Saturday, February 19, 2011

The King James Version: 400 Years of Celebration and Controversy

I was pleasantly surprised when I came across Larry Hurlado's blog celebrating the KJV's 400th birthday. Later I found NPR and other news outlets reporting it. Born at a time when the reformation was spreading across Europe, King James ordered what has arguably become the most beloved English translation of the Bible. Incidentally, there is no evidence that he actually gave it his final approval, although it has come to be called the “Authorized Version.” Nevertheless, there are those who attack it on account of King James I being suspected of homosexuality, although he was not involved in the translation process (I'm sure that if it was under the direction of his father it would have been otherwise). Others hold the translation as being directly overseen by God to guarantee against all human error, as called the King James Only camp.

The Authorized King James Version was based on a Greek New Testament by the Catholic scholar Erasmus in 1516, known as the Textus Receptus (received text), which William Tyndale and Martin Luther also used for their translations. According to a computer analysis approximately eighty-five percent of the words of the KJV originated with Tyndale,1 who was rewarded by being burned at the stake for his work. While I do not claim to be a scholar or an expert on the subject of translations—although I do know a little Greek, he owns a restaurant down the road, but he's really not very little (lol)—most Christian scholars consider the original text to have been inspired and inerrant, rather than the translations.2 Contrary to Islamic tradition, in which adherents are expected to learn Arabic to have the pure form of the Qur'an, for Christians this has never been an issue, at least that is, not until the late 1900s.3 This recent debate has probably stemmed in part from certain fundamentalists which insisted on literal interpretations,4 along with the on-going discovery of earlier manuscripts.

To be precise, it is the Alexandrian manuscript that has actually spurred so much of the contention. As noted in my previous blog, the long ending in the Gospel of Mark as well as other passages are not included in earlier manuscripts. Although they do not change any doctrines, they have been referenced in support of certain doctrines.

As posted in Wikipedia, James White breaks the movement down to five primary categories:1

  • "I Like the KJV Best" - Though White lists this group as a division of the King James Only group, this division does not believe that the KJV is the only acceptable version, thus disqualifying them from being "King James Only". This group simply prefers the KJV over other translations because their church uses it, because they have always used it, or because they like its style.2
  • "The Textual Argument" - This group believes that the KJV's Hebrew and Greek textual bases are the most accurate. These conclude that the KJV is based on better manuscripts. Many in this group may accept a modern version based on the same manuscripts as the KJV. White claims Zane C. Hodges  is a good example of this group.1 However, Hodges would consider that the Majority Text "corrects" the Received Text as seen e.g., in the Majority Text textual apparatus of the New King James Version. The Trinitarian Bible Society would fit in this division; however, "the Trinitarian Bible Society does not believe the Authorized Version to be a perfect translation, only that it is the best available translation in the English language",2 and "the Society believes this text is superior to the texts used by the United Bible Societies and other Bible publishers, which texts have as their basis a relatively few seriously defective manuscripts from the 4th century and which have been compiled using 20th century rationalistic principles of scholarship."3
  • "Received Text Only" - Here, the traditional Hebrew and Greek texts are believed to be supernaturally preserved. The KJV is believed to be an exemplary translation, but it is also believed that other translations based on these texts have the potential to be equally good. Donald Waite would fall into this category.
  • "The Inspired KJV Group" - This faction believe that the KJV itself was divinely inspired. They see the translation to be preserved by God and as accurate as the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts found in its underlying texts. Sometimes this group will even exclude other language versions based on the same manuscripts claiming the KJV to be the only Bible.
  • "The KJV As New Revelation" - This group claims that the KJV is a "new revelation" or "advanced revelation" from God, and it should be the standard from which all other translations originate. Adherents to this belief may also believe that the original-language Hebrew and Greek can be corrected by the KJV. This view is often called "Ruckmanism" after Peter Ruckman, a staunch advocate of this view.

Another argument that has been leveled at modern versions is the issue of copyrights. I've heard it argued that nobody can place a copyright on the word of God, thus the KJV wins by default. Of course, with all the expenses involved in research and translation work, who can blame publishers from wanting to stay in the black. Yes, there is profit to be had in any case. But, the original manuscripts are the real conflict and although they are not copyrighted, they are not all open to public viewing on account of preserving the manuscripts. Fortunately, The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts is beginning to make these available on line.

As someone who grew up on the KJV, I am one of the few who still enjoy reading the old Elizabethan English. I no longer subscribe to the KJV as the only viable translation (when I was young I actually condemned all alternative versions to our basement). There's one thing I've found true and I think Mark Twain said it best, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” I think the same can be said for the various modern Bible translations. In celebration of the KJV and its predecessors, I am happy to enjoy both the freedom of access and the availability of such a rich storehouse of treasures.

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. NIV20101
For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. KJV1

1 The Bible in English, David Daniell, cited in From Tyndale to Madison, Michael Farris
2 Dr. Norman Geisler, Dr. William Lane Craig,
3 Chick Publications helped circulate this position in their materials. They also promoted Gail Riplinger's New Age Bible Versions which has been totally refuted by Dr. James White in their debate as well as his book, The King James Only Controversy. According to Wikipedia, the controversy dates to at least 1987:
4 A good method of interpreting Scripture is to recognize that only those things that were intended to be taken literally should be interpreted literally. i.e. Revelation depicts Jesus with a sword coming out of his mouth; it is understood to be symbolic, not literal. This may be an extreme example, one that is not actually disputed (except by atheists), but it serves to illustrate the point.
6 The Breath and Heartbeat of God, Gail Riplinger; In Awe of Thy Word,
7 The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?, James White
9 The Text of the Bible used by the Trinitarian Bible Society,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Free eBooks

I've come across numerous web sights that have great ebooks available for free online and some for download, from Alvin Plantinga to Zwingli. Check it out on my resource page:

My general blog for resources can be found here:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

400,000 Changes and the Bible: Textual Variations

Has the Bible been "lost in translation?" Bible critics are quick to make the challenge that the Bible is a copy of a copy of a copy and therefore unreliable.1 Critic, Bart Ehrman goes onto discredit the Bible by alleging that there are numerous discrepancies within the New Testament manuscripts, 400,000 to be precise. It has been said that these are very important differences that are so drastic that they change the entire meaning, including altering fundamental Christian doctrines. Dan Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts points out that such criticism is completely unwarranted and he explains why.2

In my last blog, I pointed out that of the New Testament manuscripts, there are over 5,700 in Greek, 10,000 Latin and counting, not to mention all of the citations from the early church fathers. This being the case, according to Wallace, we should not be surprised to discover manuscript errors. He claims 400,00 is actually low, considering the 'embarrassing amount of riches' in manuscripts. Furthermore, Wallace and others have argued that these changes are fairly insignificant. A few cases in point: There are 16 different Greek variations to say that Jesus loves John, without changing the meaning. One particular manuscript shows signs of the monk growing tired as he copied, misspelling words and the like.

  1. Of the New Testament manuscript variants, 75 to 80% are simple spelling errors.
  2. The next largest category contain changes that can’t be translated; synonyms.
  3. The third category include variations that impact the meaning, but are not viable.
  4. The final category represents less than one percent of the variants and include changes that are both meaningful and viable. For example, the last 12 verses in Mark's Gospel is not found in the N.T. Manuscripts, prior to the fifth century. One of the most beloved passages (John 7:53-8:11), where the woman is caught in adultery is also omitted from the earliest manuscripts.3
The bottom line is that no viable changes that are meaningful, change or effect any major Christian doctrine or contradict any early creed. Of course, there is the exception of snake handling churches who want to take Mark 16:18 literally; however, I do not know of any Christian scholar who takes this sect seriously. There are, however, those who reject the earlier manuscripts in favor of the majority texts, as defended particularly by some King James only proponents.


1 While this remains a subject of interest among many skeptics as well as believers, it has been examined at great length over the years by many Bible scholars and historians. In the MP3 link below, Craig Keener discuses his book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, in which he summarizes a few basic important points on the matter.
2 Reinventing Jesus, Daniel B. Wallace, J. Ed Komoszewski and M. James Sawyer. Justin Taylor conducted an interview with Wallace which is available here:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Manuscript Authority and the New Testament

Is the New Testament really that reliable? Scholars such as Dan Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts,1 Darrell Bock, Ben Witherington III and Craig Keener have been answering the recent attacks by New Testament critics.

A manuscript is a handwritten copy of an ancient document. There are over 5,700 Greek New Testament Manuscripts. Some are fragments or individual books. There are 60 complete copies of the entire N.T. in Greek. They have also found over 10,000 Latin manuscripts of the N.T.

An autograph copy is the original document that was written by the author. There are no known autographs of any ancient writing, including the Bible. Nevertheless, as manuscripts continue to roll in, the earliest New Testament fragment spans less then 50 years from the original. Furthermore, ten to fifteen more manuscripts' dates fall into the second century. The earliest complete manuscript is dated at 350 A.D.2

Other ancient literature doesn't even compare with the N.T. in manuscript authority. Homer's Iliad ranks second to the Bible with a 500 year gap between the original autograph and the earliest manuscript copy, dating at 400 B.C., with 643 manuscripts. At the approximate time when the books in the N.T. were being written, Pliny wrote his History with a 750 year gap, dating at 850 A.D., of which there are only 7 manuscripts.3

There are also a number of early quotations from the early church. Between the first and thirteenth century, one million such quotations exist. “...there are 32,000 quotations from the New Testament found in writings from before the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. (Josh Mcdowell Evidence, 1972:52). J. Harold Greenlee points out that the quotations of the scripture in the works of the early church writers are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts.”4

Reinventing Jesus by Daniel Wallace, J. Ed Komoszewski and M. James Sawyer