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Bible Babel

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 30, April-June 2003.

IMAGINE the following scene. You are entertaining some friends who live nearby and who are frequent visitors to your home. They are from a similar background and they share the same culture. Yet on this visit there is something very strange. Alarmingly your friends are now speaking a new language! You struggle to make sense of their words and speak sympathetically to them but they cannot understand your words either. Sadly you both conclude that you must say your goodbyes and go your separate ways.

This is not mere fantasy. Just one hundred years after the Flood a further judgment came upon our world. Originally all mankind was of one language. They chose to dwell in one place – despite the divine command to 'replenish' or fill the whole earth (Gen.1:28; 9:1). Proud man wished to make a name for himself rather than glorify the name of God. The people began building a great city with a mighty tower stretching up to the skies.

God judged the people for their folly by confounding their language. Miraculously the pronunciation of words was changed and new words appeared. The people could not understand each other and so mankind divided and scattered to the four corners of the earth. The unfinished city with its tower received the name of 'Babel'. It became a byword for verbal chaos and confusion.

Something similar seems to have happened to the people of God today. They no longer all speak the same language – the familiar language of Zion! Consider praise. Most believers have put aside the Psalter with its plain, solid, dignified expressions and turned instead to a plethora of hymnbooks filled with man-made verse, often trivial and sentimental. Or take prayer. Some Christians by their address to God show their awareness of being in the presence of "the high and lofty One"; others by their words appear to think that the Lord is altogether such an one as themselves.

And then there is the Bible itself. What a variety of versions we now find! Have we had the sad experience of trying to follow in our Authorised Version a public reading of Scripture from one of the modern versions? There is literally a confusion of tongues. As new versions arrive and spread piecemeal into pulpits and pews the power of the preaching is diminished and the fellowship of the congregation is marred. Too often the result is the scattering of God's flock.

Nowadays bible publishers compete for custom in a religious 'market-place'. Yet another new version is being promoted, hailed by leading 'evangelicals'. Entitled the 'English Standard Version' (ESV) it claims to be a conservative revision of the old 'Revised Standard Version' sponsored by and loved by liberals, which disappeared some years ago. Doubtless in the ESV's wake will come the usual study editions, concordances and new set of commentaries.

Some effort is being made to promote the ESV as an alternative to the 'New International Version' (NIV) with the hope that it will replace that version. If this effort is successful then the NIV (which was itself promoted as the one version we all need) will soon have its own 'wake': it will have come and gone well within the lifetime of many believers. Remarkable!

In various ways the devil is attempting to undermine the foundations of our faith and the unity of the church by destroying the credibility of the Bible as the pure, holy, unchanging Word of God. May we give the enemy of souls no aid! Let us all "speak the same thing" (1Cor.1:10). Let us hold fast to our trustworthy Authorised Version. May God give us the conviction of the Psalmist who said: "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psa.119:89).