The Textual Superiority of King James Bible
By Reed Benson
Any discussion regarding the best New Testament translation will require a careful analysis of the manuscript texts from which the modern translations are derived. This article is no different. However, the philosophical view one holds about God may very well determine the outcome of your analysis even before it begins. Let us therefore begin by considering the competing worldviews.
There are two different approaches to biblical textual criticism. The basic materials that are used (manuscripts, etc.) are the same for both methods, but the conclusions reached are quite different. The first and only proper way to evaluate the text of the Scripture is the Christian method. The Christian critic bases his interpretations on the doctrines of Divine Inspiration of the Bible and the Providential Preservation of the Bible. Very simply, the former asserts that God perfectly inspired His various authors to write down exactly what He wished without error. The latter asserts that God is fully capable of perfectly protecting His written words through the many centuries.
The second approach can be called the Naturalistic method. The Naturalistic critic assumes the Bible is just like any other ancient book, written and preserved by human efforts and nothing more. Since humans transcribed it through their own power alone, it is filled with many errors that scholars must ferret out. It is unfortunate, but the Naturalistic method has gained preeminence over the course of the past century.
It will be seen that the King James translation is the only readily available translation that was produced using the Christian method of textual criticism.
The real battleground between the Christian and the Naturalistic textual critics is over the New Testament, thus our attention must be given to the facts concerning which set of manuscripts one will adhere to as Godís pure Word.
Background Textual Issues
Despite early disputes, by the 4th century A.D. the books that were to be included in the New Testament Canon had been established by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the work of the eminant Church Fathers such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Jerome. By Godís providential care the New Testament was preserved through the hundreds of years in which the text had to be hand copied. Trustworthy copies of the original manuscripts were diligently and faithfully reproduced by sincere and godly men. These were then reproduced carefully down through the centuries by true believers. Unreliable versions were infrequently read and infrequently copied, for the demand for these versions was insignificant. Reliable manuscripts were read and reread until in the end they literally fell apart from use.
It is also important to note that none of the original autographs have survived. Why God in his providence chose not to preserve his Word using the originals one cannot say. The great bulk of the surviving manuscripts that have survived are Greek. These 5,200+ Greek manuscripts can be divided into two general groups.
The first is the Traditional or Byzantine Text, which comprises about 90% of all manuscripts. The second is the Alexandrian text. Its bragging point is that it is said by many to be older.
The Traditional text is the one the King James Bible ultimately stemmed from, so let us consider its strengths. A remarkable degree of consistency exists amongst this group of manuscripts since this was the version commonly in use in the Greek Church until 1453 and the fall of the city of Constantinople.
Although many of the manuscripts of the Traditional Greek New Testament text date from the Middle Ages there are a number of ancient manuscripts that prove the ancient nature and veracity of the Traditional Text. One of these is known as Codex W. A major portion of the gospels of Codex W has the text written in the manner of the Traditional text. Because of its well established great age (pre-400 A.D.) it disproves a hypothesis put forward to discredit the Traditional text, which is that the Traditional text was a fabricated version produced by a conference of scholars after 400 A.D. Also attesting to the antiquity of the Traditional text is Codex A, which dates from the 5th century, in which the gospels agree generally with the Traditional text. Another witness to the Traditional text is the Peshitta Syriac version of the New Testament which agrees almost completely with it. The Peshitta, originating in the 2nd century, is the ancient traditional version for the Syriac speaking Church. Still further evidence that the Traditional text is just as old as the Alexandrian manuscripts (if not older) is the translation of the Gothic version by Ulfilas in about 350 A.D. from the Traditional Greek text. Obviously, the Traditional Greek text had to have been in existence prior to his translation for the Israelitish Goths. But perhaps the strongest evidence that the Traditional Greek text is the true Greek version is the fact that 90% of the evidence in the form of manuscripts is on the side of this text. Are we to disregard 90% of the evidence?
The other grouping of the Greek New Testament manuscripts is the Alexandrian Text. The Alexandrian text is has many internal errors, one example being Luke 23:45: "And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the middle." The Alexandrian text replaces "And the sun was darkened" (the true text) with "the sun having become eclipsed." This is simply a rationalistic explanation that has been inserted to replace a miraculous darkness. But it is also impossible since at Passover time the moon is always fullóeclipses cannot occur during a full moon. Another important change is found in John 8:39. The Traditional text reads: "If ye were Abrahamís children, ye would do the works of Abraham." The Alexandrian text reads: "If ye are Abrahamís children, do the works of Abraham." The markedly affects the implications and intent of Christís statement by changing a condemnation into an exhortation. Errors such as these cast great doubt upon the Alexandrian text.
Traditional Text Is True Text
One needs to remember that the Alexandrian texts represent only a small fraction of all Greek New Testament manuscripts. How did theses false texts originate? The Alexandrian text was a departure from the True Text during the 2nd century. The men responsible for the Alexandrian text were grammarians and they sought to improve the style of the text. Their fear of unauthorized interpolations was so great however that they cut out genuine readings from the text. That is why the Alexandrian text is generally shorter than the Traditional Text. One might ask about the relatively recent discoveries of archaeologists who have claimed to found manuscripts more ancient than any others and therefore must be more reliable. There are two answers to this. First, ancient copies are not automatically superior as many might assume. How did they survive all these centuries? Chances are they survived because they were not used. Hand copied manuscripts were valued by virtue of their use. Reliable texts were read to pieces, while those that were unreliable found their way to some forgotten shelf in some nook in a monastery, waiting patiently for some future Biblical scholar to "discover" them. Second, we must recall that God has providentially preserved his Word that it might be available to all generations of his people. Are we to assume that the true text has been hidden away for some 1500 years only to come to light at this late date? How can we be sure that there will not be a "discovery" next year that will invalidate our present text? Is this how the sovereignty of God works? Did he miraculously inspire his thoughts only to squirrel them away from us in an obscure place? This is nonsense.
The Traditional Text, or Byzantine Text, of the Greek New Testament is the only true text. All others are false, altered, or in some way damaged. Therefore, any translations that stem from a text other than the Traditional text cannot be fully valid. Nothing less is at stake than the veracity of the New Testament and our Faith in Jesus Christ.
The Textus Receptus
The Traditional text of the Greek New Testament was not consigned to forever exist only in manuscript form. In the year 1516, when the printing press was still a relatively new invention, the Received Text, also known as the Textus Receptus was published. Early Protestants placed great reliance on the Textus Receptus. Was this trust misplaced? The facts of the Received Text will verify that it was a major step forward in Godís plan of providential protection of the true New Testament.
The Textus Receptus was first published under the editorship of Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus was not an obscure man. On the contrary, Erasmus was arguably the preeminent scholar in all of Europe. He was easily the most famous scholar of his day and one of the most prolific authors ever. There was no man then, or now for that matter, who was more qualified to edit the first printed Greek New Testament text. He was chosen of God for this select purpose. Erasmus, over the course of his scholarship, had the opportunity to study numerous Traditional Greek manuscripts. Of all these, he used five as his primary sources. He had six others on his possession that he referred to occasionally. He published five editions of the Greek New Testament text in all.
God, in His providence, continued to extend the influence of the Textus Receptus. Godly men were used to publish many more editions. These were Robert Stephanus, a French scholar and printer; Theodore Beza, Calvinís disciple and successor in Geneva; and the Elzevir family, Dutch printers. By the time of the last printing of the Textus Receptus it truly was The Received Text, trusted and accepted by all followers of the Common Faith of Jesus Christ.
Westcott and Hort
At this point it may be useful to review the Naturalistic Method of New Testament textual criticism. First and foremost, Naturalistic critics reject the idea that the Bible was divinely inspired, and scoff at the notion that God providentially has protected His Word down through the many years. They begin from a self-proclaimed "neutral" position. They would like to begin with what all religions have in common and then "prove" the validity of Christianity. However well meaning they may be, they nonetheless have denied the Faith they are attempting to defend by taking such a position.
The two Naturalistic critics that have received the most notoriety for their influential work are Westcott and Hort. The textual theory of Westcott and Hort has now, a century after its conception, became the standard accepted set of premises on which to evaluate the New Testament text. Westcott and Hort propounded the theory that the Traditional text is a compromise that came out of an ecclesiastical council sometime after 400 A.D. They therefore conclude that only manuscripts older than this supposed compromise council can be considered valid, thus antiquity becomes the single most important factor in determining the validity of a manuscript. Virtually all scholars now concede that the Traditional text is not a compromise text emanating from an unknown council, but many still accept the false assumption that the age of the manuscript is the only significant factor. Through this false premise, Westcott and Hort quickly throw away over 90% of the evidence and proceed to build their case on the remaining fraction. They place great importance on two texts that first became available to New Testament textual critics in the 1860ís. These two are Codex B (Vaticanus) and Codex Aleph (Sinaiticus), both reputed to pre-date 400 A.D. Westcott and Hort used these two texts to build an English New Testament that was published in 1881 and became known as the Revised Version.
Aside from the fact that Westcott and Hort exercised poor judgment in building their translation from only two primary manuscripts, Aleph and B are not reliable to start with. Both of them are Alexandrian texts, and both have numerous significant errors. They do not even agree with each other; there are 3,000 real differences between Aleph and B in the Gospels alone! Aleph cannot be considered reliable; there are the corrections and alterations of at least ten different scribes that have marked, scribbled, and changed the text over the course of many centuries! Codex B, although very old, is no more trustworthy. A case in point is the disputed series of verses of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9-20. Naturalistic critics claim these verses do not belong in the Bible because the yare not contained in B. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. The older the manuscript from which B was copied undoubtably did contain the twelve verses. The scribe doing the copying apparently was instructed to leave them out for some reason Ė and he did so; but he left a large blank space where they should have been! This is not a testimony to refute the disputed verses, it is an argument for their authenticity! As Christian theists, we must reject the Westcott-Hort text when it is built on such a tiny sampling of clearly untrustworthy manuscripts. If we fail to do so, we would be forced to conclude that God kept His true Word hidden from us all the centuries until the 1860ís when Aleph and B were discovered.
The King James Version
Which English Bible is Gods true revealed word? There are essentially two choices: One of the many modern translations, all of which are based on the Westcott-Hortian text; or, the King James Version, the only one based on the Textus Receptus and the Traditional Greek text. Some of the more popular in the former category would include the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the Living Bible. All of them are built on the Westcott and Hort text, and therefore are not an acceptable choice.
The King James Version is not without its critics, but a brief examination of its history will vindicate it alone as the Word of God. 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 the Greek, having access to the Greek text of Erasmus. It is estimated that some 18,000 copies of this were printed in Europe and secretly disseminated in England. He later translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew before he was finally apprehended by the English authorities in 1535. For his efforts he was executed, and while tied to the stake his dying prayer was, "Lord, open the eyes of the King of England!" But he had laid the foundation of the English Bible. Approximately 75% of his text finally made its way into the King James Version. After Tyndale, there were a number of English versions published which used Tyndaleís Bible as their basis. These include Coverdaleís version, the Matthew Bible, the Great Bible (so called due to its size), the Geneva Bible (published by exiled Protestants in Geneva, Switzerland), and the Bishops Bible. The Geneva Bible became the most popular English version during the 16th century due to its handy size and marginal commentaries.
At the request of the minority Puritans, work was begun on a new translation from the original Hebrew and Greek that would omit marginal notes in the year 1604. Forty-seven of the finest Greek and Hebrew scholars in England were commissioned for this translation. These men were divided into six companies that checked each othersí work. Each company was assigned a portion of the Scripture, and each man in the company reviewed their portion together. Then, each of the other five companies reviewed it. And finally, it was reviewed by a select committee of six before it went to the publisher. Thus every version in the Bible was double-checked numerous times. Tyndaleís version was used, but scrupulously compared with the Hebrew text and the Textus Receptus. Not only were these men scholars, but they were all godly humble men, spiritual giants in contrast to the modern thinkers of more recent translations. Two editions were published in 1611, with several editions shortly following.
Many people assume that because there have been such vast technology innovations in western society in recent centuries, that all areas of learning and culture have advanced similarly. This is simply untrue. Biblical scholarship has never been as refined as it was during the 16th and 17th centuries. The English language was at its peak development. Since that time, it has been growing gradually more corrupt and debased. Those who argue that they want a Bible written in the "language of today" are asking for the Word of God to be corrupted into irreverent slang. How can the Bible inspire and transcend this world when it is mired in our rude and debased speaking? Elizabethan English is the most pure and reverent form of our language. Literature, music, art, and architecture all were in their highest form of cultural fulfillment. It is truly through the providence of God that it was at this time that He brought forth the English Bible after it had been sifted and purified by seventy years of English versions.
Ultimately, the issue of selecting the best English translation for personal use in the home and in the congregation rests with our foundational presuppositions. Either you are a believer in the inspiration of the Holy Scripture or you are not. Either you believe in a God that can providentially preserve and protect His Word against all the snares of the enemy down through the ages, or you do not. If these are true doctrines of Christís Church, then the selection of a Bible is no selection. God is far bigger than you are, and it is not your choice what Bible version is authentic. God, through His providence has already made that decision and for you. If you reject His providential decision and choose to do what is right in your own eye, then you are no better than an unbeliever. God is reasonable, God is rational. But God is not dependent upon reason or logic in the mind of created man. You must endorse faith. Faith is higher then reason. Not faith in human rationality, but faith in Jehovah, the uncreated God; author, creator, and sustainer of all! Accept by faith the true text of the Hebrew Old Testament Canon, the Textus Receptus, and the King James Version!