Ancient Bible versions were of vital importance for taking the gospel to pagan nations during the early centuries of Christianity. Similarly, during the time of the Reformation translations of the Bible into the vernacular facilitated the spread of Reformation ideas in Europe. Since then the Bible has been translated into many languages. According to the 2019 statistics of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, the complete Bible has been translated into 698 languages, the New Testament into 1,548 languages, and one or more Bible books into a further 1,138 languages. This makes an aggregate of 3,384 languages, out of a total of about 7,000 languages spoken in the world.1
To translate the Bible into English involves knowing the original languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—and the skill to write English well. It also requires manuscripts that are as close to the original biblical text as possible. The first complete English translation is credited to John Wycliffe, a lecturer at Oxford University in the fourteenth century. A century and a half later William Tyndale translated the Greek New Testament into English. Church officials opposed the circulation of his translation; they bought copies and burned them. Tyndale himself, after being betrayed by a friend, was imprisoned and executed in 1536 in Belgium.
After James I became king of England, he authorized a new translation, which since its publication in 1611 has been known as the King James Version (KJV). It captured the best of all the preceding translations and far exceeded all of them in terms of popularity. It has justifiably been called the “noblest monument of English prose.”
2 For more than 400 years the KJV has remained “the Bible” par excellence wherever English is spoken.
Since the time of the KJV, a number of older Greek manuscripts have been discovered. The most important among them are two manuscripts from about A.D. 350. One is called Codex Vaticanus, because it was found in the library of the Vatican; the other is called Codex Sinaiticus because it was discovered in 1844 in the library of Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. In 1881 two English scholars, Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. Hort, published
The New Testament in the Original Greek, which was based primarily on the ancient codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, rather than on Greek manuscripts from the Middle Ages called Textus Receptus (the “received text”), which had been used for the KJV.
By contrast, the Westcott and Hort Greek text, it is alleged, is based on manuscripts produced during a period of apostasy in the church (i.e., the fourth century A.D.) and not providentially protected from scribal changes. “Translations based on them are therefore unreliable.”
3 These interesting assumptions, however, lack any historical evidence.
It is interesting to note that as far as we know, other European languages do not have this problem with their Bible translations, which are based on the same Greek text as modern English Bibles. Martin Luther’s German New Testament, published in 1522, has undergone many major revisions during this period.
One of the arguments of the KJV-only defenders is the supposed omission of terms connected with the divinity of Jesus. For example, the KJV uses the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” 80 times (e.g., Acts 15:11; 16:31; 1 Cor. 5:4; 2 Cor. 11:31; etc.). Modern versions use this phrase only about 60 times. The omission of the word “Christ” in 20 texts is seen as diminishing the evidence for Jesus’ divinity. This completely ignores the fact that in a number of places modern versions are stronger and clearer about the deity of Jesus than the KJV. For example, John 1:18 in the KJV says, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Modern versions such as the
New American Standard Bible (NASB) read “only begotten God,” and the New International Version (NIV) translates “but God the one and only” instead of “only begotten Son.”
Two lengthy passages (Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11) are not found in the earliest manuscripts. Most modern translations indicate their omissions in the ancient manuscripts in various ways. Because we do not have the original autographs, we do not know whether these stories were lost in the process of transmission or whether they were later additions of oral reports. Whatever the case, the fact that modern translations indicate that these passages are not found in the most ancient manuscripts does not warrant the charge that modern Bibles have changed God’s Word.
We have many modern versions of Scripture today, and any translation is also an interpretation. This has made it necessary to carefully consider which translation we are going to use and for which purpose. First, we need to recognize that there are three basic types of translations:
So which version shall we use? For serious Bible study and preaching, it is helpful to consult several good versions. Good modern standard translations are the NKJV, the NIV, the NASB, and the English Standard Version. For personal and family devotions a paraphrase may offer a fresh way of connecting to God’s Word.
Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D., originally from Austria, served as pastor, Bible teacher, field secretary, and associate director of the Biblical Research Institute.
This volume contains 20 papers presented at the International Gift of Prophecy Symposium, hosted by Andrews University, October 15-18, 2015. As the title suggests, the book is divided into two parts, namely, biblical and historical studies. Eight chapters deal with the gift of prophecy in Scripture; three chapters explore its occurrence, or lack thereof, in church history; and the other nine chapters investigate the manifestation of the prophetic gift in the life and work of Ellen G. White.
The biblical studies section provides a rigorous in-depth study of the prophetic phenomenon in Scripture. No topic is off-limits. Following two chapters providing an overview of the prophetic voice in the Old and New Testaments, the chapter on revelation/inspiration addresses not only the self-testimony of Scripture concerning its inspiration, but also the discrepancies, difficulties, and nonbiblical ancient sources reflected in the text. Two new topics, never addressed before in Adventist volumes, are a chapter on the emotions of biblical prophets and a chapter entitled “Ellen White’s Insights Into Scripture in Light of the Original Biblical languages.” The author gives a number of examples where nuances of the biblical texts found only in the original languages (and not reflected in modern translations) were embedded in Ellen White’s comments on those texts.
Other topics cover the use of Scripture by other biblical writers, the influence of the literature of the ancient Near East on the biblical writers, tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, and “the Spirit of Prophecy” in the book of Revelation.
The historical studies section addresses a variety of topics of interest to Seventh-day Adventists. The first three chapters explore the paucity of the true gift of prophecy in church history, while there seems to be an abundance of false prophets. Three chapters deal with the complex and sensitive topics of Ellen White’s interpretation of Scripture, her use of extrabiblical sources, and the sola scriptura principle and Ellen White.
Other topics include her focus on the love of God in Christ, her emphasis on mission, and Ellen White as a Christian and a writer. The final chapter addresses the question on how to make her relevant to those of us who live in third millennium. In addition to the 20 chapters, the book has four appendices, one of which is the sermon by Ted N. C. Wilson at the symposium.
The Gift of Prophecy in Scripture and History is a landmark publication on this topic. While some chapters may be of more interest than others, all contribute to a better understanding of the importance of the gift of prophecy as manifested in the life and work of Ellen G. White. Every pastor, elder, and church member should read and study this book to gain a greater appreciation of God’s gift to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and be able to better respond to non-Adventists who have questions concerning the ministry of Ellen White.
On March 29, 1994, 39 leading evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics—men such as Pat Robertson and John Cardinal O’Connor—signed a document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.”1 Christians around the world were astonished; Seventh-day Adventists were confirmed in their understanding of prophecy. They remembered Revelation 13:3, “And all the world marveled and followed the beast,” and the statement in The Great Controversy: “The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power.”2
In 2014 Pope Francis I spoke by video to a conference of charismatic and Pentecostal ministers hosted by television evangelist Kenneth Copeland. The pope told these ministers he longed for the separation between the churches to come to an end. “The miracle of unity,” he said, “has begun. . . . He [God] will finish well this miracle.” The response of the Pentecostal and charismatic ministers was a resounding “Amen.” They prayed for the pope and blessed him. Many Christians around the world rejoiced about this development. Seventh-day Adventists were again confirmed in their faith, because for more than 100 years they had been expecting this move toward Christian unity.
On May 23, 2015, the John 17 Movement, an interdenominational organization of Protestant and Catholic theologians and leaders, held a meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Pope Francis, again by video, sent them a personal message in which he urged them to heal the wound of separation. Then in September, Pope Francis visited America, speaking to a joint session of Congress and to the United Nations’ General Assembly. His visit emphasized the close relationship between the Vatican and America since 1984. In the twentieth century, prior to 1984, the United States did not even have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
As Seventh-day Adventists we are privileged to see the fulfillment of some prophecies taking place before our eyes because God Himself has called this church into existence and has given it special insights into end-time events. We must never forget that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not an accident of history. It did not come about by happenstance. It is not just one church among many Christian churches. This church has been prophetically foreseen in Revelation 12:17: “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (KJV).
Theological pluralism presents a tremendous challenge to the unity of the church today.
This description fits only the Seventh-day Adventist Church.3 This may sound arrogant, but Adventists have nothing to boast about. Being called by God to proclaim the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 is a challenging and humbling experience, and an awesome responsibility. The textual evidence concerning the marks of the remnant church is clear. No other church is committed to keeping all of God’s commandments, including the Sabbath commandment; and has the “testimony of Jesus,” which, according to Revelation 19:10, is the Spirit of Prophecy or the prophetic gift. We Adventists believe that this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White.
I am firmly convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s last-day church, the remnant church of Revelation 12:17. This does not mean that only Seventh-day Adventists will be saved. God has His people in all churches. In Revelation 18:2 the fourth angel proclaims, “Babylon . . . is fallen,” and in verse 4 he says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (NKJV).4 Yes, many of God’s people are still in Babylon. No, doubt there will be many Catholics and Protestants in heaven, including Adventists!
God called this church into existence and has given it a special message (Rev. 14) to proclaim to the world, to prepare it for the Second Advent. But in order to proclaim this message, we need to be grounded in the Word of God. We need to study Scripture and accept what it says as it reads, and not explain away its plain meaning. According to Ellen White: “If men would but take the Bible as it reads, . . . a work would be accomplished that would make angels glad and that would bring into the fold of Christ thousands upon thousands who are now wandering in error.”5
Thus, when Scripture says, “Insix days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that isin them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11), it means He created the world in six days, not in 6 million years. And when God says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It isan abomination” (Lev. 18:22, NKJV), it means that homosexual practice is a sin, whether it is a loving relationship or not. We need to accept the Bible as it reads, unless there are good reasons not to do so.
From time to time we need to be reminded that we serve a living God.We know from Scripture that Satan is angry with the remnant church (Rev. 12:17). He has seen to it that worldliness and pluralism have entered the Seventh-day Adventist Church as never before. Theological pluralism presents a tremendous challenge to the unity of the church today. The theological controversies in the church in recent decades have produced different brands of Adventism. Today we hear of
evangelical Adventists, progressive Adventists, historic Adventists, and mainstream Adventists.6 All of them claim to represent true Adventism.
Let’s never forget who we are and why God has called this church into existence.
When I began my ministry in 1971, the theological discussions at that time centered on the sanctuary, the Spirit of Prophecy, perfection, and the nature of Christ, specific teachings of interest to Adventists. Today the theological controversies in our church are much more basic, dealing with fundamental Christian teachings: (1) The Trinity: Is Christ really God from eternity? Is the Holy Spirit a person? (2) Creation: Did God create the world in seven days or seven eons? (3) The atonement: Did Jesus die as our substitute or only as our example? (4) The Bible: How much of the Bible is inspired? Is the entire Bible reliable, or is it reliable only when it talks about salvation?
Some Adventists are no longer convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of prophecy, that Ellen White was a true prophet, and that our sanctuary teaching is biblical. They are in danger of forgetting who we are and why God has called this church into existence. And Satan would love nothing more than for this to happen.
So let’s never forget who we are and why God has called this church into existence. He is wonderfully blessing His church. We praise the Lord for the progress the Seventh-day Adventist Church is making worldwide. According to the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference, on any given day more than 3,000 people join the church: a Pentecost every day! Praise the Lord!
Yet we also face significant challenges. There are still about 4 billion people who have never heard the Adventist message. Most of them live in what is called the 10/40 window. At times one could almost despair of ever finishing the task. But God has ways and means we cannot imagine. He will finish His work, “ ‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6, NKJV). So let’s rejoice and be glad, and let’s fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2, NASB).7
Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D., has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church as pastor, professor, and is enjoying active retirement while continuing to serve part time with the Biblical Research Institute, from which he retired in 2013.