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What about “The Holy Bible In Its Original Order”?

May 25, 2010

People have written to me asking what I think about The Holy Bible In Its Original Order which is translated and produced by Fred Coulter. I am familiar, to some extent, with Mr. Coulter, through his earlier work, The New Testament In Its Original Order—A Faithful Version with Commentary, which someone sent me as a gift a couple of years ago. Before I comment on the aforementioned, I will present some relevant background (and a confession).

Back in the early years of this ministry, ca. 1990, I was presenting some sermons at a Bible camp. During that camp I was approached by two men—at different times and unbeknownst to each other. I do not even remember who the first man was, but his approach to me was condemnatory, harsh and very judgmental of me because I quoted from four or five different versions of the Bible in my teaching there that weekend. To make matters worse, I was using the New American Standard version as my primary text. To paraphrasing and summarize his complaint, he said that I should stick to the King James Version because it was the only true version of the Bible. Being accosted in such a manner did not endear the man to me. In fact, it caused me to dismiss his assertions out of hand, and to this day, I do not even remember who he was. He may still be on my mailing list, for all I know.

I recount that incident to you, not to condemn the man for his sour and grating attitude, because if I were to judge (condemn) him for that, then I would be condemning myself. I, too, once was possessed of a similar spirit. The only way that I came to realize my fault was because someone who loves me had the courage to tell me that it was so. I did not see it in myself and my first reaction—and for a time after that—was to deny it. But I sought out the opinions of others and pleaded with them to tell me bluntly, is that true of me? I was humbled as a second and third witnesses verified it. I sought the Holy Spirit’s grace and guidance that He (not it—see below) would change me, soften my heart, and give me a peaceable spirit towards others.

That was many years ago and I am still a work in progress. I know that my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak, in that I still occasionally offend people by my attitude, by my words, by my manner of speaking, etc., but I praise Him for the changes He has wrought in me thus far. So if, by chance (i.e., God’s providence), that first man is led to read this article, please know that I intend no offense and I hope we can laugh and rejoice about it together some day. Because we will both realize that your words to me that day were part of the Father’s plan to set me on a path of an investigation of the truth in the debate concerning Bible translations.

As I said, I dismissed the first man’s assertions because of the package in which they came wrapped. The second man was very different in his approach. Smiling, he did not judge or condemn me for being wrong (in his opinion). Instead of making a statement that I was in error (which would tend to immediately make it a “me against you” confrontation), he asked me if I had ever looked into the differences among the various English translations. No, I had not, I replied. He went on to whet my appetite by tossing out a few morsels—differences that I could immediately see, that if he were correct about those differences, then it meant that major doctrines of the faith were being downgraded or even worse by many modern translations.

If I were interested, he offered—notice, he offered, he did not insist—he had a little one-page tract about the subject which I could have as a starting point, if I wanted to look into the subject some time. Within days (yep, days instead of minutes, I am a little slow on the uptake sometimes), I realized that this had been a second witness to the caustic man’s assertions. It was a prodding from the Lord to investigate this subject. Incidentally, although I had been casually acquainted with the smiling gentleman before that Bible conference, since then, he and I have become quite close friends—although we are many states apart geographically. So thank you, Gary.

Subsequently, I embarked on what turned out to be a multi-year study of the subject of Bible translations. I acquired literally about a bushel basket full of books and materials on all sides of the debate. (This was before the widespread availability of the internet. One would not have to purchase all those resources these days.) I truly had no position on the subject before commencing my investigation. In fact, I leaned towards the modern translations (witness my primary use of the NAS version). After all, I reasoned, wouldn’t the more recent versions be more correct because of all the advantages of hindsight that the scholars would have?

Circa 1995-96, I presented what eventuated into a 20-lecture series which I entitled Which Bible? Which Version? The conclusion I offered was that there are a plethora of reasons why the King James Version ought to be the Bible of choice for English readers. I made it my primary Bible version. Notice I said “primary,” not “only.” I did not become and have never been a “King James ONLY” man,…. although I have been attacked as such from the pulpit of another.

It is not that the KJV is a perfect English translation, and is therefore as inspired as the autographs (the original manuscripts), a position which a tiny minority hold to, but which I find ludicrous. There are mistakes in the KJV, but I will not take the time to list some of them here. Instead let me bring this circuitous discussion back to connect with the beginning of this article.

The key factor in deciding “which Bible or which version” is to know that there are at least two major streams of Greek manuscripts coming down through history upon which the various English New Testament translations depend. Almost all modern versions are based on the greatly corrupted stream of manuscripts. The KJV (and a handful of others recently translated) stand alone in being translated from the Textus Receptus (the Received Text).

During the course of my investigation of Bible translations I read a book called Restoring the Original Bible by the late Professor Ernest Martin. Dr. Martin’s thesis was that both the order of the books in the KJV (and virtually all other versions) is incorrect. Similarly, the 66 books of Protestant Bibles should be actually be 49 books. Please note, Professor Martin did not eliminate any of the 66 books, but rather by combining certain books—as he discovered was the original practice—we come up with the wonderful jubilee number of 49 books. I still have in my file the permission letter from his office to use his book and his accompanying chart (with my modifications) in my Bible versions series. Listeners will hear my own conclusions and expansions on some of Dr. Martin’s ideas and findings in the later lectures of my series, Which Bible? Which Version?

Dr. Martin, however, was translating his own version of the New Testament from the non-Textus Receptus stream of manuscripts, and so I could not fully endorse his work, except for the matter of the number and order of the books in our Bibles.

Fred Coulter uses the name of Martin’s book as the name of his website, In his Acknowledgements to his The New Testament In Its Original Order, Coulter states: “Dr. Martin was a personal friend of mine. Only two weeks before his untimely death [January 2002], Dr. Martin gave me permission to quote extensively in this work from his book, Restoring the Original Bible. In addition, he made me promise to arrange the books of the New Testament in their original order.”

The connection between the two men likely derives from that fact that both were associated with Ambassador University in Pasadena, California, which was established by Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. Ernest Martin was a professor of theology and history there. Coulter obtained a B.A. in Theology there in 1964 and his Master’s there in 1975.

I have no doubt that Dr. Martin was, and Fred Coulter is a very dedicated brother in the Lord. Nevertheless, I have some serious disagreements with some of the doctrines promulgated in the enormous amount of commentary articles (344 pages before the NT and 169 pages following the NT in The New Testament In Its Original Order). I am assuming that many or all of these same essays are found in The Holy Bible In Its Original Order.

These doctrines, or at least some of them, I surmise, derived from Coulter’s and Martin’s WWCG background. For example, they believe in the deity of the Father and the Son, but not in the deity of the Holy Spirit. I have seen their arguments and I am not persuaded. I made my case for the deity of the Holy Spirit in a two-part lecture back in the 90s entitled The Deity of the Holy Spirit (link is no longer valid). (Click on this hyperlink to obtain the CDs or audiotapes.) Were it necessary, I could add twice as much material to that study.

No study Bible is without its faults, but that one erroneous doctrine is sufficient to cause me to not recommend Mr. Coulter’s work. Moreover, there are a number of other articles therein which cause me concern as well. I am pleased by the fact, however, that Mr. Coulter has used the Stephens Text of 1550 as the basis of his NT translation. The Stephens Text is among those in the relatively unpolluted stream of Greek manuscripts, thus making it one of the very few English translations (along with J. P. Green’s Interlinear, The New King James Version, and a couple more) which I believe are more trustworthy.

As for the fact that this version has the correct number of books and has them in their proper order, that is all well and good, but I do not find that a compelling reason to buy the $120 Bible. Clearly, I think that it would have been more appropriate if Mr. Coulter had published his studies as a separate volume or two. That would have allowed the price of his translation, The Holy Bible In Its Original Order, to drop considerably and I would have bought it to have available for consultation, as I occasionally consult his NT translation.

My Which Bible? Which Version series sparked a firestorm for awhile in certain circles. It is still an important study for believers in the Word. It is so fundamental that it is really asking: which words (Bible version) is THE Word? It is still available and at a dirt-cheap price (when buying the CD album version, which comes with numerous charts and photos of key figures). Click on this hyperlink (link is no longer valid).


Category: Words and Language