How to Ruin Your Life by Misunderstanding the Will of God / Anatomy of a Train Wreck

How to Ruin Your Life by Misunderstanding the Will of God: The Danger of Christian Mysticism
(This is an intentionally ironic title. You’ll see.)

“The Bible never tells us to seek the will of God. It tells us to do it.” (Dr. John Hannah)

Modern Christians, especially in conservative churches, tend to be obsessed with finding “the will of God” for their lives. We will examine what the Scripture actually teaches about the will of God, as well as refuting a number of very prevalent misconceptions about God’s will.

Lord willing, I’ll be presenting this topic at the adult Bible study at our church on Wednesday, February 7.

I will post a PowerPoint presentation, and other resources when they are complete. (PowerPoint has been posted here. Note the PowerPoint contains far more information than I actually covered. I used only about 40% of it.)



Anatomy of a Train Wreck

Photo of a train wreck in LaGrange, Illinois, from The Monkey Is Always Watching photoblog by Daniel Heath.

In some ways, the lesson was a disaster. I wanted to get people thinking about dangerous, unbiblical rhetoric we use, and instead wound up inflaming the congregation. At least 8 people walked out.

I touched on a number of foundational topics, including the KJV, with a slide entitled, “Why the KJV is Not the Word of God.”

However, my first two points on that subject were these:

Don’t excommunicate me: Almost everything I have studied leads me to believe the KJV is a highly accurate, trustworthy translation from excellent manuscripts. But it isn’t perfect.

And, we have a serious problem with the rhetoric we use.

But no one heard them.

I had to discontinue that topic after two slides, although people kept bringing the discussion back to them. But completely unheard were my points about translation errors, the danger of sounding like Ruckmanites, or even how the Jewish religious leaders Jesus debated with in the temple would not conduct theological discussions in any language other than Hebrew. Also prohibited was something that is very important to me:

Significant changes in the English language over the last 400 years are rendering the KJV less and less relevant to our spoken language.

Although most people can understand it, the meaning of many words and verses is completely unclear without a historical understanding of the English language.

This is a serious problem. We are in danger of insulating the common people from the Word of God, just as the Catholic Church did (most famously before the Reformation, but through the 1960s).

So, to reiterate:

  • I do believe the KJV is the Word of God (although I did state otherwise in attention-getting slide title—the text of my slides makes my ultimate meaning very clear)—although I do not believe it is the only English version of the Bible that can be called the Word of God. (However, I made no attempt, and, indeed, specifically avoided, recommending a different version to our congregation.)
  • We are making a big mistake when we don’t acknowledge that, like any translation, the KJV has errors and ambiguities.
  • The KJV is very difficult for modern English speakers to read; a number of word meanings have changed significantly in the past 400 years, some enough to cause erroneous interpretation.
  • The KJV absolutely should not be elevated (in rhetoric or otherwise) to the level of the original languages in which Scripture was written. There is a reason God chose Hebrew, Chaldee, Aramaic, and Greek, over another language like English. (This is especially clear when comparing the compexity and nuance of the Greek to English.)

What I wish I had done differently:

  • Not used hyperbole (or perhaps even irony, as defined literarily) with an Independent Baptist Church audience. Despite the fact that this is an oft-used literary device (ask my Sunday school students), even by our own pastor, the people were not familiar enough with my teaching style to stop to listen beyond the radical statement.
  • Asked questions instead of making statements about semantics—I still have no idea (for several reasons) what specifically those most offended disagreed with. Had I introduced the topics with questions about specifically what people meant by certain phrases, they probably would have been lest hostile. (Several people disagree with me on this, believing I was doomed no matter how gentle my presentation.)
  • Not tried to put quite so much material into the presentation.
  • Spent more time on the conclusion, which was a little weak. (I also goofed on illustrating one point, but in retrospect that seems less significant.)

You’ll want to read all the comments on this one.

(Edited significantly on Tuesday, February 27, 2007.)

Onward …

19 Replies to “How to Ruin Your Life by Misunderstanding the Will of God / Anatomy of a Train Wreck”

  1. This quotation is from the “Winterim” class on “Readings in the Life and Writings of Jonathan Edwards, America’s Premiere Christian Thinker,” held at The Master’s Seminary on January 8–13, 2007. Dr. John D. Hannah is Distinguished Professor of Historical Theology, and Research Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.

  2. Well, I guess it’s not the same Dr… ours is a chiropractor.

    I’m sorry to hear that your audience didn’t understand what you were trying to say. Don’t be discouraged, you’ve got a good point!

  3. The ironic thing is that I’m very excited about the Word of God—much more so than previously in my Christian life. I have spent more time studying the Word in the past two years than I did in the 10 years previously. And as I study, I find things that just aren’t translated as best they could be, as well as things that I’ve always been taught that just don’t hold up to the illumination of the Scripture. I’ve also become hyperaware of studying the full context of passages, and very critical of preaching which presents Scripture out of context, which seems to happen very often.

    That excitement—about so many Biblical topics—hurt my presentation. I tried to put way too much in. (I’ve posted the slides; see the main post body for a link.) I was also criticized by a couple of people for being too intellectual, “over the heads,” of the audience, which completely puzzles me.

    If I had it to do over again, I’d have removed the inflammatory language (a literary device which clearly backfired), and just done one or two slides on the importance of understanding what a translation means, point out a couple of errors in the KJV translation to prove I’m not insane, and make my pitch for recognition that we’re getting too far away from 1765 English. (We don’t actually use the 1611 KJV, a point many preachers seem to miss.)

    The KJV-only rhetoric, which includes, “The KJV is the perfect Word of God,” also tends to include, “I have never had trouble understanding it,” which simply alienates those who do actually find it difficult by causing them to feel inferior or unintelligent.

    And, for the record, I primarily use the KJV. I constanlty refer to the Greek and Hebrew in e-Sword, a wonderful free Bible package. I like the ESV as well, because it seems to be very accurate, the language is beautiful while being modern, and it uses a word-for-word translation style (as opposed to the “dynamic equivalency” or thought-by-thought translation the NIV uses; this alone is enough to counterrecommend the NIV). The ESV is not perfect, either, of course, but when I’m blogging to a wider audience and don’t want to spend three paragraphs defining archaic words, it can be quite suitable.

    Despite the fact that I’m feeling really rotten about my mistakes in presentation, I am comforted somewhat by understanding that this was part of God’s sovereign will for my life, and will try to pay close attention to what He wants me to learn.

    I do hope I get a chance to talk with those who disagreed with me.

  4. One of the most direct English translations I have come across is available [FREE] for e-sword. Make sure you have the ALT Bible Version [Analytical-Literal Translation]. If you can’t translate Koine for yourself, you’ll find this translation quite useful. It may not be the version you would want to read for devotions, but it you want to know what the language is truly saying, this is pretty close.

    And for those of you who have not availed themselves of this marvelous and free program, go to Download the basic program first, then go back to “Downloads” at the top of the page, and the drop-down menu will show all the other great stuff you can download into it. Even the components you have to pay for aren’t too expensive. I downloaded Vine’s Expository Dictionary for $14.95, and the NKJV and NASB Bible versions for $19.99 each, I think.

  5. Don’t be discouraged. It may have made you feel like you did a poor job, but God may use it to initiate a conversation about some things – even if they don’t include you. Sometimes when people are confronted by a different way of thinking it may initially turn them off and they need time to mull it over.

    Talk about bad translations- how about I John 5:7-8 it is clearly not written by John, but added from very late Greek texts.

    I agree the 1611 is the only way to go 🙂

  6. Doug,

    I have spent more than fifty years studying this issue. You are absolutely correct that it is the original manuscripts that were inspired, not any particular translation (in spite of Peter Ruckman’s heresies).

    It is also true that some translations are very good, some so-so, and some very poor. In one sense, the KJV is “not” the Word of God (BECAUSE NO TRANSLATION OF ANY DOCUMENT FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER PERFECTLY REPRODUCES THE ORIGINAL) but a very close representation of it, and for all practical purposes is the Word of God for us.

    It is also true that the English language has changed; for someone who grew up speaking another language (like some in my family) the antiquated language of the KJV makes understanding God’s message very difficult if not impossible.

    You are also absolutely correct that no one today uses the original King James of 1611, but revisions and modernizations of the original. I know! I have a reproduction of the original 1611 KJV. (For anyone who doubts this ask them to find the word “sonne” in their KJV. It has been replaced with “son.”) The KJV of today has been changed from the original KJV. In fact, the KJV Bibles we use today don’t even all agree with each other, but have minor differences in both spelling and EVEN IN SOME OF THE WORDS. Compare the Oxford edition with the Cambridge edition.

    In my church, our pastor studies from and preaches from only the KJV, and that is what we read from and teach from in all our ministries- but we believe that it is the original manuscripts that were inspired.

    Now, someone might say “But you don’t have the original manuscripts, so you are left hanging in uncertainty.” A little secret: no one has the original manuscripts of the KJV translators, either! Once the printer did his work, they were apparently tossed, so our foundation is as good as yours (perhaps actually better, since we have so many manuscripts from so many parts of the world).

    You are also correct that the ESV is one of the best translations now available- but again, no translation is perfect. We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can use tools like eSword and discover what God said in the original, all without having to spend years mastering Hebrew and Greek.

    And, once again, you are correct that too many, even in our fundamental circles, misuse Scripture. All too often those who scream the loudest about using only the KJV, because all other translations CHANGE the Word of God, change it themselves in their preaching and teaching. They ignore hermeneutic principles, wrench Scripture from its context, and use it to support some idea that God never intended the passage to mean. This is one of the greatest sins in fundamentalism, handling the Word of God carelessly, twisting it to support some idea totaly irrelevant to the passage’s intended teaching. If we ignore proper hermeneutics, if we ignore God’s meaning for His Word, it won’t matter what translation, what version we use; it won’t matter even if we had the originals, the very manuscripts written by Peter or Paul or Moses. If some of my fundamentalist bretheren would put half as much energy into practising and teaching sound hermeneutics as they do screaming about translations, we’d all be better fed.

  7. My point was to use hyperbole to get people thinking about what they actually believed. My goal was to show that no English translation is inerrant.

    It is, of course, absolutely proper to call the KJV the Word of God. My biggest mistake was in misunderstanding the audience and their reaction to my exaggeration. I also missed an opportunity to make a simple corrective measure: I ought to have just explained the hyperbole for what it was, and said, “Wait a minute! I do actually believe the KJV can be called the Word of God: My statement was a literary device,” and gone on.

    Before Nichelle and I joined the church, we met with the pastor and asked him about the church’s position on two things: “Interracial” marriage/racism and the KJV. I was concerned that they might be Ruckmanites (as are so many Independent Baptists who hold to a KJV-only position), but we were assured that he and the church understood that the KJV was not double-inspired. (I remember asking whether he understood it was merely a translation of the Word of God, but he insisted today that he would not have used such language.)

    Based on the reaction of the congregation on Wednesday, it appears that, whether intentional or not, they have come to believe that the KJV is inerrant, which can be disproved using nothing more than the KJV itself (simply compare Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9), although a Strong’s Concordance certainly makes such a task easier.

  8. Nichelle and I met with our pastor today. Tomorrow evening I will have an opportunity to explain the ultimate point I was driving at, apologize for offending so many, and take questions.

    One thing I think I will ask is how many in the congregation believe the KJV is completely inerrant.

  9. Ironically, after spending hours discussing and corresponding about doctrine with our pastoral staff in the past few days, I am convinced that the only real difference between what they say they believe and teach and what I believe is one of semantics—and it was this semantic difference I’d sought to illuminate and cause people to think about.

    I did not get to explain anything to the congregation, but I was allowed to make a public apology for offending so many of them.

    I resigned my post as a deacon.

    There remains a lingering problem that many still believe I denied the preservation of God’s Word (I absolutely did not); in fact this persisted to the extent that even what I had written in explanation was being misquoted while the reader had a copy of my letter in front of him.

    Others believe I intentionally sought to harm our church, and that I was supremely arrogant. The first accusation is completely untrue; but I cannot deny an element of pride blinded me to the foolishness of my approach.

    I am very discouraged. I do not believe I will write more today.

  10. Here is a pro-KJV, pro-Textus Receptus site that points out some of the translation errors in the KJV:

    Again, I would claim these primarily are no big deal, and the KJV can certainly be described as accurate, but it isn’t perfect. (Also, studying these sheds quite a bit of light on certain passages.)

    And, if you’re interested in Textual Criticism—which does not mean what you think it means—this summary is excellent:

  11. Most enlightening. I feel HOWEVER that the Jedi would have most certainly have used the Authorized Version of the “Handbook to Jedi Spirituality” that was reduced prior to the primacy of Yoda, who had an inferior translation done from erroneous copies of the original Yavan and Ewok.

  12. Erik,
    How can you say that the Authorized version of the “Handbook to Jedi Spirituality” is the best? One of the Yavan manuscripts used for its “translation” can actually be translated, “May the farce be with you.” The King Jawas Version is translated from much more accurate manuscripts.

  13. Another meeting last night with two of our deacons.

    I’ve been able to double-check our Articles of Faith, and nothing I said contradicted them in any way (as I expected, although I was working from memory).

    I was also give a “Fundamental Baptist Statement” (which is ironic, because it ignores the history of the Fundamental movement, which actually started with the Presbyterian church in America).

    However, that statement includes “We believe in the King James version of the scripture for all public services and are not in sympathy with the latter versions of the scriptures.”

    Again, I said nothing to contradict this, either, merely to point out that the KJV was not inerrant, as a translation. I made no recommendation of another version, as that would have been overstepping my bounds.

    And, if you’re interested in history, these are the five fundamentals of the faith, as defined by the Fundamental movement of the early 1900s:

    • The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture (in its original languages) as a result of this.
    • The virgin birth of Christ.
    • The belief that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin.
    • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
    • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.
  14. Hi Doug, I just want you to know that I was not there the night you spoke, Joe and I were both sick with a bug, but I have reviewed some of your powerpoint and I just don’t see what the problem is.

    I just want you and Nichelle to know that I don’t believe that your intentions were anything but good. I don’t find you arrogant in any way shape or form, intelligent, yes; arrogant no. I’m also very hurt that you had to step down as deacon, I personally feel that you should have been given a chance to explain yourself. I’m so sorry that things turned out the way they did. Hope to talk to you soon…Cheryl A

  15. Hey – I just wanted to qualify Paul [Anderson]’s comment – it DOESN’T take “years and years” to learn Koine [“Common”, a/k/a “Hellenistic”] Greek anyway. I can’t speak for Hebrew…yet! 😉 It only takes two years and then consistent use from then on, which isn’t too difficult if you’re studying your Bible anyway. Yeah, we can get “literal” translations, but seeing it in the original language is just great. And it gives you a balanced POV when it comes to any translation…

    We may not have the original autographs any longer, but I’d hate to have anyone erroneously think that the Greek manuscripts & codices we DO have are all unreliable! Using Lower Criticism [the GOOD kind; “Higher Criticism” is the BAD kind] we can determine about 99.5% of what the original was likely to have been, and we know all the possibilities for the other 1/2%! Most of the Alternates I have come across concern things like “you/us” or tense of a verb or words pretty obviously added to match another passage (and usually in only a limited # of mss!). I don’t believe any of that 1/2% deals with any major doctrinal issues, and there is almost always a clearer passage somewhere else in Scripture dealing with the same subject. So stay away from Paraphrased or Dynamic Equivalent Translations [is that an oxymoron?], but use your good translations confidently.

    Paul hit the nail on the head when stressed the need for good hermenutics/rules for interpretation! I wish Christians were as concerned about the proper rules of the Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation as they are about elevating the KJV!

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