Sunday, December 21, 2008
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  than any other man of earth." See Alexander 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.