There's a family disagreement. A father wants to move to a new town, to take a new job. But his wife wants to stay where they are; she doesn't want to leave her own job, or her own friends. A young man wants to skip college, and go straight into the workforce, but his parents disapprove - - - or, maybe, his parents disagree about what he should do. Who makes the final decision? Some families might be tempted to take a vote, but that doesn't always work. So, how do they decide? Who has the final authority?
Some of the officers of a corporation want to make a new acquisition, or sell off a non-performing subsidiary. But there's no agreement among the Board of Directors. Who makes the final decision? The company president? The chairman of the board? The stockholders? Who's the final authority?
The issue comes up again and again. Sometimes, the stakes are a matter of life and death. Do you remember the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who had fallen into a coma and was pronounced to be in a permanently "vegetative" state? Her husband claimed that Terri would have wanted her feeding tube to be removed, ending her life, but she had left no "living will," to indicate this conclusively. Her parents claimed that she would want to be kept alive. Who would make the decision? Who was the final authority? The case went to the courts, both state and federal. The courts disagreed. A Florida judge ruled that the feeding tube could be removed, and it was. The Florida legislature stepped in, passing "Terri's Law," giving Gov. Jeb Bush the power to order the reinsertion of the tube. The courts ruled that the law was unconstitutional: back to square one. Bush called upon his brother, President George W. Bush, who kicked the case over to the United States Congress. The question remained, as Ms. Schiavo slowly died: who had the final authority? (It certainly wasn't her husband or her parents, although it should have been; they had reached a stalemate.) The Congress passed an emergency bill transferring authority in the case to the federal courts. Obviously, the final authority would become the Supreme Court of the United States. But the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. As Ms. Schiavo wasted away, the situation became so heated that, for awhile, it appeared that Florida sheriffs might have to face off against the National Guard for custody of the dying woman. All because no one could agree who had final authority over her fate. Inevitably, it became obvious Who really had final authority, and Ms. Schiavo died. And this tragic, ludicrous political circus became one of the great historical examples of what happens when there's no final authority.
We simply can't live without authority; and the necessity of authority presupposes the need for a final authority. I'm writing this at 2:45 PM on a Saturday. But where you live, it might be 11:45 PM, or 8:45 AM on Sunday. Which time is correct? Who's to say? Well, that one's easy: we're all off! At the moment, it's 7:45 PM in Greenwich, England. Greenwich Mean Time is the standard for the entire world. That's the final authority in establishing time zones.
How long is a meter? I mean, exactly how long? Obviously, it's 100 centimeters, or 1000 millimeters, but that begs the question: how do we know these things? How do we get a final, accurate measurement? For years, there was a platinum bar, kept in a vacuum chamber in Washington, D.C., that was the official standard for the length of a meter. That was the final authority.
In recent decades, the bar has been discarded in favor of more accurate measurements: now, a meter is considered to be the distance a ray of light travels in a certain fraction of a second, measured by a laser beam. But there's a definite standard: a final authority. Time and distance are not matters of opinion. There are authorities by which they can be judged. Subjective judgments are irrelevant.
For a student in school, the final authority is the teacher: he or she is the one who grades the papers. The teacher may be wrong, or may contradict the textbook, but when grade time rolls around, the teacher is the final authority!
So, what's the final authority for the issues that count the most: the moral and personal and spiritual questions and decisions that we all face, every day?
For Christians, who have been born again according to Jesus' instructions in John 3:3-8, the final authority is the word of God, the Bible. There are nominally Christian groups who elevate other things to the level of final authority: the Roman Catholics, for example, who regard the teaching of the church as a final authority; or the Mormons, who rely on the writings of Joseph Smith, or the decrees of such church bodies as the Quorum of the Twelve. But for those who have personally received Jesus Christ according to John 1:12, it's the Bible, and the Bible alone. Teachers and preachers are good, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is always available: but the final authority is the Bible. Even the Holy Spirit won't contradict that, because He wrote it!
But in the past century or so, Christians have been faced by a very unsettling question, which had never arisen before, outside of "scholarly" circles: "which Bible?" Until the English Revised Version of 1881, and then the American Standard Version of 1901, the Body of Christ throughout the English-speaking world agreed that the Authorized Version of 1611, the King James Bible, was the "real thing." But suddenly, as new translations in English started coming out, Christians had to start making some choices. This was only aggravated as the proliferation of new English versions continued, from the Revised Standard Version of 1946 to the New American Standard Version of 1971, the New International Version of 1978, and the so-called "New King James Version" of 1982. These were only a few of the new versions: in fact, since 1881, over 300 English versions of the New Testament or the complete Bible have been published.
So, someone might ask, what's the problem? If the Bible is the final authority, isn't it good to have as many editions of it as possible? The answer might be "yes," if the versions were basically the same, and said basically the same things: but they aren't, and they don't. For example, the New American Standard Version contradicts or changes the meaning of the King James Bible thousands and thousands of times - - - and I'm not just talking about "updated" language, but real changes in meaning. The new Bibles say that Joseph was Jesus' father in Luke 2:33; the King James Bible doesn't. The King James Bible says "Easter" in Acts 12:4; the new versions say "Passover." The new Bibles include footnotes that say that part of John 8, the beloved story of the woman taken in adultery, probably shouldn't be in the Bible, and that 1 John 5:7 shouldn't be there.
So now the Christian is faced with two, three, or 300 "final authorities," with thousands of important contradictions between them. How is he or she to settle the confusion?
(I'm not even mentioning the all-important issues of differing Greek translations and texts and editions: that's a basic component in the problem, too. But it will have to be treated separately.)
At this point, "higher education" comes into the picture. Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, "scholars" in those languages say, "We're the only ones who know what it really means; we'll tell you which version is correct." So, the Bible is no longer the final authority: the "scholars" are. And what happens when the scholars disagree among themselves? Well, then, the Christian is left with no final authority. Because the scholars, having robbed the Christian of any final authority, have none with which to replace it, except for their own "preferences."
And Christians get together for a Bible study, and each has his or her own favorite translation, and instead of any real, God-given authority, it quickly degenerates into a game of ring around the rosie: "Here's what my version says. Now, Jack, what does your version say? Okay, Louise, what does your version say?" And if there are contradictions, the Christians brush them off, in the name of "Christian unity," saying, ultimately, "Well, as long as we can get along together, we won't pay any attention to what God really intended."
That is not what God had in mind when He gave His propositional revelation to man.
If a Christian is serious about following his or her Creator and Saviour and Lord, he or she must have the Lord's words - - - His real words, not 300 differing versions of His words.
And the evidence of history, and the evidence of legitimate Greek scholarship, and the evidence of common sense, leads to one conclusion: that the King James Bible, which was accepted as God's word for 300 of the 400 years of its existence, is exactly that. All other versions (in English) are counterfeits.
And believing that is what makes me a "renegade Christian." But believing the truth has never been popular, and never will be. Nevertheless, as Paul said, Let God be true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4).
Thank God for giving us His pure, flawless, perfectly preserved word in our own language! May He give us the grace and the courage to believe it, live by it, and, when necessary, die by it!