Define irony. Well, how about this: Staging an event to burn Bibles on what many Protestant Christians observe as Reformation Day, remembering October 31, 1517, the moment in history when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on that church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Word of his bold act of religious courage, and the actual words themselves were, within a few months, in the hands of people throughout his country – thanks to the relatively new printing press.
It was not only a religious moment – it was a cultural moment. For the first time a revolution would be effectuated via the published word.
Yet, this next week one so-called “pastor” named Marc Grizzard plans a public Bible – yes, Bible – burning, with the other dozen-or-so members of his fledgling Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina. It is, as are all other activities of his church, a DBYOKIGYC event (“Don’t Bring Your Own Koolaid, I Got Ya Covered”).
A Baptist pastor burning Bibles? You bet. He is part of a small, but aggressive, subculture who believe that the only real translation of the Bible is the King James Version, usually referred to by them as “the A.V. 1611” (“Authorized Version” translated in, well, 1611). They like to call themselves as “King James Only” or “KJVO” and they are dogmatic about the idea that somehow, someway, God selected a brief and shining moment 400 years ago to stop language in its tracks; but only one language. And therefore, any effort to translate the Bible any further in English, or into other languages for that matter, is devil-driven.
Lurking behind this is a thinly veiled belief in Anglo-superiority. Those who use the English language are also the Lord’s preferred children. If you look closely at these “ministers” and their churches you will likely also find a measure of ignorance (measure, as in off the charts), racism, white supremacy, and sundry esoteric doctrines bathed in the language of conspiracy. Sundry is a word, by the way, from Hebrews chapter one in the KJV.
Of course, Grizzard’s group is tiny, but I think some would be surprised at how many people actually buy into at least some of what he says. There are KJVO missionaries laboring in non-English speaking countries, who either teach English as a prerequisite to understanding the Bible, or at the least translate from the English into the particular (and, to them inferior) language, instead of the correct and scholarly approach of going back to the Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament). And as the saying goes, it always loses something in that translation.
Mr. Grizzard also, in fairness, plans to burn the selected works of Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and others who are “usual suspects” in his eyes. There is danger in “them-there” books.
The sad thing is that Grizzard and his flock are actually doing a disservice to the very book they profess to admire – the classic King James Version of the Bible. It is doubtful that any one book has had more impact on Western culture – even the world, by extension, than this wonderful document. Its words and phrases are part and parcel of our daily conversation and its idioms can be found throughout our literature.
And it is, in fact, a very good translation of the Bible, one that was used effectively by generations – one that many of us grew up on, cutting our spiritual, not to mention linguistic, teeth. George Washington read it at Valley Forge – Lincoln, by the flickering light of a fireplace. When Presidents have been sworn in they have often even kissed the old book.
In many houses of worship it remains the translation of choice, but not because all the other ones are evil. It is a comfort zone, understandably so. There are many times when I read a text from a newer translation, but later while speaking default to the King James rendering as a force of habit.
It is hidden in my heart – and for that I am glad!
The King James Version of the Bible has a special place in our history and our hearts. But to worship it as a translation is to miss the point. Then constructive belief becomes cultic bibliolatry. King James becomes more important than King Jesus.
I hold a high view of scripture. In fact, my belief is that it is the inspired Word of God (a view called “verbal-plenary” inspiration). But this does not just apply to one translation in time. It applies to any effort to take ancient words and render them in language people actually use and understand. This is why the writers of the New Testament used “koine” Greek, that of everyday conversation, instead of the “classical” style of the philosophers. There’s code there and it means that the message must be understood in every generation and every tongue.
It has been said that, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” And the fact is that many times blood was shed centuries ago - and is being shed today in the planet’s pockets of persecution - because some wanted to share the scriptures, in full or fragment.
These heroes of the faith are now being freshly insulted by the actions and attitudes of Mr. Grizzard and his band of Bible burners.
To their minds, “ye ole English” must be a prerequisite to the Kingdom of God. Such a view is not only ignorant; it is arrogant. It is also worthy of repudiation.
I have many times opined about the need for our Muslim neighbors - those who are not radicalized - to take a stand against the fanaticism, hate, bigotry, and savagery of those who, in the name of their religion, wreak havoc. But it is also important that Christians speak out against those who would drag the name of Jesus through the mud of their ignorant idiocy.
I saw a T-Shirt a few years ago and I think it was meant as a dig at religious people in general, evangelicals in particular, but it resonates with me at least a little. It said: “Dear Lord, please protect me from some of your followers.”
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