22 Dec 2008

The Living Oracles

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Bible, Church History, Restoration History

One of the bright gems in the crown of the Stone-Campbell Movement has, historically, been dedication to a Bible based on the best manuscripts available and in the best vernacular of the day. “Opposition to modern translations” has usually been more a fundamentalist trait than ours (see here). A vocal minority has produced some literature with some outlandish claims too. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., for instance, produced a huge tome titled A Review of the New Versions: Consisting of an Exposure of the Multiple New Translations. The signature trait of this work is extreme statements using the KJV as the “standard” rather than Greek and Hebrew. George DeHoff, writing in the Preface, makes the extreme claim that “the King James Translation of the Bible brought the church to us. It was the translation of the Restoration Movement.” In spite of this claim, the SCM (or RM) was dedicated to replacing the KJV.

Alexander Campbell rather claimed that every Reformer in history had attempted to place the Bible within living tongue of the common person. For Campbell the “Authorized Version” was no longer the vernacular and had many translation errors. It had too many “Latinisms” for the common reader; it was too literal in rendering Hebrew and Greek terms; it was influenced the the “King’s” notions on “predestination, election, witchcraft” among other areas. These “evils” have “long and so justly” been complained about. The solution was a new version.

Thus on April 26, 1826, Campbell gave the world a new version which came to be known as The Living Oracles. It was actually a compilation of previous work by British scholars George Campbell, James Macknight and Philip Doddridge … edited by Campbell in light of Johann Jakob Griesbach’s Critical Greek New Testament.

The Living Oracles were in many ways way ahead of its time. It has been called “the first modern translation.” It was like an Me 262 meeting the Wright Brothers! It featured prefaces to each book and an appendix. To maximize readability and comprehension verse numbers were removed and books were divided into paragraphs. There was a marked shift to current speech. For example Phil 3.20 in the KJV reads “our conversation is in heaven”; The Living Oracles read “but we are citizens of heaven.” Romans 14.1 in the KJV reads “but not to doubtful disputations,” but Campbell translates “without regard to differences of opinions.” Campbell also relegated “church words” to the dustbin. One read in vain searching for such traditional terminology as “church” or “baptize” these were replaced with “congregation” and “immerse.” Campbell anticipated most modern versions when he replaced the KJV’s “comforter” with “Advocate.”

One great, but daring, advance of Campbell was his commitment to textual criticism. His New Testament included a table of 357 “Spurious Readings.” Gone was the doxology concluding the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6.13), the Ethiopian’s confession (Acts 8.37) and the three heavenly witness (1 Jn 5.7). Each of these were rejected as scribal additions and all modern translations (save the NKJV) follow Campbell’s lead.

As you can imagine a large number of people reacted strongly to Campbell’s new translation. Some open minded Baptists had a public book burning of the Living Oracles. Another congregation refused to read it because it was “not the word of God.” One famous Stone Campbell preacher, “Raccoon” John Smith, was placed on trial by some Baptists for heresy … among the charges was he used Campbell’s Living Oracles rather than the KJV. So prevalent was the use of the Living Oracles among Disciples/Christians (as they were known) that they feature prominently in the “Appomattox Decrees” which drove a significant wedge of division between Baptists and “us.” The Decrees, published in 1829, read in part “Resolved, That it be recommended to all churches in this Association, not to countenance the new translation of the New Testament.”

Campbell believed the KJV was one of the biggest hindrances to “reformation.” The changing of the English tongue made the common version “obsolete.” And more importantly the advancement in knowledge of the Greek language and better texts demanded a new translation. Campbell, and the movement around him, remained dedicated to putting the Bible in the best and most readable English possible … using the very best Greek and Hebrew texts. It is one of the gifts of the Stone-Campbell Movement. David Lipscomb, directly contradicting the claim of DeHoff, wrote of the release of the Revised Version: “it is a mistake that the reformation was based upon it [KJV]. Alexander Campbell rejected it … and did more to bring about the late revision [1881] than any other man of earth.” See my Campbell & The King James Version. And In Words Easy to Understand …

Campbell’s DNA runs through such respected translations today as the NIV, NRSV, Easy to Read Version or New Century Version and others. It is a good gift.

12 Responses to “The Living Oracles”

  1. Matt Dowling Says:

    I’m feeling proud to be a Campbellite right now because of your post!

  2. David Says:

    I’ve heard of this translation before but have never seen it. Is anybody printing it today, or is at least on the internet?

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Matt there are many good things to be proud of in our SC past. This one many folks know nothing about however.

    David I believe that the Living Oracles was recently reprinted by the Gospel Advocate. The first edition and 4th edition are available at Hans Rollmann’s Restoration Movement website too.

    You should read Campbell’s Apology for the new translation in the first edition. It is a gold mine.

  4. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    I’m old enough (barely) to remember the preaching of Foy E. Wallace Jr. Of course, he personified the hard, fighting style of the Texas tradition among the Churches of Christ.

    A few years later, when I was a student at Freed-Hardeman, I became very interested in textual criticism of the NT. Comparing my new knowledge with what I knew of Wallace’s resistance to anything but the KJV, I had a hunch that’s become a settled conviction:

    Wallace’s sermons, debating points, favorite rhetoric, etc. were so tied to the text and wording of the KJV that any other Bible would “ruin” his doctrine. A prime example: How many times had Wallace quoted Mark 16:15-16 before he learned that the text critics said the last 12 verses of Mark aren’t authentic? Wallace resisted the exclusion of Mark 16:9-20 with everything he had, an unnecessary defense.

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Wallace’s book is an ensemble of ignorance. R. L. Whiteside died to early to save FEW from his version heresy hunting.

    Wallace’s book embraces a stark contradiction. He believes the KJV is the most accurate Bible but he thinks the ASV is ok. He suggests that Campbell’s version is also highly reliable. One wonders if he ever actually read these three. The RSV was the devil’s book though.

    One quick example. FEW rants (that is the word too) that the RSV translators reject the blood of Christ because at Col 1.14 they omitted “through his blood.” He claims that the phrase is right there in the interlinear Bible … Interestingly enough the Living Oracles also omits “through his blood” … and for the same reason. It is not in the best MSS. Wallace did not know any Greek and even less Hebrew. His position is a departure from the historic Stoned-Campbell tradition.

  6. Steve Says:

    If I ever knew it I had forgotten that Campbell had produced a translation and promoted the idea that new versions are needed that are faithful to the most-recent textual evidence. That’s great. I was about 15 when FEW Jr came to our town (Pochahontas, AR) for a meeting. He preached for an hour and a half but he was colorful and entertaining, sprinkling his presentation with unexpected humor. I do recall his frequent references to the Revised Standard Version being a Perversion.

  7. Steve Says:

    Please let me ask this. We were studying the career of King David last night and some verses from I Samuel 17 were discussed. I had a Greek-English Septuagint version and found that verses 12-30 were missing in that version. Do you know anything about that? Thanks

  8. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thanks for the fascinating insight into the “Living Oracles” translation.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Bobby. Merry Christmas.

    Love to see a post of that other SCM translation – the Rotherham emphasized Bible.

    It is available for free in lots of places.

    Merry Christmas!

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Gene I will do a post on Rotherham in the near future

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Campbell’s Living Oracles is available from the Gospel Advocate


    You can also find it on amazon.com

    FYI and FWIW.

  12. sean Says:

    In case anyone is interested: The Living Oracles NT is available as part of the e-sword Bible program. e-sword and many Bible modules listed on its site are free downloads. I just downloaded the LONT and am very interested to see how it reads. Thanks Bobby for the background you give about this translation.

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