I want to interrupt our discussion of I Timothy 4 in this letter. Another matter has come up which I consider to be quite urgent, and which has some practical implications, too, for your work in the ministry. I refer to the debate which is going on concerning the book of Harold Lindsell, editor of Christianity Today, and entitled: “The Battle For The Bible.”
I hope by this time you have read this book, for Lindsell takes a strong stand for the infallible inspiration of Scripture. I do not intend to write you in detail concerning this book, however. In this letter I am more interested in the debate which is going on about it. And, more particularly yet, I am interested in the remarks which Lester DeKoster made about this book in a series of editorials in The Banner.
You are aware of the fact that these editorials were written a couple of months ago already. I had intended to write you about them earlier, but I put off writing because it seemed impossible to me to make head or tail out of what DeKoster was saying.
Recently, however, I listened to a tape of a public debate between Lindsell and DeKoster in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The debate was concerning the book which Lindsell had written, and DeKoster repeated many of the things which he had written in his editorials. The result was that DeKoster’s position became much clearer. In attacking Lindsell’s book he stated what his own position is on this question of infallible inspiration. It is a very wrong view and filled with danger. I thought it well to discuss this matter with you in this letter.
The debate itself was rather interesting. I do not want to get into the question in this letter of who won the debate. This is always a difficult matter to decide, especially because DeKoster is something of a professional debater, and one received the impression that he was more interested in scoring points than in defending and developing the truth. Nor did Lindsell always answer DeKoster’s arguments in an adequate manner. I am not sure why he did not do this. It may have been that he was flabbergasted at DeKoster’s technique and arguments and was, on the spur of the moment, at a loss how to answer them.
At any rate, DeKoster brought up points which are worth discussing. Hence, this letter.
The major point which DeKoster made, both in his editorials and in his speech, was this. The child of God, when he holds a Bible in his hand, may be sure that he holds the Word of God in his hand. It does not matter whether he holds the King James Version, the Dutch Statenvertaling, Luther’s German translation, the Revised Standard Version, or presumably any other translation; whatever Bible he may have, he may be assured that he has the Word of God.
Now this, in itself, and with some reservations concerning more modern translations or paraphrases, is correct. But DeKoster’s position on this is quite different from what ours ought to be.
Lindsell answered this point of DeKoster by saying that this was not entirely true. We may, Lindsell said, believe we have the Bible as the Word of God in our hands only insofar as the translation is accurate and only insofar as we have assurance that the Greek and Hebrew text is the Autographa (the original manuscripts which Paul, Peter, Moses, David, etc. wrote). Lindsell was referring, of course, to two things in this statement. One is that we do not have the Authographa any more, and the copies which we have possess many scribal errors in them. The second is that a translation cannot ever render with complete accuracy the original Greek and Hebrew in which the Bible was written.
DeKoster made hay out of this position of Lindsell. He reminded Lindsell that we do not have the Autographa any more, and therefore cannot really have anything to do with it. He furthermore insisted that if Lindsell’s position is correct, then we need a “priesthood of scholars” to tell us what the Word of God is. Only these scholars are able to tell us, through the study of Textual Criticism, what the Autographa contained; and only these scholars can tell us what the correct translation of the Greek and Hebrew really is.
Lindsell did not, in my judgment, answer this argument very forcibly. It would appear as if DeKoster has a point here; and if there is anything which a child of God hates and fears, it is to have a priesthood of scholars come between him and the Word of God. The Reformation delivered us from this. We pray God we will never return to that slavery.
But what must we say about this?
It is true that the Autographa are long gone. It is also true that scribes who copied the Scriptures made many errors in copying them. It is also true that the science; of Textual Criticism (in distinction from Historical-Literary, or Higher, Criticism) seeks to discover what the Autographa really contained. It is also true that translations are never completely accurate. Everyone knows this.
But does all this mean that we need a priesthood of scholars to tell us what the Word of God is? This is far from the truth. Lindsell should have made this clear. What is the truth of the matter? In the first place, although it is true that there are many copying errors in the copies of the Autographa which we possess, there are a couple of other truths which should be kept in mind. In the first place, there is almost j no question at all about the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. This is so true that there is not really any Textual criticism which is involved in studying the Old Testament. In the second place, although there are many errors in the copies, it must be remembered that all these errors are relatively insignificant. Why is that? That is because no less than 7/8ths of the New Testament is without any error whatsoever. In all of this we are absolutely sure we have the Autographa. Of the remaining 1/8th, there is therefore a question. But even here, the problem is not very great. Of this 1/8th, there is only 1/60th concerning which there is any real doubt. In almost all the other cases we may also be sure what the Autographa read. But what about this 1/60th? Of that remaining fraction there is only a small part which substantially alters the meaning of the text. Oftentimes, e.g., there is some question whether the Autographa reads “our” or “your.” Obviously, a difference such as this cannot alter the meaning of the text. But even then, the difference in the meaning almostInever touches upon any question of doctrine. There is about 1/1000th of the whole text of the New Testament where there is some question of meaning, and in these places, with a few exceptions, there is no doctrinal question involved. And, finally, where there is a doctrinal question involved, (in a few places at best), the particular doctrine involved does not rest for its proof upon these passages alone, but is taught in many other passages in Scripture.
We might well marvel at the amazing preservation of the text of the Bible. God, in a marvelous and astonishing way, preserved an accurate text over many thousands of years.
It is also true that translations, in the nature of the case, can never be wholly accurate. Nevertheless, once again, the King James Version of the Bible is remarkably accurate—so accurate in fact that a minister preaching from it need almost never question the translation in his sermons.
How is it then that we can be sure that we hold the Word of God in our hands when we hold the King James Version of the Bible? This is an important question. God’s people have to know that they possess the Word of God when they read their Bibles with their families, in their devotions, in society, in Church, etc. And they may be sure of this, too. They need never doubt that their Bible is indeed the Word of God. And when they read and study that Bible, God will indeed speak to them through and by means of that Word. You must, as I have written you before, assure God’s people of this.
Does that mean that our King James Version is without any flaw? Of course not. The following illustration will make this clear. Supposing that I visit our First Church and worship in that beautiful auditorium. I may, if I arrive early enough, have an opportunity to take a tour of the building. It may also be that, as I tour the building, I discover a few flaws. Perhaps there are a few light bulbs burned out in the chandeliers. Perhaps there may even be a broken window in one of the basement rooms. I may even find the mortar coming loose and a little paint peeling in one dark corner. Does all this mean that now I come to the conclusion that this is no longer First Church? I may argue that, because the Church is no longer such as it originally was, it is not First Church. But this is patently absurd. So it is with the Bible. There may be a few flaws of a very minor nature in our King James Version so that it differs slightly from the original. But this does not mean that we do not have God’s Word any more. Any one who takes this position does not know what he is talking about.
That is one point which I wanted to make.
It would seem that, up to this point, DeKoster has the better of the argument. But such is far from the case.
The second point makes this clear. The second point which DeKoster made which is of significance is that we know we have the Word of God when we hold our Bibles in our hands because of the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts. The Spirit testifies that our Bibles are the Word of God.
Lindsell answered this remark of DeKoster by saying that he did indeed believe this, but that the objective testimony of the Bible itself was also important. Admittedly Lindsell was not too clear on this point either in his book or in the debate. But he made, e.g., the remark that if all we have is the subjective testimony of the Spirit then the Spirit speaks out of two sides of His mouth because He tells Dr. Daane one thing about the teaching of the Bible and John Calvin another.
And this is a point which has to be emphasized. Repeatedly in his editorials and in his speeches during the debate DeKoster referred to Article V of the Confession of Faith which states that we believe the Bible is the Word of God “because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they (the books of the Bible) are from God.”
The strange and deceitful part of this argument is that not once did DeKoster read the rest of that article which adds: “Whereof they carry the evidence in themselves.” Does DeKoster think that nobody reads the Confession of Faith any more? Does he think that nobody knows what Article V teaches?
What is the point?
Before I talk about this, I had better recognize the fact that this letter has become long enough and that, therefore, I had better close for this time.