Concerning the KJV and Other English Translations

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I was saved back in 1964, and since then I have used the KJV in my personal study, witnessing, and preaching.  No doubt, it will be the translation that I use until I leave this planet.  It is indeed the Word of God.

However, I must also in good conscience declare that I sincerely believe that there are other English translations of the Bible that are trustworthy and reliable.  I know that many good people do not agree with me on this issue.  In fact, some disagree so strongly that they criticize my ministry and even break fellowship with me.  It is for these good folks that I now write this blog. My prayer is that my thoughts will be clear and helpful for these dear friends.  I am not picking a fight. My desire is to generate light—not heat, so please read and carefully consider my thoughts. Thank you.

I take this position on the KJV and other good English translations because the KJV does not say that it (the KJV) is the only reliable English translation of Scripture. In fact, no Bible in any language makes that claim for itself—including Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic Bibles.  If no Bible in any language makes that claim, it would be unwise for me to believe otherwise, and it would be irresponsible for me to teach otherwise. Yes, God’s Word assures us that He preserved His Word, but it does not tell us how He did so. Thankfully, even though God did not give us this information within the pages of Scripture, He left the footprints of His providence in the sands of time so that we (along with scholars) can clearly observe how He preserved His Word. Those footprints assure us that we have in our Bibles what God inspired the Apostles and Prophets to write.

Yes, I am aware of the many books and blogs that teach that the KJV is the only Word of God in the English language. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who spend time and money promoting that point of view. Nevertheless, I believe that they are teaching (as dogma) something that is not in the Bible. Here’s the bottom line: The “KJV Only” position is not taught in the KJV—period!

One of the reasons that many good people teach a “KJV Only” doctrine is because they believe that the existence of more than one English translation will confuse people and cause them to ask:  “Which Bible is the real Bible?” I fully understand that concern, but the solution to this potential problem is not to dogmatically preach that the KJV is the only “real Bible” because the KJV doesn’t even say that!  In fact, even the translators of the KJV did not believe that the KJV was the “only reliable English Bible”.  Here’s what they wrote in the Preface to the 1611 Edition: “…wee affirme and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set foorth by men of our profession (for wee have seene none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.” So the solution is not to make unfounded assertions about the KJV. The solution is to draw attention to the marvelous footprints of God’s providence that can be traced in the sands of time.  When people observe God’s sovereign, providential path for the preservation of His Word, they will rejoice in the wonderful assurance that we do indeed have the Word of God preserved for us today in more than one English translation. Please take a few moments to stroll with me down the trail of God’s providence. Let’s observe together the marvelous footprints of His sovereign plan.  In my effort to guide you, I will propose questions and will then do my best to answer them. OK, got your boots, bug spray, and Bible ready?  Good…let’s begin!

If we do not have any of the original manuscripts (the physical materials that the apostles and prophets handled with their own hands), how do we know that our Bibles are accurate?   Of course we know that God loves us; so by faith, we are assured that He preserved His Word for us.  However, God also graciously provided tangible evidence to strengthen our faith.  He chose to preserve His Word in many thousands of ancient manuscripts that have been discovered in many different locations down through history.  He did this so that historians and theologians can compare these manuscripts with our present translations and assure us that we indeed have the information that God gave to the Apostles and Prophets.

Which manuscripts are best? Some Bible teachers say that the manuscripts used for compiling and supporting the KJV are so numerous (and from so many sources) that they surely must be the best ones. In fact, some of these teachers say that any manuscripts other than these are “corrupt”.  Other Bible teachers say that the manuscripts used for compiling and supporting modern English translations are best because even though they are not as numerous, they are much older and closer to the original writings of the Apostles and Prophets. So let’s see. Some are saying “more is better” and others saying “older is better”.  Who is correct?  As I understand it, both “more” and “older” are blessings from God! The many manuscripts (that aren’t quite as old as the “older” manuscripts) provide ample, clear, verifiable evidence that God preserved His Word in many copies and in many locations.  The fewer “older” manuscripts (dated closer to the time of Jesus and the Apostles) shrink the time gap between the originals and copies of the originals, and thus provide additional proof that God preserved His Word.  All of the manuscripts together help demonstrate the superior quality of evidence for the reliability of our New Testament. We are swimming in datable, ancient manuscripts from many locations that authenticate the reliability of several present-day, English Bibles.  So why argue (and cause confusion) about which ones are “better” or “more reliable”?  Why not just rejoice because of the thousands of manuscripts that God providentially preserved for us? (For detailed information on this, study the article “Manuscript Evidence for Superior New Testament Reliability” at the end of this blog.)

What about the differences in the manuscripts and translations? Be assured of this: None of the differences in the manuscripts change any doctrine of Biblical Christianity.  All the manuscripts testify to the veracity of every doctrine of Biblical Christianity.  (Take time to read a helpful article entitled “Concerning Textual Criticism”. You will find it just after my comments in this blog.)

Doesn’t God care about specific, accurate wordings?  Yes He does.  However, just as long as a translation accurately reflects what God said, it is my belief that God has preserved His Word in that translation. Jesus is my example here. He quoted from the Old Testament, and when He did, He quoted from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—the Septuagint. Even though there are minor, insignificant differences between the wording in the Hebrew Old Testament and the wording in the Septuagint, Jesus still quoted them as the very Words of God. If Jesus wasn’t concerned about the wording differences, why should we be upset about insignificant differences in reliable English translations today?  (See http://www.gotquestions.org/septuagint.html and http://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/what-language-did-jesus-read-in/)  Think about it…God could have miraculously caused every scribe from the first century until the 15th century (when the printing press was invented) to copy the exact same thing without any variations. All the ancient texts would have been exactly the same—but He didn’t do it that way.  The scribes did not act without error; only the original writers were without error.  God inspired His Word miraculously; He preserved His Word providentially.   So why didn’t God do a miracle and keep the copyists from making mistakes?   He didn’t do it that way because He wanted the ancient copies of the Bible (including the variations in them) to be studied and verified just like all secular, ancient manuscripts are studied and verified. If God had caused every scribe to make perfect copies every time, it would look like the dishonest work of a defense lawyer who instructs every witness to say exactly the same thing using the exact same words.  In that scenario, the judge and jury would clearly discern that the witnesses were just parroting what they had been told to say and would therefore reject their testimonies.  So God providentially provided believable, objective, verifiable, evidence (thousands of manuscripts) in the footprints of time so that scholars could examine, compare, and collate the texts and thus PROVE that our Bibles accurately reflect the writings of apostles and prophets!

Don’t the modern translations “leave out” words and phrases?  Sometimes the modern translations have fewer words in certain places—but to say that they “leave out” words or phrases implies that copiers and translators deliberately omitted portions of God’s Word when in reality, they were doing their best to accurately reflect the older, ancient manuscripts.  Remember, no Bible doctrine is omitted or diminished by reliable modern translations.  In fact, sometimes, modern translations give a more accurate picture of what was found in the original languages than the KJV does.  Here’s just one example: Example: The KJV says in II Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”  The ESV says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” In this verse, the ESV is a more accurate translation than the KJV. Does that mean that the KJV is a “New Age Bible” or that it is “corrupt”? No. Does this mean that the ESV is a better translation than the KJV? Not necessarily. It just means that in this particular verse, the ESV rendered a more precise translation of the Greek words that Paul actually used.

Can’t there be an exact, word-for-word translation from the original languages? Anyone who speaks more than one language knows that an exact, readable “word-for-word” translation from one language to another language is impossible to produce.  So then, what is a good translation? A good translation is one that accurately reflects (as closely as possible) the exact wording of the original, and at the same time is comfortably readable in the receptor language.

What about the reputation of the translators?  I’ve heard that some believed in baptismal regeneration, and some were Roman Catholics. Here are the facts: The Greek text used for modern translations was compiled by men who believed in infant baptism.  The Greek text used for the KJV translation was compiled by a Roman Catholic who was devoted to Romanist doctrine.  Shall we reject both texts because we differ doctrinally from the scholars that compiled them? Of course not. (By the way, please don’t fall into the trap of despising the work of scholars; without them, we would not have the KJV!)

I’ve heard that some manuscripts were found in Egypt. Isn’t Egypt a type of the world?  Some ancient texts were found in Egypt; others were found in Europe and elsewhere.  But think about it. Jesus spent the first couple years of His life in Egypt! Does it really make a difference regarding who handled the texts or where they were found?  It makes a difference only if the translators and handlers were dishonest, but it does not make a difference if the translators and handlers did the best they could to honestly preserve the text and translate it accurately—which they did.

I’ve heard that few if any modernist churches use the KJV. Shouldn’t we be separate from them?  Well, if we employ that reasoning, we should reject the KJV because the Mormons use it!

What about paraphrases?  Paraphrases are sometimes useful as mini-commentaries but are not as reliable as reasonably readable translations (such as the KJV, the English Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible) that adhere as closely as possible to word-for-word translations of the text.

So which translation do I recommend? The godly scholars that I know recommend the KJV, the ESV, and the NASB. There may be other good translations, but I am hesitant to endorse them without being certain. Thanks for reading this blog. Your feedback is certainly welcomed.  Email me at: seniorpastor@bbcwaky.com


 

Concerning Textual Criticism

Much has been said about “textual criticism”.  Just what does the term “textual criticism” mean?  Some folks believe that it means that scholars criticize the Bible, but that is not what is meant.  Perhaps a better term could be used.  How about “textual analysis”?  Let’s go with this second term.  Now, read the story below (from www.str.org) and learn how good and godly scholars have handled the ancient texts of the Bible.

Pretend your Aunt Sally learns in a dream the recipe for an elixir that preserves her youth. When she wakes up, she scribbles the directions on a scrap of paper, then runs to the kitchen to make up her first glass. In a few days Aunt Sally is transformed into a picture of radiant youth because of her daily dose of “Sally’s Secret Sauce.”

Aunt Sally is so excited she sends detailed, hand-written instructions on how to make the sauce to her three bridge partners (Aunt Sally is still in the technological dark ages — no photocopier or email). They, in turn, make copies for ten of their own friends. That makes 33 copies in all—plus the original (autograph).

All goes well until one day Aunt Sally’s pet schnauzer eats the original copy of the recipe. In a panic she contacts her three friends who have mysteriously suffered similar mishaps, so the alarm goes out to the others in attempt to recover the original wording.

Sally rounds up all the surviving hand-written copies. Only 26 can be found. When she spreads them out on the kitchen table, she immediately notices some differences.

Twenty-three of the copies are exactly the same.

Of the remaining three, however, one has misspelled words.

Another has two phrases inverted (“mix then chop” instead of “chop then mix”).

And one adds an ingredient none of the others has on its list.

Do you think Aunt Sally can accurately reconstruct her original recipe from this evidence? Of course she can. The misspellings are obvious errors. The single inverted phrase stands out and can easily be repaired. Sally would then strike the extra ingredient, reasoning it’s more plausible one person would add an item in error than 25 people would accidentally omit it.

Even if the variations were more numerous or more diverse, the original could still be reconstructed with a high level of confidence if Sally had enough copies.

The Variants in the New Testament Manuscripts Are Minimal

In the many thousands of manuscript copies we possess of the New Testament, scholars have discovered that there are some 150,000 “variants.”

This may seem like a staggering figure to the uninformed mind.

But to those who study the issue, the numbers are not so damning as it may initially appear.

Indeed, a look at the hard evidence shows that the New Testament manuscripts are amazingly accurate and trustworthy.

To begin, we must emphasize that out of these 150,000 variants, 99 percent hold virtually no significance whatsoever. Many of these variants simply involve a missing letter in a word; some involve reversing the order of two words (such as “Christ Jesus” instead of “Jesus Christ”); some may involve the absence of one or more insignificant words.

Really, when all the facts are put on the table, only about 50 of the variants have any real significance– and even then, no doctrine of the Christian faith or any moral commandment is affected by them.

For more than ninety-nine percent of the cases the original text can be reconstructed to a practical certainty.

Even in the few cases where some perplexity remains, this does not impinge on the meaning of Scripture to the point of clouding a tenet of the faith or a mandate of life.

Thus, in the Bible as we have it (and as it is conveyed to us through faithful translations) we do have for practical purposes the very Word of God, inasmuch as the manuscripts do convey to us the complete vital truth of the originals.

By practicing the science of textual criticism–comparing all the available manuscripts with each other–we can come to an assurance regarding what the original document must have said.

So, let’s engage in a little textual criticism ourselves.

Let us suppose you have eight manuscript copies of an original document that no longer exists. You have collected these manuscripts from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Each of the manuscript copies is different from the others. (Some were handled by homosexuals, some were handled by Roman Catholic Priests, and some were handled by Baptists.) Your goal is to compare the manuscript copies and ascertain what the original must have said. Can you do it? Study the eight copies and write out what you think the original copy said

Manuscript #1: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole worl.

Manuscript #2: Christ Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.

Manuscript #3: Jesus Christ s the Savior of the whole world.

Manuscript #4: Jesus Christ is th Savior of the whle world.

Manuscript #5: Jesus Christ is the Savor of the whole wrld.

Manuscript #6:  Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

Manuscript #7:  Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole wide world.

Manuscript #8:  The Savior of the whole world is Christ Jesus the Lord.

NOW THINK ABOUT IT.  DID THE VARIATIONS CONFUSE YOU? I DOUBT IT.  DID YOUR STUDY OF THE VARIATIONS CONVINCE YOU THAT YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT THE ORIGINAL SAID? I SUSPECT THAT IT DID.  SO, CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE JUST PASSED THE FIRST TEST FOR BEING A TEXTUAL CRITIC—OOPS, I MEAN A “TEXTUAL EVALUATOR”! (DH)


 

Manuscript Evidence for Superior New Testament Reliability

Author Date
Written
Earliest Copy Approximate Time Span between  original & copy Number of Copies
 Lucretius died 55 or 53 B.C. 1100 yrs 2
 Pliny (the younger) 61-113 A.D. 850 A.D. 750 yrs 7
 Plato 427-347 B.C. 900 A.D. 1200 yrs 7
 Demosthenes 4th Cent. B.C. 1100 A.D. 800 yrs 8
 Herodotus 480-425 B.C. 900 A.D. 1300 yrs 8
 Suetonius 75-160 A.D. 950 A.D. 800 yrs 8
 Thucydides 460-400 B.C. 900 A.D. 1300 yrs 8
 Euripides 480-406 B.C. 1100 A.D. 1300 yrs 9
 Aristophanes 450-385 B.C. 900 A.D. 1200 10
 Caesar Gaius 100-44 B.C. 900 A.D. 1000 10
 Livy 59 BC-AD 17 —- ??? 20
 Tacitus Publius Cornelius circa 100 A.D. 1100 A.D. 1000 yrs 20
 Aristotle 384-322 B.C. 1100 A.D. 1400 49
 Sophocles 496-406 B.C. 1000 A.D. 1400 yrs 193
 Homer (Iliad) 900 B.C. 400 B.C. 500 yrs 643
 New
Testament
1st Cent. A.D. (50-100 A.D. 2nd Cent. A.D.
(c. 130 A.D. f.)
60 – 150 years 5686

The New Testament is constantly under attack and its reliability and accuracy are often contested by critics.  But, if the critics want to disregard the New Testament, then they must also disregard other ancient writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.  This is because the New Testament documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writing.  Because the copies are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy.  This process has determined that the biblical documents are extremely consistent and accurate.

The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John’s gospel dated in the year 125-135 contains portions of John 18, verses 31-33,37-38.  This fragment was found in Egypt.  This means that the time span between the original writing of John and its earliest copy (fragment) is less than 60 years.
There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament.

In addition there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages.  The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.  These manuscript copies are very ancient and they are available for inspection now.

There are also some 86,000 quotations from the early church fathers.  In fact, if we did not have a single copy of the Bible, scholars could still reconstruct all but 11 verses of the entire New Testament from material written within 150 to 200 years from the time of Christ. There are also several thousand manuscripts of Lectionaries (church-service books containing Scripture quotations used in the early centuries of Christianity).

No other book is even a close second to the Bible on either the number or early dating of the copies. The average secular work from antiquity survives on only a handful of manuscripts; the New Testament boasts thousands.

The average gap between the original composition and the earliest copy is over 1,000 years for other books. The New Testament, however, has a fragment within one generation from its original composition, whole books within about 100 years from the time of the autograph (original manuscript), most of the New Testament in less than 200 years, and the entire New Testament within 205 years from the date of its completion.   www.carm.org