November / December 1995 The Original Text of Holy Scripture and the Translations.
From the November / December 1995 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
[Editor’s Note: At the request of the President of our Conference, the following article on Bible translations is being presented. This article is an extended quotation of the text of Section 13 of Volume I of Dr. Franz Pieper’s CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, pages 343-349, entitled, “The Original Text of Holy Scripture and the Translations.” It was then the decision of the Editor to devote the greater part of this entire issue to select sections from Pieper’s three volume work. Hence the articles following this initial article are also taken from Pieper.]
The Original Text of Holy Scripture and the Translations
Since Scripture is intended for the use of all Christians, of whatever station, sex, age, etc. (Deut.6:6-9; Joshua 1:8; Is.3416; Neh.8:2-8; 2 Kings 23:1-2; Luke 16:29ff.; John 5:39; 20:31; Acts 17:11: “They searched the Scriptures daily” 2 Thess.2:15; I John 1:4; 2:13-14; 2 Tim.3:15; Col.4:16; 1 Thess.5:27: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren”), it is God’s will that the Scriptures be translated into the various human languages. And accordingly the Church, from its beginning, made it a point to furnish translations of Scripture into foreign languages. We do not say that it is absolutely necessary that one must read the Scriptures in order to be saved. What is absolutely necessary is the knowledge of those fundamental articles of the Christian faith through which repentance and faith in the remission of sins purchased by Christ is brought about in man (Luke 24:46-47), and this knowledge may be obtained by the mere hearing of a Scriptural sermon or instruction. The dogmaticians teach that a man may come to faith and thus become a member of the Christian Church without as much as knowing that there is a Holy Scripture. Gerhard: “It is not simply and absolutely necessary to salvation to believe that there are any divine Scriptures if this unbelief isssues from simple ignorance, for many have been saved who have grasped the essentials, or fundamentals, of the Christian faith.” But after men have become Christians, it is indeed God’s will that they read the Scriptures, search the Scriptures, and judge according to the Scriptures, as is evident from the passages quoted above and as will be set forth more fully later.
The contention of the Papacy that the reading of Scripture cannot be permitted to all Christians because that would expose the “laymen” to the danger of interpreting Scripture according to their own thoughts and thus introducing false doctrine is beside the point, for experience has shown that is, above all, the clergy and, primus omnium, the Pope who have interpreted the Scripture according to their own mind and filled the world with the most horrible heresies.
The Relation of the Original Text to the Translations
It is self-evident that the original wields canonical authority also over the translations. The vernacular versions have authority only in so far as as they correctly render the original text. All translations must submit to the test whether they reproduce the original correctly. When the Church of the Pope declares the Vulgate to be absolutely authoritative, it commits an Antichristian outrage. However, the disparity between the original of Scripture and its translations must not be unduly stressed. Modern theologians engage in this erroneous and dangerous talk when they argue against the inspiration of Scripture along these lines: Even if Scripture were entirely God’s Word, that would be of no benefit to the Church, since the Church, with the exception of a small minority of its members, can use the Scriptures only in translations, and the translations must be regarded as merely human views. With this argument Dr. Briggs sought to confuse the Presbytwerian Board of Investigation at his trial. Also Henry E. Jacobs declared: “It is only the Scriptures as written in the original languages that are inspired. Even the best translation is only human explanation or interpretation of the inspired words, however well the inspired thought may be conveyed in other language.” These words could convey the thought that Bible colporteurs could offer an English or German Bible to prospective customers not as being the Word of God, but merely as being the translator’s understanding of the Word of God. Over against this view it must be maintained: “Of course even the best translators of the Bible are not inspired as were the infallible Apostles and Prophets, and for that reason their translations must remain under the control of the original text and in so far are norma normata. Our dogmaticians emphasized this over against Rome. On the other hand it must not be forgotten: Whatever is God’s Word in Greek, is God’s Word also in German and English if only the German or the English is a faithful translation of the Greek. We should here keep in mind the nature of the Holy Scriptures. The language of Holy Scripture is so simple, particularly in the sedes doctrinae, that every translation which at all deserves the name of a “translation” must reproduce the original. One who understands the New Testament Greek and commands the language into which he is translating must take particular pains if he is minded to produce a translation which does not reproduce the original text.
Place sid by side the Greek text of John 3:16, the German, the English, and the Latin translation: will anyone say that the translations do not reproduce the original? that we cannot say of the translated passage that it isthe Word of God? that we must say that is merely “a human explanation or interpretation” of the inspired text? John 3:16: Houtos gar hegapesen ho Theos ton, oste ton monogene edoken, hina pas ho pisteosen eis auton me apoletai, all eke zoen aionion; “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, dass er seinen eingebornen Sohn gab, auf dass alle, die an ihn glauben, nicht verloren werden, sondern das ewige Leben haben” “God so loved the world that He gave His onlybegotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” Sic Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret, ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat, sed habeat vitam aeternam” (Vulgate). And – to meet an objection – it is not only John 3:16 which is so clear that the translator could not go astray, but, as the greatest theolgians of all ages (Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and others) have pointed out, the whole Christian doctrine is revealed in Scripture passages that need no exegesis, but are an open book alike to the learned and the unlearned and can be so readily translated that the translator cannot go wrong unless he has made up his mind to depart from the original. We are confronted by the fact that there is not one among the common versions of the Bible in which the Christian doctrine in all its parts is not plainly stated and the opposing errors are not rejected.
This holds true even of the Vulgate of the Roman Catholic Church. The “ipsa conteret caput tuum” of Gen.3:15 is rejected through the correct translation of many passages which present Christ as the sole Savior from the guilt of sin and death, e.g., 1 Tim.2:5-6: “Unus enim Deus, unus et Mediator Dei et hominum, homo Christus Iesus, qui dedit redemptionem semetipsum pro omnibus” and Gal.3:16: “Abrahe dictae sunt promissiones et semini eius. Non dicit: ‘Et seminibus,’ quasi in multis, sed quasi in uno: ‘Et semini tuo,’ qui est Christus.” Also justification alone by faith without the deeds of the Law is clearly taught in the Vulgate, e.g., Rom.3:28: Arbitramur enim iustificari hominem per fidem, sine operibus legis; and Gal.2:16: Scientes autem, quod non iustificari homo ex operibus legis, nisi per fidem Ieus Christi. In its official Confession, the Tridentinum, the Roman Catholic Church, in several canons, anathematizes justification by faith without the deeds of the Law, but this curse is directed against the doctrine which ius clearly taught in its own official Bible translation, the Vulgate. If one should agree, disputandi causa, to discuss the doctrines with the Papists on the basis of the Vulgate, he would still retain the weapon with which to vanquish the opponent.
The same thing applies to making the Authorized Version the basis of the dispute with the Reformed. Though the Reformed sects which follow in the footsteps of Zwingli and Calvin teach an immediate “operation of the Holy Ghost, without and alongside the means of grace – “efficacious grace acts immediately” – their Bible nevertheless teaches the correct doctrine: Rom.10:17: “So, then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” I Pet.1:23: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” and Titus 3:5: “According to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration.” Also the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper is clearly stated in the Authorizd Version: Matt.26:26-28: “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to His disciples, and said: Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them saying: Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The parallel texts of Mark, Luke, and Paul teach the same. The Reformed sects have separated from the Lutheran Church and are maintaining their separation by the rejection of doctrines taught unmistakably in their own Bible translation.
Thus Holy Scripture checks, so to speak, by its clear and simple mode of speech, false translations. It is by God’s arrangement a light that no translation can extinguish easily. This confirms what Luther says of Holy Scripture: “There is no clearer book written on earth than Holy Scripture” (St.L. V:334). We should, then, not say that even the best translations are but of human view, or opinion, of God’s Word. On the contrary, in so far as the translations are faithful translations – and exact translations are hard to avoid particularly in the sedes doctrinae – they are likewise the very Word of God. Walther therefore is right in saying: “One may be unacquainted with the original languages of the Bible and still be divinely assured that his Germasn Bible is God’s Word, for through it he receives the witness of the Holy Spirit.” As Scripture in the original tongues proves itself to be God’s Word, so also the translation – if it be real translation – has the same power.
There is ample Scripture proof for the fact that translating does not deprive Scripture of its character of being the infallible Word of God. According to Scripture the infallible Word of the Apostles and Prophets will to the end of time, at all places, among all nations and tongues, be the foundation of faith for all Christians and the norm and standard according to which all Christians judge whether the doctrine is true or false. Since, however, the vast majority of Christians possess the written Word of the Apostles and Prophets only in tranmslations, it is clear that Holy Scripture does not lose its character of being the infallible Word of God by being translated. God’s protecting hand has guarded not only the original text, but also the translations. As we have a firm and fixed Word of God in the original despite the variae lectiones, so the current versions of the Bible present a firm and fixed Word of God, and this despite the fact that every existing translation contains occasional mistakes and is subject to continuous correction in the light of the original.
The continuous demand for “revised” translations calls for two additional remarks. 1) As all theologians who deny the substitutional satisfaction of Christ and the inspiration of Scripture are according to God’s order excluded from the teaching office of the Christian Church, so all such theologians should realize that they have no call to translate the Scriptures. 2) We shall always have to be content with versions which in the translation of difficult passages do not introduce false doctrines, but offer a translation which is “according to the analogy of faith” (what the analogy of faith, or regula fidei is, will be shown in the chapter “Holy Scripture and Exegesis”). In that case the translator may have had, as Luther says, the correct thoughts at the wrong place. Such translations will do no harm. They do not in any way militate against the clarity of Scripture, as has been shown in the chapter on “The Perspecuity of Scripture.”
[Note: The next three articles are taken from Volume III of CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, pages 422-427.]
Orthodox and Heterodox Churches
Congregations and church bodies must be divided into two classes according to their public doctrine.
It is God’s will and command that in His Church His Word be preached and believed in purity and truth, without adulteration. In God’s Church nobody should utter his own, but only God’s Word (I Pet.4:11). Chaff and wheat do not belong togather. All “teaching otherwise,” heterodidaskalein, is strictly forbidden. 1 Timothy 1:3: “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” It is important to point out again and again that in all Scripture there is not a single text permitting a teacher to deviate from the Word of God or granting a child of God license to fraternize with a teacher who deviates from the Word of God. God is against the prophets who proclaim their own dreams. (Jer.23:31f.). And all Christians without exception are commanded to avoid such (Rom.16:17; 1 Tim.6:3 ff.).
The distinction between orthodox and heterodox church bodies and congregations is based on this divine order. A congregation or church body which abides by God’s order, in which therefore God’s Word is taught in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to the divine institution, is properly called an orthodox church (ecclesia orthodoxa, pura). But a congregation or church body which, in spite of the divine order, tolerates false doctrine in its midst is properly called a heterodox church (ecclesia heterodoxa, impura). All children of God should earnestly see how real and serious this difference is, because indifference as to the Christian doctrine is rampant today among professed Christians., and the “abrogation of creeds” and substitution for them of a so-called “applied Christianity” is rep[resented as ther goal the Church should strive for.
With regard to the orthodox character of a church body note well: (1) A church body is orthodox only if the true doctrine, as we have it in the Augsburg Confession and other Lutheran Symbols, is actually taught in its pulpits and its publications and not merely “officially” professed as its faith. Not the “official” doctrine, but the actual teaching determines the character of a church body, because Christ enjoins that all things whatsoever He has commanded His disciples should actually be taught and not merely acknowledged in an “ooficial document” as the correct doctrine. It is patent that faith in Christ will be created and preserved through the pure Gospel only when that Gospel is really proclaimed. (2) A church body does not forfeit its orthodox character by reason of the casual intrusion of false doctrine. The thing which the Apostle Paul told the elders of Ephesus: “Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30), came true not only in the Apostolic Church, but also in the Church of the Reformation and will occur to the Last Day. A church body loses its orthodoxy only when it no longer applies Rom.16:17, hence does not combat and eventually remove the false doctrine, but tolerates it withouyt reproof and thus actually grants it equal right with the truth.
We call heterodox church bodies both “churches” and “sects,” depending on whether we have in mind the good or the evil in them. Churches they are in so far as they still retain enough of the Gospel of Christ that men can come to faith in Christ and thus can become true children of God. Sects they are in so far as they have combined to further their deviations from the doctrine of Christ and thus cause divisions in the Church and by their errors and separate existence constantly threaten the faith of the children of God.
Children of God in Heterodox Churches
Though God desires that all congregations be orthodox, and though all heterodox communions exist only by God’s sufference and contrary to God’s gracious will, still it is a fact that also in the heterodox communions there are believing children of God. The term “Christians” covers a wider field than the term “orthodox Christians.” Though Christ denies to the Samaritan Church the right of existence as a separate church organization (John 4:22), still He repeatedly acknowledged individual Samaritans as true children of God (Luke 17:16ff.; 10:33). Luther, too, never thought of making the orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, coextensive with the Una Sancta. Vigorously as he fights against the Papacy and expressly declares it an institution of Satan, he nevertheless does not doubt that God has at all times under the Papacy preserved for Himself a Church, yes, the elite of the Christians. Again, earnestly as Luther fights against Carlstadt, Zwingli, and their collaborators for their deviation from God’s Word, he nevertheless grants that there were also true chldren of God who, ignorant of the evil they were thus supporting, made common cause with these pseudo reformers (St.L. IX:44). Likewise our older Lutheran dogmaticians, “zealots for orthodoxy” though they were, nevertheless decidedly rejected identification of the Una Sancta Ecclesia with the orthodox Lutheran Church. The Fathers of the Missopuri Synod declare it a calumny when the Lutheran Church is accused of identifying the Church of God with the Lutheran Church. They taught: If a person sincerely clings to the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, if he believes that God is gracious to him because if Christ’s satisfactio vicaria, he is a member of the Christian Church, no matter in which ecclesiastical camp he may be. By denying this truth one would overthrow the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, the article of justification. Walther: According to Rom.3:28 and Acts 4:12 “the unconditional and sole requirement for salvation is fellowship with Christ through faith. The maxim, ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation,’ ‘He who has not the Church on earth for his mother has not God in heaven for his Father,’ is true only in this sense, that outside the invisible Church there is no salvation and no state of grace. It has only this meaning that ‘here is no salvation outside of Christ’; for whoever is not in inward fellowship with the believers and saints is not in fellowship with Christ either. On the other hand, whoever is in fellowship also with all those in whom Christ dwells, that is, with the invisible Church. Accordinly, he who restricts salvation to fellowship with any visible Church therewith overthrows the article of justification of a poor sinner in the sightof God by faith alone in Jesus Christ.” (Walther and the Church, p.70.)
Church Fellowship with Heterodox Churches (Unionism) Is Prohibited by God
It is common knowledge that the presence of children of God in heterodox churches is urged to prove that it right, even demanded by charity, to fellowship heterodox churches. This is the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches, for Scripture says, “Avoid them.”
The argument of unionists is contrary even to natural reason. The old Lutheran teachers point to 2 Sam.15:11 as an illustration. Just as the fact that two hundred citizens of Jerusalem in their ignorance joined Absalom did not give the rest of Israel the right to desert their king and join the rebels, nor even to connive at the rebellion, so the circumstance that some Christians, from ignorance and contrary to God’s orders, follow false teachers does not give license to other Christians to do the same thing.
To say that love demands such a practice is a misuse of that word. Love of God and love of the brethren requires the opposite practice. He who loves Christ loves Christ’s Word, and Christ commands us to avoid all who teach anything that is contrary to His Word. And whoever really loves the brethren refuses to participate in their erring and sinning, seeking rather to deliver them from error and sin.
Moreover, the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament state explicitly that God permits false teachers to arise in order that Christians may show their obedience by avoiding them, not in order that Christians may fraternize them (Deut.13:3; 8:2; 1 Cor.11:19). If Christians, against the divine prohibition, fellowship false teachers and tolerate false doctrines, they commit the sin which the Church calls “unionism,” “syncretism.”
As a matter of fact, this unionism divides the Church and gives rise to heterodox churches in Christendom. Had the Christyians always obeyed the divine order to avoid those teaching another doctrine (heterodidaskalontes), neither the Papacy nor other sects could have arisen. Where there are no buyers, there is no market. Of course, unionism avers that it aims at the removal of discord among Christians. But because the unity of the Christian Church consists in having one faith and one profession, unionism actually is a caricature, indeed, a mockery of Christian unity. Instead of healing the hurt, it makes it permanent.
In 1 Cor.1:10 we have an exact definition of Christian unity: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing [hina tou auto legete pantes] and that there be no divisions among you.” This is a demand for uniformity in speech (legein) or in the profession of the Christian doctrine. Then the Apostle continues: “but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” en to auto noi kai en aute ginome. Here he clearly says that Christians are to use the same words with disagreement in meaning is altogether contrary to the unity God calls for, and to seek such “unity” (“we agree to disagree”) is immoral, a trifling with sacred, divine things, which is unseemly for Christians.
The Christian Church can and should have patience with the erring and seek through instruction to remove the error. But never can or should the Church grant error equal right with the truth. If it does, it renounces the truth itself. It is the very nature of truth to antagonize error. Truth which no longer exludes error, but grants it domicile, is eo ipso resigning as truth. Pertinently Luther remarks: “Whoever really regards his doctrine, faith, and confession as true, right, and certain cannot remain in the same stall with such as teach or adhere to false doctrine” (St.L. XVII:1180). Unionism in principle abolishes the difference between truth and error, so that only through a “happy inconsistency” can the erring retain their hold on the essential truth. For this reason unionism is a grave threat to the Christian Church. A person is fortunate indeed if, ignoring the words of Scripture enjoining him to avoid those who teach another Gospel, he yet retains his faith in the words: “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
As for the talk current in our day, even among so-called conservative theologians, that “various trends,” that is, variations in doctrine and profession, are intended by God, one can merely say that it is shocking that within Christendom the testimony of Scripture should thus be contradicted.
[Note: The concern of orthodox Lutherans for purity of doctrine is further evidenced by the great treasury of hymns in our Lutheran Hymnal. The concern for purity of doctrine is certainly expressed in the following hymn.]
“Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide” #292
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heav’nly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.
In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.
Lord Jesus help, Thy Church up-hold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
Oh, propser well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in ev’ry place!
Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.
O God, how sin’s dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood’s spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.
The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
And always set forth something new,
Devised to change Thy doctrine true.
And since the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
With all our heart we trust in Thee.
A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church’s buckler, shield, and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
That we may seek no other guide!
Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.” Amen.