Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Comparative: Amending the U. S. Constitution and Amending the Bible

Perhaps you are impressed with the founding fathers of the United States and their work on the Constitution. Perhaps you like that document and its outcome for the United States. The United States was no powerhouse when the Constitution was written. They became one with it.  We can't chalk that up only to the Constitution, but it is a significant factor toward the success of the United States.

The founding fathers struggled to complete the Constitution.  It was a very difficult undertaking. The United States itself also wrestled to arrive at the quality of this founding charter in a strenuous ratification process.  The founders decided to make the constitution difficult to amend.  An entire article, Article V, lays out the mechanism.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
The Constitution, of course, was written by men.  It's not divine in nature.  Nevertheless, the founders required monumental percentage of approval and accord to add, subtract, or revise.  For that reason, the United States Constitution has been amended only seventeen times since 1791 and the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

A change in the Constitution resulted from tremendous momentum and astounding assent.  The model for amendment was not a small cadre of scholars or noblesse taking matters into their own hands, deciding what is best for everyone.  Sixty-seven percent must agree a change is even necessary and then seventy-five percent must agree on the change.  This designed arrangement protected the nation from hasty innovation and experimentation.  It demanded exacting deliberation, not some impulse of the moment.

Even with the scarcity of change in the United States Constitution over almost 230 years, I don't like some of the changes.  I don't approve of them.  As a young adult, I talked to a couple of older men who were still living when the women were given the right to vote in 1920.  A very level-headed, intelligent and wise, godly pastor told me that the change in 1920 proceeded out of the instability following World War I.  The men from the war were barely back and informed, when this was kicked through.  You will find zero reference to a woman's vote in the federalist and anti-federalist papers.

Much bad law has arisen from the wording of the fourteenth amendment, "equal protection of the laws," often called the "equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment."  On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States found a right of same-sex marriage in the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution.  Many still see this decision as exceeding judicial authority. It shows, however, how that the wording of a change in 1868, even with a noble goal, brings ramifications in 2015, like some sort of time bomb.

Article V made the U.S. Constitution difficult to amend.  The requirements protected the Constitution and the people of the United States.  An authoritative document such as this was difficult to change, which is one characteristic of conservatism.  If we are to conserve what we have, change should be arduous.  The intricate system of constitutional change also reflects the foundational principle of the consent of the governed.  The people are more likely to keep a law that they believe is the law.  The people established the constitution.  It sprung from the consent of the governed.

Does the Bible come by consent of the governed?  The Bible is God's Word, whether people like it or not.  However, God Himself used His people to canonize scripture, to agree what was in fact God's Word.  The Constitution represented a view of natural law that people could consent to, guided by the law of God written in their hearts.  The Holy Spirit guided the church to the truth.  Our knowledge of sixty-six books comes from the consent of the governed, the Holy Spirit bearing witness in their hearts.

I contend that changes to the translation of scripture should come through a demanding, arduous, and exacting process among churches.  Many translations have emerged from incentives of profitability and niche marketing.  The Bible was the Bible, but as the separate books consolidated into One Book, this came by agreement of the churches.  A small group of men may have been motivated by concerns regarding the adequacy of the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts or by the clarity and accuracy of communication in the English translation, but amendment of scripture should come with great pause and solemnity, marked by widespread agreement.

Churches did not launch the glut of translations into English.  These arose almost exclusively from whatever concerns of a small group detached from church authority.  They were less serious about changing the Bible than our founding fathers were about changing the United States Constitution.

I weary of the talk of a new English translation of the Bible in a generation attached to this culture.  I don't trust it.  I don't trust the people calling for it.  I'd like to see some biblical conviction and obedience first.  Let's be sure and certain.  This is the drive-through-window era, the selfie throng, who are lining up for their next cell phone iteration before the last one is out of its box.

Before we amend, churches who care should agree on an amendment process.  The King James Version itself unfolded from a painstaking carefulness.  If churches thought they needed an update or revision, that should start with the churches that trust and use the King James Version.  I'm not calling for it.  I don't see any momentum to change.  If or since the Holy Spirit is involved in the KJV churches, this lack of desire either results from a quenching of or an alignment with the Holy Spirit. Assuming the latter, the lack of agreement should read as tell-tale.

I'm saying let's take a cue from the founding fathers of the United States.  This is no ordinary country in the history of the world.  Today the people are messing it up.  The King James Version came from an extraordinary providence as well.  We should be thankful.  We shouldn't want to mess it up either.


Anonymous said...

Which came first – an English-language dictionary or the Authorized Version (KJV)?

See http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-time/the-first-dictionaries-of-english/. Quotation: "The first book generally regarded as the first English dictionary was written as Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster and former Church of England clergyman, in 1604 Cawdrey made use of wordlists published earlier in educational texts, such as Richard Mulcaster’s Elementary (1582) and Edmund Coote’s English Schoole-maister (1596)."

I theorize that the translators of English translations often chose terminology and words that were not in common use by the ploughboy (Amer.: plowboy), even though they were trying to reach him for Christ and build him up in the faith. Through preaching and teaching of the English translations (Wycliffe's, Coverdale's, Tyndale's, Geneva, Bishops (to some degree) and the KJV) many new words and phrases moved into the everyday language. I don't think those translators had much, if any, access to English-only dictionaries, and bi- or multi-lingual dictionaries were extremely rare. The English of the English Bible translations significantly affected the English of the people.

Now we are facing a situation where folks are begging, yea, pleading, that we let the words of 21st century English significantly change (rather, replace) the words of the one English translation that has had and continues to have (my opinion) the most salutary affect on the English-speaking people, both spiritually and educationally. I am in favor of some updating, but what is proposed is a radical replacement of the excellent by (at best) the mediocre.

My theory may be wrong, but if it's right, there are at least two conclusions: (1) when proclaimers of the Word explain what is meant by the underlying text (as undoubtedly did those learned preachers of earlier days), they create a need for the words to be in the people's language and they enrich the language itself. That is good. (2) Bible translators today may sometimes need to coin words, may need to extract new, more precise, useful-to-the-Biblical-text meanings out of already-extant words in the target languages, and, very importantly, they must train the next generation to keep looking back at the God-breathed words of the original languages so believers are thinking according to God's Word. Bible translators today around the world would do well to see themselves also as dictionary-makers, to the extent necessary to get the words of our Lord into a form that can be grasped by the target-language speakers. I see no need to apologize if a word is used and explained in a target language that is new or unique or even strange, if it can be used to communicate unchanging truth to people who use that language. I see no need to apologize if a word in the Bible needs significant explanation to unpack the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek, especially if dictionaries in that language still don’t reflect biblical usage.

E. T. Chapman

N. B. What got me thinking this way was comparing the definitions of words in the 1828 and 1913 Webster's dictionaries with their use in the KJV. I think these dictionaries often derived their assigned meanings from the usage in the KJV (and earlier English translations). I think that is good, very good. When I looked at the website of the OED linked above, my idea that the English Bible birthed many of the definitions in the old dictionaries seemed confirmed. I think many modern skeptics would rejoice to delete many references to the "archaic" definitions in dictionaries precisely because they are derived from Biblical usage.

Tyler Robbins said...

Bro. Brandenburg, I don't understand how your argument helps you. I think it hurts your cause. For example,

1. If the majority of English-speaking local churches used to use the KJV (and they did),
2. and now the majority do not (and they don't),
3. then haven't local churches already chosen to leave the KJV behind?
4. in which case, by your own logic, why are you still using it?

This isn't an argument I'd use, but it seems like it's the practical conclusion of your argument. Am I missing something?

Kent Brandenburg said...


It's an argument I've made before, albeit not using the US Constitution as a launching point and comparative, but if everything you have in that short comment represents your answer to the argument, then you are missing some things. I'll take your numeration.

1. I'm not making English speaking church argument. I'm making KJV using church argument, but even if I were using English speaking churches, consider the following:


Made notice here: http://headhearthand.org/blog/2014/03/19/10-reasons-why-the-majority-of-christians-still-read-the-kjv/

So what does that mean to you?

Personally, I don't count churches that don't believe in the preservation of scripture, which they don't if they don't care whether it is critical text, tr, whatever. But I think you know that. Is a position that contradicts historical doctrine the new doctrine? Can a new doctrine be correct, even if a majority believe it? In practice, you seem to think so? Tell me if I'm wrong. New doctrines are fine, as long as they are popular? You seem to lean that way on this.

2. See #1

3. See #1

4. Logic explained.

There is further logic, however, which you are missing, maybe because you have a huge blindspot due to your bias on this issue, because you are affected by parachurch, completely non-authoritative. God didn't give them any keys. He doesn't hold them in his right hand. Evil communications corrupt good manners. You hear false speeches, which affect what you think. You do what you think. It's not helping.

I'm saying churches should be in charge of scripture. Now you might rebut by saying that the KJV translators weren't under church authority. True. But that's water under the bridge. It was the Bible. I don't want a few guys self-authorizing telling us what the Bible is. Don't you see a problem with that?

I recognize this might come across as somewhat indignant. I am somewhat indignant. Yes. But I care about you.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks E.T. I'm going read your comment more thoroughly and come back hopefully later.

Jon Gleason said...


I believe your argument about coining words is sound. I'll back it up a little bit.

Most scholars believe that Paul coined the word "theopneustos". There's no evidence of which I'm aware that it was ever used before he wrote II Timothy. We might call it an inspired choice by Paul, eh? (And that's one reason why we must look less to etymology for the meaning, and more to the Biblical connotations, since both the writer and recipient were well steeped in Scripture and the two words being combined were theologically loaded.)

Well, if Paul coined a word, and a theologically loaded one at that, then he wasn't strictly using the vernacular, at least not to the extent that he wasn't willing to vary from it substantively. He was actually using unusual vocabulary to educate.

I think that would support your argument here, at least on some levels.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jon,

I really appreciate your ideas. I don't have all this figured out by any means. Thoughtful discussion is useful.

E. T. Chapman