Romans 1:16 ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel.’

February 26, 2017 by David Farmer 0 comments

Posted in: Weekly Commentary

This Week’s Focus Passage: Romans 1:16

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel.’

A new translation of the Scriptures, the Word of God for Protestant Christians, namely, that is, the Bible, appeared in full in the year of our Lord, 1978, the New Testament had earlier made its appearance in 1773; the publishers evidently not wishing to wait for the entirety of both the Older and the Newer Testaments to be ready. The New York Bible Society was selected to accomplish the translation. This translation came out with a great deal of hullaballoo, that is, both for and against; both praise and criticism. I well remember one of the first criticisms, if not the first, of this translation shared with me by a brother in Christ. I had not been walking with the Lord for very long, having been converted in 1975. This brother, something of a ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ fundamentalist that greatly favored the King James Version, although thankfully not an exponent of the King James only teachings, was troubled by the translation of our focus verse for this week as it is rendered in the N.I.V. In that newest translation—newest at the time, they had offered the following, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile, while the ever-popular KJV has it, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of  Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. At first glance, one may well inquire, ‘what’s the difference?’ Yet it requires only a second glance to see that the difference is ‘Christ.’ The KJV has Paul saying, the gospel of Christ, with the N.I.V. opting for, the gospel, without, to my friend’s horror, defining it as the gospel of Christ.

My friend’s consternation was based upon a felt defense of the honor of his Lord and Savior. This is understandable, but he with his limited background, and no real bible training apart from the memorization plan of the Navigators, found his thoughts held captive by the prevailing fundamental mindset. Navigators is a well-meant design for believers to store the Word of God in their minds. Knowing the Word, in itself, is of course, a good thing. But knowing it only superficially can be very dangerous and harmful.

Admittedly, the N.I.V., or the New International Version, is not my favorite version. Having said that, there is nothing demonstrably malignant in their translation of Romans 1:16, as feared by my friend. The reason for the seeming discrepancy between the N.I.V. and the K.J.V. is actually due to the choice made of the original language text which each of these two bodies of translators determined to make use of. Without going into the issue of textual criticism, it is sufficient for our purposes to note the comment of a contemporary:

‘The King James translators used as their chief sources the 1550 and 1551 editions of Stephanus and Beza’s editions of 1589 and 1598. They did not, however, as is generally believed, work from a single homogenous text known as the “Textus Receptus.”’—R. P. Martin, Accuracy of Translation.

The main point is that the distinction between the NIV and KJV with respect to the inclusion of Christ in Romans 1:16 is not necessarily the result of a conflict between conservatists and liberals. My friend’s fear that someone was diabolically attempting to remove Jesus from the gospel is simply unwarranted in this case.

The fact is that Christ cannot be taken out of the gospel. Without Christ there is no gospel. He is the Gospel! He is the Good News, and the only good news. Any attempt at bringing good tidings into a narrative is hopeless without bringing in the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul has begun this epistle to the Romans defending his apostleship and his separation unto the gospel of God with a terse definition of that gospel in certain terms, which he says:

He promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord.

Is this bold pronouncement going to fall upon deaf ears simply because of a textual variant regarding the inclusion or exclusion of Christ a few verses later? This friend was not, to my knowledge, a proponent or subscriber to the ‘King James Only’ camp; those who literally insist upon sole usage of the King James Version, or as they often make reference, ‘the A.D. 1611’. They actually believe that their version is inspired scripture, rather than being a translation of the original ‘autographs’. This certainly would seem to give them some confidence, some assurance that they have the very Word of God in their hands. This is really sort of scary. I recall asking another good friend some twenty-five years ago, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, how he felt about the King James only matter. Of course, the King James Version is an English translation, and I should have anticipated the answer. My friend responded that, ‘how could I possibly agree with the A.D.1611 folk when I, myself, use the Gaelic Bible?’ That raised an interesting additional parameter to the discussion. Those asserting the 'only-ness' of the KJV do not seem to have considered the limits inherent in the reality of its being ‘only’ in the English language. What about the rest of the world?

I simply mention this ‘King James Only’ aberration because it illustrates the danger of my earlier friend’s occupation against the New International Version. His thinking provides a possible ‘slippery slope’ toward that error. My concern with the N.I.V. is that it is what is called a ‘dynamic equivalency’ translation, rather than a more ‘literal equivalency’ translation. The first school of thought is more concerned with communicating the idea, at least as they see it, of the original. Thus they will insert a word representing their thought and not a translation of the original. They believe this makes it easier for the reader to understand, but is it true?

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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