The King James Only Controversy. Separating Fact From Fiction.
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Separating Fact From Fiction
Texe Marrs: “James White, a boastful King James Bible opponent, continues on his baseless crusade to bash King James only believers. It makes for a rather sad spectacle to observe critics of the King James Bible like Mr. White humiliate themselves and show disrespect for servants of God. I am praying he will be given a repentant heart and know the grave damage he is doing to the kingdom of our Saviour.” Elsewhere, Marrs calls White “a servant of Satan” and “a devil.”
Gail Riplinger, author of New Age Bible Versions, calls White “a rude, crude heretic” and a “serial soul-killer.”
1 Timothy 3:16, KJV:
without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh….
But look at the NASB:
By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh,
A test for all the folks using an NIV in the audience: Don’t think there’s really much of a difference? Think your translation is just “easier to read”? OK, let’s say you are sitting in your front room with a Mormon missionary, and he takes out his Bible (KJV) and asks you to read with him from John 5:4. Go ahead, look it up. What will you do?
But the defenders of the modern translations are not without their arguments as well. There are many issues one can raise in looking at the KJV. Let’s look at a few examples:
First, remember the appearance of “God” at 1 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV? Well, look at this:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
But the NRSV reads:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
In the same way, the KJV agrees with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ NWT in not having a reference of prayer to Christ at John 14:14. Modern translations agree that here the Lord speaks of prayer to Himself, while the KJV lacks the word “me” in the phrase “If you ask ME anything in my name…”
NASB: “If you ask ME anything….”
KJV: “If you ask anything….”
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
But the NASB:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
NASB, 1 John 3:1:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.
But Look at the KJV!
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God:
What happened to adoption as sons?
But, in reality, there is no conspiracy involved on either side. There are simple, logical reasons why there are differences in translations. Unfortunately, few people take the time to learn the backgrounds of the Bible, hence, they are easily misled and upset by variations that are perfectly understandable and do not indicate any kind of evil intention or corruption.
Let’s look at some of the passages cited above and see…
Let’s start with 1 Timothy 3:16, one of the favorite passages of KJV Only advocates. To understand why modern translations differ from the KJV/NKJV, we need to know something about the texts from which these translations came. The KJV/ NKJV NT’s are based upon a 16th century Greek text known today as the “Textus Receptus.” Modern trans-lations are based upon the Nestle-Aland Greek text of this century.
The “Textus Receptus” represents what is called the “Byzantine” family of manuscripts. These manuscripts constitute 4/5th of the extant Greek texts in our possession. Yet, the vast majority of them come from the 10th through 15th centuries. That is, they represent the later, ecclesiastical text, rather than the more primitive text of the first centuries. This is the “Majority Text,” though the TR differs in over 1800 places from the “Majority Text” type.
What was the “Majority Text” during the First Millennium?
Around the 9th century the minuscule text became predominant, which is very similar to our modern texts:
Dikaiwqe,ntej ou=n evk pi,stewj eivrh,nhn e;comen pro.j to.n qeo.n dia. tou/ kuri,ou h`mw/n VIhsou/
The “Textus Receptus” was created by the work of a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, the “Prince of the Humanists,” Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus printed and published the first edition of the Greek NT in 1516. The 3rd edition of his text was particularly influential. A total of five editions came from him; after him, Stephanus (1555) and Beza (1598) edited the work, and it was used by the KJV translators for their NT (1604-1611).
Modern texts, however, are based upon an “eclectic” text that draws from a wider variety of sources than the TR, including manuscripts unknown in the days of Erasmus. Some of the papyri manuscripts used in the modern Nestle-Aland 27th edition date to as early as AD 125. But these different sources, being more primitive, do not show the effect of long-term transcription seen in the Byzantine texts, and hence are not as “full” as the TR.
When we speak of textual differences between the TR and modern texts, we need to immediately emphasize something that is often lost in the debate. There is no doctrine of the Christian faith that is based upon any single text; and no doctrine of the faith is changed or altered by any variation of the text. If one applies the same rules of exegesis to the TR and the NA 27th edition, the results will be the same. The variations do not change the message.
The difference between the two passages, as they would have been written originally, would be:
The difference between the two passages, as they would have been written originally, would be:
= He who
KJV Only literature abounds with examples of circular argumentation at this point. Keep in mind that for the vast majority of KJV Only advocates, this is the starting point in their thought:
The King James Bible ALONE
The Word of God ALONE
When we realize this, we can understand why they argue as they do.
The result of this mindset is seen in the language used in this debate: instead of asking “What did John or Paul or Peter originally write” we hear about how modern translations have REMOVED this or DELETED that or ADDED this or CHANGED that. All these loaded words assume that the KJV is the standard by which all others are to be judged. Some KJV Only folks go so far as to say the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts themselves must be judged by comparison with the KJV!
How about John 5:4? This passage is not only omitted by P66, P75, a, B and others, but even in the manuscripts where it does appear, there are a number of variants within the text, and some even mark the passage with asterisks or obeli. Most likely this was a marginal note, an explanation, written in an early manuscript and accidentally inserted into a later copy by a copyist who thought it was a part of the original text.
The earliest manuscripts of John, P66 and P75 (papyri manuscripts dating around AD 200), as well as two of the earliest uncial manuscripts, a and B, (i.e. Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) all read, monogenh.j qeo.j, literally, “unique God” or “the only Son who is God.” The bulk of later manuscripts read monogenh.j ui`o,j, “only-begotten Son.” The KJV, following the TR, reads “son.”
But some insist that the literal rendering, “only-begotten God,” actually undercuts the deity of Christ, hence, “it can’t be right.” Allegations of “gnostic corruption” abound in KJV Only books. But this is determining the text of Scripture not on the basis of the best evidence available, but on the basis of one’s own ideas of theology. In point of fact, the phrase does NOT necessitate any idea of inferiority regarding Christ: in fact, while the phrase “only-begotten Son” was prevalent in gnostic writings, the phrase “unique God” does not appear in the extant gnostic literature from the time period.
1 John 3:1 is an excellent example of a simple scribal error, an error of sight that is common to us all. Look at the passage in Greek:
i;dete potaph.n avga,phn de,dwken h`mi/n o` path.r( i[na te,kna qeou/ klhqw/men( kai. evsme,nÅ
You don’t have to know Greek to see how an error could be made here. Look at the last three words:
klhqw/men( kai. evsme,nÅ
klhqw/men( kai. evsme,n
Just as we often inadvertently skip something when our eyes come back to what we are copying because two words end in a similar ending, such as “-ing” or “-tion,” so too an ancient scribe, upon writing klhqw/men then returned to the text and instead of starting there, saw evsme,nand inadvertently skipped the phrase.
In the same way, there is no “conspiracy” at John 14:14. Here the Alexandrian texts join with a large portion of the Byzantine texts in containing the word “me.” But a part of the Byzantine tradition does not contain the word, and this part underlies the TR. The Majority Text contains the reading “me” at this point, demonstrating that the TR is not identical to the Majority Text.
Likewise, Revelation 1:8, and the reference to “the Lord God” is another example of where the TR even departs from the entirety of the Byzantine manuscript tradition. The vast majority of texts, including the later ones, contain this reading.
The TR in the book of Revelation is particularly suspect. This is due to the fact that Erasmus rushed his work on the book and utilized only one manuscript of Revelation. As a result, entire words exist in the TR that are found nowhere else.
It is on the basis of passages such as this that KJV Only folks have identified the NIV as the “bloodless Bible.” But is such a charge true, accurate, and honest?
No, it is not. First, any person studying the passage might note that Ephesians and Colossians contain parallel passages. The parallel to Colossians 1:14 in Ephesians is found at Ephesians 1:7:
In reality the KJV here contains a reading that goes against not only the ancient manuscripts, but against the vast majority of all manuscripts, including the Byzantine. The earliest manuscript to contain the added phrase is from the 9th century. All of four manuscripts, all dating long after the original writing, contain the reading.
If KJV Only advocates were consistent with their arguments, they would reject this reading. Since they do not, they prove that they are arguing in circles.
This is nowhere more clearly seen than in the “textual emendation” found at Revelation 16:5. Even our hymns have been impacted by this textual variant. All Greek manuscripts, of whatever type, agree in reading as the NASB:
And I heard the angel of the waters saying, "Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things;
The key phrase is “O Holy One.” Compare the KJV:
And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.
Theodore Beza made a “conjectural emendation” at this point: that’s a change in the text that has no manuscript support. He felt that the text made more sense if it read “and shalt be” than “O Holy One,” and he thought the Greek words were similar enough in form to explain it.
That is, he felt that these two Greek words were close enough in form to allow him to change the text:
So against all manuscript evidence, this reading persists in the TR today, and we even sing the song, “who wert and art and evermore shalt be” without knowing our debt to Beza!
Which KJV do you have? And which one should be the “standard” we are to use?
Almost all KJV’s are actually the 1769 Blayney Revision of the AV, not the 1611. But, there are different kinds of KJV’s. The two most prevalent are the Oxford and Cambridge types. How can you tell which you have? Look at Jeremiah 34:16:
Well then, has God preserved His Word or not? That’s the question KJV Only folks always come back to. Unfortunately, they always seem to assume that unless you have a perfect English translation, you don’t have a perfect Bible. Of course, English did not come into existence until more than 1,000 years after the last words of Scripture were written. Hence, making a perfect English translation the standard is obviously an error.
Think of it this way: let’s say the Constitution of the US was translated into the language of a small island in the Pacific. How much sense would it make for someone on that island to take one particular translation of the Constitution, insist that this one translation is “the” standard, and then proclaim that unless this translation is perfect, then no perfect Constitution exists anywhere? Yet this is exactly what KJV Onlyism is saying!
How, then, has God preserved His Word? He has done so by making sure that the New Testament was so quickly distributed all over the known world that there was never a time when any one man/group/church could gather up all copies and make wholesale changes. By the third century entire manuscripts were already buried: if major changes were made after that time, they would be easily detectable by comparison with those earlier manuscripts.
This means we can disprove the claims of those who say the Bible has undergone wholesale editing and changes, such as Mormons, Muslims, atheists, New Agers, the Jesus Seminar, etc.
KJV Onlyism undercuts the most foundational elements of our defense of the veracity and accuracy of the Scriptures, all in an attempt to establish a “final authority” in an English translation!
So what are we to conclude? First and foremost that we don’t need conspiracy theories complicating our lives. There is no reason to embrace KJV Onlyism, for it is a system (a tradition) that must assume its conclusion to prove its conclusion. As such, it is not something that Christians, who love the truth, should wish to embrace.
Next, we recognize that the Lord has indeed preserved His Word, but He has done so in a way other than that assumed by KJV advocates.
And finally, that while there are modern translations that we could never recommend, it does not follow that we must go back to a venerable translation that exists in a language no one has spoken for hundreds of years. If we follow the Apostolic example, we will give the Word of God to people in a language that they can understand, not one that leaves them bewildered.