(© 6 June May 2015, Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)
I’m not very crazy about most modern translations of the Bible. Having taught Hebrew and Greek in seminary for 20 years, I have evidence to base my thoughts, not just hot opinion. (We cannot develop my thoughts on this in a quick blog.) The King James Version of 1611 has been the greatest English version in the last 400 years by any measure: accuracy, beauty, symmetry, grandeur, longevity, and so on. Instead of bringing the Bible down to the ignorant level of the people, as the modern versions tend to do, the KJV lifted a whole culture to its level. Yet even as great as it has been, there are some occasional mistakes in it. One such mistake is this one:
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Prov. 29:18).
There are two errors in translation. I’ve heard many people quote part of the verse: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Someone will then say that we must have a goal in mind or plans will not work out. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with this verse. It is not that the translation is so wrong but that the word “vision” is grossly misunderstood by modern readers. The word for “vision” in Hebrew means a prophetic “vision” or revelation from God. Every English translation I’ve checked (not a few!) render its this way:
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).
One purpose of God’s commandments is to restrain evil. When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, we had the Ten Commandments on the wall in home room in public high school. Each day a student read from the Bible, prayed, and then we all said the Pledge of Allegiance. The constant reminder of God’s law molded our consciences as we grew up. (Not to mention that saying the Pledge of Allegiance bonded us to our beloved country, something also sorely lacking today.) Movies were not rated, for there was no need. There was no profanity on TV or radio, no Playboy, and rape was rare.
In other words, when God’s commandments (revelation) are kept before the people, it produces moral restraint, protection from one another, a Christian cultural conscience; but without it, the people pursue sin with reckless abandonment. As all Christian symbols are being removed from our culture, all restraint to avoid sin is being removed. When I graduated in 1963, if two students got into an argument over some moral problem, the end of the argument would be when one of the students pointed to one of the commandments on the wall—end of argument.
My mother would not let me see Gone with the Wind when I was a small boy because of the one line by Clark Gable: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” People laugh at that today. Would to God that only such language was the norm today instead of the gutter four letter words that lace almost every scene. Profanity is now as normal as breathing, and one reason, I’m convinced, is that there is no public moral conscience.
Groucho Marx once said:
“These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
The philosopher and logician Lewis Carroll gives us a good view of relativism in Alice in Wonderland when Alice meets the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asked the Cat.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
We could imagine this continued set of dialogues:
“But I’m somewhere now,” Alice objected.
“Yes, and any road will lead you to somewhere else.”
“Well, then,” asked Alice, “which way do I go if I want to get to a certain place.”
“What place is that?” the Cat responded.
Alice slowly said, “I don’t know the name of it.”
“In that case, no road will help you get there.”
In other words, if there is no word from God, there is no revelation; and where these is no revelation, the people “cast off restraint”—or, as the last verse of Judges says: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).