Tuesday, 26 December 2006
A COG Bible?
One of the scariest things I've heard of in recent days is Fred Coulter's plans to produce a “translation” of the whole Bible. Coulter, as you probably know, abandoned the ministry of the WCG in the late 70s to establish the Biblical Church of God which swiftly sank without trace. Fred then founded the Christian Biblical Church of God.
Fred's telephone directory-sized New Testament is already with us, it came out a couple of years ago, built around the text of his revised Harmony of the Gospels (to his credit, Fred at least knows how to read Greek, based on his time at AC.) His “Faithful Version” reads like a slightly updated and rather dull KJV, nothing like the first edition of his Harmony which was then in contemporary English (he's since moved to adopt a severely literal translation approach.) Most notable in his New Testament are the copious and rambling essays and explanations that have blown out the book to 880 pages. By my estimate at least 50% is made up of commentary. A hardback copy of Fred's Faithful New Testament (full title: The New Testament in its Original Order: A Faithful Version with Commentary) will set you back around $50 on Amazon, exclusive of postage.
Individual translators, as opposed to committees, have often produced colorful and stirring versions. James Moffatt, J.B. Phillips, Eugene Peterson (The Message) and John Henson (Good As New) spring to mind (Fred wastes 3 ½ pages attacking Henson in his NT preface, and 2 more attacking Peterson, but Fred simply isn't in this league.) What is remarkable though is his reliance on a corrupt Greek text - “the Stephens text of 1550” (which, of course, he passionately defends at tedious length as the most accurate!) The Stephens in question is “Stephanus” (Robert Etienne), a French printer who produced a revision of Erasmus' Greek text. This is part of the "Textus Receptus" tradition out of which the KJV came. But there are problems.
“No translation can be better than the text on which it is based... those were the days before the art of serious textual criticism had begun. They were able to use only those manuscripts that had been available to Erasmus (which he recognized to be defective) and to the Parisian printer Stephanus... These manuscripts were mostly of the Byzantine (or Koine) family of texts, which subsequent research has demonstrated to be amongst the least trustworthy.” (Robinson, The Thoughtful Guide to the Bible, 2004, p. 269-270.)
“When the AV/KJV was translated, the oldest and best Greek manuscripts had not then been discovered. The earliest used by Erasmus for his 1516 edition of the Greek NT dates back no further than the tenth century.” (Dewey, Which Bible? A Guide to English Translations, 2004, p. 195.)
Now Fred is “doing” the Old Testament. But wait, does Fred actually know any Hebrew? Not that I'm aware of.
The strategy seems to be to revise an already obscure translation called the Modern King James Version to produce an even more obscure one. Fred has paid out $20,000 for this privilege (courtesy, one assumes, of his tithe-paying supporters.) Troublesome verses are being duly “COGified”, so Genesis 1:1-2 will now read “ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth became without form and void...” The inspired marginal notations are migrating into the text itself!
In essence this doesn't seem much different from Joseph Smith's rewrite of the KJV to produce the “Inspired Version” (still published, last I heard, by Herald House in Independence, MO.)
Fred has also decided to structure his Bible version “in its original order.” Original order? Certainly there's precedent for reordering the books of the Bible, but this one (which owes a good deal to Ernest Martin) has little to recommend it.
There is the consolation of knowing that the Coulter Bible, when it arrives, will be little noticed, as with his existing – and widely ignored – New Testament. This is largely because no other COG is about to give a rival the satisfaction of citing his Bible version in their own publications. Unless you are a collector of uncommon or abstruse Bibles, you may want to give this one a miss.