Nearly all Bible students will recognize the quote, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). They would agree that the Bible contains the word of God, and is therefore truth.
Yes, God has spoken words in addition to the Bible, and still speaks today, but these “non-Bible” words are difficult for everyone to verify. The words that have stood the test of time and that we all agree are truth are the words of the Bible. Let us look at the context of this quote:
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:15-17).
Christ prayed that his followers would remain in the world, but that they would be “sanctified”—set apart—by the truth, His word! This concept of being in the world, but separated by the truth—His word, was so important that He repeated it:
“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:18-19).
These words of Christ should help us understand that the ideal way to worship God is not to live with a community of like-minded believers and shut out the “evil influences of the world” (Matt 28, 19-20; Acts 8:1, 4). Christ went on to say that this applies to all generations of believers:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).
Unity was clearly to be based around the Bible—the Word of God. Some of the Bible was already written at the time of Christ, the rest was “their word”—the word of Christ’s apostles. Most of the non-Christian world at least knows that the Bible is the source of Christianity. The non-Christian world generally does not know about the hundreds of doctrinal statements of the various antagonistic Christian groups—and it would be best if they never do.
The fighting between Christian groups and the un-Christian acts of many “Christians”, are probably the biggest reasons why so many unbelievers reject Christianity.
So what happens when someone interested in God contacts a church group and asks them to teach him the truth? Does the group give him a Bible and a commentary to help him to understand it? Or do they give him their church literature: a doctrinal statement, a set of booklets or a set of sermon tapes? Do they simply tell him to join their church?
There is no doubt that their literature and sermons will contain many references to scriptures—even alternate translations and explanations of scriptures. But almost invariably, some of those translations and explanations will be “stretched” to fit a pet doctrine of that church group. And worse yet, there will usually be large sections of the Bible that they will never quote at all. Some of those never-quoted scriptures will probably contradict some of that church group’s doctrines.
The motivation of these church groups may start out good: They want to identify the most important doctrines of the Bible and explain them so that almost anyone can understand them. They usually back them up with Scripture. But after believers meet primarily among themselves long enough, they often conclude that they completely understand the most important doctrines of the Bible and anyone who disagrees with them is either wrong or an unbeliever. This “we have the truth of the Bible here” attitude helps make a stable church with loyal attendance and income—for years or even generations. But it is not a denomination, but the Spirit, that will lead us into all truth (John 16:13).
Leaders of denominations are partly to blame, but not entirely. From the people’s perspective, they frequently want to attend a group with short, concise explanations of the important doctrines of the Bible. Most want to learn “the important stuff”—maybe just the bare minimum “required for salvation”—and then rest assured that their church group’s ministry and leaders have the complex parts of the Bible “all figured out”. But God does not want it that way:
“…man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3, Matt 4:4, Luke 4:4).
God wants every person to live by every word. There is a time for teaching certain Bible subjects from scattered scriptures (Acts 17:11); the need for Bible teachers is well established in Scripture (Rom 12:7; 1Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Col 3:16; 2Tim 2:2; Tit 2:4; Heb 5:12). We need teachers even more today because the Bible was written in another language for another culture (Isa 28:11). But the ultimate goal of any long range Bible teaching should be to help explain the whole Bible—not to define and explain a set of doctrines that some group has determined to be the most important.
This concept is not at all trivial. The idea that religious teachers should determine and teach “doctrine” from the Bible rather than just do their best to teach the Bible has resulted in untold numbers of religious conflicts—leading to the deaths of many.
When Bible teaching is primarily concerned with understanding the proper manuscript reading, translation, historical context and explanation of Bible passages, it is fairly easy for a diverse group of people to pool their knowledge and learn from each other. If they cannot agree about exactly what God said, they can at least present several alternatives to Bible students and then let the Holy Spirit guide them.
But when study consists primarily of determining the “most important” teachings of the Bible, and then defining them more precisely than the Bible itself does, trouble arises. When groups teach that salvation depends upon accepting the right set of doctrines, then big trouble arises. The hundreds of conflicting religious denominations and groups of today are its result. Each has a different conclusion as to what the correct doctrines of the Bible are. Groups that understand the seventh-day Sabbath are little different—they have hundreds of divisions mostly based upon doctrine.
If we look at the history of religious groups, we see that church organizations most frequently produce much material expounding their doctrinal position and why they are the group that God is using the most. They build headquarters of their administrators and scholars They build colleges to train ministers who will teach their doctrines.
Producing Bible translations, Bible commentaries and Bible concordances are rarely ever done by church groups. These things are most frequently done by individuals, small groups, or even inter-denominational groups.
The Catholic Church, with its hundreds of years of history, millions of members, and vast budget for scholars has done little to put the Bible in the hand of the common man. In 405 A.D., Jerome completed his Latin Vulgate translation from the Hebrew and Greek—a largely solo effort that was later made “the only acceptable Bible” for over a thousand years.
The first English-language Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheimes was completed in 1609, again, largely the work of individuals—not a major effort by the scholars of the church. The Douay-Rheimes was translated from the Latin Vulgate, not from the Hebrew and Greek. It was largely an effort to give Catholics something to read instead of the numerous English-language Bibles produced in the 1500’s by the Protestant reformers. It was not until 1970, after it had published millions of pages of official material on every conceivable doctrinal subject over the centuries, that the Catholic Church employed numerous scholars to produce an English translation directly from the Greek and Hebrew—the New American Bible.
While the 1611 King James Version was produced by the best scholars of the Church of England at the request of the King, its purpose was also to produce an “authorized Bible” so that members of the Church of England would stop reading the many other Bibles produced by Protestant reformers (some of which had footnotes suggesting that the Pope was “the Beast”, etc.). The KJV contained many alterations from the Greek and Hebrew to help support church hierarchies (for more details, request How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?). The Geneva Bible, produced by families who were exiled from England for their religious beliefs, was still in common use for nearly 200 years alongside the KJV. With its “men are responsible only to God” outlook, the Geneva Bible was the favorite of many of the men responsible for the American Revolution.
With the exception of Noah Webster’s Bible in 1833, no new major translations of the Bible into English were begun until the late 1800s when many more ancient Hebrew and Greek texts were being discovered. The Revised Standard Version was begun by the Church of England. In my view, the RSV fixed some KJV mistakes, but introduced others. The work was eventually passed to multi-denominational committees and several different versions were produced. Young produced a translation in 1862 and Darby in 1884.
The 1900s sparked a large number of translations, mostly by independent Bible teachers: Alford, Beck, Fenton, Goodspeed, Knox, Lamsa, Moffatt, Montgomery, Norlie, Phillips, Rieu, Rotherham, Weymouth and Williams. Some parts of these Bibles made the Word plain as no other translation had before, others clouded it with the translator’s personal ideas.
In any event, these translations spurred the scholarly community to produce more Bibles—all by interdenominational teams of scholars: the Amplified Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the New Jerusalem Bible, the New King James Version and the New Living Translation. A lot more could be written on this subject, but the overwhelming trend is clear: church organizations produce doctrinal statements designed to keep members learning from them, while individuals and interdenominational teams produce Bibles designed to help people learn from God.
Bible commentaries are important secondary teaching tools. When a person is trying to understand a Bible verse, a commentary provides historical and linguistic background and sometimes alternative meanings. There really is no clear dividing line between “study Bibles” which may contain commentary on nearly every verse and “Bible Commentaries” which contain commentary and also quote part or even all of the Bible text.
Like the Bible translations, the majority and the best commentaries were produced by individuals or interdenominational teams. While religious denominations sometimes produce commentaries, they are rarely used outside of that denomination.
Technical Bible helps are again very similar. Has a major denomination used their resources to produce an exhaustive concordance of the Bible? No, but both Strong and Young did. Do the big Church groups produce the popular Hebrew and Geek Lexicons? Or do we remember Vine, Thayer, Friberg, Brown, Driver, Briggs, etc. Who produced the Online Bible, the widely circulated free computer Bible? Not a big denomination, but Larry Pierce of Canada. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, over 1,000,000 scripture references, was the work of Jerome H. Smith. Mostly individuals and non-denominational groups have worked to make Bibles and Bible helps for computers and the Internet.
A very few religious denominations have produced their own Bible version. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. My very brief study of it showed that some common translation errors had been fixed (it eliminated the word “deacon”), but it also contained inventions to support the organization’s doctrines, such as the insertion of the word “Jehovah” over two hundred times in the New Testament to translate the Greek theos (“God”) or kurios (“Lord”).
The Assemblies of Yahweh of Bethel, Pennsylvania have also produced their own Bible, The Sacred Scriptures. Similarly, it has some (not as many) traditional Bible errors fixed, but also uses Yahweh and Elohim in the New Testament based on what they think might have been in “original Hebrew” manuscripts—not on any known manuscript.
Messianic Jewish Groups frequently use The Jewish New Testament and The Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern. These books, however, are not sponsored by any one group, but mostly the work of Mr Stern. While this writer does not agree with everything in them, they certainly contain much information not found in many Christian translations.
More than one time I have seen Christian commentators try to wrestle with a difficult Greek phrase, only to find this book explain that it is a translation of a Jewish idiom with a clear specific meaning. This matching pair of books provides a very convenient way to get an additional perspective when studying the Bible—all one need do is look up the verses in question in the Bible and/or the commentary. It has excellent cross references which refer the reader to the proper verse when a particular expression occurs many times but is explained only once in the commentary.
More importantly, the Jewish New Testament and Commentary can be purchased from numerous Christian bookstores. There are literally hundreds of references to it on the Internet. All this is true, even though the Jewish New Testament was self-published and does not agree with mainstream theology, either Jewish or Christian .
This writer believes that Sabbatarians could learn a lot from the example of the Jewish New Testament. Sabbatarians have a lot of truth that the rest of the world needs. But so much of that truth is contained in booklets produced by church organizations that clearly represent themselves to be the “one” or at least the “main” true church. This greatly discourages new believers who are seeking knowledge from a variety of groups.
For example, Ellen G. White produced a Bible commentary, but it is very difficult to read through it unless one is completely convinced that she was a prophetess and that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is “the Church”.
Furthermore, most Sabbatarian literature is only available by contacting the group that produced it—it is not popular enough to be sold in Christian book stores, and its authors do not permit free copying or distribution on the Internet.
A Bible and a commentary need to be produced that contains the many things that Christian Sabbatarians have learned. With the breakup of the Church of God groups, the amount of new learning and study seems to be greater than ever, but the ability to distribute that knowledge seems to be even more remote than ever. This Bible and commentary need to include multiple points of view when necessary—encouraging people to do additional research and make up their own minds on difficult issues.
Similarly, an index, topical Bible, or at least a set of scripture references need to be published that link together important concepts like the Sabbath, the Feast days, clean meats, the fact that the soul can die, etc. Many existing Bible helps do not chain important scriptures together because the writers of the books did not understand the importance of the scriptures. For example, when clean or unclean food is mentioned in the New Testament, very few existing references will tie in Genesis 7:2, 8 and 8:20 which clearly show that clean meats were in existence before Moses. New Testament references to Holy Days are seldom linked to other scriptures. There are thousands of other similar types of references that need to be presented in a concise form to honest Bible seekers.
If people in other church groups have not been interested in Sabbatarians’ literature, why would they be interested in their Bible and commentaries?
That is a good question. But I think it has good answers. There are thousands of groups that produce a few books or tracts on a variety of subjects. There are very few that produce a complete Bible and commentary. Such a work shows that one has considered all Scripture, not simply put a few scriptures together to make a few unusual conclusions. When studying, I check a number of translations—even some produced by groups that I largely do not agree with—just to see if there is another point of view on a scripture. A Bible and commentary with substantially different, yet biblical information will be sought after by many independent Bible students.
At this point, I do not know of any Bible and commentary that has been produced from a Christian Sabbatarian perspective. I think it would be welcomed by many—especially if it did not treat all non-Sabbatarians like unbelievers. This is a vital point. I will explain below.
A friend wrote to me and stated that if I knew of any church where all of the spiritual gifts were in operation as described in the New Testament, that he would go there. This friend does a lot of doctrinal study. Many feel that if they can just understand the truth of God a little better, then He will grant them spiritual gifts. But after thinking of how to answer, I realized that I think I have seen most of the spiritual gifts of the Bible in operation, but never all in one place. Why not?
Let me start with Sabbatarian groups. I believe that many in the independent Sabbatarian groups have the gift of knowledge. They know a lot more Bible truth than many people in general Christian groups. But do they attempt to visit other groups and share their knowledge? Usually not.
Usually they spend much time trying to gain more knowledge. Their services primarily consist of conveying knowledge and there is little motivation to pursue other spiritual gifts. People who pursue knowledge that is not even particularly useful to anyone are quite acceptable to these groups. Other groups that are lacking in knowledge are usually regarded as unbelievers. After all, there are many scriptures that show that false knowledge is from Satan.
But now let us talk about non-Sabbatarian groups that have the gift of faith. Some smuggle Bibles or preach the gospel in countries where it is dangerous or illegal. Some teach the sixth commandment to mothers about to abort their children even though a human court has ordered them to leave. These people know the scripture: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
They also know the scripture: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:19-20).
People in these groups honor those who have a ministry that suffers persecution—even when it might be possible to do the same ministry a different way and avoid persecution. Many look at other groups that are not being persecuted and say, “How can they be true Christians?”
Other groups seeking to recapture the environment of the first century church emphasize speaking in tongues. They know Acts 2:4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” They know that Paul said: “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all” (1Cor 14:18).
While some of their “tongue speaking” may be inspired of God and its interpretation may be a clear revelation from God, most of these groups will also be happy with hundreds of people who speak in tongues by the hour and never have any interpreted revelation from God. Some groups emphasize speaking in tongues so much that they will not accept someone else as a believer unless they speak in tongues.
We could discuss other groups that are centered around teaching, healing, prophesying, or many other gifts. Some groups actually concentrate on more than one gift. But the general trend is to find these four points:
1. The group concentrates on a few gift(s).
2. Most people in the group tend to pursue the same gift(s).
3. The people are quite accepting of variant forms of the gift—even false forms that are contrary to Scripture or so obscure that they are useful to no one.
4. The group tends to look down on others who do not share their gifts, and to consider them unbelievers.
The solution, obviously, is for each group to be more willing to learn from the others and to do less condemning of the others. Anyone who studies the history of believers at all soon realizes that there is no one group that has had the same set of doctrines and practices for 1900 years. These things have varied greatly, yet Christ said he would always have His Church (Matt 16:18).
Brethren who want to begin to learn and experience the spiritual gifts in other groups will have to learn to let go of their organization and its doctrinal statement and practices. The need to prove everything from the Scriptures is still there, but the need to prove everything by “what my group teaches” or by “what I have always done in the past” must go away.
A new good quality Bible translation, commentary, and other Bible helps cannot be produced in one or two years. But they can be produced in 10 to 20 years. By contrast, most of the “church of God” ministers are over 50 years old, some quite a bit older. In 10 to 20 years, nearly all of them will be retired. Because the size of these groups keeps dropping, most are scrambling to pay their existing older ministry and are not training or hiring new ones. When group leaders die, the group frequently breaks up and most of their literature ceases to be published. Almost none of it is in bookstores or libraries.
But a good quality Bible, commentary and other helps that do not represent a particular denomination are likely to be sold in bookstores—even if they do not represent traditional views. The Jewish New Testament, previously mentioned in this article, did exactly that. An Internet presence will also certainly be important.
But it is still more important to produce few books that people anywhere can use in their daily Bible study, that they can take to group Bible studies, and that they can give each other—books that do not tell them to join a human organization, but help them understand what the Bible is saying to them.
Sabbatarians have studied and learned a lot of things. That knowledge needs to be preserved in a way that others can learn when they are ready.
Please read the accompanying article below about the Holy Scriptures Version and associated Bible helps. The other front-page article also speaks of the direction of Servants’ News and Shelter in the Word. Finally, the article on Bible history in this Shelter in the Word is something that every believer today should know.
— Norman Edwards
Project for a Decade:
The Holy Scriptures Version
The first article about The Holy Scriptures Version appeared in the Nov/Dec 2000 issue, page 13. Since then, I have spent some time studying and praying about how the Bible was transmitted and translated through the centuries—and what needs to be done now.
It quickly became obvious that we owe a lot to many individuals who made it their life’s work to try to provide an accurate translation of the Bible for the common believer. This was almost always done by individuals and small groups, only rarely by governments or large churches.
The early Bible translations of the 1500s and 1600s contained many inaccuracies—partly due to the lack of understanding of ancient Hebrew and Greek at that time, and partly because the translator’s work was colored by traditional “Christian” doctrines that did not come from the Bible. Today, with a much greater access to ancient Bible manuscripts and other documents to help verify the meaning of ancient words, the number of language errors has been reduced greatly. Thousands of skilled linguists have written extensively on this subject.
However, the progress in reducing translation errors due to doctrinal bias has been slower. Indeed, many Bible translators have studied language more than they have studied doctrine from the Bible. As an example, most modern Bible translations still translate the one Greek word diakonos as “servant”, “deacon” and “minister” in various places not because the language implies they should, but because they assume that the church has always had the latter two “offices” and that those who buy Bibles will want to find those offices in there.
The intent of The Holy Scriptures Version is to use the basic text of the King James Version (which used the basic text of Tyndale’s version) with the following modifications:
1. Modernized English. This part has largely already been done, though suggestions are still welcome.
2. Corrections based on the best language studies. Some of this has been done, but there is a lot more to do. When comparing translations, there are verses where many seem to struggle, producing something that is rather unclear and hard to understand in relation to the verses before and after it.
Then, one Bible or commentary will have an extensive historic or linguistic note on the verse, and will produce a translation that is both understandable and that fits the context. This is probably the translation that The Holy Scriptures should use—or at least note in its commentary.
3. Corrections based on believing the Bible as opposed to believing Christian or Jewish tradition. This is where The Holy Scriptures should be very different. Many other Bible translations have been very successful in point 1 and reasonably successful in point 2. But it is very easy to rely on old assumptions without knowing it. Church of God brethren who have lived and studied the Bible much of their lives without the desire to conform to traditional Christian teaching should be able to see things that so many others do not.
A Believer’s Bible
While Rabon Vincent is committed to be the editor of this project, it is not intended to be the work of one man. It should reflect the best of what hundreds or thousands of sincere believers have learned and practiced. While The Holy Scriptures will have only one reading for each verse, the next project will be to produce a matching commentary that will discuss a variety of readings when they are possible. It will even include explanations of why some common translations are probably wrong.
A brief 10-page version of the commentary was sent with the initial version of The Holy Scriptures. But as is usually the case with commentaries, it will eventually grow to be larger than the Bible and may be split into multiple volumes.
He is seeking as many people who would like to help with whatever gifts that they have. Over a dozen people have already helped to make the first edition a success. Now, people are needed to pray for the project, to make translation suggestions, help edit for printing, layout pages, proof read, help pay expenses and many other things.
We hope that those who send in suggestions will cite concordances, lexicons and other Bible helps to explain their understanding. Please do not write: “I think this verse should say that” with no explanation why.
Hopefully, many will pray for the project. Those wishing to help directly can contact Rabon Vincent Jr at 324 E Albion St, Avilla, Indiana 46710-9434, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Physical Plan
The very first copies of the Bible were distributed in loose-leaf notebooks. After an initial set of improvements and corrections were made, Rabon had 200 copies printed at about $10 each. A 10-page Introduction and Commentary was written—which barely begins to cover the existing differences between the HSV and KJV. At this writing, about 135 HSVs have been sent to individuals who have requested them—only 65 remain.
Rabon will continue to add explanations for the existing HSV translations to the Commentary. He will also ask for the input from Servants’ News readers and other believers. Ideas suggested will be covered in his regular column, Rightly Distributing the Word of Truth. This will reduce the need to republish the commentary so often. Nevertheless, about every year, depending on how much work has been done and how much money is available, the HSV and its commentary will be republished—hopefully to a broader audience each time.
The HSV Bible is aleady a very readable Bible that is significantly better than the KJV in overall accuracy. It is very useful to people with or without a “Church of God” background, though it might be difficult for some people to figure out why it is different to the KJV in some places. The commentary should be much better after the next publication or two.
When both of these items are to the point where they would be understandable and useful to people outside of the “Church of God” background, an effort will be made to make this Bible and Commentary available to many more people. If 2500 copies are printed, they will cost only $5 each. If 4000 are printed, only $4 each.
Procuring an ISBN (Inter-national Standard Book Number), obtaining a Library of Congress call number and getting the Bible ready for publication simply requires a little work by people knowledgeable of these things. Libraries will generally accept and add books to their stacks if they have the proper numbers and seem to be of interest to patrons. (If nobody ever checks them out, they get removed.) Bible software vendors have already expressed interest in adding the HSV to their software packages—they like Bibles that are free to distribute and already in a computer format.
Speaking of “free”, it has been Rabon’s intention that this Bible be offered free of charge. It was the way that the first century Gospel was distributed, and offering it free prevents the temptation from someone working on it to try to write what is popular to turn it into a money-maker. It is hoped that its solid translations and non-denominational approach will cause it to become known by word of mouth among many seventh-day groups—just as the Jewish New Testament became known among many seventh-day groups (though mostly messianic Jewish).
If God is pleased with this translation, we hope that He will make a way for it to reach the general Christian population—through bookstores and other common outlets. If a major publisher wanted to publish the book, it would cost little and they would have access to most bookstores.
But major publishers usually require a large degree of control over the publication and would probably be opposed to a significant number of copies given away for free. Also, most Christian bookstores are locked into contracts regarding from whom they can buy books, so it is not usually possible to walk up to a store and ask them to sell (or give away) a particular book.
Probably the most likely way to get the book into many people’s hands would be through book distributors. They are a middle man that operates between publishers and the stores. A distributor does not print books, but will typically buy so many already printed copies of a book and place it in certain stores. If the books do not sell, we would have to buy them back from the distributor.
The free aspect of the books could be maintained by simply including a note on the inside of the book saying that if you could not afford to buy it, a copy would be sent free of charge, but that it might take several months to arrive (bulk mailing them two months would save a lot of money). Most people who have the money will buy the book now rather than wait such a long time.
After the Bible and Commentary are being used by thousands of people, a concordance, a topical or cross-reference Bible, and other helps can be produced.
Question of Qualifications
Will anybody want a Bible that is produced by people who do not have many academic degrees? There is no doubt that the “lack of scholarly qualifications” will deter some people from buying it. For others, a non-scholarly work will be an advantage. There are a great many Bibles available that have been produced by religious scholars, containing ideas that are popular among them. Many of these ideas are right. But when a wrong idea is well-entrenched among the scholarly community, it does not come out easy—not when, in their view, “the best minds” teach it. It is hard for them to see how they could all be wrong.
A Bible produced from the standpoint of “What did God really say and what should we really do?” will be different. Today many are seeking God, realizing that “traditional Christian religion” has not always worked. I have prayed that God would send a person(s) with the appropriate degrees to work on this Bible if it would be best for it; and to not send any if it would be best done that way.
I am looking forward to this greater study of the Bible and to producing some books that will help people better understand God for years to come.
— Norman Edwards