Just when you think preaching can’t get any more insipid, you find yet another logic-defying sermon out there on the web. “Thanks” to the person who sent this to me.

Some surface observations on the problems with this “Bible lesson”:

1. Since the NIV *printed* the longer ending of Mark, isn’t it true that there are in fact 678 verses in Mark?  Didn’t he just count them for us?

2. As educated students of the textual history of the Bible (any Bible) know (guess that excludes this pastor), verses were not original to the text of either testament.  That means that versification is artificial from the get-go, so any numerical “truth” derived from counting them is, well, paleobabble.  Chapter divisions were added in the 13th century. During that century, Stephen Langton (ca. 1227), a professor at the University of Paris, and Cardinal Hugo de Sancta Cara (ca. 1244-1248) pioneered the chapter divisions. (One wonders how this preacher might react to catholics being the source of the chapter divisions).  Much earlier than this, the NT was divided into sections ca. the Council of Nicea, and before that the Hebrew Masoretes divided their canonical texts into section, paragraph, and phrasal divisions using accenting traditions. These divisions (oh, horror!) do not coincide with the KJV divisions or those used by other modern English translations. It is not known exactly when versification was added, but the oldest such scheme seems to be Italian Dominican biblical scholar Santi Pagnini (1470–1541; another catholic!), though his system was not popularly adopted.  As Christopher Smith notes in an article produced for a magazine I edit, “Robert Estienne created an alternate numbering in his 1551 edition of the Greek New Testament.”1 The first English New Testament to use the verse divisions was a 1557 translation by William Whittingham (c. 1524-1579).

None of this probably matters to the speaker, though, since he appears to be a King James only adherent. That brings me to the next problem.

3. The King James Only view that is apparent from this sermon is foreign to the reality of history of the biblical text. Readers are encouraged to read two volumes on this nonsense that are quite informative and helpful.  First, there is Carson’s King James Version Debate, The: A Plea for Realism (1979); then there is White’s  King James Only Controversy, The: Can You Trust Modern Translations?.  Even fundamentalists like Roy Beacham would denounce the KJV only position: One Bible Only?: Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible.

My point here is that this view is completely on the fringe — and there are real reasons why it is.  Frankly, the KJV debate is really a debate about the NT. None of its arguments work with respect to the Hebrew Bible (they don’t work on the NT, either, but applying them to the Hebrew text is where it really gets laughable).

4. My King James Bible says that 666 is “the number of a man” (Rev. 13:18) not the number of a manuscript tradition or publisher or versification scheme.

5. Jesus (I assume that’s who he means by the video title – the greatest preacher) didn’t assign verses to the Bible, nor does he ever reference them. Nor did he write Mark (or any other NT book).  If the preacher is talking about himself, then substitute his name for Jesus accordingly.

I’ll fly my flag at half mast again tonight, not for Ted Kennedy, but for the state of the American pulpit.