Friday, April 13, 2007

KING JAMES ONLY: Still Rearing It's Ugly Head!

I've been blessed many times in the 27 years I've known the Lord; one recent and really memorable time was my calling to pastor here at San Carlos Community Church, another was my time at Talbot Theological Seminary where I met men like Bob Thomas, who now profs at The Master's Seminary.

About a week ago these two ships tied up to the same dock: on the one hand, an aberrant and dangerous wolf in sheep's clothing, called The King James Only Movement, reared its salivating muzzle in the midst of the people of SCCC. On the other hand, men like Dr. Thomas have laid down a solid, bible-based apologetic to help men like me.

I pulled the following article from Masterpiece (January / February 1990 ,
pp.16-19), the Master's Seminary periodic journal. I've asked for permission to put it up; if I don't get it, this post will have to come down.

The King James Controversy
by Robert L. Thomas
As Christians, we are united in our belief that the Bible is the word of God, how sad it is that division occurs over which version of the Bible is best. Some say there is only one. Dr. Thomas greatly clarifies [this] confusing issue.

HE KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible has had a profound impact on the English-speaking world over the last three-and-a-half centuries. Its positive qualities have earned it a lasting place in the literary hall of fame. In the last decades of this century, several new translations have arisen to compete for its place of preeminence, but many Christians still prefer using the KJV. Unfortunately, a small but vocal minority has gone beyond merely using it. Claiming that the KJV is the best and only true English version available, they make the use of it a test of theological orthodoxy— and strongly criticize anyone who disagrees.

The Background
From shortly after its publication in 1611 until the late nineteenth century, the KJV was practically the only English Bible in use among Protestants. In 1881, however, things began to change. The English Revised version of the New Testament was published. It was a revision of the KJV, based on a revised Greek text.

Two scholars were chiefly responsible for establishing the Greek text behind the English Revised Version: Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. They also published a Greek New Testament the same year the Revised Version made its debut Their Greek text laid the foundation for texts underlying most twentieth Century translations of the Bible. It took advantage of the wealth of manuscript evidence that had come to light since the original publication of the KJV.

Not all were pleased with Westcott and Hort's Greek text, however. The Anglican High Churchman John W. Burgon, whose works are still cited by defenders of the “KJV only” position, was a vocal defender of the traditional Greek text underlying the KJV known as the Textus Receptus.

Modern defenders of the KJV fall into two general categories. One group claims inspiration and inerrancy for its English text. Another argues that God has preserved His Word in the Textus Receptus (or the Byzantine text type on which the Textus Receptus is based).

The English Text: Is It Inspired?
One "KJV only" advocate sums up the view that God inspired the English text of the KJV in the title of his book, God Wrote Only One Bible. Those holding this view argue that inspiration and inerrancy are meaningless if they apply only to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. How can we be certain that any Bible is God's Word, they ask, since those manuscripts no longer exist.

That position is extreme and subject to several strong objections. If the King James Version is God's inspired Word, what was God's inspired Word before 1611? Is English the only language that has God's inspired Word? The nature of languages and the differences between them make it impossible for two or more languages to convey the same precise meaning. Either the original Hebrew and Greek texts were inspired, or the English is. Which is it? Those questions raise issues that the "English inspiration" position cannot reasonably answer.

It is certain that the translators of the KJV weren't under the impression that, they were working on an inspired English version in the margins of the KJV they included variant readings from different manuscripts, indicating their uncertainty about the correct reading. Some of the translators continued to use earlier English versions long after the publication of the KJV. They even quoted from one of those Bibles (the Geneva Bible) in the original preface to the KJV. The translators also included the Apocrypha, yet few if any who claim inspiration for the KJV’s English text would accept the Apocrypha as God's Word.

An inspired English text is not prerequisite to having an accurate Bible. We have more than 5000 Greek manuscripts of all or pan of the New Testament. No other book from ancient times has that much evidence supporting it. While there are thousands of variants in those manuscripts, the overwhelming majority involve minor details such as differences in spelling or word order, and do not substantially affect the meaning of various passages except in very rare cases. And no major doctrine of Scripture is affected by a variant reading.

God has chosen to preserve His Word in abundant manuscript evidence, which enables us to accurately reconstruct the original Greek and Hebrew texts—not by giving us an inspired translation in English.

Manuscripts: Should the Majority Rule?
Other defenders of the KJV’s primacy take a different approach. Realizing that no English translation is inspired, they claim that God has providentially preserved His Word in the Textus Receptus. Since the KJV New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus, they assume it is superior to versions based on other Greek texts. Before examining their arguments, we need to understand some basic facts about textual criticism.

We can divide all New Testament manuscripts into families or text-types based on similarities in readings of various Bible verses. The manuscripts within each family tend to support the same readings, whether right or wrong. There are four such text-types:
  1. The Alexandrian
  2. The Western
  3. The Caesarean
  4. The Byzantine
The Textus Receptus is derived from the Byzantine text-type (though it is based on only a handful of the thousands of manuscripts in the Byzantine tradition). The majority of Greek manuscripts belong to the Byzantine text-type. Proponents of the Textus Receptus assume that the readings represented by the majority of manuscripts must surely be the correct ones. There are a number of objections to that seemingly plausible argument. Those objections have convinced the majority of textual scholars that the Byzantine text-type is inferior to the other three.

One problem is the relatively late date of the Byzantine manuscripts. The vast majority of those manuscripts originated in the late centuries of the first millennium A.D. or later. Manuscripts from other families are five hundred or more years earlier. Another objection notes the great number of manuscripts that have been lost. In earlier periods of history it is quite possible and even probable that another of the families was the majority text. Several of the early church fathers attest that Alexandrian-type readings were in the majority in their day.

There is a convincing historical explanation for the numerical superiority of the Byzantine text-type. By the fourth century, the only area where Greek was still widely used was the eastern part of the Roman Empire, which later became the Byzantine Empire. Latin was the language of the western part of the Empire, and the church in that area used a Latin translation. It was based on the Western text-type, not the Byzantine.

During the Middle Ages, Greek was practically unknown in western Europe, and the copying of Greek manuscripts took place only in the Byzantine area. Since the majority of our surviving Greek manuscripts were produced at that time, it is not surprising that most of them are of the Byzantine text-type.

Defenders of KJV supremacy argue that God would not have allowed His Word to become corrupted. They claim He providentially guided the church in the selection of the proper Greek text. Since the Greek text used .by the majority of the church from the fourth to the nineteenth centuries was a Byzantine text, they assume that must be the one God preserved. There are a number of problems with that argument as well.

First, it is evident that God has preserved all four text types, not just the Byzantine. Also, as we have seen, there is a good historical explanation for its dominance. The majority of Greek manuscripts during those centuries were Byzantine, but the majority of Latin manuscripts, which were the guide for most of the church, were Western. Latin manuscripts far outnumber those in Greek.

It is also a mistake to assume that the Eastern Church chose the Byzantine text-type over the others; they used the only text available to them. Nor did the Reformers consciously choose the Byzantine text-type over the others. They too used the only Greek text available to them, the one prepared by the Dutch Roman Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus shortly before the Reformation. It was Erasmus's Greek text, based on a handful of manuscripts from the late Middle Ages, that formed the basis of the Textus Receptus.

Aside from all those considerations, even if the Byzantine were the "majority" text in every sense of the word, both history and politics teach us that the majority is not always right.

An objection lodged against the non-Byzantine families is that they are theologically aberrant, especially regarding the deity of Christ. That is simply not true, as a check of recent English versions based on non-Byzantine texts verifies. The New American Standard Bible and even the less conservative Revised Standard Version both give dear testimony to the deity of Christ The only modem version that attempts to alter biblical passages clearly affirming our Lord's deity is the New World Translation, produced by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses).

Perhaps the most convincing argument against the primacy of the Byzantine text-type is the evidence that it did not exist before the fourth century. There are no manuscripts reflecting a distinctly Byzantine text-type before that time. The earliest church father to use a Byzantine text in his quotations of Scripture was Chrysostom, who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.

None of the ancient versions, which are translations from Greek into other languages, contain Byzantine readings. The earliest one to do so (the Peshitta Syriac translation) dates from the fourth or fifth century. The Byzantine text-type does not appear in the Old Syriac version, which dates from the second century and was in use in the very region where those who support Byzantine supremacy allege that the Byzantine family prevailed.

The Byzantine text-type tends to combine readings found in other families. For example, Mark 9:49 in the Western text reads. 'Every sacrifice will be salted with salt," while the Alexandrian text reads, "Everyone will be salted with fire." The Byzantine text combines the two: "Everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Since it is characterized by such a merging tendency, it must have originated later and been dependent on the other three text-types.

The lack of early evidence for the Byzantine family has led most textual scholars to conclude that it did not exist before the fourth century. Most likely it stemmed from an effort to bring the other text-types into complete agreement with each other. The greater length of the Byzantine text corroborates that. It attempted to include as much as possible from all three text-types.

In contrast, there is solid evidence in the writings of the church fathers and ancient translators that the Western, Caesarean, and Alexandrian families of manuscripts existed before the end of the second century. The writings of Clement of Alexandria and the earliest Coptic (Egyptian) translation, from the second and early third centuries, reflect the Alexandrian text-type. Evidence for the second-century existence of the Western text-type comes from the writings of Tatian, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, as well as the earliest Latin translation that the Caesarean family was in existence by the beginning of the third century is clear from the writings of Origen and the Old Syriac translation.

What Bible Can I Trust?
As we have seen, the KJV lags behind recent translations because of its inferior textual basis. Does that mean we should abandon it in favor of the New American Standard Bible or some other version? Certainly not! Neither the King James Version not the Byzantine text underlying it will lead anyone astray wither doctrinally or in living the Christian life. The variations between text-types are simply not that significant.

There is no reason for people to stop using their King James Bibles–if that’s the version they are comfortable with. It’s unfortunate, however, that some have made the use of the KJV a test of faith. God has been pleased to sue translations based on all the text-types and will doubtless continue to do so.

Dr. Robert L. Thomas is a professor of New Testament studies at The Master’s Seminary.

In my opinion this movement is fueled by ignorance and self-righteousness. However, there are a number of good, scholarly committed people supporting this it.

What scares me the most is the gateway for this teaching opens directly into the pews, and the teaching sounds so appealing and reasonable.

Go to Alpha & Omega Ministries for some reference material and resources; they have an excellent 50 slide Power Point download that I'm really grateful for ... free!.

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