle.

…Although religion reduces deadly stress, that may be offset by the health risks of obesity, Ferraro warns.

Well!! The next time my wife complains about my overeating….

And thanks, readers, for your contributions.