"In Words Easy to Understand": Restoration Quest for a Readable BibleAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Bible, Church History, Exegesis, King James Version, Preaching, Restoration History
Those words, uttered by James Shannon in 1852, capture the near unanimous voice of the 19th century Stoned-Campbell Movement for a Bible in clear, accurate and understandable English. I recently blogged about Alexander Campbell’s Living Oracles and his attitudes regarding the King James Version and due to some interest I plan on a few more posts on the quest for a fresh translation of the Bible.
When the English Revised Version hit the shelves of Barnes & Nobles in 1881 it was greeted with open arms among Churches of Christ. Celebrated though it was, it was seen as a result of Alexander Campbell’s work earlier in the century. The Gospel Advocate noted, “More than half a century ago, Mr. Campbell was busily sowing Revision seed all over this continent and some of that seed fell on English soil, whose ripened fruit is seen today in the volume I hold in my hand” (L.H. Stine, “The New Revision,” GA 23 [July 1883], 473).
Though Campbell was not, in any way, connected with the Revised Version, it is true that he labored endlessly for a corrected vernacular translation. In the 1820s he observed, “[A]ll who attained to the honor of first reformers attempted to give a translation of the scriptures in the vulgar tongue of the people they labored to reform” (“History of the English Bible No.2,” Christian Baptist 2 [March 1825], 159). Tolbert Fanning could write in the mid-1850s, “For the half of a century the friends of what is acknowledged “The reformation of the nineteenth century,” have zealously pleaded for a revised version of the scriptures, but most denominations have maintained a steady and unmitigated opposition to every argument and effort on the subject” (“Revision of the Holy Scriptures,” Gospel Advocate 1 [November 1855], 156-157).
Some resisted, as Fanning noted, “tampering” with the Bible of their youth. James Challen, long time Stoned-Campbell preacher, put it this way … “Not a few seem to believe, or at least act as if King James’ version was inspired, and consequently infallible, that to touch it with the rod of criticism, is like laying sacriligious or unpriestly hands upon the ark of God” (“The Necessity of a New Version and the Means of Procuring It” p.23)
Some people’s attachment to the King’s version was extreme. Alexander Campbell reproduced from the New York Recorder the plea of William Stone not to defame the grand old Bible at the inaugural meeting of the American Bible Union …
“You may appoint a congress of theologians; but think you that the associations of two hundred and forty years can thus be erased? Think you that Christians who have learned to lisp the Saviour’s name from this book, can thrust it aside and take up a new version? Dear old English Bible! we will not forsake thee. Thou may’st be slandered with “blasphemy,” but we will not part with thee; and when we lay our heads on our last bed of sickness, this slandered, blessed book, shall be our pillow, and in its own glorious words we will breathe out our last prayer, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (“A Most Portentous Discussion and Decision,” Millennial Harbinger [August 1850], 437)
Campbell’s long held belief in the necessity of revision of the King James version was honored when he was invited to deliver the key-note address at the first annual meeting of the American Bible Union in 1850. This speech, which is 39 pages long, gives a history of the history of translation and revision. In the end such translation is both missionary in nature and growth in discipleship … without it the advance of the gospel will not happen and fresh translation reflects advances in understanding what the Bible says and means. Thus the task of producing a Bible “in words easy to understand.”