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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Short KJV Detour (Part 1)

BibleWe’ve noticed that the King James Only discussion has appeared in some of the recent comment threads. So we thought we would take a brief detour to address that issue, before continuing our study of the charismatic gifts. The following is a study our elders at Grace Community Church put together regarding the King James Version. This detour will take us just a few days, after which we will resume our discussion of the gifts.

Is the KJV the only version of the Bible we should use?

A growing literature crusade claims, “God wrote only one Bible,” referring to the King James Bible published in 1611. These people contend that the King James Version (KJV) is the only English version of Scripture which faithfully preserves the original writings, and they support their claim in articles with titles such as “My Stand on the Inerrancy of the King James Version.” They build their case upon such doctrines as providential preservation of Scripture, Scriptural inerrancy, and one’s commitment to God.

Grace Community Church regularly receives letters from “Grace to You” listeners all over the country who react to statements in the radio broadcasts that better and older texts differ from those used for the KJV and conclude we teach that the Greek manuscripts on which the KJV is based are inaccurate. They ask, “If the King James Version is not the most accurate translation of the Bible, then which translation is and why is it regarded so?”

At the heart of the controversy lie several questions: Is one Scripture version inherently superior to the others? Is one family of original language manuscripts superior to another, and if so, which one? How can we determine which manuscripts are reliable? The evaluation of the relative merits of various Biblical manuscripts and translations is a very complex issue, especially for those who are not trained in the field of the Greek language and New Testament textual studies, and cannot be addressed fully in a short pamphlet; however, we trust this brief study will prove helpful.

BACKGROUND

Some basic facts about the existing manuscripts of the New Testament are necessary to an understanding of the historical background of the issue of textual variations. These facts are summarized below:

1. The Old and New Testaments were not originally written in the English language but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

2. The original writings, or autographa, of all the books of the Bible do not exist today.

3. God never promised the perfect preservation of the original manuscripts, but He did promise to preserve their content, as evidenced in Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 55:11, and Matthew 5:18. The content is preserved within the body of currently existing manuscripts.

4. There are differences among the existing original language manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments. These differences are the source of the controversy.

5. Far more manuscripts are in existence today for the New Testament than for any other piece of ancient literature. There are at least four Scripture manuscript families that are widely recognized. They include the Alexandrian Text, the Western Text, the Caesarean Text, and the Byzantine, or Majority, Text.

6. Because of the large number of manuscripts in existence, the sources of textual variants in the Greek New Testament are usually simple to identify.

7. Textual variations are almost always incidental and do not significantly affect the meaning of Scripture. Once the easily explained variants are removed, 99.9 percent of the text of our Bible can be confirmed as accurate without reservation.

8. Many textual problems have already been resolved satisfactorily and are no longer in question.

9. No doctrine in all of historic orthodox Christianity is dependent upon the solution to any one textual variant.

The facts listed above are vital in order to maintain a proper perspective toward the controversy surrounding the issue of the textual accuracy of the Bible.

APPROACHES TO THE PROBLEM OF TEXTUAL VARIATION

Because there are variations of the same portions of Scripture in different manuscripts, there must be guidelines to use in evaluating which manuscripts are the most faithful to the original writings. Several approaches to this issue have been proposed. They include:

1. ”King James only”

2. “Majority Text only”

3. “Thorough going eclectic”

4. “Westcott Hort”

5. “Balanced eclectic”

These approaches are described briefly in the paragraphs below.

QuillThe “King James only” approach suggests that the English translation made in 1611 is inspired of God. It equates the Word of God, in the very real sense of the autographa, with the King James Version Bible. In the October 1978 issue of Bible Believers Bulletin, Peter Ruckman states, “…the Holy Ghost…honored the English text above any Greek or Hebrew text…” By this he meant that the KJV translators were guided more accurately in their translation by the Holy Spirit than were those men who copied the original manuscripts. This sentiment is echoed by the “King James Bible Preachers Fellowship,” a group of pastors who characterize themselves as “men who are unashamed to proclaim the King James Bible, A.D. 1611, as God’s holy, perfect word. God still has a few men who have not bowed the knee to the Baal of scholarship.”

The Bible Truth Mission in Millersburg, Pennsylvania has issued the following challenge in an attempt to resolve the controversy surrounding the KJV: “We have decided to have a standing offer of $10,000 for anyone who can disprove, to our satisfaction, the authenticity and historicity of the facts surrounding the King James Bible as compared to other versions, paraphrases, translations, etc. We are making this offer to permanently silence the small group of biased news journalists, self appointed scholars, Bible book stores and publishing companies, who question why the vast majority of born again Christians use the King James only.”

The second approach is the “Majority Text only” school. This reasonable approach, championed by Zane Hodges, professor of New Testament and Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary, also promotes the King James Bible. The Dean Burgon Society was recently formed to advocate this position, and Thomas Nelson Publishers of Nashville issued the New King James Version under the academic leadership of Dr. Arthur Farstad with this position in mind.

The “Majority Text only” approach argues that God preserved His Word in the text which is found in the largest number of manuscripts. Because the largest number of manuscripts is found in the Byzantine, or Majority, family, this family is considered by supporters of this approach to most accurately represent the autographa. The King James Bible is based upon the “textus receptus” (TR), a segment of the Byzantine family of manuscripts.

The “thorough going eclectic” approach to the textual variation controversy is advocated by liberal theologians who reject any consideration of manuscript families, date of manuscripts, and other external evidence. They concentrate their attention on internal content of the manuscripts and draw conclusions based only upon a literary analysis of the text. This school has little support among conservative theologians.

The “Westcott Hort” approach has long been publicized as the position held by most modern conservatives. Westcott and Hort suggested that the Alexandrian family of manuscripts are the oldest in existence today and, therefore, are to be preferred. They also concluded that external evidence, i.e. manuscript families, outweighs internal evidence. An in depth explanation of this position can be found in the Westcott Hort Greek New Testament.

The fifth approach to the problem of textual variation is the position actually espoused by many conservative theologians. This “balanced eclectic” approach holds that each text type is to be evaluated independently without premeditated bias as to which manuscript family is most authoritative. It also posits that internal and external evidences are to be considered equally. This school basically suggests that each textual variant be investigated thoroughly and considered on its own merits.

(To be continued tomorrow with an evaluation of the arguments supporting the King James Only position)

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