The contribution, “In Favor of the ‘Vernacular'” (Standard Bearer, April 1, 2004), has raised an issue which is in need of further investigation. The Greek text of the New Testament was written in the common language of the day. A good translation ought to exhibit the same simplicity which it had for the original readers. The KJV is a wonderful piece of English literature, but it is not written in the common tongue. We should not place unnecessary stumbling blocks for those who wish to learn the doctrines of Scripture. One of the PR distinctives has been the ability of our ministers to explain profound doctrinal truths in simple language. There is no reason why our Bible translation should not do the same. It is God’s Word which must bring us to our knees. If we are brought to our knees by Elizabethan English, we are not showing reverence to God’s Word, but to Elizabethan English. Some of the language in the KJV means the opposite today of what it meant when it was written. The NKJV uses the same Greek text as the KJV, and is both clearer and sometimes more accurate. In many passages the NASV is both more literal and easier to understand than the KJV is. The Greek manuscripts used must be considered; however, no doctrine is missing from these manuscripts. Much of our literature equates the Textus Receptus with the Byzantine/Majority text. However, these are two different, though related things. In many cases there is a minority reading found in the KJV, in a small number of cases there is no manuscript support at all. We must be willing to evaluate the various translations honestly and choose the one which is the clearest and most accurate and not merely seek to defend a particular translation against all others. There is nothing scriptural or confessional which tells us to use a particular translation. It is not a battle of good versus evil, but of good versus better. We should be honest and willing to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various translations in brotherly love.
Grand Rapids, MI
I read with interest the contribution “In Favor of the Vernacular” (Standard Bearer, April 1, 2004). I believe that the King James Version (KJV) has served our churches well, and to suggest that we ought to replace it is dangerous and potentially divisive.
The brother’s comparison between the usage of the Romish Church at the time of the Reformation and our usage today in our churches falls to mush under closer examination.
What is it to have a Bible translation using “vernacular language”? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, “vernacular” means “using the native language of a country or place; commonly spoken by the people of a particular country or place.” The KJV uses English, the language of the United States, and hence is most certainly a “vernacular” (though not dummified) translation. To compare our usage of the KJV with the Latin usage of Rome at the time of the Reformation is absurd! Latin was not the native language of most of the areas and hence the Latin Bible was not in the “vernacular.” Most of the clergy, let alone the laity, could not read, much less understand, Latin.
The constant drumbeat about the “archaic” language of the KJV is exaggerated and overblown. It is true that in a small number of cases it is useful to refer to a modern conservative translation such as the NASV or NKJV to clarify obscure readings. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether clarity and readability in all cases is more important than a proven and theologically sound version, which the KJV is.
Modern, so-called vernacular translations often gut the Word of God of important theological terms such as “propitiation,” “justification,” and the like. What is the advantage of the modern vernacular translation over the KJV when the modern translations cloak in obscurity whole doctrines? For instance, many modern translations, including the NKJV and NASV, consistently replace “seed” with “descendants,” thereby obscuring an entire doctrine! The modern vernacular translations, almost without exception, exchange the reverent use of “thee” and “thou” when referring to God with the irreverent “you” and “yours.”
Also, one need only consult “A textual key to the New Testament” to see how much of the New Testament has been altered or altogether omitted by the modern vernacular translations. While in some instances these changes are probably better, the overall pattern is disturbing, to say the least.
A lesson from our past history would be useful here. Rev. Hoeksema was open to adopting different renderings than the KJV at points. He openly would admit those few times when the KJV does not convey the right meaning of the text. And Rev. Hoeksema ministered when the old, and now discarded, ASV was all the rage in our mother church. And yet, for all of that, he retained the KJV and never, to the best of my knowledge, suggested that our churches should replace the KJV. He was wise enough to know that the “cure” was worse than the “disease.” We should be instructed by his example at the present hour. The KJV is still the best.
Sauk Village, Illinois
In response to the contribution “In Favor of the ‘Vernacular,'” in the April 1, 2004 Standard Bearer, one wonders about the validity of the arguments for the use of the vernacular language in the Bible. The contribution maintains that this should not only be used in the mission fields but in our churches as well.
Mr. VanderWoude offers the comparison between the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation and the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) today. He states, “The sad irony is that our dogmatic use of old-fashioned English is more Romish than Reformed.” He asks the PRC rather to “fully embrace the implication of its Reformed heritage.”
However, a closer look at the motives of languages used by the different churches would show no similarities at all. The Latin used in the Roman masses was a secret language meant to keep the laymen of the church in the dark. It offered no spiritual nourishment for the people who sat under its preaching because the common people did not understand a word of Latin. The papal seat used this language so that they could conveniently twist the Word of God to support their own doctrines. They maintained the belief that the people were intellectually inferior and that the Holy Spirit was incapable of penetrating the hearts of believers through the preached word of the gospel. I find it difficult to believe that this definition of “Romish” could really be applied to any of our ministers or churches today.
Can the implications of our Reformed heritage really be found in such matters as vernacular language? Or is this matter simply a by-product that ignores the true issue at hand? Vernacular language is hardly an implication or issue that Luther, Calvin, and others were compelled to confront. The issue was Rome’s denial that Christ had chosen the foolishness of the preaching to gather His people as it is stated in I Corinthians 1:21 and Romans 10:14. They could not abide Rome’s insistence to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people. They wanted the Bible in a language that the people could understand. This remains true today as we use a translation that is in a language that people can understand.
The catalyst of the Reformation was an unwavering desire for the truth of God’s Word, uncorrupted by the poison of Rome. Certainly the KJV is not in the vernacular of the people today but it is a faithful translation not tainted by man’s philosophies or opinions. Luther and the Reformers would have praised the KJV for its faithfulness to the original manuscripts. They would have been willing to sacrifice the vernacular for the sake of the best translation.
These are the true implications of our Reformed heritage: salvation is of God alone and nothing can bring it about by the “power” of man. This is a comforting truth that the salvation of others is not dependent on our strengths. We may try to make our services more community friendly as we “seek souls.” We may think to use simple translations that are written in the plainest of terms. But in the end all our efforts are in vain unless God gives the increase. We are only called to worship Christ as He requires of us in John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” He made no demands on His disciples to make this truth more beautiful. He did not ask them to bring the word in a cunning manner. He did not tell the disciples to add to or detract from His words. He told them rather “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
Without the Spirit we cannot understand any text of Scripture, whatever the language or vernacular it may be. It is only the Spirit that will cause a person to understand the Bible. You may use the plainest of terms, draw detailed pictures, and explain the gospel five times over to the most brilliant man. But unless God has chosen this man as His own, there are no words in this earth or out of it that will make him believe. It is the Spirit only that will do this. As Paul says in I Corinthians 2:9, 10, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” Also, in Romans 8:15, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby ye cry, Abba, Father.”
And when God causes a person to believe, He will open His eyes to the truth of His Word. For that believer there will be no barrier in earth or below that will separate him from the revelation of the gospel. For we are promised that “The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind” (Ps. 146:8). God will cause us to see the salvation of Christ. This is God’s promise to those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
The accusation of not fully embracing the implications of our Reformed heritage is a harsh accusation. Years of faithful pursuit of the truth as well as the struggles of 1924 and 1953 might prove otherwise. Yet it is a question we must ask ourselves. Have we not truly embraced our Reformed heritage? Search the Scriptures whether these things be so and you will find this heritage in the words of Paul in I Corinthians 2:9, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Look for the church that preaches the gospel of Christ crucified in all its purity and wonder, and you will have found a church that has embraced all the implications of its Reformed heritage.
I have just read your editorial, “Covenantal Universalism: New Form of an Old Attack on Sovereign Grace” (Standard Bearer, April 15, 2004). It is, to the best of my recollection, the best brief statement and criticism of this error I have ever seen anywhere. You have done a great service. I hope this editorial receives wide circulation. I plan to commend it to many. Thanks for your continued contributions in defense of the Reformed faith.
(Dr.) Carl W. Bogue
Akron, Ohio A few comments before my question. As I was growing up, my parents always emphasized to us children the importance of church membership. This included membership in the church with the three marks of a faithful church as described by Article 28 and 29 of the Belgic Confession. My father, who served many years as elder in the church, reminded us not a few times that when the elders had their meetings with those who desired to leave the denomination, these individuals were warned that leaving was sin. If they persisted in their request, they were sent a certificate of dismissal from the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Now my questions. What is the significance of the certificate of dismissal? Does not the seriousness of this action warrant such a certificate?
A certificate of dismissal is an official document signed by a consistory that testifies that an individual (or family) has been a member of a congregation until the date given—the point being, that the said individual is a member no longer. (For the form, cf. The Church Order Book of the Protestant Reformed Churches, p. 125.) The consistory sends this to an individual who insists on leaving the congregation and the denomination. (It is not sent to a member who wishes to join another congregation within the denomination, or a sister church; his membership is transferred.) If the individual is under discipline at the time of his departure, that fact is noted on the certificate.
At first reading, the certificate might not indicate its grave implications. The significance of the certificate of dismissal is that the individual is not a member of the church of Christ as instituted on this earth. Few circumstances in a man’s life could be more serious. The Belgic Confession correctly expresses the Reformed believer’s confession (Art. 28)—”We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person, of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it….” And it concludes “Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.”
Sometimes a certificate of dismissal is sent to those who desire to join another (non-sister) denomination. It is obvious that the circumstances of the individuals and the reasons for leaving vary widely. Some leave in obvious rebellion against the rule of Christ as exercised through the elders. Some seek a more entertaining worship service or non-offensive preaching. Still others leave reluctantly because of some family situation, including marriage. In all these situations, the consistory gives the warning and instruction appropriate to the individual and the situation. Nonetheless, it bears emphasizing that a serious warning must be given.
Let there be no misunderstanding on this. The Protestant Reformed Churches have never taken it upon themselves to judge whether one church or another is a “true church of Jesus Christ.” Nor do we embrace the Belgic Confession’s strong statements because we think the Protestant Reformed Churches are the only true church. Yet the Belgic Confession makes it clear that a member may not leave his congregation without solid (which is to say, biblical) grounds. Schooling, jobs, family, marriage, convenience, or “just don’t like the minister” are not justification for changing churches. Only if the member is convinced that his church is no longer faithful in its calling, and that another church is faithful, may he rightfully change membership. In fact, if he cannot convince his own church of its errors, obedience to Christ demands that he change his membership to the faithful church.
The standard for judging a church’s faithfulness is the Bible. The Belgic Confession sets forth the three biblically prescribed marks of the faithful church in Article 29. “The marks by which the true church is known are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin….” These are the marks of the true church because Jesus specifically commanded His church as institute to preach, administer the sacraments, and exercise Christian discipline (cf. Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 11:23-26; Matt. 18:17, 18). And the reason why Christ so charged His church is that preaching, sacraments, and Christian discipline are the means of grace that He gave the church on earth. By these means, Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His church. One who wrongfully separates himself from a faithful church rejects the care and instruction of Christ Himself.
Does the seriousness of such an action warrant sending a certificate of dismissal? Truly, it does. And there is another consideration, equally significant.
The preaching is clearly the chief mark, even as it is the chief means of grace. Whether or not the preaching is “the pure doctrine of the gospel” (as the Belgic Confession puts it) must be judged by every believer on the basis of the Bible. The Reformed believer is aided immeasurably in this evaluation by the confessions. The preaching must set forth the truth, the whole counsel of God, in all its glory. Preaching that is faithful to the Bible reveals God in the face of the crucified and risen Lord. Thus, one sins grievously who leaves the preaching of the pure gospel and is willing to sit under preaching defiled with error, for he despises the truth of God. This has dreadful consequences for his own soul, as well as for his succeeding generations.
No wonder then that when a member of a faithful church “requests his papers” for illegitimate reasons, the consistory works long and hard to show him that it is a sin to leave. If he persists in his demand, the consistory has no option but to acquiesce and send the certificate of dismissal. However, when this fact is announced, the congregation ought to know that the elders have diligently labored to draw the individual back from this sin, and that it is with grief that they sent him this official dismissal from the congregation.
— Editorial Committee