A Review of: Versions,
Reverence, Modernism, Phariseeism & Authority by Richard Fox
Editor's Note: This rejoinder of Fox's article is the final one of the exchange (as per the editorial policy of Watchman Magazine). The reader is encouraged to read the initial Editorial, written by Stan Cox, and Fox's review. Both articles appear in this issue of Watchman Magazine.
This review of brother Fox's article, "Versions, Reverence, Modernism, Phariseeism & Authority" is intended to offer a Biblical analysis of his material. I have met brother Fox and know him to be a man of dedicated faith. I have no personal grudge or animosity toward him, and ask you to give his article as well as this one a fair hearing. I would ask you to please read his article before proceeding with this one so that you are familiar with his material and lines of reasoning. Then, with an open Bible and a ready mind, give attention to the things that are spoken to see whether they are of God (Acts 17:11).
Versions of the Bible
Let it be firmly stated at the outset that this author agrees with brother Fox's point that we need to use a reliable translation of God's word in our study and teaching. God has inspired His word and it is important for us to use a translation of the Bible that respects its inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Since God has not authored nor authorized one particular translation as the "Authorized Version", we must concede that one's choice of a Biblical translation is a matter of liberty (not divine edict) and ought to be the result of thoughtful consideration (Rom. 14:1-5, 10, 13). At the same time it is clear that some versions that claim to be translations are human paraphrases that cannot be relied upon as accurate translations of the Biblical text. All who seek to know the truth of God will search out translations that respect the verbal nature of inspiration (1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Our objection to brother Fox's article concerns his attempt to bind one Bible translation (or one group of translations) as the only one(s) that we can rely upon or that genuinely convey(s) God's will to man. (His specific point of emphasis has to do with conveying reverence toward God and the translation of singular and plural pronouns applied to God.) The binding of personal scruples is the issue at hand, not arguing the strengths and/or weaknesses of any particular translation (such as the KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASV, etc.).
Brother Fox characterizes as a "modernist" any brother who uses a version of the Bible other than the KJV or ASV (such as the New King James). Herein lies the problem. To so despise a brother's liberty (such as his choice of legitimate Bible translations) is the very thing forbidden of us in Romans 14:3, 10. Unfortunately, brother Fox does this throughout his article. The pressing of such personal scruples causes unnecessary disputes that disrupt the unity of God's people (Rom. 14:1; 2 Tim. 2:14).
There is no doubt that we can benefit from analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Biblical translations. And, we must all willingly admit that every Bible version has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. But, we have no Bible authority to demand the use of one Bible version and relegate all "non-conformists" (those who do not use KJV and/or ASV) to the skeptical wasteland of "modernism". Such pejorative judgments not only hinder an atmosphere of brotherly kindness and Biblical study, they are incorrect.
There is no dispute over the need for accuracy in Biblical translations. But, to say the use of common-day pronouns makes a translation like the NKJV "not a version but a perversion" is a considerable overstatement of the issue. For instance, should we refer to the King James Bible "not a version but a perversion" because it inaccurately translates 1 John 5:7-8? No. Even though its translation of 1 John 5:7-8 lacks manuscript support, we do not regard the entire KJV as a perversion and "throw out the baby with the bath water." We doubt that brother Fox would use his own terminology and refer to the KJV not as "a version but a perversion" where 1 John 5:7-8 is concerned. (Unfortunately, the NKJV perpetuates this inaccurate translation; the ASV more accurately reflects the manuscript evidence of the text.)
Or again, when the KJV inaccurately translates pascha (Passover) in Acts 12:4 as "Easter" are we to thus conclude the KJV is "not a version but a perversion?" No, even though the King James translators missed it here. You see, every translation has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, including (but certainly not limited to) the pronouns they employ in translating the text.
Which brings us to the real thrust of much of what brother Fox has written. He believes the pronoun group "thee" and "thou" should be retained in our English translations of the Bible instead of being revised to reflect common-day English grammar. Since the NKJV does not do so, he regards it as a "perversion" of the Biblical text.
He uses the expression "so-called" when referring to the NKJV; but it is in fact a revision of the KJV. The NKJV preface says of its translators, "They have perceived the Holy Bible, New King James Version, as a continuation of the labors of the earlier translators...." To my knowledge, no one claims infallibility for the NKJV of the Bible, including those who produced it. But, in point of fact, the NKJV is a revision of the earlier KJV, brother Fox's "so-called" characterization notwithstanding.
Brother Fox said that he does not consider himself a writer. Rest assured that I do not consider myself a grammarian! So, I looked up the definition of "High English" and found it to mean the "canonical, correct, slang-free speech of the educated classes. It has no slang. It has a very few allowed contractions. You always have all the helping words, endings, vowels, ending sounds" (http://everything2.com/?node=High+English). Are we to believe that there can be no accurate translation of the word of God in the language of the common man (whether English or any other language)? Since "the common people heard Him (Jesus, jrp) gladly" while many in the "educated classes" spurned Jesus, it is certainly a reasonable conclusion that commonly used language can accurately translate God's word (cf. Mk. 12:37). (Jesus certainly seemed to think so since He quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.) Today, the Bible is translated into literally hundreds of languages worldwide so the common man can know the word and will of God. Thank God for such a blessing!
Yes, we want and need accuracy in Biblical translation. Like other versions of the Bible, sometimes the KJV provides that accuracy and sometimes it does not (see again, Acts 12:4; 1 Jno. 5:7-8; Acts 2:27 for less than reliable KJV translations of the text). If we accept brother Fox's line of reasoning we are forever forced to refer to the KJV as a disreputable version of the English Bible when discussing Hades in Acts 2:27 or the Passover in Acts 12:4!
We are grateful for the care taken by the KJV translators to distinguish in English the singular and plural pronouns of the Greek text. We do not dispute the benefit this is to understanding the Scriptures. At the same time, it is not an inaccurate translation of words or of grammatical usage to use the pronoun "you" in both its singular and plural form (we correctly use it these ways every day!). If brother Fox would leave the issue where it belongs (as a valuable aid in helping us better understand the text) then there would be no objection. But, he does not. He asserts that anybody who uses a Bible that does not use thee and thou is a modernist! Why is such a person a modernist? According to him, because the one word "you", in its common and correct grammatical usage, is used to translate two pronouns (the singular and the plural pronouns are different words in the Greek language). Let's apply that logic to another point of translation. Surely brother Fox knows that on occasion the KJV uses one English word to translate two different Greek words (for example, "hell" is used to translate the words hades and gehenna). Now then, no damage it done to the singular and plural Greek pronouns when they are translated, using current English grammar, with the one word, "you". However, doctrinal damage does occur when one English word ("hell") is used to mistranslate the Greek word hades (grave, realm of the dead). So, who is the modernist? In truth, as far as this point is concerned, neither the user of the KJV nor the user of the NKJV is a modernist - that is not the issue! The issue is that the pronoun "you", in current, common and correct English grammar can be singular or plural, and is so used in some Bible translations (such as the NKJV). That does not constitute perversion. Those who suggest otherwise would do well to rethink their analysis of the subject.
We have already granted the benefit to Bible study of an accurate distinction of the singular and plural pronouns that the KJV provides. The value of consulting a variety of translations when studying the Bible is thus sustained.
But, one has not substituted the words of men by using a modern English pronoun ("you") instead of those used in the KJV. Number (singular or plural) is still recognized in the grammar of "common" English; it simply uses the same pronoun ("you") for both singular and plural. Confusing? At times, yes. But, no corruption of the text has occurred; no dismissal of the proper pronouns has taken place when "you" is properly used in the course of translating the text into current English usage.
Does brother Fox think Satan hates the KJV translation of Acts 12:4? Somehow I doubt it. Is brother Fox guilty of besmirching and belittling the KJV when he replaces its erroneous translation of pascha ("Easter") with the correct translation, "Passover" (Acts 12:4)? No, he is not.
In truth, the devil hates the word of God being translated into all the languages of the world, including English! Some translations are bad and assist his cause. Others are reliable in spite of their own set of deficiencies. We should avoid overstating the case in either direction.
Must we show reverence for God? Yes, of course. Again, that is not the issue. The issue is whether certain pronouns must be used before reverence in properly conveyed. Brother Fox and others tell us that thee and thou do indeed have something to do with conveying reverence. He works hard to convince us that only by addressing God with thee and thou are we showing God due respect. Such a conclusion reminds us of the apostle's warning in Colossians 2:20-23:
The Bible never teaches that only certain English pronouns convey reverence toward God. (That would be hard to do, since the English language did not exist when the inspired Scriptures were written!) A "reverential" description and distinction of pronouns cannot be established in either the Hebrew or Greek languages because it does not exist.
Brother Fox says the pronouns thee and thou "have taken on special significance in our present language when addressing Deity." Coining the words of Jesus we ask, The use of thee and thou to signify reverence, whence is it: From heaven or from men? (If you say, "from heaven" we will say, what Bible passage establishes such a teaching, Col. 3:17? But if you say, "from men", we will say, why then do you bind it upon your brethren as necessary in order to be reverent toward God?)
Since the "special significance" given to thee and thou when addressing Deity comes from man (and not God) we are not bound by it usage as the "correct" means of showing reverence. While such pronouns may indeed "have an appearance of wisdom" it is "self-imposed religion" that is "of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23). Therefore, with Paul we say, "So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths" (Col. 3:16) (Or again, let no one demand that you must use thee and thou to convey reverence to God).
Am I saying one can be irreverent toward God? Certainly not! For anyone to conclude that from these comments is to woefully misconstrue the issue.
Please notice that brother Fox is careful to say these pronouns show reverence "when addressing Deity". He has to modify his statement in this way because he knows a distinction of reverential use does not exist in the Scriptures. These pronouns are not used exclusively of Deity in the King James Bible! They are used of both God and Satan in Job 1:7-10:
Why are we compelled to make a reverential distinction of pronouns that the Scriptures do not make? The answer one gives to that question reveals whether he despises his brother's liberty to use valid translations of the Bible which do not use thee and thou (as was occurring in Romans 14:3) or receives his brother who holds a different scruple of conscience from him in the matter (as we are taught to do in Romans 14:1; 15:7).
Brother Fox says of the Pharisees, "They served God with traditions; yet at the same time did not obey and not only did not obey but said their disobedience was because of their service to God." But please note carefully: the key problem with the Pharisees was that by binding their traditions they thought they were obeying and serving God - and teaching others to do the same! Let me illustrate.
The law of God said, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work..." (Exo. 20:8-10) [Please notice that "thou" is used here of God speaking to man. Does that mean that God was reverencing man when He spoke from Mt. Sinai?!] The Pharisees, in their zeal to obey the law of God, constructed many binding traditions upon themselves and others concerning what it meant not to work on the Sabbath. Consider the following: (1) When the disciples of Jesus plucked grain and ate it on the Sabbath, the Pharisees charged them with "doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:2). Of course, the Law of Moses did so regulate the definition of "work" and keeping the Sabbath holy; their traditions did. Jesus said they condemned the guiltless and failed to know the Scriptures that taught mercy (Matt. 12:7). (2) Because a man carried his bed on the Sabbath he was told his action was "not lawful" (Jno. 5:10). In truth, it was only unlawful because it violated the human traditions that had grown up around what constitutes "work" on the Sabbath! (3) Jesus was regarded as a Sabbath breaker worthy of death because He healed that same man on the Sabbath (Jno. 5:17-18). He broke their traditions about the Sabbath; He did not break the Sabbath. He exposed their hypocritical judging by appearance in John 7:22-24 by showing that the law of God allowed the work of circumcision on the Sabbath. Likewise, the law allowed the showing of mercy on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:7; Hos. 6:6). They failed to judge righteously about Him and His work because they had exalted their traditions above the word of God.
You see, the Pharisees demanded that the only way one could properly keep the Sabbath was to regulate their activities on the Sabbath according to the traditions they gradually developed about it.
Now, let us make the application. God has commanded men to show Him reverence; of this there is no doubt, and on this point brother Fox and I are in total agreement (Matt. 10:28; Acts 10:35). But, where is the Scripture that says particular English pronouns must be used in order to properly show that reverence? Brother Fox has already admitted that the use of thee and thou has "taken on a special significance in our present language when addressing Deity," thereby tacitly acknowledging their use is a tradition of men and not a commandment of God. Shall we be like the Pharisees and teach that unless a person uses thee and thou in prayer he is not as reverent as he should be? Will we say that by not using these pronouns one is not showing full and complete respect to God? Will we tell such a person that he is breaking the Lord's command to show Him reverence? Shall we put the mantle of the Pharisees on our brethren today? May it never be so!
By the way, please notice Acts 10:35: "But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." If reverence is defined by the use of the particular pronouns thee and thou, then must people of every nation use thee and thou or else be seen as less reverent and less acceptable to God?
All we do in word of deed must be by the authority of Christ as revealed in His word (Col. 3:17; Matt. 28:18-20). There is no disagreement that authority is established by commands, examples and necessary inferences. Truly, we have been commanded to serve God with "reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). Like the command to "go" and preach the gospel, our reverence for God can and will be variously conveyed at various times (general authority allowing for such differences). When we pray, we usually bow our heads as an expression of reverence; but it is not wrong to pray to the Lord while driving one's car and keeping one's eyes on the road! Some showed reverence for God in the Scriptures by removing their shoes while others by standing and by bowing their faces to the ground (Exo. 3:5; Josh. 5:15; Neh. 8:5-6). Are we bound to do the same thing or be guilty of less that complete reverence for God?
Brother Fox acknowledges the general nature of the command to reverence God when he speaks of "the principle of reverence" which is taught in the scriptures. What he now needs to see is that it is just as wrong to bind only one way of showing "reverence" to God (i.e., using thee and thou) as it is to bind only one way of "going" to preach the gospel.
Do we show reverence to God by the words we use? Certainly! Do we display a sense of decorum and honor for God and our worship to Him by the clothes we choose to wear? Yes. But, acknowledging and encouraging decorum and respect in speech and clothing is far difference from binding upon others certain words or articles of clothing that must be used or worn in order to be properly reverent before God. There is no New Testament passage that binds upon us certain English pronouns when we address God. There is no New Testament passage that binds upon us certain articles of clothing as reverent (save for modesty).
In the absence of specific authority establishing a binding pattern of words and/or of clothing that constitutes reverence of God, we acknowledge the general nature of our authority to reverence God and respect the choices faithful men and women make as to how they properly show reverence to God. (Fundamentally, showing reverence for God means we will subject ourselves to His will in our lives, Hebrews 12:9. Binding English pronouns and/or the wearing of certain types of clothing as necessary expressions of reverence is not subjecting oneself to the will of God; it is subjecting oneself to the will of man. Remember, the Lord said we should "fear" God rather than "fear" man, Matthew 10:28.)
Just as we cannot bind a particular posture for acceptable prayer (standing, sitting, kneeling, laying), we cannot bind a particular set of English pronouns for acceptable reverential speech when we pray.
Because there is no Bible authority to do so, we refuse to bind pronounal references of God (such as thee and thou) upon others as a pattern of reverence. We are not "modernists" because we refuse to bind where the Lord has not bound! "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16)
It is an unjust charge to conclude that one who does not use and/or will not bind thee and thou upon his brethren condones disrespect toward God. The one does not follow the other. We have already stated that our speech must show respect for God (as must everything we think and do). Just as using the NKJV Bible does not make one a modernist, refusing to bind thee and thou when addressing God does not make one irreverent. Furthermore, the mere use of the KJV or saying thee and thou when one prays does not make one reverent! And finally, allowing for the use of "you" and "your" when addressing God does not mean one will soon start addressing God as "Dad" or "Daddy"!
The principle under consideration here is that of propriety or appropriateness as opposed to that which is shameful (Heb. 12:28: "reverence" is translated from aidos and means "a sense of shame or honor, modesty"). The principle is established, not on the basis of societal standards, but on revealed truth. Once again, the Scriptures lay down the general principle of decency before God while leaving many of the specific actions of decency to individual conscience.
While clothing may indeed reflect reverence and propriety toward God, clothing per se establishes neither. What if a person who literally had nothing to wear except "flip-flops, muscle shirt, and baggy shorts" came into our assembly? Would we, on the basis of his outward dress, judge him to be disrespectful of God? I should hope not! God warns us not to become such judges with evil thoughts (Jas. 2:1-4). If one has more appropriate clothing to wear during worship services we are confident that through the patient teaching of the word of God he will learn to dress appropriate for the occasion of worship.
Again we must ask, who decides what is reverential attire and what is not? Who decides what is "flamboyant dress" and what is not? You see, while we must not "refuse Him who speaks", we dare not bind where He has not spoken!
We agree that casual has overwhelmed modern America and that its effects are seen in our worship services. We agree we should be teaching and encouraging reverence toward God. The real issue here, though, is shall we bind a set of specific actions as necessary in order to truly be reverent? For instance, will we establish our tradition of wearing a suit and tie as "reverent" and judge all who fail to do so as lacking in reverence toward God? Why not also establish the tradition of bowing with our faces to the ground to express our reverence toward God and our contrition before Him (Neh. 8:5-6)? Why not also demand the tradition of removing our shoes when we approach God in worship in order to show that we understand we are in the presence of the holy God (Exo. 3:5; 30:17-21)? Why not become like the Pharisees and establish our traditions as the only approved way of keeping the law of God? The answer is simple. To do so invalidates our worship of God (Matt. 15:7-9).
With his own logic brother Fox indicts himself (or at least the KJV translators) as being a modernist, for in Acts 10:35 the KJV does not capitalize the H in him when Deity is spoken of. Or again, in Acts 10:36 when the KJV translators did not capitalize the H in "he is Lord of all," were they contributing to the denial of our Lord's Deity? Perhaps they did so in their rendition of Acts 1:24 where the apostles spoke to the Lord in prayer, for their the KJV did not capitalize the T in the final thou of the verse: "Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen..."?
Our words should convey respect toward the one addressed. It is the setting of the occasion, not the terminology itself that determines respect and propriety. In one setting the son of the President of the United States might call him "Daddy" but in another setting refer to him as "Father" or "Mr. President." Likewise, we pray to our heavenly Father (not "Daddy") out of great honor for God. But we also know that having been adopted as sons we possess an endearing relationship with God and so, with the spirit of His Son we cry out, "Abba, Father!" (Gal. 4:6)
In his own extremism, brother Fox attempts to cast as extremists all who do not bind thee and thou in prayer. If one does not accept the binding of thee and thou in prayer the only outcome he can conceive of is also changing "Father" to "Daddy"! Rather, we suggest the Scriptural alternative of not judging the liberty of brethren who properly use the plural pronoun of common-day English without objecting to his use of thee and thou. That is correct application of Romans 14:1-5, 10, 13 and will "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3; cf. Rom. 15:7).
Brother Fox can only conceive of reverence in the terms he uses to define it. Naturally then, he views as hypocritical one who does not show reverence according to his prescribed definitions. (That is the essence of Phariseeism, for they concluded that unless one kept their traditions he was not keeping God's law!) Let me be clear: We should not condemn brethren for using thee and thou when they address God. But, we must oppose brethren who bind their human distinctions and definitions upon others (such as what is "most reverential" and therefore essential in order to show real reverence for God), for to do so is without Bible authority.
Brethren, we must be able and willing to distinguish between personal scruples and divine revelation. Divine revelation teaches us to fear God and hold Him in reverence. But, shall I castigate a brother who chooses not to use a capital H for him when referring to God (like I just did in the previous sentence)? If I do then I have violated the teaching of Romans 14, which instructs us to accept each other with our different scruples of conscience that do not violate the revealed will of God.
May the Lord help us all to "approve things that are excellent" that we may be "sincere and without offence till the day of Christ" and never bind on others that which the Lord has not bound (Phil. 1:10).