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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2007-10-28

Text: 1 Peter 1:23-25

Today Protestant churches all over the world remember their Protestant heritage by commemorating the 490th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation which began on 31 October 1517. We thank the Lord for bringing about this movement, because we are now benefiting from its results.

I. The Reformation Restored the Authority of the Scriptures

Of all the results of the Reformation, the most important one was the restoration of the authority of Holy Scriptures back to the Church. This was known at that time as Sola Scriptura which means 'Scripture alone' in Latin. Let us trace the events that had led to this.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, the Church was in a very sorry state. Church leaders who professed celibacy were indulging in sexual sins. There was evident mismanagement of funds in the frivolous expenditure to acquire thousands of relics for its many cathedrals. The worship of God was obscured by the worship of the saints and of Mary. Superstitious practices abounded (e.g. 'Black Saturday'). It was a period of moral decadence and theological declension. What had caused this sad state? It developed when the Roman Church made itself the supreme authority over the Scriptures, and then exalted man-made traditions above the Scriptures. The effect of this was that the authority of the Scriptures in the lives of people was lost.

But God began to work to change this situation. In the latter part of a 12th century, a French merchant by the name of Peter Waldo began to reject the traditions of the Roman Church and advocated the biblical principle that we know today as 'Sola Scriptura.' His followers used nothing but the Scriptures for their preaching, and they became known as the Waldenses. However, for doing this, they were excommunicated and persecuted by the Roman Church. 

In the 14th century, God raised up a Bible scholar at Oxford University in England by the name of John Wycliffe (1330-1384). Wycliffe was much influenced by the Sola Scriptura principle of the Waldenses. He became very bold in using the Bible to expose all the false teachings and practices of the Roman Church. He also made the first English translation of the Bible. 

The Roman Church bitterly opposed Wycliffe's translation, declaring that by it the Scriptures had been desecrated by the English language, that the pearl of the Gospel was now being scattered and trodden underfoot by swine. But God protected him from being persecuted by the Roman Church and so Wycliffe continued his work. To promote Bible-reading, Wycliffe established a group of itinerant preachers (Lollards) who went throughout England distributing the Scriptures and at the same time evangelizing and preaching the Gospel. For the impact that he made, John Wycliffe became known as the 'Morning Star of the Reformation.'

 

In the next century (15th), God raised up another man, this time from Bohemia (now known as Czechoslovakia). His name was John Huss (1372-1415). He was much influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe and began to use the same Sola Scriptura principle in his teaching and preaching. This immediately brought severe persecution from the church. John Huss was promised safe conduct to present his case, but he was betrayed and condemned at the Council of Constance and burned at the stake.

Despite the efforts of these early reformers (Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and John Huss), the Roman Church still held on to its supreme authority and kept the whole of Europe under its man-made traditions and false teachings. The Sola Scriptura principle received full attention only in the 16th Century. 

This time, God raised up a German monk by the name of Martin Luther to take the lead. One day, as he was browsing through the books in his monastery's library, Luther accidentally found a Bible. He had never seen one before. This raised his curiosity to a high degree: He read it over with great excitement, and was amazed to find what a small portion of the Scriptures was being taught to the people. So he devoted himself to study the Scriptures well in order that he would be able to teach its wonderful truths to the people. He devoted himself so much to this that he often neglected eating and sleeping. After completing his training at the monastery, Luther began his ministry at Wittenberg. There he used the Sola Scriptura principle both at the University of Wittenburg where he taught, and at the Church of Wittenburg which he pastored. 

The spark that ignited the fire of the Reformation was the sale by the Roman church of something called indulgences. Indulgences were basically 'forgiveness tickets' that could be bought with money. The Roman church taught the people that if a person's sins were not satisfied by penance in this life, he would have to make satisfaction for them in an intermediate place called Purgatory, where it is alleged that Christians endured great torments for a long time before entering heaven. The only solution to this was to buy Indulgences for themselves. For a payment of a sum of money, the Pope could shorten the time that a person spent in Purgatory. There is absolutely no biblical basis for this doctrine - it is all human conjecture.

Thus, when Martin Luther heard about what was going on, he felt bound by his commitment to God and the Bible to speak up against indulgences. He decided to call for a public debate to discuss the whole matter. In preparation for this debate he wrote out a list of 95 statements, or theses against Indulgences with an announcement that these statements will form the basis for a public debate which was to take place in the church the next day. He nailed them to the door of the church on 31 October 1517.

Within 4 weeks they were copied out by people and sent throughout Germany and surrounding countries. God raised up many more Reformers who joined in the Protestant movement which eventually reformed the Church and broke away completely from Rome. Among them were: Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Farrell, and John Knox. With one voice they all sounded forth the well-known watchword of the Reformation: 'y Scripture alone, by Faith alone, by Grace alone, Christ alone, glory to God alone!' In Latin, the first part of this watchword 'by Scripture alone' is Sola Scriptura. And from the 16th century until now, the 21st century, this has continued to be the very first and most important guiding principle followed by all Protestant churches, including Life Church. 

II. The Reformation Increased the Availability of the Scriptures

Besides restoring the authority of the Scriptures in the church, the 16th century Protestant Reformation also increased the availability of the Scriptures. Prior to the 16th century, the church had strictly forbidden lay people to read or study the Bible on their own. The only ones who were qualified to do this were the clergy of the church, and the only way that anyone could know what was in the Bible was through listening to what the priests and bishops taught during church services, which wasn't very much. In any case, the Bible was available only in Latin, the language of ancient Rome. 

This translation, of the Bible which was made by Jerome in the 5th century became known as the Vulgate. It became the official Bible of the Roman church and it was used for over a thousand years. In fact the Roman Church proclaimed that the Vulgate is perfect, and is even better than any Greek and Hebrew manuscript of Scripture. But by the 16th century, Latin became a language only of the scholars and most people in Europe could not understand this ancient language. Hence they could not understand what was written in the Bible. It was a closed book to them which they could not know except what the church professed to disclose to them.

We are so blessed today to be able to hold in our hands a personal copy of the Bible which we can understand. For centuries before the Reformation, most people were deprived not only of having a Bible, but having one in a language they could fully understand, because the church allowed only the Latin Vulgate to be used. Then two wonderful things happened. Firstly the printing press was invented in 1440 - now it became possible for large numbers of Bibles to be printed and purchased at affordable prices. Secondly, the Reformers translated the Bible into the common languages of the people. The first to do this was Martin Luther. He was responsible for the first German translation of the New Testament in 1522. The second Reformer to do a translation work was William Tyndale. He translated the Scriptures into English because he firmly believed that the Scriptures should be made available to the common people.

Last night we screened a video in this sanctuary about him. In one scene, when Tyndale was opposed by one Roman cleric, he replied, 'If God spare my life, before many years pass, I will cause a boy that drives a plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do!' He made good his promise and completed his English translation of the New Testament from Greek manuscripts in 1525. And he also translated much of the Old Testament from Hebrew manuscripts.

Although Tyndale's New Testament was published and distributed throughout England, it was banned by the authorities and burned. Tyndale himself was arrested, convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in Antwerp, Holland. Later on, the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor (1516-58) ordered that anyone in England caught in possession of a Bible should be burned. Thousands of Christians were martyred during her reign. But 5 years after she launched this persecution, Mary was succeeded by her step-sister, Queen Elizabeth I who was a Protestant. During her reign, Elizabeth ordered the publication of 130 editions of the Bible. 

And about 50 years later, King James I authorized the translation work of the English Bible which became known as the Authorised Version or KJV. This translation work was done by 47 scholars and it was really a revision of the Bishops' Bible, which was in turn based on the Great Bible (1539) and the Geneva Bible (1560) both of which were revisions of Tyndale's Bible. Therefore over 90% of the wording of the KJV New Testament came from William Tyndale. The KJV itself went through several revisions until the final one was made in 1769. This is the English Bible we are using today.

For the past 57 years, Life B-P Church has been upholding the use of the KJV because we believe that it is the best English translation of the Scriptures, made by godly translators from the best Greek and Hebrew texts. Rest assured that the KJV will continue to be used for all ministries of Life B-P Church and for our members' use. Our doctrinal position with regard to the Word of God and the KJV Bible is as follows: 'We do believe that the Hebrew and Greek texts that were used for the King James Version of the English Bible (KJV) were providentially preserved by God and are therefore closest to the original autographs of the Bible.'

Thus we have seen how the Protestant Reformation which began 490 years ago restored the authority of the Scriptures, and also increased the availability of Scriptures. We should be thankful to God for this and we stand indebted to the Reformers for their convictions, their courage and their sacrifice. For this reason we must guard the church well against anything that may undermine either the authority or the availability of the Scriptures.

III. The Reformation's Legacy on the Scriptures Must Be Cherished

Some have undermined the authority of the Scriptures by claiming that there are mistakes and discrepancies in the Bible, that certain parts are mere fables and legends, and that the Bible text that we have in our hands is badly corrupted and we cannot depend upon it. Their theories and speculations have damaged the faith of many in the Bible, and caused many churches to go astray from the Lord.

The truth of the matter is that the alleged contradictions in the Bible are only apparent. They can be explained and harmonised. Over the years, the increased knowledge of history, geography, science and archaelogy have helped to corroborate the Bible. The number of variant readings due to a miscopied word here or there in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts has been so small and insignificant that they hardly deserve any consideration. And none of these variant readings have affected the meaning of the text. The correct reading can easily be determined by comparing parallel passages in the Bible. We can therefore have the greatest confidence that the Bible we have today is as reliable and authoritative for us as the original autographs that were written under inspiration of God. Let me emphasise that no book or literary work in the world has ever been so wonderfully preserved as the Bible. 

In their book What If the Bible Had Never Been Written, James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe compare the Bible with other books written at roughly the same time. There are only ten manuscript copies of Caesar's Gallic Wars, written about 60 BC, the oldest is from AD 900, which is nearly a thousand years later. Of the seven manuscript copies of Plato's Tetralogies, written about 400 BC, the oldest also dates to around AD 900, a span of roughly 1300 years. Homer's epic, The Iliad was written about 900 BC. The earliest of the 643 copies goes back to 400 BC, 500 years after it was written. By contrast, we have 5,366 copies of ancient Greek New Testament hand-written manuscripts! In addition, the oldest copies are far closer in time to the originals than any other ancient writings. The earliest manuscript containing most of the New Testament dates to AD 200 and there are fragments going back to AD 125 (e.g. the Rylands papyrus), only 25 to 75 years after the originals were written! 

The great scholar Sir Fredrick Kenyon wrote a book entitled, The Bible and Archaeology. In this book he wrote: 'The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed' This is exactly what God Himself said would be the case in Isaiah 40:8 'The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.' And our text of 1 Peter 1:23 tells us that we are 'born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.'

Within the last 77 years however, a new teaching on the preservation of the Bible has arisen which undermines both the authority and availability of the Scriptures. It was started by a Seventh Day Adventist named Benjamin G Wilkinson (1872 - 1968) through a book entitled, Our Authorised Bible Vindicated (1930). This new teaching has been propagated since then and has emerged 5 years ago with the name Verbal Plenary Preservation (VPP). The teaching can be summarised as follows: 

The process of preservation of the Scriptures culminated in the Hebrew and Greek texts underlying the King James Version. These texts surpassed all other editions of the traditional texts existing at that time. The ones who were responsible for these texts were the translators of the KJV. God used these translators to restore absolute 100% purity to the texts in the year 1611. The result of this is that the Greek and Hebrew texts underlying the KJV are the exact words of the original writings, i.e. a virtual photocopy of the autographs. Christians who use the KJV can therefore claim to have a perfect Bible. 

As you can see, the intention of those who promote this teaching is noble - to give those who use the KJV absolute confidence that they have a Bible translation which is based on the texts which are not only closest to the original, but which is word and letter perfect, exactly the same as the original. Wouldn't it be good for all of us who are KJV users to know that we alone have the unrivalled privilege to have such a Bible in our hands? This would surely provide us with the most solid grounds to continue using it and to discourage the use of any other version of the Bible.

But as noble as the intention may be for this new teaching, we must realize that it is untenable. Firstly, although it claims to be based on passages of Scripture which speak on the preservation of the Scriptures (e.g. 1 Peter 1:23-25), it is really a subjective opinion that has no biblical authority. Nowhere in the entire Bible is there any verse which says that God will restore the 100% purity of the Greek and Hebrew texts of His Word to make them exactly like the original autographs. Nowhere in the Bible can you find even a single verse that says or implies that God will do this restoration work through the translators of the KJV in the year 1611. This is all purely human conjecture. 

If it is truly based on the Bible, then any Christian in any period of church history and in any part of the world who studies nothing but the Bible carefully, guided by the Holy Spirit should be able to arrive at this teaching independently. But this is obviously not the case. It is a new doctrine, limited to some users of the KJV.

Therefore its basis is something other than the Bible. And if we were to make this new teaching binding for every Christian to believe, then we are no longer based solely on the divine authority of the Bible. This clearly contradicts the Sola Scriptura principle of the Reformation and undermines the authority of the Scriptures. We would be doing exactly what the Roman Church did - making the decrees of church councils and church traditions of equal authority with the Scriptures. And if we permit this compromise of the sole authority of the Scriptures, the door would be open to making many other compromises as well. Then our faith would rest on very shaky foundations and all the work of the Protestant Reformers would have been in vain!

Dearly beloved, we must continue to uphold the authority of the Scriptures which the Reformers fought so hard for. Besides that, we must also uphold the availability of the Scriptures to all believers since this was also what the Reformers courageously stood for. But if we adopt the new teaching we would be doing just the opposite. If we claim that we alone have a Bible translation which is based on the restored, 100% pure texts in the original languages, we would automatically deny anyone who uses a different Bible from ours the right to make a similar claim. That would include the Chinese Bible, the Indonesian Bible, and many Bibles in other languages today - for the simple reason that the texts from which those Bibles were translated are not exactly the same as the texts from which the KJV was translated. 

We would then have to tell them that since God has already done His work of restoring the Hebrew and Greek texts to their original state in the year 1611, they are opposing God by insisting on using Bibles which are not based on these restored texts. They must either switch to using only the KJV, which means that they must learn English, or wait for someone to do an entirely new translation of the Chinese Bible, Indonesian Bible and Bibles in other languages. Isn't this the same thing as what the Roman Church did, in claiming that the Latin Vulgate was the only valid, authoritative Bible that could be used by all believers? 

Isn't this the same thing as what the Roman Church did in despising Tyndale's English translation, Luther's German translation and other translations of the Bible that the Refomers and others after them made into the vernacular languages of Europe? Now those who claim that God fully restored the 100% purity of the Hebrew and Greek texts only through the textual decisions made by the KJV translators in 1611 would also have to say that during the 15 centuries before the KJV was made, no one possessed texts that were 100% restored like the ones theirs is based on. 

This is not what the Reformers believed and taught. Let me read to you what the Westminster Confession of Faith says about this: 'The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.'(WCF 1:8) The words 'kept pure in all ages' in this statement shows that the Westminster divines believed that the purity of the Old and New Testaments was kept or maintained in all ages, including the time before the KJV translators. It wasn't at all a gradual process where the texts gradually became purer and purer over time. It was simply a continuation of the purity of the text in all ages.

Finally, those who believe that the KJV translators have given us a Bible which is based on fully restored texts would have to disagree with the KJV translators themselves. Why? Because these translators included variant readings for some verses found in the margins of the KJV (some KJV Bibles today still have them) and they wrote the following in the preface of the KJV: 

Now in such a case, does not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that without investigation? For as it is a fault of incredulity to doubt those things that are evident, so to determine such things as the Spirit of God hath left questionable (even in the judgment of the judicious), can be no less than presumption. ('The Translators to the Reader,' front matter in The Authorized Version of the Bible, 1611 edition.) I trust that you can understand from all this, why this new teaching called verbal plenary preservation must be regarded as untenable.

It has really been painful to see that within the last 5 years it has taken hold of the Far Eastern Bible College and some Bible-Presbyterian churches in Singapore. It has been promoted with such great vehemence as to produce much controversy and strife among brethren and even caused some churches to split. The main reason for this is that the proponents of this new teaching have turned it into a major doctrine and a touchstone of Christian fundamentalism. Those who disagree with them are unkindly accused of denying the Bible and are branded as Neo-Evangelicals and Neo-Fundamentalists. They promote this new teaching at all costs without considering how destructive it is to the peace and unity of the church. 

In the face of this challenge let us remain firm and steadfast in upholding the authority and availability of the Scriptures. Following the spirit of the Protestant Reformers we must not be moved to compromise on these things, but trust in the Lord to help us.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25