Book Review: A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship

As I have been preparing to teach a course on church music in the near future, I have been assembling a small library of books old and new. Some are practical, some philosophical, some historical. When I found out about the recently published (December 2021) book A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship I was intrigued, and when Scott Aniol recommended it, I knew I had to buy it.

I will be clear in the start that I am no fan or supporter of either contemporary or praise & worship music in church worship. I do not even enjoy either privately. I don’t think I am the target audience of this book at all, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The reason I can enjoy this book along with those that do love these modern worship trends is because it is all dealt with fairly and at “face value”. The authors do a fantastic job of letting the people and events speak for themselves without providing commentary. It is honest, straightforward history, which is a rare thing in Christianity today. I personally could not write something like this, as I would want to point out along the way all of the fallacies and flaws I found in the movements.

The authors trace the origins of modern church music to two sources that they describe as “rivers”. The first is Praise & Worship (I am keeping the ampersand since they purposely use it), which traces back the Latter Rain movement, a controversial offshoot of Pentecostalism in the 1940’s that has been widely influential in more recent Charismatic movements. The second is Contemporary Worship which has many tributaries, like the Jesus People and the Church Growth movement, which all attempted to make religion more accessible or relatable to modern culture. By the late 1990’s these essentially merged into the approach used in so many churches today.

I would label the two sources as “Pentecostal” and “Pragmatic”. The first focuses on praising to the point God shows up and then intimately worshipping Him. It is founded primarily on a novel interpretation of Psalm 22:3 and some unfounded typological conclusions regarding the Tabernacle(s). It is based on human experience, emotion, and expression. The second focuses on relevance to the world outside the church. It is founded on a misconception that the church must continually adapt to culture and a rather extreme application of I Corinthians 9:22. It is based on comfort, camouflage, and compromise. (See why I just can’t be impartial?)

There is hardly a page in my copy that I did not underline a name or note some statement in the text or footnotes. There is truly a wealth of information here, most of which I believe would surprise or shock conservative Christians.

Well-written, well-researched, and well-received, this book is a great read for anyone interested in the origins of, not just the music, but of the landscape of modern American Christianity.

On Typology

I’ll be honest and say that when it comes to Bible study I have generally avoided the area of Typology. But recently I have been studying, teaching, and encountering this system of Bible interpretation more than before. I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share on the subject.

Lewis Sperry Chafer defines it well in his Systematic Theology (Vol. III, p. 116-117):

A type is a divinely purposed anticipation which illustrates its antitype. These two parts of one theme are related to each other by the fact that the same truth or principle is embodied in each. It is not the prerogative of the type to establish the truth of a doctrine; it rather enhances the force of the truth as set forth in the antitype. On the other hand, the antitype serves to lift its type out of the commonplace into that which is inexhaustible and to invest it with riches and treasures hitherto unrevealed.

For example, so many wonderful types are found in the Tabernacle and its services that point to Christ. Indeed, this is almost certainly the primary application of Typology that you will find today. We could go on to speak endlessly on how the Passover lamb pictured Christ’s sacrifice. The books of Romans and Hebrews are full of types that use Old Testament references to highlight New Testament truths. Typology is a cornerstone of New Testament theology and Biblical interpretation.

But it is not without its limits or problems. This system of study has been greatly abused over the millennia. Quoting Chafer again (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 116):

Typology, like prophecy, has often suffered more from its friends than its foes. The fact that extremists have failed to distinguish between that which is typical and that which is merely allegorical, analogous, parallel, happy illustration, or resemblance may have driven conservative theologians from the field. When truth is tortured by faddists and extremists, an added obligation is thereby imposed upon conservative scholarship to declare it in its right proportions. It is obvious that to neglect truth is a greater error than to overemphasize it or to misstate it; and typology, though abused by some, is, nevertheless, conspicuous by its absence from works Systematic Theology. That typology is neglected is evident from the fact that of upwards of twenty works of Systematic Theology examined, but one lists this subject in its index and this author has made but one slight reference to it in a footnote.

The safest interpretation of types and antitypes is to only claim as Old Testament types that which is explicitly states to have an antitype in the New Testament. For instance, Paul uses the first man Adam as a type of Christ (I Corinthians 15:21-22 and Romans 15:14-17). Another is Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who in Hebrews 7 is used as a type to reinforce Christ’s priestly role.

Yet, there are New Testament verses that apply typology very broadly. In Hebrews 9:8-12, we find that entire system of Tabernacle worship with its systems of sacrifices and varied ordinances points to the antitype of Christ’s redemptive work. The details are not given of how this applies to every aspect of the Tabernacle’s construction or the multitude of commandments in the Mosaic Law. It is clear that the Paschal lamb represents Christ, but what about the shewbread or the regulations concerning the differing types of sacrifices? We certainly know that the Bible is HIS story (Psalm 40:7, Hebrews 10:7). So then we are evidently left to discern these ourselves by the guidance of the Spirit.

But not every allusion to the Old Testament in the New Testament refers to a type. There are also illustrations, allegories, and analogies, to name a few. We must carefully discern among these.

So, let us develop of working theory of Typology.

  • First, it must be a connection of type and antitype, generally found in the Old and New Testaments respectively.
  • Second, the foundation for interpreting the relations of type and antitype must come from an emphasis on the antitype. We do not judge any truth about Adam on his typological parallels to Christ, but we do perform the opposite reaction.
  • Third, any supposition or hypothesis regarding the interpretation of a type and antitype must harmonize with the preponderance of clear Scriptural teaching. Just because a connection can be logically construed between two subjects does not give it the power to trump doctrine that is definitively and inarguably taught in Scripture.

Which brings me finally to the reason for this post. There are an error I encountered in the application of Typology that I wanted to mention. I doubt that I will be able to conclusively disprove it here, perhaps at a future time I will further develop my arguments to that level.

I encountered this problem while reading A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship by Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong. While discussing the development of Praise & Worship music in the Latter Rain movement, the authors highlight that one of the theological bases was Typology, specifically concerning Tabernacle.

  • “The linchpin of theological development within the Latter Rian movement of this period was a liturgical theology based on a typology.” (p. 46)
  • “Because the theology behind Praise & Worship was a typologically based theology, the identification of the key Scriptures and their interpretation as types was critical.” (p. 46)

The basis for their worship theology was a typological interpretation of the “tabernacle of David”. This not the Tabernacle of Moses, but the temporary dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant from its arrival in Jerusalem in II Samuel 6 and the construction of the Temple by Solomon. There are verses that speak of the “tabernacle of David” being restored in Amos 9:11-12 and the quotation of Amos by James in Acts 15:15-17. How was this justified? Another quote (p. 47-48)

The result was a more highly developed theology featuring praise as the key to God’s presence in the church. or example, an instructor at Bible Temple’s Portland Bible College, Kevin Conner, wrote an influential textbook, The Tabernacle of David, that provided the most detailed hermeneutic to this theology. The core tabernacle of David passages mentioned above – both Old Testament and New Testament – along with a handful of other passages led to an emphasis on divine presence at the place of worship. The identification of this place as Zion reinforced the connection to praise and liturgical activity through a range of scriptural associations. The centerpiece of the original tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, was likewise central in the interpretation by being a type of Jesus Christ himself, who is present among his people, especially in their praise. The lack of reference to bloody animal sacrifices in the liturgical activity of the tabernacle of David, apart from the initial arrival of the ark, highlighted the centrality of perpetual praise as sacrifice, especially by an arrangement of priests whose work was now musical. The connection of the tabernacle and its way of worship to David reinforced the propriety of fully engaged, physically expressive, and musically offered Praise & Worship. In other words, a theology based on the restoration of the tabernacle of David took the earlier emphasis on the sacrifice of praise as the key to experiencing God’s presence and raised it to the level of a highly developed liturgical ecclesiology in which the church is a corporate priesthood that is praise-oriented and fulfills its priestly ministry in a musical manner.

There are, of course, problems with the system of Typology they are using, including.

  • There is no antitype, violating the primary rule of Typology. All emphasis is on examining the type but here is no clear antitype in the New Testament.
  • It assumes the “tabernacle of David” refers to the place the Ark was kept. In context, I believe (and so do most commentaries I have referenced) that this instead refers to the house or kingdom of David.
  • It assumes that restoration was occurring through them. This is part and parcel with their Restorationism, that is their belief that God was bring back true Christianity that had been lost for since the days of the Apostles through special revelation through their movement.
  • It conjectures that the worship at the “tabernacle of David” was all about praise and not about sacrifice or rituals. We simply do not have sound information on the approximately 40 years the Ark dwelt there until placed in the Temple. Much of details we see of David organizing the priesthood during this time was likely preparing for the construction of the Temple.

Similar errors are made in this same movement using Typology and the Tabernacle of Moses as a basis for a worship theology. They are not the only ones to do so. I have encountered in my recent studies on the Tabernacle many differing takes on the Typology of the Tabernacle, not all being soundly based with its antitype, Christ.

I close by echoing the words of Chafer quoted above. Typology can be a field of study that bears rich harvests to the believer today. But we must be careful and consistent it its application, and above all not let its abuse cause us to neglect its study. I certainly have been guilty of doing so.

The Pseudo-Fundamentalism of Today’s Reformed Movement

As we look back over the centuries, we can discern movements and counter-movements in the history of Christianity. One that easily discernable today is the resurgence in America of Reformed theology and tradition. I believe this is largely a reaction to the theological drift of American Christianity toward liberalism, “wokeism”, and (dare I say it?) apostacy.

So many Christians today are seeking more from Christianity than what a modern seeker-focused megachurches are teaching. They want deeper theology and richness in their Christian walk. Just hop on any social media platform and see these modern day Puritans denounce men, movements, and messages they deem as heretical and unscriptural.

What are these people turning to? In turning from the modern they seek the ancient. In turning from the emotional they turn to the logical. In turning from the shallow they turn to the profound. They are turning more and more to the the tenets of Calvinism and Reformed theology.

The influence of Charles Spurgeon in this is tremendous. Spurgeon himself reacted to the theological drift of his day by embracing the past preachers and theologians. He promoted the writings of the Puritans like no one else.

I see a parallel to this modern Reformed movement in the Fundamentalism of the early 20th century. I am certain they will crucify me for even suggesting that if they ever read this. But at that time so many across a broad spectrum of denominations were rejecting modernism and liberalism while embracing the “old time religion”. Fundamentalism was and is a reactionary movement to the theological drift towards liberalism. It was a movement towards conservative theology and historical practice.

The same things are are driving the modern Reformed movement. They are embracing and promoting practices such as singing of traditional hymns (even resurrecting some long forgotten ones) and the use of the liturgical calendar. I like to joke that Fundamentalism wants to keep things like they were in the 1950’s, but the Reformed movement honestly tries to keep their faith and practice in the 1700’s if not the 1500’s.

The modern Reformed movement and historic Fundamentalism are born of the same desires, reacting to similar concerns of theological drift, embracing traditionalist forms of worship, and rejecting unorthodox teachings and practice. Both promote the basis of Sola Scriptura in defining faith and practice. Both embrace their heritage, some of which overlaps as in the case of Charles Spurgeon. Today both can be seen taking similar stands on issues such as the use church music or their stances on abortion. You can watch these new and upcoming Reformed leaders come to the same realizations that Fundamentalism did a century before.

While they are similar, there can still be quite a bit of difference depending on what group you are examining. I, for one, reject the liturgical calendar as an unnecessary and extra-Biblical tradition. I reject the practice of infant baptism as unscriptural though classic Reformed theology promotes it. I reject the entire Calvinist-Arminian scale for measuring theology as outdated, unnecessary, and impractical. I reject much of the ecclesiology (I find the Baptist positions more in line with Scripture) and eschatology. I would not define the doctrines of election, predestination, or atonement the same as any Reformed theologian though thankfully I believe we are in agreement in “salvation by grace through faith”.

As a side note, the one area that I am surprised that the modern Reformed movement has not taken is the promotion and use of an historic translation of the Bible such as the KJV or the Geneva Bible. They have no problem reading authors or singing songs that read more like Shakespeare than any modern literature. I find it odd that in so many ways they embrace the theology, writings, and songs from the past yet use a Bible that does not reflect the same traditions.

To conclude, I believe what we are seeing in American Christianity is another repeat of a reaction to theological drift. Just as the Fundamentalists took at stand in the early 20th century against liberalism we are seeing Reformed leaders take a stand against apostacy in the church. These two are not the same but the similarities are striking.

II Samuel 15:7 – Forty Years or Four Years?

“And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.”
II Samuel 15:7 (KJV)

“At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD.'”

II Samuel 15:7 (NIV)

On you will find 38 different translations of the Bible that can easily be compared to one another. 22 of these have forty years. This is not just a KJV issue as some portray it.

The division boils down to whether or not the Hebrew text stands on it own. I would not count myself an expert in ancient texts and languages by any stretch, but from those that give an honest take on this verse it appears the ancient Hebrew supports the reading of forty years. When referring to textual evidence supporting the reading of four years, much of the emphasis is placed on the writings of Josephus (late first century A.D.) or the Peshitta translation (maybe second century A.D.). Even the most studious critics seem to be unable to find textual evidence or variance in the ancient Hebrew manuscripts or text. One could argue that the error that has been passed down is not textual but interpretational.

The common argument made for four years is that it must have been an early copyist’s mistake. After all, they will argue, there is little difference between four and forty in Hebrew (compare Strong’s H702 and H705. The evidence they give is other scholars or translations that follow their own reasoning.

Let me say that I feel it is a dangerous precedent to simply assume the text must contain an error because it does not appear to make sense. It is purely subjective and places the authority not on God’s Word but in the mind of its human interpreter.

Since the entire argument for four years is based on the supposition that forty years does not make sense, I would like to propose that a reasonable argument made in the defense of forty has more weight since it has the authority of the Hebrew text behind it.

How Can Forty Years Be Explained?

There are a few different arguments that can be found in support of forty years. Let me list some that I have seen:

  • Absalom was forty years old. This is unlikely since he was born at Hebron after David was made king of Judah (II Samuel 3:3). Even it true, it would then place his rebellion in the final days of David’s forty-year reign (II Samuel 5:4), which does not fit in the scope of the Biblical account of that time.
  • It was the fortieth year of David’s reign. Again, this would place the revolt in a different time than the text places it and making it fit the chronology of David’s last years is practically impossible.
  • It was forty years since David had been anointed king by Samuel. This one is plausible according to the timeline in Reese’s Chronological Bible. The problem with it is tying the significance of David’s anointed in I Samuel 16:13 and Absalom’s rebellion.
  • It was forty years since David fought the Geshurites. This one is interesting and requires some imagination into Absalom’s motives. David’s attack on the Geshurites is briefly mentioned in I Samuel 27:8-9. Absalom’s mother Maacah was a Geshurite (II Samuel 3:3). So the theory goes that Absalom’s rebellion was a retaliation against David’s earlier attack against his mother’s people. However, we see little or no evidence in Absalom’s actions to suggest this to be the case. I don’t see it holding up chronologically since that attack would have come shortly before he was made king over Judah and thus falling into the same time issues as previous suggestions.
  • It was forty years since Israel requested a king. Since Saul reigned for forty years (Acts 13:21) that does not allow for enough time for this to be true.
  • It was just an “era of reckoning”. John Gill records this suggestion, basically that forty years just means a vague epoch. It would be odd to find such a singular occurrence here.
  • It was forty years since Saul slew the priests at Nob. Another suggestion recorded by John Gill. The chronology might work but once again there is no clear connection between this event and Absalom’s rebellion.
  • It is forty days and not forty years. The changing of the Hebrew words in this case seems to be less plausible than a change from forty to four as the the words for day and year are not closely related.

A More Reasonable Int

I think context is the key most often neglected in situations like this, and I believe it provides a very plausible reason for forty years being correct.

In II Samuel 15:1-6, we see Absalom playing the part of a politician in winning over the people of Israel. He was visible with an entourage of chariots and men, he poured out superfluous compliments, he planted the suggestion that he should be in charge. What was the end result?

“…so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” – II Samuel 15:6

Israel’s heart had turned from their present king (David) to a popular young rival (Absalom).

Let me point out that the phrase above directly precedes the verse we have been focusing on. Absalom had worked until he had Israel’s heart (vs. 6) then he puts his plan for a coup into action (vs. 7).

Here is my reasonable explanation for forty years being correct: Absalom had stolen the hearts of Israel which David had possessed for forty years. This is the bookend to David’s popular beginning as seen in I Samuel 18:16 – “But all Israel and Judah loved David… “

This holds up chronologically. Reese’s Chronological Bible (which has a footnote preferring four years) gives evidence for this alternative. He assigns Absalom’s actions in II Samuel 15 to 1026 B.C. He assigns David’s popularity after slaying Goliath (as seen in I Samuel 18:16) to 1067 B.C. That is a difference of forty-one years – well within a scope of reasonable probablity.

It fits thematically. Israel’s heart had once turned from their current king (Saul) to a popular young rival (David). That parallels what happens in II Samuel 15. In a sense we have Absalom as the anti-David. David did not seek the throne but Absalom greedily campaigned for it. David would not raise his hand against Saul, but Absalom will stop at nothing to reach his goal.

I also think there is a connection to the judgment against him after his sin with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:1-14). David’s family and kingdom were never the same after that sin. Losing the hearts of the people may have been part of that judgment.

Concluding Thoughts

I like simplicity and I prefer simple solutions over complex ones. I do not think the theory holds up that some scribe wrote the wrong word down, that it was not caught, and that is came to dominate the Hebrew manuscripts available today. I prefer to assume that the words presented are the words God wants us to have. To me that is a matter of simple faith. When we come across an oddity, such as the one we have examined here, I think we would do well to trust in the Scriptures themselves. Men are fallible, God is not. Scholars may fail and even our own interpretations may fail, but God never fails.

What did David Do to the Ammonites in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3?

“David Punishing the Ammonites” By Gustave Doré

II Samuel 12 is primarily about Nathan confronting David over sin with Bathsheba. Easily overlooked are the closing verses concerning the capture of the Ammonite capital of Rabbah by Joab and David. It is a fairly straightforward account: Joab has besieged the city and it is ready to fall, he sends for David to be there for the final assault, Rabbah falls to David’s forces, and David spoils the city including taking the king’s unwieldly crown that weighed over 100 pounds. The fate of the prisoners (likely the males of age to fight) in verse 31 is what is debated. The same events are covered in I Chronicles 20:1-3.

Depending on the translation or commentary you will find two opinions on what happened to the Ammonite prisoners. These are:

1. They are killed in a brutal manner.

2. They are enslaved and made to labor.

Which is correct? How can each be supported? What can we learn from about Bible interpretation in the process?

1. The Hebrew Verbs

In II Samuel 12:31, the word that is most important in this study is the root sim [H7760], translated as “put under” in the KJV. Englishman’s Greek Concordance shows it appears 583 times in the Old Testament. It is a simple verb with a many possible meanings based on its setting, but the basic definition is “to put, place, or set”. Basically this verb connects the Ammonites to the axes and iron implements. They were “put to” them.

But how were they “put to” those implements? A cursory look like above does not give a clear answer because the verb can be used in so many ways. We do find the same verb used to denote violence in Judges 7:22, where we find “…the LORD set [H7760] every man’s sword against his fellow…”. So we do have at least one example of the verb being used in a manner that would find with a violent interpretation of II Samuel 12:31.

In I Chronicles 20:3, we have another interesting verb – sur [H7787], translated as “cut” in the KJV. Strong’s defines it as: “A primitive root (identical with suwr through the idea of reducing to pieces; compare massowr); to saw – cut.” Some scholars speculate (with no textual evidence that I can find) that this word is perhaps a corruption of the verb from II Samuel 12:31 since only the last letter differs (see Jamieson-Fausset-Brown on I Chronicles 20:3). Just because the words are similar does not mean that a mistake was made, especially since the two passages do not perfectly mirror each other in all other details.

2. Regarding Brickkilns

Another important section of II Samuel 12:31 concerns the brickkilns. The Ammonites were made to “pass through” (KJV) them – the Hebrew verb root is abar [H5674]. This verb means “to cross over” or to “transition through”. Here the Ammonites are not “put to” something, but rather “put through” it.

Of note is that this verb is found in the exact same tense in II Kings 21:6 when it says that Manasseh “…made his son pass through the fire…”, which will be readily understood by an student of Bible history as a reference to child sacrifice to a pagan deity. To save time, I will refer those interested in more information on Molech to this article from

Also of note is the word used for brickkiln – malben [H4404]. Some see this is not as the kiln itself but of a brick mold or shape, and they then make it a military formation that the Ammonites would have passed through as gauntlet (see John Gill’s commentary on this verse). I personally prefer a more literal than figurative approach to this word and believe it is the brickkiln itself.

3. Other References to Forced Labor

The idea of enslavement or forced labor is not unknown in the Old Testament. Let us look a few passages and see if we can shed light on our study.

Genesis 49:15 – “And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became [H1961] a servant [H5647] unto tribute [H4522].”

Deuteronomy 20:11 – “And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be [H1961] tributaries [H4522] unto thee, and they shall serve thee.”

Joshua 16:10 – “And they drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve [H5647] under tribute [H4522].”

Joshua 17:13 – “Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put [H5414] the Canaanites to tribute [H4522]; but did not utterly drive them out. 

Judges 1:35 – “But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became [H1961] tributaries [H4522].”

I Kings 9:21 – “Their children that were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel also were not able utterly to destroy, upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bondservice [H4522] [H5647] unto this day.”

So we see in these verses above that specific words can be used to denote force labor, but the words and phrases used in these verses are not the same as in II Samuel 12:31 or I Chronicles 20:3. This may not be conclusive in the settling the matter, but it does appear that if the Ammonites were forced into slavery the much clearer language seen above could or possibly should have been used.

4. What about the Gibeonites?

Joshua chapter 9 contains the story of the Gibeonites who deceived Joshua and Israel into making a treaty with them. They were spared destruction but were made made slaves, specifically “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:21,23,27).

Some point to this case as proving the Ammonites were enslaved and not killed. However, closer inspection proves these two cases are very different. For instance, Joshua was being forced to honor a treaty with the Gibeonites. David had no such things limiting his actions.

The only bearing the case of the Gibeonites has on our present topic is that it could be seen as an historical precedent that David could follow. But we have no indication that David was under any obligation to do so. A much better precedent to examine would be David’s previous military campaigns in II Samuel 8. In these David is seen conquering, spoiling, and even performing executions (II Samuel 8:2).

5. Could the implements mentioned be used in torture?

Let us turn our attention to the implements mentioned in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3. Are these best understood as tools or weapons?

We find four implements mentioned: saws [H4050], harrows [H2757], axes [H4037] and brickkilns [H4404].

Concerning saws it is pretty straight forward what they are and that historically they were used in executions. We have the tradition that Isaiah was killed through sawing and the reference in Hebrews 11:37 to saints that had been killed by such means.

The harrows are bit more clouded. We find the same Hebrew word used to describe the cheeses David took to his brothers in I Samuel 17:18, probably highlighting the idea of “something cut into pieces”. These could be agricultural threshing instruments (see Isaiah 28:7 and 41:15 which use a similar Hebrew word [H2742]) repurposed as instruments of war. Such devices would have used to separate grain from harvest plants by grinding, cutting, or beating. We find a reference in Amos 1:3 to the Syrians cruelly using such instruments on the people of Gilead.

The word for axes only appears in these two verses. It is generally understood to be a generic term for a cutting instrument. I am not sure we can dogmatically describe it beyond that.

Last, brickkilns will likely remind the reader of the fiery furnace of Daniel chapter 3. Executions by burning are abundantly common in history so such an idea as this is perfectly plausible.

So, we find that the four implements mentioned can be used both as work or military implements. Their appearances by themselves do not necessarily prove either of our proposed interpretations correct.

6. Jewish Code of War

I think the most relevant passage of Scripture to our inquiry is Deuteronomy 20:10-14 which gives instruction on what the Israelites were supposed to do when besieging a city. We find that they are first to offer a chance of peaceful surrender and if the city surrenders its people are to be work for or pay tribute to Israel (vs. 10-11). If this offer is refused then the city is to be besieged (vs. 12). When the city falls, every male inhabitant is to be killed (vs. 13) and the women, children, and all cattle are to be the spoils of war (vs. 14).

If David was following this prescribed order then he would have to kill all the adult males when the city fell, not enslave them.

Of note in this is that the adult males were to be slain and the women and children were left alive. This can explain how the Ammon was not annihilated in David’s campaign and continuing to exist as the rest of Scripture testifies.

6. The Character of David

We must address the question as to whether it was in David’s character to torture or execute the Ammonite prisoners. Those that favor him enslaving them may refer to David being a “man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22) and would be incapable of such an atrocity.

However, when we look at the history of David it is clear that was “man of war” (I Chronicles 28:3). The reason given for God not allowing him to build the Temple was that he had “shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars ” (I Chronicles 22:8).

Even as a warrior his actions at times may startle modern sensibilities. After slaying Goliath he kept the giant’s severed head as war trophy (I Samuel 17:54,57). He slew two hundred Philistines and gave their foreskins to Saul as a dowry to marry Michal (I Samuel 18:27). It seems to have performed some sort of systematic execution of the Moabites in II Samuel 8:2.

If David enslaved the Ammonites it would also be an aberration from his other wars. We see in the accounts of II Samuel 8 and 10 that David fought many battles and slew thousands of men. We see that he carried away great riches as the spoils of war. Even with kingdoms that he subdued into servitude (see Moab in II Samuel 8:2 or Edom in II Samuel 8:14 for examples) the language used is very different that that concerning the Ammonites.

It also worth considering the possible spiritual state of David at this time. It is difficult to say exactly when David conquered Rabbah but we do know that it coincides with his sin with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11:1). It possible that the fall of Rabbah occurred before Solomon was born (II Samuel 12:24) if the account is arranged thematically around David’s in and not strictly chronological. So there is a possibility that Rabbah fell when David was in one of the lowest spiritual states of his life, between his affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s confrontation. I suggest merely that it is possible that David’s aggressive behavior toward the Ammonites may have been fueled his weak spiritual state.

7. Lex Talionis

Another consideration is that justice at this period in the ancient world was typically performed according to the law of retribution, or lex talionis. The Scripture famously summarizes this as “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24-25).

If David was following this judicial reckoning, would the Ammonites have committed some sort of heinous crimes to bring about their execution? There is evidence in the Scripture that they were an unusually cruel people. Nahash the Ammonite had demanded that the men of Jabeshgilead to not only surrender, but to also remove their right eyes as as symbol of reproach (I Samuel 11:1-2). Hanun, king of the Ammonites, cruelly mistreated peaceful envoys that David sent after the death of Hanun’s father (II Samuel 10:1-3). Some 250 years later, the prophet Amos denounced them because “they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead” (Amos 1:13).

The Old Testament world is quite different in some areas when compared to New Testament Christianity . We are today compelled to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) but that was not the law of the land in David’s time. We must remember that he was a man of his time and for his time, and as such would have acted in ways we simply cannot understand.

8. What Do Others Say?

Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews – “…but as for the men, he tormented them, and then destroyed them; and when he had taken the other cities of the Ammonites by force, he treated them after the same manner.”

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers – “In the infliction of these cruelties on his enemies David acted in accordance with the customs and the knowledge of his time. Abhorrent as they may be to the spirit of Christianity, David and his contemporaries took them as matters of course, without a suspicion that they were not in accordance with God’s will.”

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary – “To be thus severe in putting the children of Ammon to slavery was a sign that David’s heart was not yet made soft by repentance, at the time when this took place. We shall be most compassionate, kind, and forgiving to others, when we most feel our need of the Lord’s forgiving love, and taste the sweetness of it in our own souls.”

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary – “he brought forth the people … and put them under saws, &c.—This excessive severity and employment of tortures, which the Hebrews on no other occasion are recorded to have practised, was an act of retributive justice on a people who were infamous for their cruelties (1Sa 11:2; Am 1:13).”

Matthew Poole’s Commentary – “Put them under saws: he sawed them to death; of which punishment we have examples, both in Scripture, Hebrews 11:37, and in other authors. Under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron; he caused them to be laid down upon the ground, and torn by sharp iron harrows drawn over them, and hewed in pieces by keen axes. Made them pass through the brick-kiln, i.e. to be burnt in brickkilns. Or, made them to pass through the furnace of Malchen, i.e. of Moloch, called also Milchom, and here Malchen; punishing them with their own sin, and with the same kind of punishment which they inflicted upon their own children: see 2 Kings 16:3 23:10 Leviticus 18:21 20:2 Deu 18:10.”

Geneva Study Bible – “Signifying that as they were malicious enemies of God, so he put them to cruel death.”

Pulpit Commentary – “We cannot defend these cruelties, but they unhappily were the rule in Oriental warfare, and would have been inflicted on their enemies by the Ammonites. We have proof in l 1 Samuel 11:2 and Amos 1:13 that they were a barbarous race; but this did not justify barbarous retaliation.”

Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge – “Rather,… ‘And he put them to saws, and to harrows, and to axes,’ etc., as we say, to put a person to the plough, to the anvil, to the last, etc.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary – “The meaning therefore is, He made the people slaves, and employed them in sawing, making iron harrows, or mining, (for the word means both), and in hewing of wood, and making of brick. Sawing asunder, hacking, chopping, and hewing human beings, have no place in this text, no more than they had in David’s conduct towards the Ammonites.”

A.C. Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible – “What is recorded in verse 31 was cruel and barbarous. (However, there is a doubt about the translation. It has been rendered in the following way: ‘And he set them to saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them labor at the brick kiln.’) Ammon did horrible things to the women of Israel. (See Amos 1:13.) A fearful retribution came upon them. How often it has been repeated in history, even down to the 20th century with all its boasted civilization, now collapsed in the greatest and most awful war the world has ever witnessed. And thus it will continue to the end, till the true King comes.”

B.H. Carroll’s Interpretation of the English Bible – “The weight of authority seems to favor the ‘torture’ interpretation, and yet how readily does a humane mind turn in preference to Murhpy’s rendering [of enslavement].” Note – Carroll deals with this subject in greater depth than most commentaries and his assessment is worth reading in full.

Alfred Edersheim’s Bible History Old Testament – “The punishment meted out to those who had resisted was of the most cruel, we had almost said, un-Israelitish character, not justified even by the terrible war which the Ammonites had raised, nor by the cruelties which they seem to have practiced against helpless Israelitish mothers (Amos 1:13), and savoring more of the ferocity of Joab than of the bearing of David – at least before his conscience had been hardened by his terrible sin. And so David returned triumphant to his royal city!”

Further notes on this:

An observation that has been made by others is that ancient Jewish rabbis almost universally taught that David tortured and killed the Ammonites. I do not have access to many of these, but you can see this represented in the last post of this conversation on Reddit.

I would also like to say that in general the older commentaries and author favor the execution interpretation. There seems to be a transition around end of the 19th century and today’s newest commentaries and authors seem to favor the enslavement interpretation. This is just a personal observation.

As far as translations go, many newer ones favor the enslavement interpretation unless they are very literal translation. For an overview of different translation, check out Bible Hub’s pages on II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3.

9. My Conclusion

I feel confident in interpreting the information in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3 as referring to the brutal executions of the adult male Ammonite prisoners. I believe that this interpretation stands best when examined under scrutiny. I think the language when taken literally supports it. I think it is fitting for the culture of the time. I think it fits in the consistency of Scripture.

I do find this as in interesting case study in how we interpret the Bible. I think the main argument against the execution interpretation is that appears inhuman to the modern Christian’s mind. If we are not careful, we then project our own philosophies into the words of Scripture. It is a classic case of exegesis vs. eisegesis.

10. Further Reading Online

The Secret Charismatic Invasion

Image by pangloy from Pixabay

I have been collecting material for the past few months to put together a course on church music for a nearby Bible college. If you know me, you will not be surprised that I am going overboard. The stacks of books on my desk and bookshelves (not to mention my growing Amazon wish list) will testify to this. However, I have been alarmed at the number of people who have recommended books on church music or worship that are written by openly charismatic authors.

Allow me to be careful of defining charismatic. Not every one of the authors or works openly claim that name. defines the noun as “a member of a religious group or movement that stresses the seeking of direct divine inspiration and charisms (such as glossolalia or healing)”. There are various Christian sects that promote the use of charismatic gifts such as healing, tongues, and prophecy. Historically, these generally stem from the Holiness or Restorationist movements in 1800’s America. The so-called Asuza Street Revival is the movement’s watershed moment.

Baptists have historically been cessationists, believing that the gifts of the Spirit were temporary and their use limited to the time of Apostolic leadership in first century Christianity. A key Baptist belief is the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture, which goes against the “continued revelation” of charismatic theology. I cannot say that charismatic Baptists do not exist (looking at you, Baptistcostals), but these are a minority – a growing minority.

Those last three words scare me. I am certain that one hundred years ago the use of ecstatic tongues by a Baptist would have been scandalous. Yet today, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention allows for its missionaries to practice the use of ecstatic tongues. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which promotes the use of tongues and other charismatic gifts, is sold by Lifeway and used in many Southern Baptist churches and institutions. This has not happened without notice or debate, but the trend is that groups like the SBC are becoming more accepting of and even promoting charismatic doctrine and practices.

Sadly, I am becoming more and more aware of the growing acceptance of charismatic doctrine and practice in Independent and Fundamental Baptist circles. While no one may be speaking in tongues in a church service yet, I am afraid the stage is set for that to soon become acceptable in those circles. The foundations have been laid for it to happen.

I want to share few thoughts on how charismatic doctrine and practices are infiltrating our churches and how we can guard against them.

1. Through Private Christian Liberty

I believe strongly in the liberty of the individual Christian believer. It is reiterated time and time again in Scripture and is a key concept of Baptist doctrine. We have liberty to serve God according to our consciousness of our personal relationship with Him.

But the danger of Christian liberty is its abuse. Liberty does not mean licentiousness. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 that we are to: “Stand fast… in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…”, but shortly after that says in 5:13 that we should: “…use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Liberty has bounds. It is bound by love for each other, as we see in Galatians 5. It is also bound by the clear commands of Scripture. We see such an example see the case of gross sin of I Corinthians 5:1-2.

How has this allowed for an incursion of charismatic doctrine and practice? Simply because it allows for institutions (church, college, etc.) to have a strong, Scriptural stand against something while also allowing individuals leeway to have a different stand.

Let me give you the best example I know of: the use of a prayer language. The first time I was exposed to this idea was when a fellow teenage staff member at a Baptist summer camp who talked about doing it. This lesser form of glossolalia is generally not practiced in public so it may go unnoticed or overlooked. It is this practice that opened the door for the afore mentioned International Mission Board to accept speaking tongues. Let me warn you that was is practiced in private will eventually be practiced in public.

2. Through Music

As I stated in the opening paragraph of this post, my research on church music is what prompted this article. I am shocked at how charismatic philosophy and practice have infiltrated our churches through music.

It is not secret that contemporary praise and worship music is rooted in charismatic practices. The book Sing with Understanding (p. 313-314) ties the Praise and Worship style with a “charismatic Renewal” of the late 1900’s. It beginnings were simple Scripture choruses (“As the Deer”, “Seek Ye First”, etc.) that originated among charismatics in New Zealand in the late 1960’s. The use of these repetitive choruses was described in some churches as “with the objective of increasing the emotional fervor of worship to a point of ecstasy, often climaxed by shouted hallelujahs or speaking in tongues”. Other songs listed as coming from this source include “Alleluia”, “He is Lord”, “Majesty” and “This is the Day”.

This goes back further into historic charismatic practices. In Pentecostal or Holiness churches of the early 1900’s it would be normal to use music to “work up” the congregation. This would be done with emotionally-driven songs with swaying rhythms, fast-paced songs with driving beats, and encouragement to physically express yourself by raising hands, shouting, speaking in tongues, or rolling in the aisle. While those services may not have the modern synthesizers or stage setups of today’s charismatic churches, the essential elements and purposes are all present. The music drove the people to an emotional state of frenzy they called “worship”.

No matter how people may try to gird modern praise-and-worship-style services with sound theology or good intentions, they are fundamentally corrupted in their origin and design. They are built on manipulating the emotions of a worshipper into feeling and experiencing what they call a state of worship. No such practice or idea is found in Scripture.

The difficult part of discerning the charismatic influence in praise and worship music is because it is not highlighted. For example, Bob Kaughlin, head of Sovereign Grace Music, openly identifies as a charismatic in his book Worship Matters (p.86) though he prefers the term “continuationist”. He claims that he exercises the charismatic gift of prophecy as he sings spontaneously composed lyrics on stage. (p. 140). Yet, his book was recommended to me as often as any other. Sadly, his was not the only book with charismatic ties that was recommended to me.

3. Through Megachurch Influence

Who doesn’t want to be part of the biggest congregation with the nicest facilities? Many naïve Christian leaders have drunken from tainted waters in search of church growth idea. Combining this point with the previous on music, the book Te Deum (p. 315-316) states that many of the first megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church incorporated charismatic praise choruses into their “seeker sensitive” services. Other churches began to model after them and their perceived success and growth.

The earliest identified megachurches were often theologically conservative or fundamentalist. However varied they may be, the services at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle or J. Frank Norris’s First Baptist Church of Fort Worth have little in common with the practices of similarly-sized congregations today. The modern megachurch trend has instead largely been built on promoting an experience rather than doctrine.

With this lessened emphasis on doctrine, many megachurches have downplayed or forsaken denominational ties. I just checked‘s list of the largest churches in America. Today (1-21-22) only 5 of the top 20 have a denomination in their church name (Baptist, Christian, etc.) though many seem to have some denominational ties when you dig deeper. I have found it funny that nondenominational is itself a denomination now.

What is often hidden in this nondenominational branding is whether or not the churches are charismatic. Case in point, Gateway Church of Southlake, Texas. It is not something they promote (or detail in their public statement of faith), but the church and its leadership are charismatic. Pastor Robert Morris will speak or write on it from time to time. They are also now the home of The King’s University, a school founded by Pentecostal leader Jack Hayford. I was also told by someone who attended there a few times that they encountered a woman there who was prophesying – as in saying such-and-such will occur at such-and-such time and place. Yet most of this takes a backseat to the music and motivational messages so I honestly believe some who attend there do not even realize what sort of church it is.

Book Review – “In the Name of God”

I heard months ago from Raymond Barber that O.S. Hawkins was writing a book on Norris and Truett. I was very excited to hear that since Hawkins had written an article about Norris and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To hear someone within the SBC take a objective view on Norris’s ministry is quite rare.

In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends, and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett is published by B&H Academic. It is 213 pages long, with 152 of those being the text and the rest endnotes, bibliography, etc. List price is $29.99.

Before I begin my review, I want to acknowledge that this very website is cited as a source (see pages 64, 164, and 206) – which is so exciting for me! Having studied, collected, and written about Norris off and on for 15+ years there is a sense of vindication when you see your work cited in print. Even if it was just a reference to membership number at the First Baptist in Fort Worth which I had compiled from various sources and not something really original it still excites me. So much more so than the time this site was cited on Wikipedia. Anyway, I will note that the particular page that is referenced is not currently available. I did not put it back up after I switched over to WordPress. Guess I need to fix that.

In the annals of Southern Baptists, the name of Truett has been revered and the name of Norris reviled. Hawkins’s objective approach in this book is that there is a much more balanced view that needs to be taken of the two. The two men are so easily compared and contrasted – they ministered some 30 miles apart, their paths intersected often, they were both leading pulpiteers, they both led in building some of the earliest megachurches, and so on. This is not the first work on the subject, nor will it be the last.

Hawkins does spend far more space dealing with Norris than Truett. That is because the main thrust of this book, though many will argue and refuse to acknowledge it, is that Norris’s impact on the SBC today is greater than Truett’s. Chapter 5 – “The Influence of J. Frank Norris on Modern Southern Baptist Theology, Church Growth, Evangelism, and Practice” is the best in the book. The previous chapters are largely background for this analysis. The Baptist historian Leon McBeth had written that Norris “had no constructive part in Southern Baptist ministries in this century.” Hawkins takes him to task, even calling out that statement five times with clear examples of its error.

Hawkins is clear that the ministry and personality Norris are complex. He does not paint him as a hero nor a villain. He is objective and analytical in his approach. But he shows that Norris was right on many issues, which is difficult to find SBC writers to acknowledge. Norris’s tactics and combativeness have distracted many from seeing that in so many ways he was right.

Some points of controversy are finally addressed, such as whether Norris was valedictorian at Louisville and if Norris gave rotting fruit to SBTS staff. I will say that Hawkins does take the word of Norris and Entzminger with less skepticism than I would expect since they can embellish things a bit.

I will say that I find the writing to be uneven. Sometimes it sounds very much like a sermon with elaborate and unnecessary alliteration. A couple of sentences I honestly had to reread a few times because they felt incomplete. It is not academic or dry by any stretch. Overall an enjoyable read.

The book is well sourced (and I am not saying that because my website is referenced). However, I get the feeling that not everything in the lengthy bibliography was actually referenced in the making of this book. I cannot prove that statement, just a hunch. I compared it to my own Norris bibliography that I have been working on in an attempt to compile an exhaustive list of resources and especially Norris’s publications. Many of these books and pamphlets are extremely hard to find. It took me years to find copies of some of them. So many of them I have never been able to locate copies of and I simply have recorded their reported existence. Yet I find all but a handful listed in Hawkins’s bibliography regardless of their relevance to the subject. Perhaps he is, like me, merely acknowledging the existence of the works. I sincerely doubt he has actually referenced them all.

There are some finer points that he does get wrong. Speaking of Norris heading to Baylor University on p. 23, Hawkins writes: “No evidence exists to show how he acquired the resources for this journey and his initial college expenses…”. However, Ray Tatum (whom Hawkins references multiple times) wrote: “…Frank presented himself in the small office of the family doctor, W.A. Woods, and told him, with confidence, of his aspirations to attend Baylor University. He asked the doctor for a loan of one hundred dollars, and received ‘one hundred and fifty.'” (Conquest or Failure?, p. 42, with a citation from a 1945 article in The Fundamentalist)

Another example that Hawkins either missed or simplified is that impact of Louis Entzminger on Norris’s ministry. He credits Norris with influencing Arthur Flake’s Sunday School system (p. 111-113). It was not Norris that invented that system, but Louis Entzminger who arrived in Fort Worth in 1913 to build that Sunday School system. Entzminger is also the man who convinced Norris to adopt Premillennialism.

Some other things he is wrong on or curious:

  • Repeats the unfounded rumor that Norris killed his father-in-law (p. 27). The endnote highlights the suspicious nature of the accusation.
  • J.T. Pemberton’s name is misspelled as Pemperton repeatedly (p. 27 and so on).
  • Attributing “multisite campuses” to Norris (p. 110, 136). Norris had to be creative in finding places to meet or to hold the crowds but these were never satellites of his churches – they were the same church meeting in different places.
  • Saying that Norris “wrote” commentaries (p. 129). These were lectures he gave so writing may be a stretch.
How to spell Pemberton

I also would like to take issue with a couple of statements made about Norris’s legacy. On page 144: “In the end, much of what Norris stood for diminished. His network of churches was repeatedly divided across the decades and is virtually unnoticeable today.” [emphasis added]. Splintered, yes. Unnoticeable? Only to those who do not look. Strong SBC bias against Independent Baptists there.

Also I would like to take issue with the statement in the end notes on page 160: “The remnants of Norris’s seminary still exist today…” [emphasis added]. Remnants? That is a loaded word and surely a better one could have been used.

I suppose we can give Hawkins a pass on some of this. He is many things but a professional historian is not one.

Lest you think otherwise, I do really like this book. Hawkins’s approach and perspective is a welcome one.

I like what Hawkins brings out when he compares Norris and Truett. Norris was for “doctrinal fidelity” and Truett for “denominational loyalty”. Norris reveled in conflict, while Truett stayed aloof from it. Norris preached with passion and animation, Truett with precision and dignity.

There is little new ground covered in chapters 1 through 4. We have brief histories of Dallas and Fort Worth, biographies of Norris and Truett, and synopsis of their conflicts and interactions. You will readily find better and deeper resources for the material, except maybe the presentation of the information in chapter 4. Chapter 5 is, again, the best in the book and a welcome addition to catalog of Norris research available. That chapter could only be written in today’s time with the perspective gained over the decades.

I was very glad to see the relationship between Norris and B.H. Carroll emphasized. Too little study has been done on it.

I absolutely love this perspective on page 148: “The fact that the church [First Baptist of Fort Worth] did, indeed, fragment after his death proved to be a blessing to many sister churches as Bible-believing men and women dispersed to find their places in the local churches of their city, thereby multiplying the ministry and lasting influence of J. Frank Norris many times over.” So true. The fragmentation of the Norris empire did not weaken it, instead it multiplied it.

Final verdict: Despite my nitpicking, this is a worthy and welcome addition to anyone’s library with interest on the SBC or Norris. I think the list price of $29.99 is far too steep so maybe everyone should wait for used copies to become available.

Book Review – One in Hope and Doctrine

I am always interested in new books about the Baptist Fundamentalism. I heard about this book a few years ago but only recently purchased it. The reason I delayed buying it was that it has remained fairly expensive and I had not found a copy at a price I was willing to pay.

One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870-1950 is co-written by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delaney and was published by the Regular Baptist Press in 2014. It is only available in paperback I believe and is 396 pages.

My first criticism is the title does not match the content of the book. It should be titled Origins of the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptists Churches). It excels in telling the story of the origins and early days of the GARBC. As someone who has studied far more about Southern Fundamentalist movements I found that information well done. However, this book does not fairly or adequately cover any movements that did not lead to the GARBC or arise from Northern Baptist heritage.

My second criticism is the authors show little or no objectivity in dealing with Southern Fundamentalism. These authors have an obvious axe to grind against Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. J. Frank Norris is treated as an inhuman and immoral monster and John R. Rice is treated as a closet Pentecostal. If there is a chance to take a jab at Norris it is swung with gusto even if it has little or no bearing on the actual focus of the book. He is the villain of this story.

Admittedly Norris did bring much of this criticism on himself. He tried to join the GARBC and probably would have attempted to absorb it into his own sphere. He attacked Ketchum and others in print and private. While Ketchum chose not to respond, these authors have chosen to fire multiple broadsides in response. The bias and vitriol is overwhelming for a book supposedly written by academics as a serious historical study.

Some proofs of this unnecessary bias include:

  • In the Index you will find that there are more references to J. Frank Norris than any other individual. More than Ketchum, Van Osdel, Riley. You will also notice that John R. Rice (who really had little to do GARBC) has about as many references as W.B. Riley (who had a lot to do with GARBC’s history). Why are Norris and Rice mentioned so much when the narrative is supposedly about a group they had very little to do with?
  • Beginning on page 313 and lasting 16 pages, there is an absolutely unnecessary section dealing with controversies with John R. Rice. The first is an overblown dispute between Rice and Lewis Sperry Chafer on the role of an evangelist. The second is a critical review of Rice’s positions in his book The Power of Pentecost. Neither of these add anything to the narrative other than to glorify the author’s own movement and vilify Rice (and by extension Southern Fundamentalism). When one of the few GARBC controversies (women preachers) is addressed, it is covered with only seven pages beginning on page 199.
  • The use of unprofessional, unacademic, biased language. On page 253, Norris is described as acting “like a jilted teenager”. On page 258, the structure of the GARBC executive committee is described as “sheer genius”.

We can debate the actions of Norris and the positions of Rice and I have no issue doing so. What I take issue with is a book that proports to be a serious historical study yet constantly descends into petty partisan propaganda.

Related to this criticism, I find the section from pages 295-301 to be curious. It is an analysis of Southern Fundamentalism based on the thoughts of Jack Hyles. While every opportunity is taken to attack Norris and Rice, the authors are strangely silent about the accusations and legacy of Jack Hyles. While Hyles’ observations are interesting, their inclusion without comment on their source highlights how unfairly this book treats other Southern Fundamentalists.

My third criticism is that the writers arrogantly assume their own movement to be true Fundamentalism. From the title to the declaration on page 380 that “Thus ends this first part of the story of Baptist fundamentalism” there is a misguided attempt to make the GARBC movement to be the one true bastion of historic fundamentalism. Other movements are criticized, downplayed, or ignored. This book is more propaganda and claptrap for the GARBC than an honest history survey.

What is this book? It does not live up to its title in scope. It covers the origins and precursors of GARBC and other Northern Baptists Fundamentalists well. It is very unbalanced in how it treats Southern Fundamentalists.

Oliver Van Osdel appears is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. Robert Ketcham is presented as the “Great Man” of the movement despite such a philosophy being criticized on page 300. The interaction of Norris with the GARBC is inflated I think to manufacture a villain for the narrative. The coverage of Rice is unnecessary and barely fits the focus of the book.

In my opinion, this book should be edited into two separate works. The first, a scholastic history of Northern Baptist Fundamentalism and the GARBC. The second, an editorial work criticizing Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. Both would be of value separately, but combined it makes for an uneven narrative told with inconsistent voice.

Students of the history of Fundamentalism deserve better.

On Defending the KJV

I love the King James Bible. I’ve used it my entire life and do not plan on changing. There is so much about it to love: the majestic flow, the time-honored phrasing, and much else. However, I feel that much of the reasoning for and against using the KJV can be quite absurd.

So, here I would like to examine some of these arguments and test their soundness.

Some Poor Arguments for the KJV

1. The KJV is not copyrighted

Actually, it is. Just depends on where you are at. In the United States it is considered public domain. In the United Kingdom, however, it is technically copyrighted. The rights to printing and publishing the KJV are held by the Crown.

I will add here that I personally would feel better about modern translation attempts if they would make their work public domain. I realize there are costs involved in creating a Bible translation but if the goal is producing a better translation of God’s Word why would anyone add restrictions to its use and propagation?

2. Thousands of changes in other translations

It is a common tactic in arguments to use very large numbers to impress a point without justifying the number. My response would be that you need to produce this list. Many of these “thousands” of changes are no very substantive, such as Ye to You or maybe a The to an A.

Another issue with this argument is that it is based on a foundation that will not be agreed on by both sides. It is based on the assumption that the KJV is superior. Someone who is critical of the KJV can simply dismiss this argument by stating that thousands of changes were necessary.

3. Attacking Westcott and Hort

Who cares? These attacks are very dated and really have no bearing on modern translations. Poor texts and translations predate Westcott and Hort and they are not necessarily seen as giants in the field today.

4. Other languages need the KJV

No, people who speak Spanish, Swahili, or any other language do not need the KJV. They need a Bible faithfully and accurately translated into their own language. Using the underlying principles of translation that the KJV translators used is fine, but the source of the translation should not be an English translation. It has to go back and be based on the Greek and Hebrew texts for accuracy.

5. KJV is required for Salvation, Revival, etc.

This is one of the most absurd arguments you will hear. Did no one get saved before 1611? Must you speak English to have a revival?

Is your faith in God or His Book? You cannot have His Book without Him. He is greater. Now, we know Him and His will through His Book, but we must remember that we worship God and not a book. Don’t allow the Bible to come before the God Who gave you His Word.

Some Poor Arguments against the KJV

1. Their are better alternatives to the KJV

This is a biased opinion and cannot be proven empirically. You may try to support this with facts or studies but it boils down to a personal opinion. Not a sound argument and comes off as elitist.

2. The language is archaic, dated, difficult to understand, etc.

Granted, the language of the KJV is not something that is spoken on the average street corner. There are words (“milch kine” for example) that would be quite different in modern English.

However, the language is a large part of the beauty of the KJV. The rhythm and flow of the words and phrases are closer to Shakespeare that they are to Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton or J.K. Rowling. We all run across a new word in an article or book that we have to look up the definition to. That reading the Bible could require a specialized vocabulary is not something that may be avoided as there are specialized words with theological meanings. I don’t see the issue in adding a few more words to that list.

3. There are better manuscripts that are available now that weren’t available in 1611.

I think there are two theories about finding purity. One is to seek it at the source as close to that as possible. The other is to test and purify the substance. I illustrate this by asking where the purest water is found: is it at the source before it may be contaminated or after it has been filtered and any contaminants removed? It depends. Leaning on ancient manuscripts is like trying to go back as close to the source as possible. Trusting in the Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text is like trusting something that has been filtered and processed over time.

The attempts to rewrite Scripture and Christian history based on fragmentary manuscript evidence is almost laughable at times. The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” made headlines a few years ago. A piece of papyrus the size of a business card excited conspiracy theorists with the possibility that Christianity had covered up that Jesus was married. After further vetting it was uncovered it is likely a forgery. I bring this story up as an extreme example of using fragmentary evidence is used to rewrite overwhelming evidence.

The Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text that the KJV is based on were made from attempts to see the available texts and find a standard. They were made to reflect the text that the Jews and Christians felt was a pure text.

Sometimes the Dead Sea Scrolls come up in this line of argument. There are two ways of looking at more recent find like this compared to the accepted body of thought. One is focus on small differences that may exist from those first century scrolls to the text we use today and assuming those small differences found are more accurate than every other texts we have available. The other is is to focus on how well the vast majority of the text we have matches the those first century scroll and assume that the small differences are variants that are not authoritative. It is a matter of perspective and rarely is there any balance found in those that engage in arguing in this arena.

4. Which KJV? 1611? 1629? 1762? 1769?

At it root, this is reflecting an attack made against other versions. The NIV for example has undergone several revisions. You will see copyright notices noting major changes in 1978, 1984, and 2011. Fans of the KJV like to poke fun at this by showing the ever-shifting language and often controversial changes made each time. KJV opponents won’t see an issue with a continually changing and updating text but like to deflect this argument back because many KJV users are ignorant or sensitive to this charge.

There were minor changes made to the KJV, some of which were simply printing errors. Many spelling updates were made also, including famously incorporating the letter J in the 1629 revision. Almost none of these are substantive, especially compared to revisions made to other translations.

5. It is not the language of the common man

The definition that needs to be made in this argument is what exactly the common man’s language is. What age group? What region? What education level? Spoken or written?

It is common to read a higher level of language than is spoken. Better attention is paid to syntax and structure when writing. Transcripts often do not read as well as the oral communication that was originally delivered.

Is the KJV in the language of the average reader? No, and no translation will be because language is constantly shifting and evolving. The case can be made that the being in a higher or older form of English further cements the meaning and understanding of the words.

I think the better question is, “Is the KJV understandable?”. The answer to that is affirmative.

6. You need to know the original languages to understand the Scriptures.

Not exactly a KJV issue but it often comes up in these conversations. The goal of any translation should be to put the words of scripture into another language that can be fully understood without constantly checking back to Greek or Hebrew.

Is studying the original languages profitable? Yes. Necessary? Should not be.

7. There is no perfect translation

So why criticize the KJV? Oh, you just want to aggravate KJV users…

8. Why don’t other languages have KJV-like translations?

The English language is blessed to have a masterpiece such as the KJV. Other languages, such as Spanish, have struggled with having a reliable translation.

I believe the existence of the KJV is an example of God’s providence. English has been the dominant business language of the world for maybe 200 years. Children in schools across the globe learn English as a second language because it opens so many opportunities. God knew the how widely used the English language would be in our time and so provided a reliable, beautiful translation.

9. We need a another/better English translation.

I did some research. There are around 7,000 languages in the world. 3,300 have at least a portion of the Bible translated into them. About 1,500 have a complete New Testament and only 700 have a complete Bible. As far as I can tell, there are more English translations of the Bible than in any other language. The numbers I found cited were that English has about 450 translations, French has about 50, Spanish has about 50, and Russian has about 20.

When 90% of the world’s languages lack a complete Bible, it is a very poor use of our time to add to the piles of English Bibles.

My suspicion is that many of the modern translations are born out of arrogance or financial concerns. It is arrogant to say that no one before or present can produce a better translation and therefore only these particular translators have proper understanding to do it correctly. As far as finances go, I do not believe every new translation is a cash grab, but I have heard how profitable Bible translations are and how it helps large publishing companies to have their own in-house translations they can use freely in their own works.