The Roots of the King James Bible
By Reed Benson
There was a time in the English speaking world when it was possible to take your Bible, enter virtually any Christian congregation, and follow along word for word as the minister read from his Bible. Oh, for the good old days! Today, a typical congregation offers a wide assortment of translations, each one allegedly purported to be Godís Word. The truth is, they cannot be Godís Word! While in some passages there may be a certain degree of agreement, other passages vary greatly, even to the point of being entirely omitted in some translations. So which one is Godís Word? Every word is important as indicated by Psalms 12:6-7: "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." So in our generation, which of the plethora of Bibles is Godís Word? The answer is: the same one God has preserved for the English speaking world for the last 400 years, the Authorized King James Bible. The other translations may be fine commentaries, but there is only one translation that has been preserved in perfection for this time in history. An examination of the source documents of the Authorized Version will reveal that it alone has the evidence to sustain the claim of Holy Bible.
This discussion is based upon two key premises: first, the Doctrine of Divine Inspiration (II Peter 1:21), and second, the doctrine of Providential Preservation (Isaiah 40:8, Psalms 111:7-8). The former asserts that God caused His thoughts to be perfectly recorded for the benefit of His people, while the latter simply states that Gad exercised sovereignty in preserving His written Word on an uncorrupted form through every generation. Without these foundational concepts in place, there is no hope of establishing any translation, manuscript, or doctrine as a source of unchanging truth.
The Old Testament Canon
The text of the Law was accurately kept by virtue of the Levitical priesthood, as they were charged to do: "And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished. That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, Take this book of the law and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee" (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). After the return from the Babylonian exile, the priesthood under the leadership of Ezra and the work of the Holy Spirit collected the Law and the Prophets and zealously preserved them. This was the canonization of them. This was the canonization of the Old Testament, and became known as the Traditional Hebrew Text or the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic Text was preserved through extraordinary pains by the Masoretes, the scribes who contrived many unique methods to be certain that every word, syllable, and letter was accurately transcribed. In this form it was preserved until 1488, when the entire Hebrew Text was printed for the first time. Virtually all surviving copies of the Masoretic Text are identical to one another, thus showing tremendous consistency. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves of Qumran in 1947 has vindicated the confidence that we can place in the Hebrew Text. There is practically total agreement between the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated second century B.C.) and the existing copies of the Masoretic Text. Thus, the Hebrew Masoretic Text was the vehicle that God used to preserve His Word through the ages. Concerning ancient languages, this was the primary source document that the translators of the Authorized Version used to produce the Old Testament Canon.
The other primary contender to being Godís vehicle in preserving the Old Testament canon is the Greek Septuagint. One must not exalt the Septuagint above the Masoretic due to its cloudy origin. While the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Text, may have been of benefit to some, the manuscript evidence supporting its legitimacy is sketchier than the Masoretic. It was allegedly translated in Egypt in the third century B.C. by a committee of 72 scholars. However, there are no manuscripts to verify this activity. The oldest evidence of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Text is a fragment that contains only six chapters of Deuteronomy, known as Rylandís papyrus, dated 150 B.C. Besides this, the only other evidence is Origenís Hexapla, written around A.D. 200. Many modern translations rely heavily on the Septuagint, rather than the Masoretic, which is not wise. Stay on solid ground with the Traditional Hebrew Text.
The New Testament Canon and the Textus Receptus
There were many early disputes as to what should be included in the New Testament Canon, but ultimately, by the forth century A.D., this issue had been resolved. In the days prior to the printing press, manuscripts still had to be laboriously copied by hand. The Apostolic Church was essentially Greek speaking, thus most of these manuscripts were Greek. Quite a large number, over 5,200, of these manuscripts have survived. All of the Greek manuscripts can be divided into several groups. The first group, which comprises approximately 90% of all Greek manuscripts, is the Traditional Greek Text, also known as the Majority Text or Byzantine Text. This group is well established in reliability and is certainly quite ancient ability due to the fact that the missionary Ulfias made a Gothic translation of the Bible from this group of texts in about A.D. 350. Because the Authorized Version springs from this source, it can be considered to possess a sound textual foundation.
The other major group of Greek Texts that is significant is the Alexandrian text. It is major only on recent popularity, not in the number of surviving manuscripts. In fact, there are very few important Alexandrian manuscripts! Supposedly of great age, two of these manuscripts first became available in the 1860s. They are Codex B (Vaticanus) and Codex Aleph (Sinaiticus). Virtually all of the most modern English translations stem from these two manuscripts. This is a very tragic situation, because aside from foolish decision to disregard the multitudes of other manuscripts (Traditional Text) and only use these two, they are poor choices at that! In the Gospels alone, there are 3,000 real differences between Aleph and B, thus they do not even agree with each other! Over the centuries Aleph has endured the corrections, alterations, and scribblings of at least ten different scribes in its margins. Codex B is no trustworthier. A case in point is the disputed series of verses in Mark 16:9-20. Many critics claim these verses do not belong in the Bible because they are not present in B. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. The older manuscript from which B was copied undoubtedly did contain these twelve verses. The scribe doing the copying was apparently instructed to leave them outóand he did so: but left a space where they should have been! This is nor only a testimony against the disputed verses, but rather an argument for their authenticity! We must therefore reject Aleph and B, and all other Alexandrian manuscripts (the others are even less reliable). Any English Bibles stemming from this source cannot be trusted!
The Traditional Greek text was not condemned to forever exist only in manuscript form. It was published using the relatively new invention of the printing press in 1516, and eventually became known as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text. The renowned scholar Erasmus was the editor of the first of the first edition. In all, he published five editions of the Greek New Testament. God, in His providence, continued to extend the need and use of the printed Greek Text. Other godly scholars were raised to meet this need: Robert Stephanus, Theodore Beza, and the Elzevir family. By the time of its last printing, it truly was the Received Text, trusted and accepted by all followers of the Common Faith of Jesus Christ.
The first printed English version of the Bible was that of William Tyndale. In 1524 he traveled to Europe and translated the New Testament from Erasmusí recently printed Greek Text. These were secretly disseminated the Old Testament from the Traditional Hebrew Text before he was apprehended and executed. Later, there were a number of English versions published in the 1500s which used Tyndaleís Bible as their basis: Coverdaleís, Matthewís, the Great Bible, the Geneva, and the Bishopís Bible. At the request of the minority Puritans, King James I of England commissioned forty-seven of the finest Hebrew and Greek scholars to begin work an on a new translation in the year 1604. They were divided into six companies that worked separately and each reviewed the work of the others. Tyndaleís version and the Bishopís Bible were used, but they were scrupulously compared with the Traditional Hebrew Text and the Textus Receptus. Two editions were published in 1611, with others following later. The differences in the later editions were typestyle, spelling, punctuation, and italicized words. Therefore, in real terms, a 1611 edition is the same as a modern edition in matters of concern.
The question then to be answered is: why does the Authorized King James Version stand alone as the Holy Bible?
First, it is the only translation commissioned by a Davidic king. James was not sinless, but he was not a sodomite as some claim, and he was literal descendant of David ruling over Israel in dispersion. No other translation has such authority behind it.
Second, it is the only translation that has stood the test of time. While the earlier English versions are acceptable due to their reliable source documents, it is clear that the Authorized Version has superseded them, as most are not even available. For over 300 years, the term Bible meant the King James Version for virtually all English-speaking people the world over. At was produced at a time when Western culture was flowering. It phraseology, rhythm, and meter represent the peak of the English language.
Third, it is the only modern translation that uses both the Traditional Hebrew (Masoretic) text and the Textus Receptus. The earlier English versions meet this standard but are really no longer a practical choice. All other available English translations are based on corrupted Alexandrian manuscripts. Two humanist scholars, Westcott and Hort, popularized this faulty school of thought when they produced the Revised Version in 1881. All of the following translations (plus many more) continued in this pattern of using the Alexandrian texts and abandoning the Traditional Greek Texts and Textus Receptus: Revised Version, ASV, RSV, NASV, NIV, DE Version, Todayís English Version, Good News for Modern Man, New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Ferrar Fenton, Amplified, Restoration, Living and many others. These are nothing more than commentaries; they are not the Holy Bible!
May we return as a people to the unity we once enjoyed in using the pure Word of God. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8).