Testing the Texts (3):
The Divinity of Christ
Having seen how textual changes underlying modern bible versions, particularly in the New Testament, affect some important doctrines relating to the Lord Jesus Christ, we now see how the essential truth of the divinity of our Saviour is challenged by the changes.
WHILE Christians are often in disagreement over certain doctrines and practices of their faith, a belief in the proper deity of Christ is agreed to be indispensable to being a Christian – something one simply must believe in order to be reckoned a child of God. The Larger Catechism teaches us why it was so necessary that our Redeemer should be God:
"It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God's justice, procure his favour, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation." (Westminster Larger Catechism, Answer to Question 38.)
Let us remember though that we are to believe in the deity of Christ not firstly because a divine Mediator is necessary for our salvation but because this doctrine is revealed in the Bible, and is therefore authoritative and true whether we are deriving saving benefit from it or not.
It is this belief, along with that of the Trinity, that especially separates the true church of Christ from the range of deviant cults. One of the chief strategies in their proselytism is to attack these foundations: perhaps the reader with the author has had the unnerving experience of being confronted by protagonists for one or other of the major cults who have bolstered their case by reference to modern bible versions, including those popular among today's evangelicals!
The first generation of evangelicals which turned to new translations had been reared on the Authorised (King James) Version, which still dictated much of their piety, as was evident in their preaching, praise and prayer: but now we may meet professing Christians whose contact with the AV has been minimal. One sometimes wonders what view of Christ a man would come to if he were to be isolated from the Church's historical Scripture text and study only the modern text?
In the following we note some verses in the New Testament which are a battleground as far as the doctrine of the deity of Christ is concerned. As previously in this study the AV here represents the Traditional Greek Text of Scripture and the New International Version (NIV) (1984 edition) the Modern Text. (N.B. In some places the NIV does not follow the Modern Text, and footnotes in the NIV sometimes give alternative readings.)
1. Divine Name
1 Timothy 3:16
(AV) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(NIV) Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
By the removal of only two letters from the Greek original one of the clearest proof-texts for Christ's deity is rendered useless. It could be said of every man who comes into the world that "he appeared in a body". C.H. Spurgeon commented on this text:
"Does it tell us that a man was manifest in the flesh? Assuredly that cannot be its teaching, for every man is manifest in the flesh, and there is no sense in making such a statement concerning any mere man, and then calling it a mystery. Was it an angel then? But what angel was ever manifest in the flesh? And if he were, would it be at all a mystery that he should be 'seen of angels'? Is it a wonder for an angel to see an angel? Can it be that the devil was manifest in the flesh? If so he has been 'received up into glory', which, let us hope, is not the case. Well, if it was neither a man, nor an angel, nor a devil, who was manifest in the flesh, surely he must have been God; and so if the word be not there, the sense must be there, or else nonsense."
Moreover, the footnote in the NIV which states "some manuscripts God" is hardly honest when the great majority of Greek copies read "God" – this reading also being attested by some of the earliest church fathers.
The real reason why this alteration is found in the Modern Text is understood from the history of the Revised Version of 1881: this project was originally sanctioned by the Church of England and intended as a limited revision of the King James Version. The final product however was based on the new Greek Text of Westcott and Hort begun three decades earlier. The presence of Dr. G. Vance Smith, a Unitarian minister, on the revising committee provoked a row, with several thousand Anglican clergymen signing a protest, but Westcott and Hort defended his presence and he remained. The altered reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 was of course quite suitable to Dr. Smith, who wrote:
"The old reading has been pronounced untenable by the Revisers, as it has long been known to be by all careful students of the New Testament.....It is another example of the facility with which ancient copiers could introduce the word 'God' into their manuscripts – a reading which was the natural result of the growing tendency in early Christian times to look upon the humble Teacher as the Incarnate Word, and therefore as 'God manifested in the flesh.'"
This mischievous idea &endash; suggesting that early Christians altered the text of the New Testament to make it "more orthodox" than it originally was – led to the amendment of this verse in the Revised Version and nearly all subsequent versions, with the consequent loss of one of the clearest statements of Christ's deity, after multitudes of believers had for centuries derived instruction from it.
2. Divine Titles
(AV) I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia...
(NIV) On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches..."
After hearing these words the apostle John turns to view the speaker who describes Himself by these titles: he sees "one like unto the Son of man" (v.13) – i.e., the glorified Jesus. Earlier in verse 8 we find a speaker taking to Himself the same titles, who is described as "the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" – this can only be God. Whether the speaker in verse 8 is God the Father, Son or Spirit, it is established that the titles used are divine ones, and that Christ does not hesitate to use them of Himself: this proof of deity is lost in the NIV.
3. Divine Attributes
(AV) And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
(NIV) Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
The point of Jesus' reply is that He must be God or else He should not be called "good", for only the Most High is essentially, originally good: the NIV has lost this indication of deity.
(AV) And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
(NIV) "No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man."
Because of the remarkable union between the two natures in the Person of Christ, He could be said to be present in heaven (according to His divine nature) while at the same time He was present on earth (according to His human nature): the NIV reading loses this precious testimony to a divine Mediator.
4. Divine Prerogatives
(AV) And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
(NIV) A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
The same alteration may be found in Matthew 9:18, 20:20, Mark 5:6. Here the alteration is not due to change in the underlying Greek but to the choice of the translators: is there not however a huge difference between these two renderings? One may properly kneel before an earthly monarch, but those coming to Christ were recognising the King of kings.
(AV) But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.....So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
(NIV) You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat...So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
In the text followed by the NIV and other modern versions, verse 12 is simply a repetition of verse 10 which adds nothing to our understanding. In the Received Text we are taught clearly that to be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ is the equivalent of giving an account of our lives to God: this must be so, because the judgment which pronounces upon our eternal loss or gain cannot be the right of any other but God.