Volume 9, Issue 4: Presbyterion
A Church Bible
"The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that's the book for me." This children's song contains far more wisdom and personal reverence for the Word than is evidenced within the modern Church.
Through a series of complicated circumstances, we have come to the point where the text of Scripture is now established by the Academy, and is afterwards packaged, copyrighted, marketed and sold by hustling and enterprising entrepreneurs. The Church has no authoritative role in the process whatever. When it comes to the Word of God, the modern Christian Church fancies herself as a shopper only . . . a consumer. Our collective interest in these spiritual things is simply one more itch for Adam Smith's invisible hand to scratch. We think the Church's duty is to send off parishioners to find the Bible section in the Christian gift center, right next to the small glass figurines, and there to make a dutiful purchase.
A more biblical vision would see the Church as guardian or custodian of the sacred text. Just as the Jews, the Church of the Old Testament, discharged their obligations with regard to the Scriptures, so should the Church under the New Covenant. Paul tells us the nature of the charge given to the Jews. "Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). What God had spoken through His prophets was entrusted to His covenant people. They had received, as part of their covenantal inheritance, the covenants, the law, and the promises (Rom. 9:4), all of which were contained for them in the Scriptures. This is in sharp distinction from the view held by the modern Church, which says that the oracles of God should be committed to the scholarly unbelievers at the University of Whatzit, and marketed by the very important suits and ties down at Zondervan and Thomas Nelson.
Contrary to what many conservatives may think, the recent dust-up over the impending move of the popular NIV to gender-neutrality is not really the problem. This recent silliness simply illustrates one small snippet of the problem. The problem is that the Church no longer has anything to do with the administration of the oracles of God. But the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), not the pillar and ground of a greater market share. Entrusted with something precious, we were foolish enough to set it down somewhere and have now lost track of it.
We are distressed at the trendy foolishness which swirls around the Bible, but given the current custodians of the Word, what did we expect? We still do not have the confessional backbone to suggest a biblical solution. Sober-minded Christians have always objected to the way the Bible is handled by her current hawkers. "How can we get people to buy the same old thing, over and over?" wonder the suits. "I know," says one up-and-comer. "Let's keep changing it - just like Nike does with their sneakers." This is the origin of more translations than one can shake a stick at, along with ever-new and exciting packaging like a Study Bible for Husbands with Menopausal Wives, and the Nasturtiums Who Love Them. We object, but objecting and repenting are two different things.
We should all be realists by now and not expect the solution to come from the Guardians of the Problem. If a serious reform of this particular publishing travesty ever got large enough for anyone to notice it, the caterwauling of Textual Critic and Businessman, in close harmony with one another, would lead any dispassionate observer to conclude that someone had undertaken the skinning of cats with a butter knife.
But reformation always begins with the Word of God. In our case, this means a recovery of the ecclesiastical text from within the Church. Our situation is a difficult one, and the suggestions given below are therefore not necessarily ranked in any particular order.
First, the historic Protestant Church must reassert her prerogatives with regard to the keeping of the oracles of God. The rights to market the Bible were not sold by the Holy Spirit to Rupert Murdoch, the current owner of Zondervan. How in blue blazes did Mammon get the publishing rights to the Word of God? Who was involved in the transaction, and why hasn't he been publicly flogged?
Second, the Church needs to encourage the saints to discontinue their patronage of those who perpetuate this $49.95 leather-bound trumpery. Any copyrighted-for-profit version of the Bible (with obligatory threats for excessive storage and retrieval) should be rejected out of hand.
Third, we should pray and labor for an ecclesiastical translation of the Bible. This translation and work should begin with the last true ecclesiastical version we had, which was the Authorized Version (popularly known as the King James). At one stroke this would set right the three principle issues involved: the ecclesiastical (the Church distributing Scripture, as opposed to, say, the devil), the textual (the Textus Receptus as opposed to the tossed salad "who's-to-say?" variant readings we get now), and the translational (formal equivalence vs. dynamic equivalence).
Fourth, the portion of the Church involved with the recovery of the Bible should repudiate, in the strongest possible terms, the Glassy-Eyed Defenders of the King James Version, who are very popular in fundamentalist circles. Such know-nothingism has been one of the principle reasons why the Bible-mongers have been able to get away with rejecting the ecclesiastical text without any serious argument.
Fifth, the Church should approach the task of recovery and reformation with considerable cheerfulness. After all, the whole thing is kind of obvious, once you think about it.