Opinions on faith and life

Yet Another Look At The Bible Versions Debate

The view that the King James Version is the only and perfect Word of God is still held by many, and though I’ve written about it before (see here and here) it seems to keep popping up. This is a critique of the document The King James Controversy. The original text will be green.

Of late there I’ve been [sic] an onslaught of material published concerning the issue of which translation is best, or which one is the inerrant word of God. Of the two camps (one camp supporting modern translations, the other supporting the King James Bible), two things are abundantly clear. First, the view in favor of modern translations bases its view solely on the wisdom, intellect, and textual findings of man.

BOTH views rely on the wisdom etc. of man. Unless the writer wishes to claim that the KJV translators didn’t have to know Greek, Hebrew, or Latin but were miraculously given the right and exact words from God, they used human intellect. As the translators themselves said under The Translators To The Reader,

Now to the later we answere; that wee doe not deny, nay 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…

Yet before we end, we must answere a third cavill and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our Taanslations [sic] so oft; wherein truely they deale hardly, and strangely with us. For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to goe over that which hee had done, and to amend it where he saw cause?…

But it is high time to leave them, and to shew in briefe what wee proposed to our selves, and what course we held in this our perusall and survay of the Bible. Truly (good Christian Reader) wee never thought from the beginning, that we should neede to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, (for then the imputation of Sixtus had bene true in some sort, that our people had bene fed with gall of Dragons in stead of wine, with whey in stead of milke:) but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principall good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath bene our indeavour, that our marke…

There be many words in the Scriptures, which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrewes speake) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places…

Therfore 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…

If they were sure that their hie Priest had all lawes shut up in his brest, as Paul the second bragged, and that he were as free from errour by speciall priviledge, as the Dictators of Rome were made by law inviolable, it were an other matter; then his word were an Oracle, his opinion a decision. But the eyes of the world are now open, God be thanked, and have bene a great while, they find that he is subject to the same affections and infirmities that others be, that his skin is penetrable, and therefore so much as he prooveth, not as much as he claimeth, they grant and embrace…

For is the kingdome of God become words or syllables? why should wee be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when wee may use another no lesse fit, as commodiously?

These translators held that even the “meanest” (crudest, least accurate) translation “is the word of God”, and that they themselves altered their text “so oft” as they went over it again and again to correct errors or make improvements in wording, just as anyone else does to proofread a text. Further, they did not claim for themselves any special divine sanction or revelation that constituted a major diversion from earlier translations, but actually a minor revision of them. And a reading of the complete text of this preface shows praise also for quite a few famous names usually reviled by KJVOs today as pagans/heathen.

We should also note that the original KJV contained numerous margin notes and footnotes, which would be wholly unnecessary had it been dictated by God Himself without error, since such notes indicate uncertainty or dispute among the translators. They also mention the difficulty presented by hapax legomena, that is, words found only once in the scriptures, since a word that only appears once has no other usages to help us determine its semantic range. This is exactly the sort of human frailty shared by both the KJV’s translators and those of “modern” versions. As the quote above shows, the KJV’s translators would consider any claims of infallibility to be on a par with the Popes and their conceit, and would be appalled at any notion of reducing the “kingdome of God” to mere words or syllables. That is, they renounced the slavish worship of any translation including their own and recognized that in spite of their best and most sincere efforts they could still be wrong.

Second, the view supporting the King James Bible does so not only by bringing to light factual evidence which underlines the majority of manuscripts, but also establishes its points on a scriptural basis. This is quite clear in a recent publication by Dr. John MacArthur entitled “The Biblical Position On The KJV Controversy”. In this 30 Page booklet, Dr. MacArthur does everything except. present the Biblical position on the King Jams controversy. Not one Scripture is ever given to support his position in favor of modern translations. The only time Scripture is ever used It to try to show some “errors” in the King James Bible Such are the attacks by the higher and lower critics who set In judgment of God’s holy word.

Quoting the KJV to prove that the KJV is correct is, of course, circular reasoning and thus a fallacy. When the topic of debate is the text itself, one cannot quote their preferred text as authoritative. The same scriptures this article cites can be found in all reputable translations, “modern” or otherwise, and thus prove no point to KJV superiority. Both sides could quote scripture to each other till Judgment Day and it wouldn’t take one step toward resolving the controversy over Bible versions. Quoting of scripture in this context serves only to cite the differences so that they can be held to the light of scholarly examination, and both sides must be subjected to the same criteria.

The article then cites the Preface quoted above but misapplies this statement:

…we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of His grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His word, enlarging our hearts, yea, correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, that we may love it to the end.

If you start with Scripture, your finishing point is confidence in God’s word.

The translators were simply doing what all translators of scripture do to this day: appeal to God for wisdom and then taking the content and intent of those scriptures to heart. The goal is not slavish worship of the letters but a changed heart and mind. And as those very translators said, even the crudest effort can achieve this goal. The process of “modern” translation that insists upon learning the original languages etc. is exactly what the KJV translators advocated, but this article continues to ignore that fact and denounce others for doing the same.

II. The Question of Final Authority… “If you have two authorities and they differ, you need a third authority to tell you which one is correct. (Such as in the courtroom). The same is true of translations. If the KJB says one thing and the NASV (New American Standard Version) says something else, you need a third authority to tell you which one is right (such as a pastor, teacher, scholar, etc.). When you do, then they become your final authority, not the Bible (Psalm 118:8).”

So the KJVO side wishes to end the debate before it begins by claiming that if two translations differ, one wins by default because any third party would be a higher authority than the Bible! Of course this begs the question about which version should be the default winner, which is the point under debate. If the authority is God then it is NOT the KJV unless one wishes to worship that translation above all. So even at this early point in the document we see a view bordering on idolatry of the KJV.

The document then proceeds to vilify various people, in the rich tradition of KJVO practice (they seem to have a special hatred of Wescott and Hort). Attacking the person is much easier and effective than attacking actual facts and arguments. But in a curious abandonment of all the document said to the point cited here, it goes on under A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE AND ITS GREEK TEXT to appeal to something like the Roman Catholic’s “apostolic succession”, claiming an unbroken line from Acts 11:26 through the TR (textus receptus, the underlying text for the KJV NT) and thus that the Old Syrian line is the right and divine one. But this exception to their own rule aside, how can it even matter what path led to the KJV? If the translation is perfect then nothing else matters, and in fact there are some KJVO proponents who insist that the KJV should correct the Greek manuscripts! For a document so critical of human intellect, one can only marvel at its efforts to appeal to it.

Under A BRIEF COMPARISON OF BIBLE TRANSLATIONS we note that the bulk of complaints are about omissions. Yet it is at least as likely for unscrupulous scribes to add to the scriptures rather than subtract from them; see the Roman Catholic’s addition of the Apocrypha for example. And if anyone wanted to erase the divinity of Christ from the scriptures, the omissions listed in the document show that they did the poorest job of it, since these alleged fiends failed to omit the strongest such references. As for alterations, here are a few typical KJVO false charges exposed:

  • Matthew 18:26 & Matthew 20:20: Removed “worshipped Him”. For Mt. 18:26, the WH has one word not in the TR: ἐκεῖνος (that one, this person). The TR has one word not in the WH: κυριε (master, lord, sir). Clearly, the Mt. 18:26 reference has nothing to do with worshiping Jesus but with the slave throwing himself at the mercy of his human master in the parable. Both versions have the word προσεκυνει (worship). For Mt. 20:20, again the word for “worship” is in both versions, and the WH says “something out from him” instead of “something from him”. So this first claim is false.
  • Mark 13:6 & Luke 21:8: Removed the word “Christ”. Again, a false charge, since not even the TR has “the Christ”. In either case, to say “I AM” is as clear a statement of divinity as any, and more so than “I am the Christ” since some people (e.g. the Jews) don’t consider the Christ to be divine. A great deal of importance on the statement “I AM” is made when Jesus said this in the Garden of Gethsemane as the most famous such statement. So adding “the Christ” can actually diminish Jesus’ divinity from one point of view, while simply saying “I AM” is taken as a clear statement of divinity from any view.
  • John 1:3: Changes “all things were made BY Him” to “all things were made through Him.” “By” and “Through” are the same Greek word; the rendering depends on the surrounding grammatical word endings. In this verse it is the genitive case, which gives the Greek word the meaning “through” instead of “by”. So the WH is correct and the TR is incorrect here. Even so, there is little significant difference in meaning. It seems a case of grasping at straws to find a dastardly plot under every WH rock.
  • Phil. 2:6: Change “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” to “did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped.” The Greek word here has the same root as “harpadzo” (“snatched”) that teaches us about the Rapture elsewhere. It means to grasp or cling to something, to rob or pillage, etc. But this does NOT mean Jesus had to reach for divinity, but that He didn’t consider it something to be clung to, and instead humbled himself and laid aside His divine rights for a time.
  • Luke 2:43 example of His deity attacked Both manuscripts make it clear that Jesus was born of a virgin, so unless all such references are ignored this charge is merely slanderous, typical of KJVO practice.

Under BRIEF SUMMARY OF SOME OBJECTIONS TO THE KING JAMES BIBLE the matter of KJV idolatry is excused by saying that the Bible is from God so it is not worship of the Bible. But as already noted, the KJVO position makes that claim exclusively for the KJV as the lone divine English version, a claim the scriptures themselves never make even in the KJV. To hold only that version up as divine and perfect is indeed idolatry, if not at least incredible conceit, since those who prefer other versions can lay equal claim to having the very Word of God yet do not claim infallibility.

In I. Only the originals are inspired and without error, not any translation… A. Where is this taught In Scripture? the document shows realization that what scripture itself does not tell us cannot be authoritative, so why don’t they apply this as well to their claims of only the KJV being perfect? Where is this taught in Scripture? The document goes on to claim perfect copies as a requirement of the teaching of inerrancy, but this again begs the question: which copies, and how can you spot them without human intellect? The KJVO position simply runs in circles.

As for further claims of thousands of corrections in non-KJV manuscripts, we note the use of marginal and foot notes the KJV translators used for the very same reasons: uncertainty, ambiguity, human fallibility.

As for “The Bible is a spiritual book, and cannot be understood by natural means, such as changing the words”, Paul’s statement about “the deeper things of God” have exactly nothing to do with translations but with spiritual maturity. And when Jesus or the NT writers quoted the OT, they quoted from the LXX Greek translation, and all translations are a case of “changing the words”.

As for “Fifty years ago people read the KJB and understood it. Our language has not changed that much in such a short period of time.”, the English of 1611 is not what is in the typical KJV of today, but rather that of one of many revisions, usually from the 19th or early 20th century. It’s been 400 years since the KJV was made, and the language has changed so much that it could be classified as foreign by today’s English speakers. Some words have undergone complete reversals of meaning, such as that “let” meant “prevent”. To compare modern English to only that of 50 years ago is not only the fallacy of equivocation but also is an inadvertent admission that the KJV used today is not at all the same as the 1611 original. And I have lost count of the number of times unbelievers have been turned away from gospel presentations by the use of archaic terms such as “thee” or “loveth”, which comes across as elitist “Christianese” meant to sound super holy in a way the originals never were. The Koine Greek was the common tongue of the first century ME, and the intent of the KJV translators was likewise to render the text in the language that was common in their day. Thus the “modern” versions are very much in the same tradition and intent as that of the KJV.

But this document denies that the KJB we have today is not the same as the one in 1611: “A. This is not true! The KJB we have today is the same as the one in 1611. Not a word of the text was changed.” Yet their own quote admits, “With the exception of typographical errors and changes required by the progress of orthography in the English language, the text of our present Bible remains unchanged and without variation from the original copy as left by the translators.” So there were typographical errors in the 1611? How can this be, if it was the perfect and inerrant translation? And orthography is essentially concerned with spelling, but isn’t it “altering the Word of God” to correct the misspellings into modern usage? For more detail on this, please see this article (disclaimer: I don’t agree with all other material at this website).

In APPENDIX 1, 7 UNANSWERED QUESTIONS this document’s writer puts the word “scholars” in quotes in an obvious case of sarcasm, showing yet more personal attack against anyone who would not accept the KJV as perfect and the only real English Word of God. But the scholars are not named and we cannot ask for their cross-examination of this writer, who claims these questions “remain unanswered to this day”. But even a glance at these alleged unanswerable questions confirms our earlier observations concerning self-contradiction and circularity of argument, especially on the matter of inerrancy and the lack of original manuscripts. Surely if the exact letters and words were paramount to God, He would have seen to it that those originals were never lost in the first place, including the original Hebrew Old Testament. How does the KJVO explain this? Why was God silent for at least 1500 years of church history?

The article’s writer also continues to judge the motives of KJVO opponents by inferring dastardly intent in removing references to the deity of Christ, and continues to propagate the false charge that all non-KJV translations must be Roman Catholic and thus corrupt, which is the fallacy of poisoning the well. So we see that these vaunted unanswerable questions are nothing of scholarly or spiritual gravity but petty stabs at those who disagree with the elevation of the KJV over other equally fallible translations. Though the writer denies it, this deification of the KJV is truly divisive, and its proponents are using character assassination rather than the loving demeanor they admit should be the norm.

In APPENDIX 2 the writer also quotes the KJV translators, but of course does not acknowledge that the parts I quoted above argue against the “modern” KJVO position. The translators’ references to “the Romanist” are taken from the context of people who would lock up the scriptures rather than allow people to read them in their common tongue, which is, ironically, the very thing today’s KJVOs are trying to do. They were not arguing that their manuscripts were free of this alleged “modern” Roman Catholic influence.

Finally, as if to remove any doubt that the charge of idolatry is true, the document says “By itself this does not prove what we have stated in this booklet. It does prove that the translators of the KJB would agree with the claims of this booklet, that the KJB is the inerrant word of God for the English-speaking people.” If as the vaunted “7 questions” admit, we do not have the original manuscripts, any claim of inerrancy for one English translation over all others is conceited at best. And of course, no attempt is made to explain the 1500-year gap of the church having no inerrant Word of God, nor to explain what non-English speakers are to use even today.

I do understand the zeal and sincerity of people who are deeply convicted that the KJV is the only perfect Bible in existence. But it does not give them the right to aggressively impose their personal convictions on others, per Rom. 14 for example, nor to slander/libel their Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with them, nor to cause needless division in the Body of Christ. This view wants at the same time to appeal to superior scholarship and human wisdom while denying the same to other views, which of course brings to mind Jesus’ statement about someone pointing out the splinter in another person’s eye while ignoring the log in their own. It is very much like the cognitive dissonance in Calvinism: why argue about what God has decreed since it is irresistible? To argue about something we cannot change or don’t need to use our minds to comprehend is self-defeating at best.

Related material: clearing the names of Westcott and Hort

Words of a Fether   |   Contact