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Psalms 133:1
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

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Bibles as a Service

When I was in middle-school and high-school I played a lot of Halo. I certainly played it too much. It all started when my family moved back to Kentucky from Florida. The new Church we began attending had a gaming corner for the youth with original Xbox-es, and the only system link game they had was Halo 2. That corner was one of the main avenues I took to making new friends. It’s also the reason my brothers and I convinced our parents to let us get an Xbox with Halo. When that happened we played Halo all the time, we owned it. In fact I still have that copy of Halo, now neglected. I could take it out of the case right now and play a level. I don’t need to wait until Wednesday night Church, I don’t need to go to a friend’s house, I don’t even have to pay Microsoft. Why? Because I own it.

The same is not true with many modern games. Though I don’t play much any more, I still see how the video game industry has changed. Whereas older games were produced to make most of their money on initial sales, games today are produced as a continual revenue stream. They are designed to constantly draw out money from the consumer through things like micro-transactions, expansion packs, and subscription services. We’re not even talking about covering server costs, most of this is pure profits. In the worst cases of this “games as a service” model you are forced to pay what Halo 2 use to cost on a monthly basis just to play your game.

Now why am I saying all this? It’s because I see the same kind of thing happening to the Bible translation industry. In August 2016 Crossway Books announced that they would be producing a “permanent text edition” of their popular English Standard Version Bible. This edition would have been a stable text, without alterations, for the foreseeable future. This commitment was dropped the next month. Crossway had decided it would be better to continue to make frequent updates to the text of their Bible as the fields of text criticism, and ancient language studies change.

In effect what this means is that ESV users will either have to put-up and pay-up for the latest revision, or accept that they are inevitably going to be left behind. In order to continue reading God’s word, at least the latest scholarly edition of it, Crossway has to get it’s share. And I’m not only talking about Crossway and their ESV. I haven’t heard anything from Holman about a permanent text CSB. It seems the norm that Bible publishers have made a business model out of text updates.

So what should Christians think of this? To begin, we ought to recognize the sinful motivations which underlay these models. The first of these motivations, as it seems to me, is a love of money. It’s plain that making as much of a profit as possible is behind many of these decisions. It’s hard to look at the wide range of products offered, and the great efforts spent at advertising them, without seeing free-market competition in it. The scripture has a lot to say about those who are addicted to profit:

1 Timothy 6:9-10
“They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

2 Peter 2:1b, 3
“…There shall be false teachers among you… And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”

2 Corinthians 2:17
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”

That last verse in particular is important to us. In it, the word translated “corrupt” here means something like “to corrupt a product for the sake of profit.” Think of watering down the liquor. For this reason, those who are “greedy of filthy lucre,” those who like dirty money, are disqualified from leadership in the Church (Titus 1:7). So the fact that these companies are playing the market for maximum profit should make us suspicious.

The Second Sinful motivation I’d like us to see is that of distrusting God’s promise to definitively give His word to the Church. The whole enterprise of textual revision is usually predicated, at least in part, on the academic field of textual criticism. Those in the field typically would agree with the statement by Dan Wallace in Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism edited by Peter Gurry, and Elijah Hixon: “We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.” Statements of uncertainty like this are taken as one warrant for continuing to update Bible translations every few years. It seems as if we will never be able to settle on a single definitive text.

Contrary to this, the Bible gives us full assurance that God has given us a final text. I’ve made a video on this topic here if you’d like a more in-depth treatment of preservation, but three texts will suffice for now:

Matthew 5:17-18
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Matthew 24:35
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

In these two passages, Christ affirms that His scripture would not pass away. Even after the world of sin passes away, His word will remain for His people. Now for that third verse:

John 17:7-8, 20
“Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.
For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;”

Now Christ gives us the mechanism of this preservation. The word of God would be handed down from one generation of believers to the next in unbroken succession. Each generation of believers is to receive the scripture from the generation of the faithful immediately before them. Christ has promised us that this will be the case. Therefore we are to receive the scripture, whole and entire, by faith in Christ’s words! This is in contrast to the unbelieving worldview which supposes that God’s word is lost, and in need of approximate reconstruction.

So, there we have it. The Bible publishing industry is in grave sin. The call to action here should be obvious. Why would we continue to give money to these companies which are behaving in an unchristian way? So what if they distrust God’s providence? You don’t have to. God has given you His word believer, and it can be found in the traditional text of the protestant Churches. Perpetual revisions serve no purpose, and it’s vain to keep buying them. Give heed to King Solomon’s words:

Proverbs 22:17-21
“Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.
That thy trust may be in the LORD, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?”

Let me ask you Christian, do you own the word of God?