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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The NIV’s Preface

Dr. Peter Trumper,

Holywell, N. Wales

A GREAT DIVIDE is opening up among God's people. Not since the Calvinist/Arminian debates of years ago has there been such mind-bending. As is usually the case, the issues are discussed at Conference level among preachers, and soon the trends trickle down through the ranks to the pews.

The next thing one is aware of, is the development of a craze. It becomes" the done thing" to follow the fashions set by that Conference speaker, or the other. Corinth blazed the original trail with the "I am of Paul/Apollos/Cephas" controversies! Now we have the problem...

The New International Version of the Bible (NIV) has becomes the latest craze. By the time this article is sent out, there may well be another version equally latched onto by an increasingly fickle Christian readership.

Upon reading the Preface of the NIV version, three points should alarm us. First, there is an ecumenical flavor about it. We are told that "Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and other churches-- helped to safeguard the translation from sectarian bias". That is quite a cross section!

It is also naive to suggest that listing these denominations will put our minds at rest about "sectarian bias". Are we to be palmed off so easily? There are some queer fish swimming about in these denominations, blithely calling themselves "evangelical".

By the way, what about that ominous-sounding phrase, "and other churches"? What other churches? The reader should demand to know. He should also examine the list of those who contributed their scholarship. We are forced to assume they are genuine scholars, but must we sit silently presuming they are regenerate and truly Protestant? In 17th century Britain, at the birth of AV, such assumptions were more likely to be well-founded. Not today, we fear.

The second hint of disquiet arrived with the words, "The Greek text used in translating the New Testament was an eclectic one". By "eclectic" is meant the practice of selecting verses or portions from various manuscripts (MSS), at the sole discretion of the scholars in charge of the project.

The Preface continues, "the translators made their choice of readings according to accepted principles of New Testament textual criticism". Accepted by whom? On what grounds were they "accepted"? These "principles" have come down to us from two 19th century liberal scholars, Westcott and Hort.

As a result, the Westcott and Hort theories have become "the 20th century method of NT textual criticism" (Wilbur N. Pickering, "The Identity of the New Testament Text", page 21). Through what they called their genealogical method, Westcott and Hort gathered together the various ancient texts from extant versions, MSS and the Fathers. These they classified into various groups, four in all: The Neutral, Alexandrian, Western and Syrian. How they arrived at this is not for our contemplation at the moment, but having accomplished the task, Westcott and Hort set about using their "eclectic" method to arrive at their subjective conclusions about which is the best text.

How does it work? Let it be said first of all, that although the Westcott and Hort influence is still present in the NIV, changes have occurred. Nowadays, only two principles in the eclectic method are emphasized. First, in choosing a reading from the MSS, the one which best suits the contest should be the one chosen. Secondly, the reading chosen should be the one which best explains the origin of the others.

The picture we have, then, is of scholars with a few ancient MSS in front of them. As well as these, they probably have a number of pieces of parchment containing the written Word. The scholars desire, from these, to discover what is likely to have been the true or original text. It is not an easy task!

In fact, it is virtually an impossible one. The eclectic method forces the scholars to fix their gaze upon the internal considerations only. That is, they have already made up their minds, that they parchments before them are the only ones worthy of study, purely on the grounds of their antiquity.

They are wearing blinders to any suggestion of external evidence. These are "5,000 Greek MSS now extant, to say nothing of patristic and versional evidence" (ibid., page 25) which these scholars ignore. Is this true scholarship? They largely ignore this evidence, because the MSS are younger than the ones on their desk.

Having done so, the scholars using the eclectic method find they have other insuperable problems. Firstly, where is the yardstick by which they assess what is the true text? They only have one--themselves! Hort himself wrote of his "yardstick" being a "ring of genuineness" (ibid., page 27). A somewhat vague term for a scholar to use! Kenneth Clark, another of this school, suggested that the textual record was gradually built up by an evolutionary process; one which he calls, with equal vagueness, a "tendency" (ibid., page 89).

E. C. Colwell, who had at first been an adherent of the eclectic school, reminds his readers of the extreme difficulty facing a scholar using this method. In order to choose the correct reading, he must be an authority on the document he is studying. They must be "as a familiar room", and "its idioms are his idioms". In which case, he must "know everything in Christian history which could lead to a variant reading and its correction". Colwell goes on to point out that such knowledge demands expertise in "institutions, doctrines and events"

E. C. Colwell, "Biblical Criticism: Lower and Higher", [age 4ff.) Where, he asks, is the man possessing such authority? Was he sitting on the committee controlling the NIV publication ? we ask. Hardly!

Equally, this question must continually be asked as the study progresses. In seeking the origin of the texts, a reading or portion from one MS will have been subjectively chosen. How can it be proved that what has been chosen is the true, original, reading?

In any case, according to this eclectic theory, if for example that reading is not to be found in other MSS, it should not have been chosen in the first place! Are we to dogmatically assume that such a unique reading is not be considered as originally? The eclectic method poses a great many questions, but fewer satisfactory answers.

As Merrill Tenney states in his "Reversals of New Testament Criticism", "One might almost as well attempt to reconstruct the feathers of his great-grandfather by adding together the features of his descendants as to reproduce exactly the original text from faulty copies which have descended from it" (ed. Carl F. H. Henry, Revelation and the Bible, Pages 365ff.).

At this point, the reader of this article may be excused for his dismay. His confusion is understandable. He asks, "Does all this mean we have no way of knowing what the original text was?". Those who uphold Textual Criticism (the theories of two liberal gentlemen) must find themselves in this position. In fact, Kenneth Clark writes openly of "the retreating mirage of the original text"(K. W. Clark, "The theological Relevance of Textual Variation in Current Criticism of the Greek New Testament", page 15). All this, because the preacher wanted a version in more simple English!

Is Clark and his like correct? Have we come to that? Has God not seen fit to keep alive the original text, when He Himself has reminded His people of the importance of His Word? Westcott-Hort were liberal in their view of Scripture. It is amazing, therefore, evangelicals have not been more suspicious of these men and their biased and faulty scholarship. The alarming prospect is that a liberal atmosphere has crept into the evangelical ranks. Yes, even the Reformed ones.

We believe God has kept alive the original text within the form and shape of what is known as the Textus Receptus; that text known in the ancient Greek and Syrian churches, in Europe in the second century and produced in the Authorized Version via the Protestant Reformers.

The third point made in the Preface of the NIV is an equally serious one. We read that "the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God's Word in written form". Are we being too fussy in asking after that missing word, "inspiration"? It is normal for evangelical men and Confessions to make much of that word. Theological subtleties are not "hair-splitting".

We need to fill in as many gaps as possible in the wall Satan would love to climb over, or to destroy. One would have thought, that in a Preface to yet another version of the Bible, the scholars claiming to be "evangelical" would make much of their stand against the prevailing unbeliefs and uncertainties of this degenerate age. No, this committee supplies us with the blandest of statements.

Despite this, one is still stunned by some of the alterations in the text of the NIV. It comes as a shock, even to hardened campaigners as we are, to recognize the subtle attack upon the Deity of Christ and the Heart of the Gospel. What days we live in!

What can we say to the growing number of those turning to the NIV? We have a situation which has become ridiculous, and one which Satan is using. The preacher reads and preaches from this liberal-oriented version--or, others equally suspect--to a congregation trying to follow the AV. By the time the latter has sorted out the differences in text, the preacher's sermon has almost been forgotten!

Let us remember, the cry for the new versions does not, in general, come from the pew. It is heard from the pulpit. Preachers, like sheep, at times follow each other's bleat. Some "top" men, fancying themselves as intellectuals have called for the "forbidden fruits" of textual criticism in new versions. The dear saints, waiting patiently in the pews for God's Message, love the "good old AV".

Why not? God's people, some of the finest of the wheat, have handled devotedly the AV since 1611! Now, we are told it is not good enough...

Let us not fool ourselves. This desire for alteration, is not that people might understand more simple English. We would not insult their intelligence, especially when 18th century miners with no education could grasp the mighty words of the AV when preached to them; words, such as:

                            Condemnation, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification, Consecration.

No, the situation is more subtle. God's Word and people are under attack. God's Son, His Deity and Glory are being undercut. It is time for us to cry, "Stop!" and to return to positions held dear by our godly forefathers.