An Exciting Excercise

“After preaching the Word of God for many years,” says Rev. Fred Van Houten, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa, in this article, “it is now more than ever my chief delight. Studying the Scriptures in the deepest way I can is an exciting exercise. There would not be that excitement and thrill if I made some of the historical events symbolical expressions, if I believed the authors were time bound and culturally conditioned, if I did not believe these authors spoke from God.”

Are you excited about your work?

People, personalities, pressures, and problems can make you unhappy, but you can be thrilled with your job if you realize it is God‘s assignment for you.

God‘s Writings – In the plan and providence of God I study the Bible and apply it to life today. I want to do this in the very best way I possibly can. Teachers and professors study diligently the writings of men to teach knowledge to their students. People who are competent in their work and industrious in their profession must experience a certain drive that enables them to overcome difficulties and discouragements.

In my way I study the writings of God. This is thrilling! It is an exciting exercise! What do people need more today than to know what God has written in His Word? To be sure, I believe in organic inspiration of the Bible, but this is what the Scriptures mean to me—God‘s writings. This calls for my very best efforts and most diligent study in the exercises of Holy Writ. I am a steward of such a precious possession.

Without any hesitancy or explanation whatever, with all my heart I am “believing without any doubt all things contained in them” (Confession of Faith, Art. 5). To me the words “inerrancy” and “infallibility” apply to every Scripture, and I dont have to limit such applications to “God‘s redemptive revelation in Christ.” If I would imply such a characterization, what of some of the historical events in the Bible, e.g., the first chapter of Job or Genesis! My understanding is not my criterion. My faith is. “By faith I understand” (Hebrews 11:3).

The Original Writings – In our circles we use the expression “verbal inspiration” or “plenary inspiration.” By it we mean that the Holy Spirit “breathed in” the writers even the words they used. It must be remembered, however, that these expressions apply to the “autographa,” the original writings as they left the authors’ hands. The trouble is that some Christians apply these characterizations to the King James Version. To date it may be the best translation, as many believe, but it is only a translation.

Why did not God allow the original writings to be preserved? With God’s writings and the inbreathing of the Holy Spirit, would you not think that He would have preservcd them somehow and somewhere as they were? Would it not be marvelous if someone could still find them, as the Bedouins found the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947? With our many versions and translations today, which seem to confuse some people, would it not be great if we could know exactly what these “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”? (II Peter 1:21).

Although we can ask these questions in all sincerity. we know it has not pleased God to preserve the original Scriptures in this way. Maybe it is better that they were not preserved intact. Knowing the history of the Christian Church as we do, such precious manuscripts would have been venerated and perhaps even worshipped. Even our best and oldest manuscripts are copies of copies of the master copy. When the New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament, they commonly used the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament in Greek written about 250 B.C. The Holy Spirit led them in this use of the Scriptures.

Textual Criticism – This expression does not have anything to do with higher criticism of the Bible. It means the science of comparing, contrasting, and evaluating the various manuscripts. There are many of these documents, and it is an exciting exercise to study them. For the most part, the differences are very slight and have no effect on Biblical theology. The objective of this art is a sincere and diligent attempt to get at the original text. This is the work of qualified philologists, but all Scripture exegetes and expositors should learn something about it.

In the footnotes or sidenotes of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament these little alterations are listed. They are worth studying. I never cease to admire these copyists who through many centuries transcribed these manuscripts in their own handwriting or hand printing. Some letters of the Hebrew and Creek alphabet are very similar, especially in the ancient script. What an exciting task! Why did they do it? It all tells me of the Providence and direction of God, as well as the complete dedication of these scribes to the Word of God.

King James Version – Some time ago I received in the mail a copy of a small booklet The King James Version Compared to Dr. Taylor’s Paraphrase, written by Oliver B. Greene. Personally, I do not think much of paraphrases except for the purpose of Bible study. Some people usc only The Living Bible and I believe that can be dangerous. At least it is inadvisable. But this writer is something else! He writes, “In the Bible I use—which I have studied countless hundreds of hours and preached from hundreds and hundreds of times—I do not see one word about any changes in future editions. My Bible is the same today as it was when I was born again forty years ago. The reason there will be no changes in future editions is stated in Psalm 119:89, ‘Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven!” Isn‘t that something? This is to equate the King James Version with the original writings, and it did not appear until 1611!

Now it so happened that the Greek text which the King James translators used as their source was compiled largely from manuscripts which date from the thirteenth to the flfteenth centuries A.D. Since 1611 a number of Greek manuscripts have been found which date from the third and fourth centuries A.D. These early documents surely enable textual scholars to discover a text closer to the original. One of these tremendous discoveries is the excellent CODEX ALEPH found by Tischendorf in 1859, dating to about 300 to 350 A.D.

Later Versions – An illustration of a variation in versions is in order. A beautiful verse in Scripture is I John 3:1. The King James Version translates it, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons or God, therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” The American Standard Version has the second clause this way–“that we should be called children of God and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not.” Almost all the subsequent translations include those words “such we are.” The New International Version has “And that is what we are.”

Why this difference? This example takes us to the heart of the problem concerning the Greek text. When one looks at these words “we are” and their position in the verse, one can understand. Happily for us, scholars were able to discover early manuscripts which retained the “we are.” This is not much of a change, and it does not alter our theology, but in our times of testing and trying, these little words meet us as a gracious testimony from God that “we are” indeed His children.

Many archaic words and expressions in the KJV could be listed. Although it is not popular outside the Christian Reformed Church, the ASV is an excellent translation as far as the original languages are concerned. The “Received Text” used by KJV is not a bad or heretical text. One of the best modern editions of the Greek text was published in 1882 by Westcott and Hort, and it influenced the ASV translation considerably. Yet Hort wrote the following concerning the “Received Text”:

With regard to the great bulk of the words of the New Testament, there is no variation or other ground of doubt, and therefore no need for textual criticism . . . . We find that, setting aside differences of spelling, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt make up about one sixtieth of the whole New Testament.

The only reason Westcott and Hort or any modern translators revised the “Received Text” is because the more recent manuscript discoveries reproduce more accurately the original wording of the New Testament. Very likely no other version besides King James will have served so well and so long, but thank God for the more recent discovery of Bible manuscripts which enable us to know the Scriptures more meticulously. I for one think very highly of the New International Version. Just as the New Testament was written in the language of the common people, so today the Word of God must communicate to all men in all ages in all places. For this reason there may be a new version of the Scripture in another fifty years or so.

Not all those who preach the Word are able to take a course in textual criticism. Not all who speak to audiences have studied Hebrew and Greek. Today we are grateful for good commentaries which can aid a great deal in helping a preacher to exegete the Scriptures. The Old Testament commentaries of Leupold and Young are excellent. The New Testament commentaries in the New International series and those by Dr. William Hendriksen are extremely valuable in exegeting and explaining the text from the original languages. The diligent and thorough use of these volumes is reassuring for one who is called to preach the Word. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

After preaching the Word of God for many years, it is now more than ever my chief delight. Studying the Scriptures in the deepest way I can is an exciting exercise. There would not be that excitement and thrill if I made some of the historical events symbolical expressions, if I believed the authors were time bound and culturally conditioned, if I did not believe these authors spoke from God. Although the entire Bible has been given to men many centuries ago, and I have been privileged to study it for many years, I still feel like Tischendorf when he discovered that great manuscript of the New Testament:

I knew that I held in my hand the most precious Biblical Treasure in existence—a document whose age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had ever examined during twenty years’ study of the subject. I cannot now, I confess, recall all the emotions which I felt in that exciting moment with such a diamond in my possession.