A graduate of Bethany College of Missions, Stan Schmidt and his wife Vangie worked with various churches in south India for one year. Presently working for the Bethany House Publishers, Stan has published three books in India for distribution among the pastors and other Christian workers, all with the focus on understanding and following the Word of God. Stan has written a large number of poems. Stan's poems speak about the saving grace and the glory of the Lord, and exhort the people to put their total trust in Him. A collection of his poems titled TELL ME IT'S TRUE ... A BOOK OF POEMS was published in Christian Literature and Living recently.
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IS THERE ONLY ONE VERSION?
1. KJV ONLY?
The issue of the King James Version of the Bible being God's only inspired version is vast indeed. I am not an expert by any means, but offer a few thoughts to guard those who are unaware and to convert those already given over to the KJV Only teaching. It is not just a little grievous to know that there are people promoting a philosophy, based upon bias, that divides and confuses the body of Christ. I challenge those who push this doctrine to think about 1 Corinthians 3:17, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him...." That verse is not talking about suicide, but the body of Christ. I see the KJV Only movement doing just that--dividing the church and confusing people. For the life of me, I cannot see one positive thing about that movement. How can it not encourage arrogance, elitism and judgmentalism as opposed to grace, mercy and unity?
John Sailhamer tells us how the KJV came about,
When Queen Elizabeth I died and James I succeeded her to the English throne, England had two versions of the Bible: the Bishop's Bible and the Geneva Bible. Anxious to preserve the unity of the church, the king wasted no time in commis- sioning a new 'authorized' translation. (p. 76)
It is fine to prefer the KJV because of it's style or because one was raised with it. However, it is conveyed by some that the KJV is based upon superior manuscripts and the new versions (NASB, NRSV, etc) are based upon inferior, if not maliciously corrupted manuscripts. Some, like Gail Riplinger, go so far as to say that the new versions are part of a New Age conspiracy. I have read her books and her lack of scholarship, lack of grace and lack of professionalism make her irrelevant as a legitimate voice on this issue.
Kenneth Barker has some key comments in regards to those who think that the KJV is the only pure form of God's Word,
It implies that knowledge--at least in the field of Bible translation-- ceased in 1611. It also creates a theological problem, for it implies that the sovereign, loving, gracious God has deprived the vast maj- ority of the world's people-groups of the only true, pure form of His Word. What about the millions who lived before 1611? Did they not have access to an acceptable form of God's Word? What about the hundred of millions who have lived since 1611 and the billions liv- ing today who have not had and do not have access to the KJV? Most of the world's peoples do not know, read, or speak English; so even if they had the KJV, it would not profit them. The KJV-only notion calls into question the tireless efforts of Wycliffe Bible Trans- lators and other translators (such as those with United Bible Soci- eties and International Bible Society) who have translated God's Word into hundreds of languages and have done so neither from the KJV nor from the New Testament Greek text it is based on. (p. 16)
The text-type of manuscripts used for the KJV is called Byzantine. The main text-type used for modern versions is called Alexandrian. Greenlee said that "....no text-type is infallible, but in general their order of reliability is first the Alexandrian" (p. 72). When speaking of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, two Alexandrian texts, Sailhamer says these fourth century codices, "preserve the purest form of the New Testament" (p. 55)
The Alexandrian text-type is the oldest, whereas the Byzantine was later. One argument is that the Byzantine copies were used more and therefore wore out, which is why we have no copies of them dating earlier than the fourth century. The problem with that is twofold. First, if they were worn out by constant usage, why did they not make more copies? Secondly, the early church fathers did not quote from a purely Byzantine text-type, "There are many volumes of writing by the ante-Nicene fathers, and not one of them unambiguously reflects the Byzantine textual tradition" (p. 45, Carson). So if the fathers were not wearing them out, who was?
The earlier the manuscript, the closer in time it is to the original, and therefore, may be more accurate. So even though there are more Byzantine manuscripts, the Alexandrian ones are older and should be taken into account as much or more than the Byzantine. Scholars think that manuscripts should be weighed (valued) and not counted as to their value in finding the original reading.
Let us say that we had 30 Pentecostals, 3 Lutherans and 3 Baptists. Would it conceivably give us a fair view of Christian theology to take each 36 opinions equally? Probably not. We need to weigh the 3 and 3 with the 30 as 3 equal groupings, not taken independently 36 ways. Otherwise we have a lopsided pespective. In the same way, just because the Byzantine text-type comprises the majority of manuscripts, does not mean that the Alexandrian text-type cannot have an equal say in the equation.
3. SOME HISTORY
It is interesting how things happen. When Jerome did the Latin Vulgate in the fourth century, he was creating a stir because of the deeply held convictions towards the Septuagint. Eventually, the Vulgate became the standard for a thousand years before Erasmus made his Greek New Testament which also created a stir against the standard Vulgate. Eventually, Erasmus' work, later known as the Textus Receptus (the KJV text), became the standard. So the standard that was replaced by the new, which became the standard, which was replaced by the new, which became the standard, and on we go.
Little by little over the next two or three centuries, strict adherence to the Textus Receptus diminished in favor of older and more solid manuscript evidence. White helps when he said,
Many of the EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS that are used today by KJV Only advocates were used AGAINST ERASMUS nearly 500 years ago! The very man to who AV [King James] defenders must defer for the vast majority of their New Testament text used the very same arguments and methodology to defend his work that modern textual scholars use to defend the readings of the NASB or NIV! (p. 53)
There are differences in each and every manuscript. There is not one exactly the same, not even in the Byzantine family. The KJV translators had to make choices, they were not infallible. Even Erasmus, who edited what would become the Textus Receptus, from which we get the KJV, changed his future editions after seeing superior readings in the Complutensian Polygot (a different text available a few years after Erasmus' 1516 edition). By the way, Erasmus quickly made his text in 1516 with only a few late manuscripts to work from. He even took some readings from the Latin Vulgate because he had no Greek manuscripts for the whole New Testament. Therefore, we have readings in the Textus Receptus that have no known Greek support.
The KJV did not fall out of the sky. Those human translators had to make choices as translators do today. Some KJV Only advocates may not like the term "textual criticism," but their own Erasmus used it too,
If KJV Only advocates were to be consistent, they would have to reject Erasmus' work, which is the basis for the KJV, on the VERY SAME GROUNDS as the modern translations. Anyone engaging in textual criticism is said to be 'judging God's Word,' yet Erasmus did the very same thing! Of course, they do not reject Erasmus' work, thereby demonstrating their system to be inconsistent and self-contradictory. (p. 60, White)
Variants are significant word or phrase differences in manuscripts. New versions are accused of omitting this phrase or that phrase. Actually, the scribes were more likely to add a word or phrase rather than remove one because they did not want to take out something that might be inspired. Therefore, it is probably more true that the KJV has added words more so than new versions have omitted words. Fee and Stuart comment that, "....for the New Testament, the only Greek text available to the 1611 translators was based on late manuscripts, which had accumulated the mistakes of over a thousand years of copying" (p. 34).
It also needs to be remembered that the KJV is not the standard. The originals are the standard. So when you hear that such and such versions leave out verses, remember that those people may be comparing the new versions with the KJV, not the Greek, which makes it a bogus argument. Since when do we compare all versions of God's Word to a seventeenth century English translation? Besides, even in those places where the new versions are "weak" on a certain doctrine because they have supposedly "omitted" something, that very doctrine is clear in many other verses in the new versions. My point is that the translators of the new versions are not part of some conspiracy to undermine God's truth. If they were trying to omit certain doctrines out the the Bible they would omit all the verses that pertain to that doctrine and not just one. Quite frankly, it is a childish and divisive accusation to say the new versions are purposefully corrupted. There is no evidence that malicious tampering was done. If changes were made, it was to clarify and make easier, not to alter the meaning. They are only taking all the available material and trying to ascertain what the originals said, i.e. textual criticism.
As an aside, there are different kinds of King James advocates. As I said earlier, some like it because of it's style and familiarity. Some go further and say it is the most accurate translation. Some go even further and say all other translations are corrupted. And still others go even futher and say they were corrupted on purpose.
It also should be remembered that to translate into another language (like Greek to English), something will be lost. It is impossible to translate exactly, language to language. Each language has different sentence structures, different singular and plural forms, different idioms and so on. That is why sometimes it is better to translate the meaning of the word or phrase instead of the exact word or phrase.
5. VARIANT EXAMPLES
There were no photo copy machines in those days and scribes were human, "No reasonable person can expect even the most conscientious copyist to achieve technical infallibility in transcribing his original document into a fresh copy" (p. 29 Archer). One example of differences occuring in manuscripts is when a scribe's eye returns to the source document he is copying from he skips a line because the next line also ends with the same word, thus omitting an entire line. Another scribal error is called harmonization. This is the "tendency to want the wordings of texts to agree, i.e., to be in harmony with one another" (p. 161, Patzia). Colossians 1:14 and Ephesians 1:7 are similar except that in the KJV the phrase "through his blood" is added in the Colossians verse. The accusation may be that the new versions are weak on the blood of Christ because they do not have the phrase in this particular verse. The truth is more that the KJV has "harmonized" and added the phrase, even though the manuscript evidence for it is weak. Maybe they added the phrase because of their familiarity with the Ephesians verse and put it in accidentally, or maybe they added it because they "thought" it should be there.
One major difference in the KJV as opposed to the new versions is 1 John 5:7-8 where the KJV has "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." The point is not whether this phrase is theologically accurate (it is), but was it in the original? The new versions do not have this section and for good reason as Barker points out,
The extra words in the KJV rendering of this passage are among the most poorly attested of all the disputed verses in the KJV and Textus Receptus. The addition is not found in any Greek manu- script or English translation until the sixteenth century, and most scholars agree that it is a forgery (p. 101)
6. SOME ENCOURAGING WORDS
The experts, through textual criticism, can see how many of the differences in manuscripts came to be and which ones are probably errors and which ones are original. Again, the shorter reading is usually preferred because scribes were more likely to add than to omit. Also, the more difficult reading was preferred because scribes were more likely to try and smooth a passage out rather than make it more difficult. Earlier manuscripts are usually preferred to late because they are closer to the original autographs. The reading that best explains the origin of the others is to be preferred. So, even though we have many variants, we can have confidence that we have virtually an exact copy of the originals. James White has a great illustration,
If you put ten people in a room and asked them all to copy the first five chapters of the Gospel of John, you would end up with ten 'different' copies of John....So you would end up with a lot of VARIANTS. But would you not have ten copies of the same book? Yes, you would, and by comparing all ten copies you could rather easily reproduce the text of the original, because when one person makes a mistake, the other nine are not likely to do so as the very same spot. (P. 38-39)
With that in mind, we can be encouraged when we pick up our Bibles that we have God's Word. Let us be honest, any of the main versions we utilize today are virtually the same. If there is a difference, it certainly does not affect any major Christian doctrine, regardless of what some KJV Only conspiracy theories say. It is sad that some KJV Only people are trying to find a conspiracy behind every bush by emphasizing the differences. They are only making mountains out of molehills.
The King James translators did a fine job, but their available manuscripts and their expertise in Greek were less than we have today. They, themselves, would not be King James Only people if they were alive today. We need to be mature in our thinking. I have to believe that the KJV Only people are either ignorant of the real facts because they listen to the wrong people or they are deceived or too proud to rationally look at the issues. Greenlee has a nice summation,
We see that in the thousands of manuscripts of the New Test- ament that were copied through the centuries and the millions of words they contain there are countless differences of words, word order, and word forms. Yet the evidence is clear that most of these differences are accidental or insignificant and that when scribes intentionally changed a text they usually did so to clarify or strengthen the meaning; there is virtually no evidence of a scribe intentionally trying to weaken or corrupt the text. We have seen, in addition, that by use of established and reasonable principles we can decide between variants in most instances and determine which is the original reading (p. 97)
I cannot go into all the details of this issue for lack of time and space and expertise. My purpose in this writing is to shed doubt on the KJV Only position because it is dogmatic and divisive, let alone misleading. If I have done that, I have succeeded. And for those not given over to that position I hope these pages have helped to augment your position against the KJV Only teaching. I want to close with Bruce Metzger's three reasons why we need new English versions,
Archer, Gleason. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan. 1982.
Barker, Kenneth L. The Accuracy of the NIV. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids. 1996.
Carson, D. A. The King James Version Debate. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids. 1979.
Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth. Zondervan. 1993.
Greenlee, Harold J. Scribes, Scrolls, & Scripture. WM.B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. 1985.
Metzger, Bruce M. The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content. Abingdon Press. 1983.
Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament. IVP: Downers Grove. 1995
Sailhamer, John. How We Got the Bible. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. 1998.
White, James R. The King James Only Controversy. Bethany House: Minneapolis. 1995.
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