A Man With Two Watches
By Jack Kinsella
I was asked by a reader to comment on a new version of the Bible and some of the claims being made by its publishers. In its sales pitch, it made a number of theological assertions that my correspondent found confusing.
What caught my eye first, even before reading the sales pitch, was the menu bar across the top. In particular, the button marked “author”.
Curious, I clicked on it, expecting to see some representation of God. Instead, the website displayed a pleasant-looking man named Fred. R. Coulter. No doubt Rev. Coulter is one brilliant guy. His bio certainly indicates that.
But if Reverend Coulter is the author, then we already have a theological problem with calling this work a “Bible”.
Rev. Coulter attempts to address that problem under the “Purpose” button.
According to the website, the reason for a new translation is that the old ones were corrupted by the translation committees who redivided the original 49 Books and assembled the books out-of-order.
The purpose claimed for the “Bible in It’s Original Order” is to restore the true Word of God to the English-speaking world after 400 years of error.
According to the website, previous translation committees were motivated by,
“[C]arnal-minded, special interest groups—who desire to make the Bible conform to a particular political, sexist or ecumenical religious agenda—than in accurately translating the Word of God.”
In the case of some translations, particularly the modern politically-correct versions, I have to agree. But that is only when compared to the earlier out-of-order 66-book versions.
The “Restoring the Original Bible” presents the Bible as 49 books assembled in the order in which they were written. And the author doesn’t present his work as a commentary on the Bible.
He says it is the most trustworthy of all existing Bibles, which he also says contain all manner of copyist errors and mistranslated words.
He also gives a few examples of mistranslations and explains all the copyist errors in his 1st Edition that have been corrected in the second.
Rev Coulter didn’t retranslate the Scriptures from the originals the old fashioned way, by scholarly consensus under rigorous oversight. That’s why he says the old versions were flawed.
Instead, Rev. Coulter proudly proclaims he retranslated it all by himself, producing, in his words, “a translation [that] far surpasses the standards of many recent English translations and has indeed fulfilled the requirements for a faithful translation.”
Rev. Coulter says his new translation focuses on five key areas:
1) Accurately conveying the meaning of the words of the original text;
2) Phrasing that accurately expresses the thoughts of the original writers;
3) An understanding of Hebrew and Greek idioms—which cannot be translated literally, but must be translated according to their cultural and historical usage;
4) Punctuation that is honest to the original meaning; and,
5) The careful insertion of words (in italics) to clarify the meaning.
By the time I finished reading the purpose section, I found enough red flags to furnish a construction site. And I hadn’t even gotten to the sales pitch yet.
The sales pitch repeatedly calls it a “Bible” in spite of the proud claim of authorship by Rev. Coulter. It presents itself as the authoritative Word of God, more faithfully translated than previous versions.
The reason that this version is more faithfully translated, if we are to accept the claims of the website, is because Rev. Coulter was more faithful to the Word of God than were the previous translation committees. Again, according to…Reverend Coulter.
Unlike the other versions, his version “combines current scholarship with the latest in archeological findings—yet, it is free from the influence of religious tradition and presupposition.”
But if I had to choose which was the biggest theological challenge presented by the “Holy Bible in the Original Order” I think it would be the following statement , that appears just before the “Order Now” button on the website.
“The Holy Bible In Its Original Order is designed to lead the believer to the unadulterated truth of the Old and New Testament Scriptures and into the “faith once delivered” by Jesus Christ and the original apostles.”
I understand how advertising works — Billy Mays was among my favorite all-time pitchmen. If you are trying to sell something, it HAS to be better than the best, even if what you are selling is muffler repair putty repackaged as “Mighty Putty” at twice the cost.
But the Bible is not Mighty Putty and it is unfortunate that Reverend Coulter is selling it as a Bible, let alone a “new and improved version” of the original, as certified by, er, Reverend Coulter.
By definition, if this new version is the “unadulterated truth” then the old versions contained “adulterated truth.”
All of the claims of superiority made in the sales pitch are based in the contention that until now — millennia after the events occurred — we never had the whole, unadulterated truth necessary to lead us “into the faith once delivered by Jesus Christ and the original apostles.”
I don’t want to denigrate the author or his book — from his picture, he seems like a pleasant man, and as I said earlier, from his bio one can conclude he is undoubtedly brilliant.
And I am sure he is a dedicated servant of the Lord. But the Lord already has a Bible.
Reverend Coulter says plainly that he has little regard for the ‘traditions of men’ which he blames for the errors in the existing versions.
Whenever I hear the phrase ‘traditions of men’ it is in the context of someone who is about to introduce some alternative understanding that is closer to the mind of God. Guys who think they know the mind of God worry me a little.
The ‘traditions of men’ represent humanity’s collective memory, preserved as history and culture. The traditions of men is the way God preserved His Word down through the ages.
Reverend Coulter claims his new translation is from the “original languages” but nowhere could I find reference to which manuscripts were used.
Is this a Textus Receptus? Sinaiticus/Vaticanus? That would be important, since the Codex Sinaiticus was found in 1845 in an Egyptian monastery and the Codex Vaticanus was subsequently ‘discovered’ in a vault in the Vatican. And each reads somewhat differently.
Until 1845, all English Bibles were based on the Textus Receptus (Received Text) passed down through the ages.
The 1845 introduction of two extra (and conflicting) manuscripts into the translation process is one of the reasons that there are so many versions of the Bible in existence today.
Reverend Coulter’s book is probably a terrific reference book and I may order one for myself for that purpose. But it isn’t the Bible. By his own admission, it is one man’s scholarly opinion on what he thinks the Bible should say.
What accepting this as a Bible actually means to the Christian is best illustrated by the old saying: “A man with one watch always knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure.”
If what Fred Coulter wrote is really the Bible, then what have I been studying all my life? And why did God keep it from me for all this time? What about all those Christians who relied on it as God’s Word until now?
Before I could trust any Bible again, I’d need answers to those questions. But they are only questions if you believe that until now, nobody ever got the translation right.
I’ve no doubt the book would be useful in helping to understand the Bible, but as an interesting commentary and Bible reference book, not as a primary source of doctrine.
That’s what the real Bible is for.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on December 8, 2009.