What About All Those Words And Verses That Are
“Omitted” In The Contemporary Versions?
By J.R. Ensey
This has been a recurring question in some circles for several years. However, the real question is, what were the words and verses omitted from—the actual Greek text of the New Testament, or another English translation published over 400 years ago into which the words were added?
The King James Version (KJV) extremists got a head start when they published books, booklets, and tabloids favoring exclusive use of the KJV after the RSV was introduced in 1952, which had “young woman” at Isaiah 7:14. Although the virgin birth was projected in the New Testament, that rendering rankled some fundamentalists who began to see conspirators behind every bush trying to “change the Bible.” Granted, that was not a wise rendering of the Hebrew almah, although it is a legitimate alternative. The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament) had parthenos (virgin). When the New International Version (NIV) was completed in 1978 and became quite popular (the NIV84 was the best selling Bible translation for a number of years), it was trounced by the KJV advocates, as well as every other Bible translation. To many one-version advocates it is rank heresy or worse to use any other Bible translation.
Because the New International Version became more popular than the KJV, it bore the brunt of the attacks. I am not a spokesman for the NIV (particularly the NIV2011) or any other translation, but we do need some balance in this Bible debate. One of their primary charges is that contemporary versions contain fewer words than the KJV. The extremists have fun with word games: “Find these words in the NIV,” they smirk. The eyes of the uninformed light up with surprise when they are told to find the “three heavenly witnesses” in I John 5:7b,8a in the NIV. Because the words that appear in the KJV are not there in the NIV, some are surprised and disappointed. They are not told, of course, that the words are an interpolation, not appearing in any Greek manuscript of the Bible before the sixteenth century. Or, “Find Luke 17:36 in the NIV,” knowing that it won’t be there, but not telling the person that even the 1611 KJV pointed out its lack of manuscript support. (Most modern versions explain that it is a scribal assimilation to the parallel in Matthew 24:40.) But persons not knowing that take the bait and think someone is messing with the Bible.
Many people assume that the KJV is “the” Bible, a few thinking that it was originally composed in medieval English (me, at conversion), and any variation from its wording within contemporary versions is due to someone “changing the Bible.” However, the current King James Version is not the original 1611 but a 1769 revision. Also, the 1611 KJV had 80 books (including the Apocrypha) rather than the current 66. The very important 1611 Preface is missing in the current editions of the KJV, as are the hundreds of helpful and informative marginal notes that appeared in the original King James Bible.
Others evidently believe that the newer versions are spin-offs of the KJV with liberals revising it, changing and deleting certain words and passages. They never stop to consider that the KJV is just one in a long line of versions and translations. If it and it only is “the Bible,” where was the Word of God before 1611? If there is “only one Bible” as the extremists claim, what about all of the foreign language editions whose wording differs from the KJV? Are they “counterfeits” also?
Since the NIV does not include the word “holy” in passages like II Peter 1:21 and Matthew 25:31, as does the KJV, it is claimed that the NIV is attacking the message of holiness. The truth is that the KJV translators used a limited and very late group of Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the ninth or tenth century. The Greek word for “holy” can be rendered “consecrated” or “sanctified” depending on the context. Although the word for “holy” is not in II Peter 1:21 in early Greek manuscripts (even the Textus Receptus marks it as spurious), the KJV translators inserted it without note. It does not make the passage wrong in such cases, but adding words when they are not there is as much of a problem as deleting them (Revelation 22:18,19).
This “Word Left Out” game the KJV advocates play can be played by either side. There are a number of places where the NIV and other translations have “holy,” drawing it directly from the Greek, but the word does not appear in the KJV (Ephesians 5:3,26; I Thessalonians 4:4; II Thessalonians 1:10; Hebews 10:14; 13:12; et al.) Typical of such references is Jude 14 where the NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV has “holy ones,” the KJV has “saints,” accommodating a more Catholic/Church of England view. So should we now say without explanation that the KJV “attacks holiness” because it lacks these particular renderings? Not necessarily, but neither is it a credible argument against the contemporary renderings. A different rendering does not mean someone intentionally omitted a word, or even omitted a word at all, but chose another word, such as “sanctified” to translate the Greek (e.g., Hebrews 2:11; 10:10). We have to remember there is a flip side to these Riplinger/Ruckman/ Ray/Fuller word games. Most upper end and study Bibles include footnotes explaining reasons for inclusion or exclusion of particular passages.
Some ask why do the contemporary translations omit the phrase “through his blood” in Colossians 1:14? Are the translators trying to do away with the blood of Christ? By now the reader should be able to answer some of these queries without help. Here the argument is the same. The phrase simply lacks manuscript evidence, appearing in only a few late manuscripts, which usually indicates a later scribal emendation. There is no conspiracy to remove the blood from the redemption process. The NIV, ESV and others plainly say that we find peace and reconciliation with God “through his blood, shed on the cross” just six verses later (Colossians 1:20). You might also check out Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 2:13, and Hebrews 13:20 in the NIV. Those passages plainly teach redemption “through the blood.” So, could not the KJV translators have included the phrase because they discovered it in a few late manuscripts, inserted by scribes because they wanted to express their commitment to the redemptive blood of Christ? Most scholars suggest that it is an assimilation from Ephesians 1:7. Scribal emendations and conflations are not uncommon in many of the copies of ancient manuscripts. Adding to the Word is just as improper as taking from it, even if what is added is absolute truth. There is no wrong in omitting a word(s) that originally had no place in the Scriptures, such as “and shalt be” in Revelation 16:5 and replacing it with the original Greek “holy one.”
A common challenge by the KJV advocates is to hand someone a NIV Bible and tell them to find certain verses (e.g., Luke 17:36, Acts 8:37, etc.). You guessed it. The verses they want you to look up in the NIV are some of those that are footnoted in later versions or do not appear for want of manuscript evidence. But note, for instance, Matthew 18:11 is not there in the NIV, but it is there at Luke 19:10. Compare Matthew 17:21 with Mark 9:29. Differences in these verses are reflected in the Greek manuscripts. Textual criticism, the science of evaluating the “weight” of certain Greek manuscripts where there is a “variant,” or difference, forces translators to make a choice of whether to include the words or not. Some verses have very little manuscript evidence, suggesting that some words and lines were added later. The fact that there are plenty of fasting scriptures in the NIV and other versions flies in the face of the claim of conspiracy. Compare Matthew 23:14 with Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. Compare Mark 11:26 with Matthew 6:15. And so on. Check out the reasons for those “omissions.” Also, that same “exercise” could be played like this: Hand someone a KJV and ask them to try to find “Jesus” in Acts 16:7; 24:24 or Romans 8:34, or find the “cross” in Colossians 2:15, or find “salvation” in I Peter 2:2. These terms are clearly in the Greek but omitted completely in the KJV. There is little profit in these word games, however.
Speaking of a want of manuscript evidence, over 165 years ago Alexander Campbell counted at least 357 interpolations in the KJV New Testament. Later textual critics could likely list more than that. Critics of modern versions often quote Revelation 22:18,19, especially the part about the curse upon those who “take away from the words of this book....” It also says (in the KJV), “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Italics mine) Inserting potentially misleading interpolations into the Scriptures carries a heavy curse just as for the man who “takes away.” We have to be careful—and honest—either way.
It needs to be said that the Bible has more manuscript evidence that all other ancient manuscripts combined. Over 5,800 papyri or animal skin manuscripts are extant. There are only about 40 lines in the entire Bible that are questionable. That is a far better record than any other ancient work, even those copies of them that are much later. And no doctrine has been changed by the discovery of earlier manuscripts. The NIV makes the doctrine of God clearer, is tougher on sin and morality, is straightforward on the gospel, and almost everyone who reads it realizes how much truth they were “reading over” in the KJV. I have made a chart of the major doctrines of the Apostolic faith comparing the KJV with the New King James Version, the NIV, and the NASB. You can find it in my book, The Book We Call the Bible.
Bottom line: You can trust the Bible!
A further word about the KJV and other translations
The KJV was a good translation in its day. Because of its soaring Elizabethan language—particularly in the Books of Poetry—the influence of King James and subsequent political realities, it ultimately supplanted the Geneva Bible, which was so popular with the Puritans and other conservative Protestant groups. King James was open to producing another version since he felt that the Geneva Bible leaned too far toward the Protestant/Presbyterian viewpoint with its marginal notes. He did not feel that the notes supported his view of the “divine right of kings.” So he wanted a Bible without marginal commentary. In 1604 he appointed a large committee of mostly Anglican churchmen who were said to be Bible scholars and familiar with original languages.
The KJV translators went to work in earnest in 1607 with a limited number of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, none older than the tenth century. The translators did not feel that they were divinely inspired in their work and intimated as much in their Preface. They drew strongly from previous versions—something around 75-80% of the KJV is the work of William Tyndale—as well as the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, saying that their revision would also need to be revised in the future (see their Preface). They were men chosen primarily because of their linguistic acumen, not necessarily because they were judged to be saints themselves. At least one of the translators had to be sanctioned for public drunkenness. Others authorized, along with King James, the burning at the stake of non-Trinitarians. This merely underscores the fact that they were humans, not divines.
The English language was still young at the time. There are thousands of words in today’s dictionaries that were not in use in their day. Some sources say that there are five times as many words in the English language today than in 1611. Many words in use then are obsolete now and no longer meaningful to modern readers. The letter “J” was not even in the English alphabet in 1611. That is why the name of Jesus was spelled with an ‘I” in the KJV Bible. Only a few extremists use a 1611 KJV today. It has been revised a number of times. Readers are confused by terms like “unicorn” (used several times) and “straitened in your bowels.” Britishisms and cultural idioms were incorporated, such as “God save the king” (I Samuel 10:24) and “cast the same in his teeth” (Matthew 27:44).
The KJV is recognized as the “fullest” version of the Bible. In other words, almost every word that could be found in every manuscript was inserted, regardless of its questionable authenticity. A number of errors and emendments appear in it. One of the most blatant examples of interpolation is I John 5:7b-8a. Since 1611, thousands of ancient manuscripts (copies) of the Bible have been unearthed, some dating as far back as the second century. Some are mere fragments but other have almost the complete Bible. These older manuscripts, copied closer to the time of the originals, have been considered in the modern translations, but KJVOs resist using any of the early manuscripts.
Does the English in the King James Version hinder understanding for the modern reader? In some instances, yes. For example, I have asked a number of pastors and teachers the meaning of II Corinthians 6:12 as presented in the KJV. None has offered an on-the-spot definitive answer. It is not clear and they have not taken the time to read other translations that provide a clear understanding of the verse. Hundreds of words and phrases are used in the 400-year old version that have become obsolete and no longer mean what they did in 1611. An 800-plus word dictionary has been printed to serve as a companion to the KJV for readers to keep handy so they will know word definitions used by the KJV translators. Newer translations are more apt to allow people to know what was actually taught by the Lord and His apostles. Some important verses are overlooked and misunderstood because they are rendered in the medieval tongue. It is time to “write the vision and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2:2) because “the word of the Lord is right, and all his works are done in truth” (Psalm 33:4).
The KJV uses words like propitiation, succour, let. These words have been replaced by more common words in modern translations. Does this change or dilute the meaning of the text? No. “Atoning sacrifice” (NIV; NRSV) is what propitiation is. “Succour” is rendered “help” in most major versions. “Let” is rephrased as “restrain” (NASB; NKJV) or “holds it back” (NIV). Understanding trumps tradition every day.
Is a literal translation always preferred over dynamic equivalency?
“Always” is too broad. If all the words of the Bible were translated literally it would be confusing and difficult to understand. Making two languages exactly convey the same thought or concept and have the message clearly understood by readers removed by hundreds of years with many differences in culture and dialects is a daunting task. The challenge is whether to make the words follow the same pattern as the Greek and Hebrew or make the concepts and ideas similar. We don’t place our English words in the same order as they appear in Greek or Hebrew. When the attempt is made to provide words and sentences as much like the original language as possible the process is called formal equivalence. When the object is to basically communicate the ideas and concepts contained in the original text it is called dynamic equivalence or functional equivalence. Which is the better method? Scholars have been divided on that question for centuries. All translators utilize both methods, as did the KJV translators. Publishers and translators of the NIV state that they did not strictly follow dynamic equivalence but landed somewhere between there and a word for word rendering.
A strictly word–for-word translation would invite confusion and chaotic misunderstanding. That is why there are none. For example, if II Corinthians 10:13 is translated literally, it reads: “We but not to the immeasurables we will boast but according to the measure of the rule which he divided to us the God in measure to reach as far as even to you.” Few would comprehend the message in that verse. As one scholar stated: “[Such a literal rendering] may be good Greek, but it is poor English.”1 A literal translation of Matthew 5:29,30 would say, “If your right eye causes you to stumble...if your right hand causes you to stumble....” Rather than stumbling as in tripping over something with your feet, Jesus is making a point about failing spiritually. To say “causes you to sin,” “induces you to fail,” or something similar would be closer to Jesus’ intended meaning.
Cultural idioms are found in all Bible translations, more in some than in others. “Wolves in sheep’s clothing” made perfect sense to first century readers in Israel and much of the Middle East, but none in Indonesia where they translate the words as “crocodiles in human form.” What might be clear to English-speaking persons would puzzle the minds of those in other cultures. Like other translations, the KJV is not a word for word rendering but incorporates idioms to explain events. For example, in Matthew 27:44 the KJV reads: “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” The last six words of that verse comprise an English idiom that does not appear in the Greek text and is omitted in most modern translations, using phrases like “insulting him with the same words” (NASB) or “also heaped insults on him” (NIV).
Should we or should we not give precedence to a seventeenth century translation?
In a word, no; however, the answer deserves an explanation. As we continue to learn more about the original languages of the Bible, scholars are able to smooth the translation and make it more readable and understandable—and, in many instances, more accurate. If the KJV had been revised more often since 1611 as the translators suggested, we would probably not be having this discussion today. Many secular manuscripts used to shed light on the way particular words were used in Bible times were not available to the KJV translators. They readily admitted that the meaning of a number of the Hebrew and Greek words simply eluded them. With the discovery of other ancient manuscripts, our understanding of words used for birds, mammals, precious stones, etc. has increased. Newer translations are able to reflect the meanings more accurately than could the KJV translators. There should be less fear about revisions today than there was in 1611. The level of scholarship, the seeming objectivity by the most respected scholars, and the abundance of new textual evidence should be somewhat reassuring.
What does the King James Version offer that is superior to modern translations?
Primarily, a popular and majestic locution. Embraced by the current culture and the rising spirit of the European Renaissance (which gave it a degree of permanence), the rhetoric of the KJV, and not necessarily its translation accuracy, gave it popularity. The expanding power of the British Commonwealth added to its longevity. However, a four centuries old rendering of any language is likely in dire need of revision, whether it be the Bible or any other book. Spelling, diction and word meanings change over time. What high school student can enunciate the original English version of Chaucer’s fourteenth century Canterbury Tales?2
The KJV is as popular as it is with modern English-speaking peoples today partly because it sounds somewhat “foreign” to us in twenty first century. We have to stop and remind ourselves that Jesus didn’t speak Elizabethan English. He didn’t say “thee,” “thine” and “I trow not.” But we grew up hearing that read as “the Bible,” and it is difficult for some to break away from that tradition.
The KJV did incorporate a majestic, flowery manner of expression. It is usually beautiful, as in Psalm 23. But sometimes it gets graphic, even ugly. For example, six times it refers to a male as “he that pisseth against the wall.” All render the Hebrew term “male” or “males,” even the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.
What do modern translations offer that is superior to King James?
I often use some of the modern, cross-denominational translations because:
• They offer a fresh, modern language rendering of the text.
• They take advantage of recent manuscript discoveries.
• They omit many of the out-of-date idioms inserted by the KJV translators.
• They omit and/or footnote interpolations (additions not found in the earliest manuscripts) included in the KJV.
• Overall, they are considered by most scholars to be more accurate than medieval versions, extremists’ wild claims notwithstanding.
• The fundamental tenets of the faith are still intact; actually, in many instances they are much clearer and stronger on Apostolic doctrine. As with any translation, a collection of scriptures should be brought to bear on any doctrine or moral/ethical question.
Which translations are acceptable for the conservative Christian?
This is a matter of preference in most cases. I prefer to consult those published by many scholars from various traditions and backgrounds. They have usually garnered wide use and have been carefully scrutinized for a number of years by academic and ministerial critics. Regular use by serious readers and students will usually turn up any translational flaws. Avoiding the paraphrases and denominationally published versions is usually wise. The English Standard Version is garnering a wide following in recent years and is becoming the choice of many Bible scholars.
Is there quantifiable difference in the degree of accuracy between translations? If so, why would translators distort the original meaning?
It depends on which translations are in view. There are certain translations that should be shunned by Apostolic believers, such as the New World Translation.3 Paraphrases like The Message and The Living Bible are not recommended for laypersons or for serious study. Bibles obviously translated and designed by and for particular denominations, age/gender groups, or particular segments of society should be avoided. Most of those on the shelves of reputable bookstores are trustworthy. One can do research online before buying if there is fear about choosing a translation.
There is little “quantifiable” difference in the degree of accuracy between the major translations. Some do not include certain words or phrases that have little or no manuscript support (usually explained in footnotes or in margins) and are considered highly questionable as being a part of the autographs. The KJV likewise “omitted” some words found in certain Greek manuscripts and other English versions of their day. This does not mean that the KJV translators had an evil agenda, nor does it mean that modern translators are attempting to dilute the Scriptures. With over 5,800 Greek manuscripts to consider now (thousands more and centuries older than those available to the 1611 translators), textual criticism is an extremely demanding science. If certain translators had an agenda to distort the meaning, they would immediately be known and discredited. In the opinion of most scholars and textual critics, there is insufficient evidence of a widespread conspiracy to dilute biblical truth through major translations.
It has been pointed out that there are only about forty lines in the entire Bible that are challenged as questionable. This represents a miniscule amount of text. No fundamental doctrine has had to be changed by the discovery of old manuscripts.
Are there any translations of Scripture by Oneness Apostolics?
It is likely some Oneness believers in history translated certain portions of Scripture, but I am aware of no complete translation done by a known Oneness believer since post-Apostolic times. In modern times, Dr. Marvin Treece has offered his personal translation of at least four of the books of the NT. The translations are contained in his book series titled The Literal Word.
Is there a perfect translation?
Since the original autographs are not extant, it is unlikely there is or can be a perfect translation. If it exists, no one knows for sure which one it is. All we have are copies of copies of copies in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and renderings in various Middle Eastern, European and African languages. Even so, through diligent study we are confident that we are very near to the original text.
We are not hesitant to award perfection in accuracy and meaning to the autographs, but there is no hint of inspiration in the works of thousands of scribes and monks during the centuries when copies were being made. Since each of the copies is different in places from all others, there is no way all or any of them can be awarded the seal of perfection. However, the differences are so slight that this should not be a huge problem. There is certainly no justification for the division among Apostolics that seems to be generated by extremists insisting that their favorite translation must be the only one read and used.
Since a majority of Christians do not speak English, how emphatic should we be on the translation issue?
This is precisely why we cannot pinpoint a specific English translation as “the” Bible to the exclusion of all others. We should not translate a translation or merely revise a revision; the rendering should arise directly from the original languages. This was the problem with Wycliffe’s Bible—it was a translation into English of the Latin Vulgate Bible rather than from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Each language requires some distinctive wording, with a varying word order,4 while retaining the original meaning.
Are translations from the Greek/Hebrew inspired?
Are translations inspired? Yes, and no. The boundaries of inspiration, and thus authority, are determined by the accuracy of word usage and the transmission of thought or meaning. Since the words in one language do not always have a word with the exact same meaning a receptor language, there is no such thing as a word-for-word translation. It would be impossible to read and make sense from a word-for-word translation.
In the autographs, both words and their meanings were inspired. Words were chosen based on their meaning. That same choice is also crucial both when a translation is being made. Words have meanings, but meanings change over time in all languages. Accuracy in both wording and meaning are essential.
Where inaccuracy occurs, inspiration cannot be claimed. Conjectural emendations (changes and additions) cannot be classified as inspired. For example, the emendation by Theodore Beza in 1598 inserted into the Textus Receptus at Revelation 16:5—“and shalt be” (not in any earlier Greek text)—cannot be inspired by God, even though it is true. That is simply not what the Bible said. The authority of any translation is inextricably linked to its faithfulness to the original.
Should we give precedence to the Received Text over the Critical Text?
The term “Received Text” is an English rendering of the Latin Textus Receptus (TR). There are several Greek texts of the NT dubbed Textus Receptus, including Erasmus’ 1516 edition, the Stephanus [Estienne] 1550, Beza 1598, and (the only one actually self-designated as the ‘Textus Receptus’) the Elzevir 1633. Berry correctly notes that “In the main they are one and the same; and [any] of them may be referred to as the Textus Receptus.”5 (Italics mine)
With the printing of the KJV in 1611 from what later became popularly known as the Textus Receptus, that particular stream of text seemingly became virtually locked in place, as though nothing could dislodge it from its self-styled lofty setting. A later, or “critical text,” which takes into consideration the discovery of earlier manuscripts, has largely displaced it from its position of dominance, at least among the majority of scholars in the field and Bible publishers. Geisler and Nix have these interesting points to make: “Although not many modern scholars seriously defend the superiority of the received text, it should be noted that there is no substantial difference between it and the critical text. What differences there are between these two textual traditions are merely technical rather than doctrinal, for the variants are doctrinally inconsequential. Nevertheless, the ‘critical’ readings are often helpful in interpreting the Bible, and for all practical purposes both text traditions convey the content of the autographs even though they are separately garnished with their own minor scribal and technical differences.”6
According to Bruce Metzger, probably the best known textual scholar of recent times, “The TR lies at the basis of the King James Version and of all the principal Protestant translations in the languages of Europe prior to 1881. So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the TR that in some cases attempts to criticize or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege. Yet its textual basis is essentially a handful of late and haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages its reading is supported by no known Greek witness. [During the next two centuries] almost all of the editors of the New Testament during this period were content to reprint the time-honored but corrupt Textus Receptus...An occasional brave soul who ventured to print a different form of Greek text was either condemned or ignored.”7
The Textus Receptus is often equated with the “Majority Text.” This is not accurate. As James White explains: “Most of the time the differences between the TR and the modern texts are the same differences that exist between the Byzantine text-type and the other text-types such as the Alexandrian and the Western. But, at times, the TR goes off by itself, and we find it either giving a reading that is not supported by Greek manuscripts at all, or by only a very few over against the large majority. It is important that the reader understand that the TR is not identical with the Majority Text, even though it is closely related. The TR is its own text, and it is often found in disagreement with the Majority Text as well as with the modern critical texts.”8
Every edition of the Greek text will usually have its own set of critics. The TR does not escape, with some claiming that it “was not based on early manuscripts, not reliably edited, and consequently not trustworthy.”9 The standard Textus Receptus (printed by the Trinitarian Bible Society) that is used today by nearly all KJV-only advocates is not identical to Erasmus, Stephanus, or Beza, but is instead an eclectic text that draws from various sources.”10 Although depending heavily on the earliest uncials, the critical text also draws from various text-types, relying less on Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Codex Vaticanus (B) than did Wescott and Hort in the 1880s. Additional manuscript discoveries continue to elucidate the text, although in very minor ways. As older manuscripts come to light, they, like artifacts uncovered by archaeologists, seem to verify and confirm the Word rather than alter its doctrines. A comforting fact is, some textual scholars say the manuscripts agree with each other as high as 98 percent of the time.11
“When a comparison of the variant readings of the New Testament is made with those of other books which have survived from antiquity, the results are little short of astounding. For instance, although there are some 200,000 ‘errors’ among the New Testament manuscripts, these appear in only about 10,000 places, and only about one-sixtieth rise above the level of trivialities. Westcott and Hort, Ezra Abbot, Philip Schaff, and A. T. Robertson have carefully evaluated the evidence and have concluded that the New Testament text is over 99 percent pure. In light of the fact that there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, some 9,000 versions and translations, the evidence for the integrity of the New Testament is beyond question.”12
When the multitude of early versions are considered, along with the quotations of the early church fathers, we see that these agree with the earlier—and some feel, more superior—Alexandrian text-type. The early fathers almost always used the older Alexandrian text-type. In fact, Gordon Fee, who is one of the leading patristic authorities, wrote: “Over the past eight years I have been collecting the Greek patristic evidence for Luke and John for the International Greek New Testament Project. In all of this material I have found one invariable: a good critical edition of a father’s text, or the discovery of early MSS, always moves the father’s text of the New Testament away from the TR and closer to the text of our modern critical editions. In other words when critical study is made of a church father’s text or when early copies of a church father’s writings are discovered, the majority text is found wanting. The early fathers had a text that keeps looking more like modern critical editions and less like the majority text.”13 The discovery of many old manuscripts and fragments in the last 120 years has allowed for minor refinements to be made in the hallowed New Testament text. Those refinements have not altered the truth in any way.
Some complain that the Alexandrian manuscript family should not be given as much weight as the Byzantine because there are far more Byzantine documents than Alexandrian. The reason for the disparity is that Latin was the predominant language in the West (N. Africa, Italy, most of Europe) while in the East (Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East) Greek was the primary language. After c. A.D. 400, the copies of biblical manuscripts in the West were all done in Latin, and in the East they were done in Greek, which was the language in the autographs. Still, until the ninth century, there were more Alexandrian Greek manuscripts than Byzantine. When the cursive letters for Greek were used and more letters/lines could be put on one page, the Greek copies in the East multiplied exponentially. However, the number of copies does not mean there is more accuracy or authenticity. All manuscripts are “weighed” and not counted. The older and closer to the autographs a manuscript is does not automatically mean it is more reliable, but it generally does, and is usually given more consideration. The oldest manuscripts are of the Alexandrian family.
Since the KJV has been used and trusted by Christians for over 400 years, shouldn’t it be retained as our primary Bible?
Some of my dear friends insist that since the KJV has been around for a long time, and it has “worked” all this time, so why not just leave well enough alone. Fine with me, but the single-version advocates didn’t want to do that. Ill-advised attacks on all other translations and their users called for a measured response.
This attitude has been around since Jerome got together all the Latin versions of New Testament manuscripts and published the Latin Vulgate in A.D. 404. It angered some believers—the Carthagenians in particular—when they found that familiar wording had been changed. To traditionalists, the unfamiliar language and terms were unsettling, and that Jerome dared to correct “the sacred text” that many felt was inspired, upset those who had become accustomed to the older texts. In his defense, Jerome wrote: “For if we are to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it is for our opponents to tell us which; for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake.” Eventually, most of the Catholic world got behind the Vulgate and considered it to be “the Bible.”
The same response was generated when Erasmus published his Greek text and along with it his Latin translation of the text. Traditionalists howled that he had virtually committed apostasy in suggesting any changes to the Vulgate. Allan Jenkins and Patrick Preston explain: “The authority of the Vulgate rested mainly upon its long and widespread use. Erasmus’ revision could in consequence appear to be devaluing what had become hallowed by familiarity in schoolroom, pulpit and liturgy. The Vulgate was the only translation with which the majority of worshippers in the western church would be familiar, and the claim that the text was corrupt and in need of correction, and the translation sometimes obscure and in need of clarification, was disturbing and confusing. Preaching orders, especially Franciscans and Dominicans opposed to Erasmus’ work took advantage of this to stir up popular sentiment against him.”14 Others had even harsher words for Erasmus: “[They] began to rave against my name and reputation, maintaining that the Christian religion faced utter destruction unless all new translations were instantly removed.”15
That sounds like some extremists in our own day condemning all versions except the one with King James’ name on it because they note some different words and slightly altered text in a few places. Erasmus countered that “the old version is still there for all men’s use, as it always was.” Erasmus held that the Greek was authoritative not only for translation but also as the basis for interpretation, the authority of the Vulgate was inevitably called into question when it differed from the Greek. The old version may still have been there, but once Erasmus had exposed its deficiencies, it could never again command exclusive authority.16 So we may expect there to be some discomfort and angst with contemporary translations containing different words and corrected texts. That is altogether understandable. And if they wish to exclusively retain the KJ version, they are welcome to do so. However, in time just as Jerome’s work was ultimately recognized as authoritative by the Council of Trent, and Erasmus’ alteration of the Vulgate has been accepted as valid, the time will come when the labor of contemporary scholars and analysts working with many more ancient manuscripts than were available in the seventeenth century will be the standard, if indeed it is not already.
The Last Word
Those who insist on staying with the KJV are welcome to do so. Their choice is honored and respected. However, to condemn those who use other versions, such as the English Standard Version and other contemporary versions, seems a bit irrational. To strike at “modernism” by condemning new translations and those who use them may sound conservative, but it often serves only to reveal one’s presuppositions and lack of personal investigation. One has to do some personal study and research for himself to see why this is true. To simply take the word of some extreme critic on this vital issue is to almost guarantee a wrong opinion and position.
The Bible is still the Book we can trust.
1. John R. Kolenberger III, “Which Bible translation is best for me?”; Moody Monthly, May 1987; p. 18.
2. There were only about 125 years between the writing of the Canterbury Tales and the publication of the KJV. Note the vast differences in the language that transpired in that period of time.
3. The New World Translation is published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
4. For example, Spanish adjectives follow the noun being modified. In Greek, word order is quite different from English.
5. George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (New York: Hinds & Noble, 1897); p. ii.
6. Norman L. Geisler and William A. Nix, A Concise and Practical Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Nelson-National Publishers, 1964); p. 39.
7. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980); p. 106.
8. James R. White, The King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers; 1995); p. 64 pp. 172,173. One should also see White’s chart on page 68 titled, “The Textus Receptus Vs. The Textus Receptus” for differences between editions of the TR.
9. Quoted online in “The TR Re-examined and is the KJV a Catholic Bible?” at http//hector3000.future.easyspace.com/tr.htm from Norman Geisler/William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible.
10. White; p. 63.
11. Daniel Wallace, Ph.D, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation”; http:www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/kjv.htm
12. Norman Geisler and William Nix, From God To Us (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 180.
13. Daniel Wallace, The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical? www.bible.org/docs/scholtoc.htm.
14. Allan K. Jenkins and Patrick Preston, Biblical Scholarship and the Church (Hampshire, UK: Asbgate Publishing Ltd., 2007), p. 56.
15. Ibid., p. 57.
16. Ibid., p. 57.