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Christians are wasting heritage of the English Bible, Ryrie says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–If Christians today could grasp an appreciation for the battles fought by Bible translators who were persecuted and even gave their lives to print the Bible in common languages, they might become more biblically literate, said Charles Ryrie, editor of The Ryrie Study Bible, one of the most popular Bibles in the world.

“We have a great heritage,” Ryrie said. “Don’t refuse to spend it.”

Ryrie spoke on the “History and Heritage of the English Bible” during a colloquium at the A. Webb Roberts Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, March 22-23. The influences of the Tyndale Bible published in the 15th century and the King James Version published in the 17th century were the primary focus of his remarks.

“The only way to spend [our heritage] is to read, study, live, love, learn the Scriptures,” Ryrie said. “That is not bibliolatry, because it’s the only sure way you have of knowing Christ, and the one who lives and learns and loves it — the Word — will also learn, love and live Christ.”

Ryrie said evidence abounds that Christians have strayed from their heritage. He pointed to a lack of knowledge of the Bible and the lack of opportunities to hear the Word of God read directly from the Bible as just two examples.

“In our public services, the way we read one verse or two or four or five at the most, and we take a text and depart from there … is an absolute crime,” Ryrie said.

Ryrie called for a return to a heritage of accuracy in Bible translations. He said some modern Bible translations can be helpful for certain age groups — whether spiritual age or chronological age — but too many translations veer far from the intent of the original manuscripts.

“There are some paraphrases that are appropriate, and there are some that are not appropriate: they are just too free,” Ryrie said. Without calling out the names of particular paraphrases, he said, “I mean, in some of them you are … hardly getting a whisper of what God said, let alone a clear voice.”

On the other hand, Ryrie said elevating one translation over all others can have its drawbacks. Ryrie spoke in great detail about the developments that led to the King James Version and noted the great importance and value of that translation to this day. Yet he said that, according one scholar’s estimation, there have been some 24,000 variations of the King James Version since its original publication in 1611.

“That doesn’t make it wrong, not at all,” Ryrie said. “But it’s just something you might have in the back of your mind to help somebody who thinks King James is the only thing that we should use.”

Ryrie noted that the discipline of memorizing Scriptures is lost among many Christians today in part because, while most people at one time used the King James Version, there is now a question of which text to memorize. He feared that the newest translations are not as easy to memorize as is the King James Version.

“Memorization is important and it’s harder and harder to do,” he said.

Ryrie is a two-time graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary who also earned a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Edinburgh. He served as president of Philadelphia College of Bible (now Philadelphia Biblical University) and chair of the Department of Systematic Theology and dean of doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Ryrie has written numerous books on various theological topics. The Ryrie Study Bible is available in the King James Version, the New American Standard Translation and the New International Version.

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  • Lauri Arnold