Professor F. F. Bruce has put us all in his debt by giving us a book, fresh from the Oxford University Press, titled The English Bible, subtitled A History of Translations. The Christian public—I speak chiefly of the United States—is ill-informed as to how the Holy Scriptures have fared at the hands of their translators and revisers as they have passed within the medium we call the English language, from one reproduction to another. Moreover, we are equally ill-informed as to how these succeeding versions have fared at the hands of those first to receive them. On both of these counts, Dr. Bruce’s work makes highly-informative and exciting reading.

At the same time it provokes questions. Dr. Bruce himself raises some of them. After a particular version has been in use for some time there is mounting pressure for revision. Why? The desire for greater intelligibility. English, being a living language, is a changing language. The New York Times English is a far cry from Elizabethan English. Give us the Bible in the contemporary vernacular. This is the cry.

Agreed, says Professor Bruce, in effect. But let us not be trapped by a fallacy. Because the Bible is the book that it is, intelligibility is not altogether a matter of verbiage and idiom. Hence the professor’s query, “Is the proper inference (from the inability of normally intelligent persons to understand this or that version of Scripture) that a more idiomatic translation would be more intelligible and remove the difficulties? Or may the trouble not lie in a certain inability to understand some of the things the Bible deals with, no matter how up-to-date the idiom may be in which they are expressed?” (The English Bible, p. 200). These are questions, Dr. Bruce suggests, “which should be made the subject of further investigation.”

Thus provoked, one ventures to indicate several questions that invite more searching and precise treatment than most current books on the Bible as authority and revelation have produced:

1. What are the relationship and interaction between divine revelation through the medium of inspired writings and such reproductions thereof as may be made in languages other than the original? However dear a doctrine of verbal inspiration may be—and I am one to whom it is dear—if we could prove it to everyone’s satisfaction, even in the fold of faith, we might then be found to have proved too much. For if the validity and sufficiency of the revelation are made to depend on the precise words as originally inspired, then we are deprived of the revelation God wanted us to have. The reason is obvious: not any of the original documents is available to us. All the autographs are lost.

Yet massive evidence shows us that the manuscripts we do have are so substantially identical with the original as to leave us with a revelation that dependably serves the purpose for which God gave it. Is it otherwise with the translations that are produced within the medium of the English language? Name any of them—from Wycliffe and Tyndale through the King James to the Revised Standard and the New English—and, regardless of the praise or dispraise with which they have been hailed, can you demonstrate that any of them fails of the criterion offered in the “Thirty-nine Articles,” namely, that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation?”

2. Consider a second query: What in fact is the vital connection between Scripture as originally inspired and responsible renderings thereof in other languages, with particular regard to the authority associated with both? The answer, says Professor Bernard Ramm, is the Holy Spirit or, more exactly, what the Reformers called the testimonium spiritus sancti, the witness of the Holy Spirit. The testimonium is a theme that Dr. Ramm has fruitfully explored in his The Witness of The Holy Spirit. The source of the believer’s certainty that the Scriptures are the Word of God is always and ultimately the Spirit of God. He is not the ground of such persuasion (that indeed is the truth of God as inscripturated) but He is the cause of it. This testimonium is no substitute for critical and historical investigation into matters canonical, textual, or linguistic. On the other hand, competence in investigation is no prerequisite for the certainty that comes through the testimonium.

3. Another question: What is the limitation that surrounds, and will continue to surround, the finest efforts to make Bible linguistically intelligible? It is the blindedness, the twistedness, the pridefulness, of what St. Paul calls the “natural man.” As Professor Packer puts it, “Sinners are no more ready to acknowledge God in their thinking, by allowing His utterances authority over their judgment, than they are to acknowledge God in their actions, by allowing His utterances authority over their behavior” (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, p. 139). The clearest idiom may be clouded—and balked—by a tainted conscience.

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4. Or this problem: What confusions are perhaps inherent in the dialogue over the formulation that may be given to theMODEof biblical inspiration? They are semantic confusions, and no one is likely to put a full stop to them. Theological controversy over the Bible produces in the disputants a polemical posture. A polemical posture is almost invariably strained. We want to explain more than is explainable. We wish to insist on formulations that are more rigorous than all of the facts will warrant.

When, for example, a Professor Warfield (in his half-century-old The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible) or a Professor Packer (in his current volume just mentioned) tries to differentiate between a divine inspiration that dictates words and a divine inspiration that controls words, he is grappling with a problem in semantics so subtle that his own words are under strain.

The effort is laudable. To regard it as definitive is unwarranted.

The Church has never classically defined the modus operandi of inspiration. It has simply confessed the majestic fact of divinely-inspired and trustworthy Scriptures.

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