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One of your recent columns made me wonder about something, and now that you’ve asked for questions, here it is. In non-English speaking countries, what do evangelical fundamentalists use for their guidebook? An ‘approved’ translation of KJV, or some other version of the bible?
There was a time when American Evangelicals (who are inherently Fundamentalist — please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) primarily used the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (1769 edition). A small percentage of Evangelicals used the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Beginning in the 1960s with The Living Bible, Evangelicals began using non-KJV translations: the New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), The Message (MSG), and the English Standard Version (ESV), to name a few. This ushered in the Bible translation war. Personally, I used the KJV, NASB, and the ESV at different points in my ministry. The more right-leaning sects, churches, and pastors are, the more likely they are to use the KJV.
The Bible translation war has been going on for almost seventy years. While I was unable to find any study on which translations Evangelicals use, I will venture an educated answer to this question: fewer Evangelicals use the KJV than ever, while Christians on the far right of the Evangelical spectrum have turned using the KJV into an unwavering article of faith. I candidated at one Southern Baptist church in Weston, West Virginia that wanted me to become their pastor. I used the ESV in my trial sermons. The pulpit committee told me that they really wanted to call me as their next pastor, but an influential family in the church had objected to me using a non-KJV Bible. Not wanting to upset this family, the committee asked if I would only use the KJV. Knowing how cantankerous KJV-only adherents could be, I said no. As a result, the church declined to call me as their pastor.
Evangelicals spend billions of dollars of years evangelizing, through missionary endeavors, non-English speaking people. This includes providing these people Bibles in their native languages. (Most major people groups already have Bibles in their respective languages.) For example, my wife’s cousin and her husband, Toree and James “Jamie” Overton, are Bible translation missionaries in India for Worldview Ministries. Their objective?: translating the Scriptures into the heart language of a people is required for effective church-planting movements and discipleship . . . a focus on unreached people groups and a purposeful strategy to reach them is required if we are to be in complete obedience with the Great Commission.
Some Evangelical Bible translation ministries use the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic (and other) manuscripts to produce Bibles in native languages. This is long, hard, arduous work, as any linguist can tell you.
Some translation ministries, however, only use certain manuscripts to translate the Bible into native languages. Take Worldview Ministries. Here’s a screenshot of their translation methodology:
Got all that? Lurking behind this world salad is King James-onlyism and the idea that only certain Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts are the divinely preserved and authoritative Word of God. Other manuscripts and translations are rejected out of hand and considered corrupt. These claims are patently false, but are common in certain corners of the Evangelical world.
In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) circles, it is not uncommon to find Bible translation ministries using the KJV as the foundational text for translation. Instead of translating the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts into native languages, the 1769 revision of the King James Bible is used for translations into native tongues. Such translators believe the KJV is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. Yes, an inspired translation. Evidently, God speaks KJV. Thus, it makes “perfect” sense to translate the English KJV directly into other languages. The problems with this approach are beyond the scope of this post. Needless to say, I can hear my linguist friends banging their heads on the walls of their offices. Translation is hard work, and this KJV-to-Native-Language approach is a shortcut that leads to inaccurate translations.
The goal of these translations is evangelization. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are spent translating Bibles into native languages. Evangelicals seek out people groups without a Christian Bible in their native tongue. Then they spend years learning the languages so they translate Bibles into native languages. Once completed, these Bibles (usually the New Testament or the Gospel of John) will be “freely” distributed and used to save “sinners.” Personally, I view such efforts as con artists selling unwary people that which they don’t need. In the case of my wife’s cousin and her husband, why do native Indians need Christian Bibles? Why not leave them alone? Why try to turn them into Western Christians? Wouldn’t money be better spent feeding, clothing, and housing people? Instead, such ministries “prey” on non-English speaking natives. Evangelicals like nothing better than a missionary story about third-world heathens being saved. Open come the pocketbooks and out come the credit cards to finance what I call Evangelical busy work; unnecessary efforts to conform native people into the image of white American Christians.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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