For the past three years or so, up until just the other day, I was reluctantly King James Only. I say “reluctantly” because it’s such a controversial and painful issue and, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t actually like serious controversy.
Like most folks, I was raised on the KJV. When I was in high school, my parents got me an NIV, which I used until I became convinced of KJV Only. I’ve now turned to the NAS.
I want to emphasize one point. While I’ll be explaining some about Bible versions, the theological case for KJVO, and what’s wrong with it, it is not my slightest intention to mock or ridicule those who hold to the KJV only. I believe that KJVO advocates sincerely love the Word and it’s Author.
History of Bible Translation
There are lots of good sources for the history of the Bible, particularly English translations. I am not one of those sources. I can, however, give a rough “good enough” overview.
Once the manuscripts that made up the Bible were written, many copies were made. These copies were copied, and so on. Unfortunately, sometimes errors were made in these copies. Then the erroneous copies were copied. Given the limited travel opportunities over the first few centuries A.D., it wasn’t possible to regularly compare all the variations. What wound up happening is that you’d have “families” of manuscripts develop, generally following some geographic areas. The manuscripts in one family tended to agree with one another, but would disagree with those in another family. The New Testament texts are primarily divided into the Western, Alexandrian, and Byzantine families.
At various points in time, scholars tried to recreate the authentic set of Scriptures by selecting and editing the best texts they had available. There are several of these that are quite significant, but I’ll only discuss three of them.
From the wikipedia
From the 800s to the 1400s rabbinic Jewish scholars known as the Massoretes compared the text of all known Biblical manuscripts, in an effort to create a unified and standardized text; a series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points (called nikud) to the text, since the original text only contained consonants. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since words can differ only in their vowels, and thus the text can vary depending upon the choice of vowels to be inserted.
The primary set of texts for the Old Testament was the Masoretic Text.
For the New Testament, there are two really important texts to our discussion. The first is known as the Textus Receptus. It was edited by a guy named Erasmus right around the time that Gutenberg produced the printing press. Erasmus relied on the Byzantine texts almost exclusively, since those were by far the most prevalent in western Europe at the time.
Another significant Greek New Testament was developed, in the late 1800s, by two men named Westcott and Hort. This is, unsurprisingly, known as Westcott-Hort.
The science of evaluating manuscripts and identifying the correct reading is known as textual criticism.
Translations were made into various languages, and these translations were circulated widely. For the Old Testament, around the time of Christ, 72 rabbis translated the best Hebrew scriptures they had into Greek. It’s known as the Septuagint (Greek for 70) and abbreviated LXX.
When the KJV translators began their work, they primarily relied on Masoretic text for the Old Testament, and Erasmus?s Textus Receptus for the New Testament.
More recent translations, rather than relying as heavily on the Textus Receptus, use Westcott-Hort primarily. This is the reason for many of the differences between translations, particularly where words, verses, or sections are added or removed.
The Case for KJV Only
The case for King James Only is a logical and theological argument based on a belief in God?s verbal inspiration of the Scripture and subsequent preservation of those words. It is as follows.
- God inspired the actual words that the human authors used in writing the Bible. This is known as verbal or plenary inspiration, and is believed by most conservative evangelical Christians.
- When we talk about the Word of God, we?re talking about the actual words that God inspired (or a faithful translation of those words). Written communication cannot exist apart from the words used in that communication. If God inspired the words, then that?s what He wanted us to have.
- If two sets of text differ in any non-trivial way, they are not the same. As any good sci-fi junkie knows, subtle differences are an excellent warning sign that one?s mom/dad/commanding officer/best friend has been replaced by a robot or changling. It?s not enough that they look, talk, and act very much the same. Different is different. I say ?any non-trivial way? because we?re not really concerned about a punctuation mark or word here and there ? we?re concerned about the use of very different words, the inclusion or omission of entire phrases, sentences, verses, and passages, and so on.
- If two things differ or disagree, at most one can be correct. Perhaps neither is. This is self-evident.
- God has promised to preserve His Word for His church.
- God?s promise to preserve His Word implies, from statements 1 and 2, that God will preserve the actual text that He inspired, not some vague ?meaning? apart from the inspired words.
- Preservation has some actual value to God?s people, meaning that not only is God?s Word preserved, but it?s also available. An inspired, preserved revelation from God does no good if it?s unavailable to God?s people. Why would He bother with a revelation if He wasn?t going to exercise some providential care to get it to His people, and in a way we could understand?
- Since the vast majority of all known manuscripts are Byzantine, from statement 7 it follows that God?s Word is preserved in the Byzantine texts.
- From statement 4, any manuscripts which differ non-trivially from the Byzantine texts do not comprise the Word of God.
- From statement 9, the Westcott-Hort cannot be considered the Word of God. Furthermore, no translations that use the Westcott-Hort instead of the Byzantine texts can be considered the Word of God.
- From statement 8, only the Textus Receptus, which is based on the Byzantine texts, is trustworthy. Only translations that are based on the TR can be considered the Word of God. This means KJV.
It?s a pretty sound logical case, IMO. So I was stuck. I had no choice but to be KJV Only. It made sense.
The Problem with KJVO
Recently, though, I re-evaluated the logical case a little differently. First, I realized that something may be nearly incomprehensible to me, but still true – God?s sovereignty and man?s free will, the Trinity, etc. Second, I kept in mind that scripture and facts trump logic, even when the facts seem illogical. After some more thought, I discovered that the logical case for KJVO is not correct. I do not understand why it?s not correct, but I know it?s not.
The various Byzantine manuscripts do not agree with each other entirely. Erasmus had to select among the readings found in those manuscripts, and sometimes he did not choose the majority reading. Furthermore, the KJV translators didn?t follow Erasmus?s Textus Receptus entirely. Dr. Hills, a KJV Only advocate, writes ?the King James Version ought to be regarded not merely as a translation of the Textus Receptus but also an independent variety of the Textus Receptus.? (Further discussion at http://wayoflife.org/fbns/whichtr.htm).
What this means is that, if my logical case built in statements 1-9 is correct, God has not preserved His Word, and no extant manuscript or translation can be called ?The Word of God?; God?s revelation has been lost to us. Even if one Byzantine manuscript was the perfectly preserved Word of God, the TR does not completely follow any of those manuscripts, and the KJV does not follow the TR. Preservation would be disproved.
Matters continue to worsen for my KJVO case, and this next point is the one that really torpedoed KJVO in my mind. The KJV translators themselves provided the argument!
The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men do confess) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had been unworthy of the appellation and name of the word of God.
The Septuagint differs from the best OT manuscripts in many places. However, it was written in Greek and available to the New Testament authors, who freely quoted it in the New Testament.
Now, everything quoted in the New Testament is necessarily inspired. But what to do when what?s quoted in the New Testament is different from what was actually inspired in the Old Testament? How can two things that differ both be right? This flies directly in the face of statements 3 and 4 above.
Clearly, my KJVO case is flawed, but like I said, I?m not sure where. I think that perhaps I?m taking preservation far too literally. I am a programmer, and I like precision. I do byte-by-byte comparisons on strings. I like checksums. Even whitespace is important. I suspect that this is where the problem lies. The KJV translators answered this type of thinking when they wrote
things are to take their denomination of the greater part; and a natural man could say, ? A man may be counted a virtuous man, though he have made many slips in his life, (else, there were none virtuous, for in many things we offend all) [James 3:2] also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars. No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For whatever was perfect under the Sun, where Apostles or Apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand?
Somehow, and I don?t really understand how, God has inspired the very words of the Bible, and preserved His Word in such a manner that does not require us to have 100% of the originally inspired words. I can trust the infallibility of my English Bible without requiring it to be a perfect translation of the particular words that were inspired. It may well be perfect, but it doesn?t have to be. This is very unsatisfying to me, but it appears to be true so I have to be content with it.
Some people hold that Erasmus was inspired in his selection of texts for the TR. If true, this would mean (per Dr. Hills assertion) that the KJV was uninspired, for it differs from the TR in some instances. Others hold that the KJV translators were inspired. If true, this would mean that the Word of God was effectively lost to the church for hundreds or thousands of years, from the loss of the authentic copies of the autographs to the creation of the KJV. Both of these contentions still have to explain why the NT writers quoted the Septuagint, even though it differs from the Masoretic.
Methods of Translation
Selection of different manuscripts is one reason for the differences among Bible versions. Another reason is the method of translation.
Some Bibles use what?s called a formal equivalency, or a word-for-word translation. When the translators read a Greek or Hebrew word, they wrote an English word, except for minimal changes so the grammar worked in English. Sometimes they had to rearrange the words, sometimes they had to change the tense, and sometimes they had to add words. The KJV and NAS italicize added words. The NAS puts a star by words where they had to change the tense. I know the KJV and NAS use this method, but I?m not sure which other translations do. This method of translation focuses on accuracy.
Another method of translation is dynamic equivalency, or a thought-for-thought translation. The translators would read a phrase, thought, sentence, etc., in the original language and re-write it in English, attempting to preserve the meaning, but not necessarily the actual wording. The NIV is a good example of this form of translation. This method of translation focuses on readability.
Since I believe in plenary inspiration, I prefer formal equivalency to dynamic equivalency. I?m not sure there?s a big difference between dynamic equivalency and paraphrases, and I don?t necessarily trust translators enough to believe they don?t let their own biases influence the translation. That is certainly more possible with dynamic equivalency than with formal equivalency.
The conclusion I?ve reached is that God has preserved His Word, and to a great extent (well over 99%) has preserved the actual words He inspired. There are substantial differences among Bible translations, which is disconcerting to me, but no more so than many other questions in life.
Given my belief in plenary inspiration, I believe a word-for-word translation is the best. The NAS is highly recommended by my elders and people I trust, so I?ve chosen to use it.