Translation Change Best for Us

For some time, I have believed we needed to make a change in the translation that we use at Red Rocks Baptist Church as well as what we use at Silver State Christian School. But I have been in ministry long enough to know that “change,” regardless of how small it may seem to leadership, can impact church members in a big way. Over the years, I have made a16111.jpg number of changes in our church, not in core beliefs but in the area of methodology and practical ministry. We have rewritten our constitution, moved our facilities (twice), changed our worship service format and times, changed our name, utilized technology in our worship services, restructured our outreach program, reformatted our Sunday school and children’s ministries, developed our music policy, and refined our membership materials and process.

From my experience, at least four essential ingredients make change happen “decently and in order.”

  • Proper Timing. Every church has a culture, and the “right time” will vary from ministry to ministry. Too many changes or changes made too close together can hurt the leader. I have been at Red Rocks for 22 years, so it would naturally be easier to make changes for me than for someone who has just come to leadership in a particular ministry.
  • Unified Leadership. I have operated under the principle that I won’t make any major changes unless the pastoral staff and deacons are behind it. If there isn’t unity in the leadership, I must provide additional information to those who are still unconvinced and give God time to work in those who are not with me, or I must admit it may not be the time for this particular change.
  • Solid Teaching. If a change needs to be made, it should make sense to the man in the pew. People are usually “down on” what they are not “up on.” Because of the nature of people and of the church, we generally need to over-communicate to get the message across. Less then 20 percent of our people are early adopters, so they need information to change their thinking and inspiration to change their actions.
  • Careful Implementation. We always try to provide a forum for people to ask questions such as, “How will this work?”, “When will this happen?”, or “What will it cost?” We have surveyed our congregation several times on a variety of matters to know what people are thinking. We want them to “buy in”; and for some folks, that means having the opportunity to ask the same questions we have asked ourselves. Sometimes we wait for a time to implement the change after approval just to demonstrate that we are not in a hurry.

The following is the first of five messages we preached at Red Rocks to help our people understand the topic of Bible translations and to prepare them for our switch to the New King James Version.

Understanding the Translation Issue

Some of us have had the privilege of going to the Bible lands. We have stood at the base of the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were providentially preserved and discovered by a shepherd boy 2,500 years later. They are now on display at the Museum of the Scroll in Jerusalem. We often think that, either in the Museum of the Scroll in Jerusalem or in the Smithsonian, we should be able to view the “original Bible,” almost like you can go to the Tower of London and under carefully guarded supervision view the crown jewels of the British Empire. However, that is not the case!

Doug McLachlan of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN) states,

In the intervening years between the first and 21st century [sic], the unfortunate reality is we have lost access to the original manuscripts of Scripture. None of them have survived. Notwithstanding, God in His grace and governance has insured access to the original content of those documents by preserving for us a rich abundance of manuscript copies. And while there are many variants between the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the overwhelming majority of these variants are of minor importance. [1]

So this series is really to give us greater understanding and reassurance that God has revealed Himself to mankind and that He has preserved that message in the understandable language of His Word.

Let us look at the process that God used to take the truth From the Mind of an Infinite God to the Mind of a Finite Man:

The Preservation of God’s Message

Revelation means to uncover or to make known. Genesis 1:3 says, And God said.” God has revealed Himself in many ways: creation, providence, miracles in Jesus Christ, and especially through the written, preserved Word. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states that his message and writings did not come from men but came through revelation! We have a self-revealing God, and it is a good thing; otherwise we would not be able to know Him. In 1 Samuel 3:7, 21, God revealed His person to Samuel through His Word.

Inspiration is the action whereby God enables men to make a true and accurate record of His revelation. The word inspired is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 as the Greek word theopneustos. Theo is the word for “God,” and pneuma is the word for “spirit” or “air,” found in our words pneumonia or pneumatic tires. Inspiration means “God-breathed.” It does not mean that men wrote some clever books and that God approved their writings; it means God breathed out, and the human authors wrote what God wanted. See 2 Samuel 23:2; Acts 1:16; and 2 Peter 1:20-21.

Canonization comes from a word meaning “measuring rod,” “rule,” or “standard for evaluation.” As applied to the Bible, canonization refers to the books that have been carefully evaluated and found to be the inspired Word of God—66 books in our English version. It is a scriptural term and is used in Galatians 6:16 as “rule.” We know the apostles and prophets wrote other letters that were not included in holy writ. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul references an earlier letter he wrote to the Corinthians. Colossians 4:16 mentions the letter to the Laodiceans. Joshua 10:13 mentions the “book of Jasher,” 1 Chronicles 29:29 refers to the “books of Nathan” and “the prophet and book of Gad.” These are a few of the examples of Bible authors writing about books that do not appear in our Bible. In addition, Jude 9 and 14 quote from two Pseudapigrapha (false writings; literature that laid claim to being Scripture but have been rejected as counterfeit). I Enoch and the Assumption of Moses and now at least one verse from each are included in Scripture. What do we do with the fact that the 1611 King James Version (KJV) had 14 books and 172 chapters of the Apocrypha included in it? (The Apocrypha was a set of uninspired, non-canonical books produced during the late Old Testament and Inter-testament periods. They were never endorsed by Jesus or by the apostles but were accepted in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. They were included in the KJV from 1611 to 1827.) [2]

Four tests were primarily used: Authentic—by an apostle or a prophet? Authoritative—a clear message from God and in agreement with other Scripture? Accepted—collected and read by the churches? Dynamic—comes with life-changing power? Canonization was not so much deciding which books should be included in Scripture but discovering which ones should be. While churches today would come up with the same list, we still have to recognize non-canonical writings today (Book of Mormon, Koran, etc). Men did not determine which books were Scripture; God providentially directed the process.

Translation is the process of changing God’s message from its original language into a receptor language. Is this a biblical process? Or should we insist, as the Muslims do, that to read the Koran we must learn Arabic? In Mark 5:41, the author, Mark, quotes Jesus speaking in the Aramaic language (a Semitic language closely related to Babylonian) then translates it into Greek. We have it in English. He does the same in Mark 15:34. Our world has 6,000 languages. The Scriptures have been translated into 2,000 languages and dialects, covering about 95 percent of the world’s population. Translation is an important step in the process if the world is going to hear God’s message.

Interpretation is to render a correct understanding of the Word of God. A proper hermeneutic helps us interpret the Scriptures in the literal, historical, grammatical, and contextual fashion whereby all literature should be understood. Interpretation is not only scriptural but also critical if people are to understand the Word of God (Neh. 8:8). Each of these five steps must be superintended by the Spirit of God.

The Generations of Holy Scripture

Biblical literature falls into three genres:

    Original Autographs—When God spoke to the Bible writers and when the words were written down; none of these autographs exist (are extant) today.

    Manuscripts (manu–“hand”; script–“written”)—Generally, these are Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament).

    Translations convert the Bible or Bible portions into a receptor language such as English, Spanish, or French.

The materials of antiquity used in recording were fragile and perishable—a stylus on potsherds (clay tablets or pottery). A quill used on parchment or vellum (animal skin) or a quill used on papyrus (a reedy plant that grew in swampy areas; it is similar to our paper). When these paper sheets were bound together, they were called a “codex.”

Both Hebrew and Greek writing evolved. Hebrew came to have vowel markings later. Greek went from earlier uncials (all capitals) to later minuscules (small letters much like our cursive writing).

Truth does not change, but languages always do. Therefore, there is an ongoing need for the Bible to be retranslated or updated for continued readability. Allow me to illustrate with history:

The Greek translation of the Old Testament occurred in the third century B.C. and became known as the Septuagint or LXX because, according to legend, it was translated by a team of 70 Hebrew scholars. The Septuagint became accepted as inspired by some. It was the Bible quoted by both Jesus and the apostles and was used by the early church. This translation was widely used and was the Old Testament Bible for at least 700 years. It is, of course, inferior to the older and more accurate Hebrew texts available today.

In A.D. 405, Jerome provided a fresh translation in Latin, which had become the language of learning. He did not base his translation on the Greek Septuagint but translated it into Latin from the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. Very few Christians could read either of those more ancient languages. His translation became known as the Latin Vulgate or simply Vulgate. (The word Vulgate comes from the word vulgar, meaning “common” or “popular.”) When his translation reached northern Africa, it caused a major stir in the churches because it was new, was in the common tongue, and had some unique translations. In the book of Jonah, for example, instead of “gourd,” he accurately translated from the Hebrew “castor oil tree.” The Vulgate caused a riot in Carthage. In time, just like the Septuagint before it, the Vulgate was recognized as a superior translation and became the accepted version used by the church for 1,100 years; again, many considered it to be “inspired of God.”

Just as Jerome stirred up controversy with his new translation, his successor Erasmus caused conflict with his translation. Erasmus was called “the prince of the humanists.” The term humanist did not mean the same thing as today’s secularist but was an indication that Erasmus believed that God endowed men with abilities of thought that should be cultivated. Erasmus was a Roman Catholic priest and a brilliant scholar. He was not a reformer like Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli; but he was loyal to the Pope and the church. Erasmus sought to produce a new Greek text. He took the five Greek manuscripts available to him. Because of the pressure to be the first to dedicate a Greek text to Pope Leo X (because Cardinal Ximenes was already at work on the Complutensian Polyglot for that same purpose), he completed his work in a hurried fashion. For some places in the book of Revelation, he did not even have a Greek manuscript, so he “reversed translated” from the Latin into what he thought the Greek would say. The Greek text was completed in 1516, but it was hardly a thing of beauty. By his own admission, it was “thrown together rather than edited.” Finding hundreds of errors, he immediately began to work on the second edition, which later became the basis for the Textus Receptus or Received Text, the Greek text used for our King James Version. The church looked at Erasmus with suspicion for producing a Greek text. Why would anyone learn Greek? Latin was the language God had used to preserve the Bible in the Vulgate. The Greeks (as in orthodox churches of the East) were heretics and had been excommunicated in A.D. 1054. The language of the Jews (“heretics and Christ killers”) was Hebrew. Erasmus dedicated it to the same Pope who had excommunicated Martin Luther. [3]

So Jerome took the heat for producing the Latin Vulgate, and Erasmus got the same treatment for his Greek text that became the basis for the KJV, now enshrined by some as “inspired.” He who resisted tradition became tradition; and if the cycles of history continue in a few hundred years, there will be a New International Version (NIV)-Only movement!

Remember, the Bible was written not in classical Greek but in Koine Greek, the language of the common man. God wants His Word to be accessible to the common man. The Roman Catholic Church burned William Tyndale at the stake for translating the Bible into English so the plough boy could read the Scriptures and know the Lord. Truth never changes, but languages do; so we must make truth understandable and available to as many as possible, regardless of the cost.


1. Douglas McLachlan, Larry Pettegrew, Roy Beacham, and Edward Glenny, The Bible Version Debate: The Perspective of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis, MN, 1997: Central Baptist Seminary), pp. 2-3.
2. James B. Williams, Randolph Shaylor and the Committee on the Bible’s Text and Translation, From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999), p. 220.
3. James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You trust the Modern Translations? (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Hous Publishers, 1995), pp. 13-15.

heinze_les.jpgLes Heinze has served as senior pastor of Red Rocks Baptist Church (formerly known as South Sheridan Baptist Church) in Lakewood, Colorado, since 1990. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible and a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). He also received the Doctor of Sacred Ministries degree from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI). God has blessed him and his wife, Starry, with three children.

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