An Evaluation of the Arguments Supporting the KJV-Only Position
Advocates of the “King James only” and the “Majority Text only” positions on the issue of textual variation have argued forcibly for their stance and have also sought to refute the Westcott Hort theory. The following summaries accurately portray frequently used arguments championing the King James Authorized Version of the Bible. Responses to each argument are presented from the “balanced eclectic” approach, held by the elders of Grace Community Church.
The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy necessitates not only that the original manuscripts of Scripture were without error, but also that there must be existing copies without error to preserve its inerrancy. Otherwise, even liberal theologians can believe in the inerrancy of the originals but deny the inerrancy of the Bible we have today if all extant copies have textual errors. In the Greek, the inerrant manuscripts are the “textus receptus” (TR) which underlies the King James Authorized Version.
A significant problem encountered whenever the accuracy of the KJV is discussed is the misunderstanding of the term “textus receptus”. The term “TR” as it applies to the text of the New Testament originated in an expression used by the Elzevir brothers in the preface to their second edition of the Greek New Testament in 1633. A portion of that introduction reads in English, “Therefore, you now have the text received by all in which we have nothing changed or corrupted.” In the Latin it reads, “Textum…Receptum…” The King James Version was first published in 1611 and did not use in their entirety the manuscripts that were used to produce what the publishers called the TR. The TR is simply a subfamily of a much larger family called the Byzantine, or Majority, Text. Note carefully that the TR comprises just a portion of the Byzantine Text and is not the entire family.
The Trinitarian Bible Society exists for the purpose of circulating uncorrupted versions of the Word of God, namely the KJV. Terrence H. Brown, the TBS secretary, makes this honest admission, “One problem is that many people use the term ‘textus receptus’ without defining it, and give the impression that this received text is available somewhere in a single manuscript or printed copy, but this is not the case. No copy, written or printed, was called the ‘textus receptus’ until the Elzevirs used this description in the preface to their addition in 1633. It should therefore be understood that the King James Version translators, who published their work in 1611, did not use an addition of the Greek text actually known by this name.”
It is interesting to note that there are approximately 190 differences between the “textus receptus” and the King James Version. Some of these differences are listed below:
1. In Romans 12:11, the TR has “serving in season”, but KJV and all modern versions has “serving the Lord”.
2. In 1 Thessalonians 2:15, the TR has the pronoun “you” while the KJV, as well as all modern versions, uses the pronoun “us”.
3. Revelation 11:1 in the KJV reads, “And the angels stood.” The TR and all modern versions do not include this phrase.
4. In 1 John 2:23 in the KJV, the translators included in italics the phrase, “But he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” The phrase is omitted in the TR but included as a part of the text in most modern versions.
5. Luke 17:36, which reads, “Two men shall be in the field; and one shall be taken, the other left,” is included in the King James Version but is omitted in the TR and all other modern versions.
6. Matthew 23:24 is a humorous example of a printing error, not a translation error. The KJV reads, “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” It is obvious to every one that the word “at” should be “out”.
Other differences will be discussed in response to Argument #5 (see below).
It must be understood that even the KJV translators did not claim for their work what modern promoters insist. The original translators were uncertain at times of the correct textual variant and made marginal notes to indicate other possibilities. In the preface to the original KJV, the editors acknowledged the benefit of consulting other versions. They wrote, “Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea, is necessary, as we are perswaded.”
Although God has allowed textual errors to occur in all of the Greek copies of the original New Testament manuscripts, He has preserved the best text in the vast majority of these copies. The best text is found by looking through all of the existing Greek manuscripts and choosing the wording of the majority of those manuscripts. Since eighty to ninety percent of the manuscripts have almost identical texts for any given passage, it should be obvious that the majority text is God’s providentially preserved text.
It is true that eighty to ninety percent of the extant manuscripts generally conform to what is called the Byzantine, or Majority, Text. While this family may be the best family, it is not because the majority of texts available today come from it. Quite honestly, we do not know how many manuscripts have been destroyed and what family they represented. The logic that “the most implies the best” is non sequitor. Research about the discipline of textual criticism in literature other than the Bible where evidence is abundantly available reveals that the greater the number of copies and the greater the passage of time, the more errors are present in later writings. The process is similar to passing a verbal message and watching it become distorted as it passes through the greater number of people over the longer period of time.
Manuscripts tend to multiply in more or less regular fashion. The text type with the most descendants must have existed the longest; therefore, the TR family of manuscripts must represent the oldest text type. Also, new evidence shows that the TR text type is earlier than scholars once thought.
It is historically naive to assume a uniformitarian approach to the transmission of manuscripts in that no evidence exists to demonstrate it. In addition, the fact that TR manuscripts are older than originally thought does not make tham necessarily superior to other text types but would only allow for an even treatment. New papyrii discoveries from the second and third centuries A.D. do evidence that Byzantine text type variants were available, but do not support recognizing them as superior to coexisting manuscripts. The Alexandrian manuscripts are the oldest we presently possess. It is logical to expect that if there were other early families, they would have circulated to Egypt and thus would have been preserved there also.
(To be continued Tomarrow)