The King James Only Controversy
by James R. White
2nd edition, (2009)
Underlined text = Mark Lehigh’s emphasis added
Underlined text = Mark Lehigh’s emphasis added
This book is written out of a desire for peace in the church of Jesus Christ. We are not speaking of a peace purchased at the price of compromise, but a peace that comes from single-minded devotion to the things of God. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is not based upon a particular Bible translation. Men and women had fine Christian lives for fifteen hundred years before the KJV came onto the scene. (p. 16)
Translating from one language to another is not as simple as it might seem. One cannot simply look at a word in Greek or Hebrew and assign one English term as the translation of that word in every instance…
…The French have a saying, “j’ai le cafard,” of which the most literal English translation would be, “I have the cockroach.” Why the French would have such a saying might seem beyond human reason until one discovers that a literal translation does not always convey the real meaning of the original saying. j’ai le cafard is an idiomatic expression, one that has a special meaning not evident by the words themselves. Specifically, it means, “I am depressed” or “I have the blues.” If someone wanted to provide a French-to-English translation that accurately reflects the meaning of the French, one would not render it “I have the cockroach” but “I am depressed.”
Another example can be drawn from the German saying “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.” Literally, this means, “Morning hours have gold in the mouth,” and again we would be left wondering what this means in a literal translation. This idiomatic saying is similar to our expression “The early bird catches the worm.” The point of both examples: The assertion that “I have the cockroach” is the only proper English translation of the French j’ai le cafard is simply untrue. One must make room for the meaning in one’s translation as well.
These examples introduce us to the debate between formal and dynamic (or functional) equivalency. Formal equivalency is the method of translation that gives as literal a translation as possible. This perspective seeks a word-for-word translation from one language into another. On the other hand, dynamic or functional equivalency seeks to translate the meaning from one language into another, even if this involves sacrificing a word-for-word translation in the process. In our preceding examples, “I have the cockroach” and “Morning hours have gold in the mouth” are formal translations, while “I am depressed” and “The early bird catches the worm” are functional translations. No translation is completely formal—even translations considered formal, such as the KJV, NKJV, and NASB, contain dynamic translations, for at times there is simply no way to make sense of an entirely literal translation. Likewise, even the most dynamic translations contain some formal elements. Therefore, what we find in modern translations is a spectrum extending from the most formal, literal translations to the most dynamic, functional ones. (p. 46-47)
If you put ten people in a room and asked them all to copy the first five chapters of John’s gospel, you would end up with ten different copies of John. In other words, no two handwritten copies would be absolutely identical to each other. Someone would skip a word that everyone else has. One person would misspell that one word they can never get right. Someone would probably skip a line, or even a verse, especially if there were similar words at the beginning or end of the verse before and the verse after. So you would end up with many variants. But would you not have ten copies of the same book? Yes, and by comparing all ten copies you could easily reproduce the text of the original, because when one person makes a mistake, the other nine are not likely to do so at the very same spot. (p. 63)
Dr. Kurt Aland has pointed out what he calls the tenacity of the New Testament text. That is, once a variant reading appears in a manuscript, it doesn’t simply go away. It gets copied and ends up in other manuscripts. Why is this important? Because readings don’t just “disappear” in the New Testament. And this means we still have the original readings of the New Testament works. You see, if readings could disappear without a trace, we would have to face the fact that the original reading may have fallen through the cracks as well. But the tenacity of the New Testament text, while forcing us to deal with textual variants, also provides the assurance that our work is not in vain. One of those variant readings is indeed the original. We are called to invest our energies in discovering which one it is. (p. 78)
The question we will ask over and over again in looking at such textual issues is, “What did the original author write?” That must be our controlling thought. We wish only what was inspired by the Holy Spirit, without deletions, and without additions either. Additions are just as dangerous as deletions. When we encounter a passage like John 5:4, we should not ask, “Why do modern versions delete this passage?” but “Is this passage an addition on the part of some later texts or a deletion on the part of earlier ones?” (p. 201)
Q: Aren’t you saying we all have to know Greek and Hebrew to really know God’s Word?
A: No, I am not. I have insisted throughout this work that English-speaking people today have access to the best translations that have ever existed, and that by diligent comparison of these translations any English-speaking person can study and know God’s Word.
At the same time I am inveterately opposed to the anti-intellectualism that has become part of the tradition of American Fundamentalism. There is no inconsistency between Christian piety and a well-trained mind. There should be a desire on the part of many believers to be as prepared as possible to be students of God’s Word. Our local Bible colleges should have many applicants seeking Greek or Hebrew language education. Considering the things on which we spend our time (the hours many of us spend sitting before a TV comes to mind), pursuit of the biblical languages would be a far more noble thing! God is not honored by sloppy preaching and shallow interpretation of the Bible. Inconsistency in proclaiming His truth does not bring Him glory. Those who take pride in their lack of scholarship should rethink their priorities. (pp. 302–303)
We must clearly differentiate two kinds of textual criticism. The first is the kind we will discuss with reference to KJV Onlyism: this is lower textual criticism, which involves the study of the biblical manuscripts, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as well as ancient translations into other languages like Latin or Sahidic or Coptic. The goal of lower criticism is to reproduce the original biblical text from this vast wealth of information. When practiced consistently, this kind of criticism should not involve subjective theories regarding authorship, alleged editors of the text, etc. It deals with the text and the facts.
The other kind of textual criticism, higher criticism, is not concerned primarily with the manuscripts but with questions of the form of the text and what this allegedly can tell us about the process of the text’s writing and transmission. Unfortunately, higher criticism is often very subjective; if you gather ten such critics in a room and present to them a text, they will produce a minimum of a dozen different theories about how the text originated and how it came to have its present form. If you think this assessment is too harsh, peruse certain journals dedicated to such higher criticism for more than sufficient evidence of its truth. The extremes to which it can be taken, lacking as it does the restraint of facts imposed upon lower criticism by the manuscripts themselves, are seen in the extravagant conclusions from the Jesus Seminar regarding the text of the New Testament. The unrestrained scissors of such groups have little, if anything, to do with serious textual study of the lower type. (pp. 51–52)
My desire is to lay out the general principles upon which the textual choices of the modern texts have been made so that the form of those texts, and the translations based upon them, will be understood by everyone, even if they choose not to accept the underlying principles that guided the work of collation or translation. It is vitally important that anyone concerned with the New Testament text have at least a working understanding of why the modern texts do what they do. I have found KJV Only advocates not only ignorant of the most basic principles of textual criticism (the vast majority of Christians are unaware of the same things) but also, much worse, unwilling to learn.
There are differences of opinion among scholars in the area of textual criticism. The vast majority follows the perspective that has given rise to such modern Greek texts as the United Bible Societies’ 4th Edition and the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition. This approach basically can be characterized as “eclectic,” in that each reading is examined on its own merits and no absolutely overriding rule is used to artificially decide every variant. Representatives of this viewpoint include Kurt Aland, Bruce Manning Metzger, Gordon Fee, and Daniel B. Wallace.
Over the past fifteen years or so a movement has come into prominence, championed by scholars like D. C. Parker, Bart Ehrman, and even Eldon Epp, that questions the wisdom of even speaking about the “original text” and attempts to shift focus from the classical goal of all textual critical study (the restoration and verification of original readings) to an exegesis of the variants themselves. These scholars insist that “every manuscript has a story to tell” and that they can determine this story by discerning a pattern of purposeful scribal emendation. This represents a radical departure from longheld standards and is deeply troubling.
A small minority prefers the “Majority Text” approach, believing that the reading found in the majority of manuscripts has the most right to be called the original. And within each camp there are disagreements and discussions about methodology and specifics, as there should be. Those who think scholars should walk lockstep on all matters don’t seem to realize that disagreement and discussion almost always lead to better insight and understanding. It should be axiomatic among Christian scholars that open discussion and liberty should prevail. That is one reason why KJV Onlyism has found no true proponent amongst Christian scholars: it denies the freedom to examine the KJV on the same basis as any other translation. The position inherently is anti-intellectual, anti-scholarship, and anti-freedom. (pp. 193–194)
It is common for KJV Only advocates to assert that modern textual scholars simply believe “the older manuscripts are the better manuscripts.” While it is not true in every instance that the older a manuscript is the better it is, it generally is true. Surely it is easy to understand that a manuscript that comes from only a century after the writing of the original, such as 66 or 75, should be given more weight in examining a variant reading than a manuscript from the fourteenth century. Unless that later manuscript was somehow copied from a very ancient manuscript, it probably is the result of a long series of transcriptions. It may well be a fourth- or tenth- or fifteenth-generation copy. Obviously a manuscript from AD 200 is not a tenth-generation copy; there isn’t enough time between the date of its production and the writing of the original. All of this demonstrates why we cannot simply count manuscripts but must weigh them, looking at their general character, age, and text-type. Some are simply more important than others in helping us identify the original text.
In light of these things we can understand why there are many times when the modern Greek texts will adopt a reading found in a minority of the Greek texts. When we look at these instances, we find that either those minority texts carry great weight or they are coupled with internal considerations that add to the weight of the manuscripts themselves. We will see examples of this as we look at passages in dispute between the modern texts and the KJV. (p. 198)
Let’s say you are copying someone else’s work and you encounter something written in the margin. Did the original copyist intend this material to be included in the text, or is it just a note he included there to explain a particular aspect of the passage? If you can’t ask him, how are you to know? You do not want to insert something unoriginal, but you don’t want to leave anything out either. For most, apparently, it seemed safer to add the extra material than to leave it out. (p. 68)
What kind of mistakes did scribes make? Most errors (the technical term used incessantly in scholarly works is textual variants) were of little importance and are easily recognized today. A scribe might misspell a word. He might skip a phrase, or even a whole line, due to his eye catching a similar word, or a similar ending, somewhere else on the page as he looks back at the text he is copying (another technical term used for the manuscript being copied is the exemplar). There are all sorts of examples of this in the New Testament, as we will see when we examine textual variants in chapter 7.
Other errors had to do with hearing. In some instances during later periods of church history a place called a scriptorium was set aside specifically for the production of manuscripts. One individual would read from the master document, and the other scribes would copy down what he was saying. It is easy to understand how certain kinds of mistakes could occur here. We all can imagine how our mind could wander after hours of listening to someone reading a text while we labor to write down what he is saying. We could substitute words that sound alike but differ in spelling, exactly the kind of thing that’s been discovered.
Another kind of scribal error has to do with harmonization. Let’s say you were used to the way a particular phrase sounds in a particular passage because your pastor uses that verse all the time in church. But let’s say a similar phrase occurs elsewhere in Scripture—similar, but not exactly the same. As you are copying that other passage it would be very easy to inadvertently make that passage sound like the one you are accustomed to. You might not even know you had changed anything. But this kind of harmonization is found in many, many places. We will look at numerous examples later, but seeing at least one right now would be helpful.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he said, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:2 NASB). This phrase early on had a part in the church’s liturgy. It was a Christian greeting, a blessing of sorts. Many people continue to use it in that way to this very day. But when writing to the Colossians, Paul was not as complete in his wording. Instead he wrote, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2 NASB).
Now place yourself in the position of a scribe who has memorized Ephesians 1:2. Each Sunday you hear “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” as you leave the service. It is second nature to you. Now you start making a copy of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. You start into verse 2 of chapter 1. “Grace to you and peace …” Ah, I know this one! you might think. And so you write out the whole phrase, as you are accustomed to hearing it, and move on with verse 3. In the process you have added an extra phrase, “and the Lord Jesus Christ,” without even knowing it. (pp. 61–62)
|1 John 3:1|
|Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.||See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.|
Here we have a difference of reading in the underlying Greek texts. The later bulk of manuscripts do not have the affirmation that Christians are, in fact, the children of God. Is this due to some kind of theological dispute in history? Not at all. The reason for the textual variation is easy to see. Remember that the original New Testament would have been written in what is called uncial script, made up of all capital forms with no space between words and no punctuation marks. This is what 1 John 3:1 would have looked like to an early scribe who was copying:
Notice that there are no spaces between words and no punctuation. Hence, when looked at more closely, the relevant phrase looks like this:
Even the non-Greek reading eye can see that the letters appear twice in the line, once at the end of the word for “called” and once at the end of the phrase “and we are.” An ancient scribe, upon writing the first word ending in , returned his eyes to the original and instead of seeing the first appearance of , saw the second, and began copying again at that point, inadvertently deleting the phrase “and we are.” This is a classic example of homoeoteleuton, “similar endings.” When scholars can see a specific reason why a scribe made a particular error in transcription, the resultant reading is not in doubt.
Consequently, a very small percentage of the overall New Testament text is directly impacted by textual variants in the manuscript tradition that are both relevant to the meaning and difficult to decide with certainty. Often there are only two possibilities presented. At other times three or more readings are present. Westcott and Hort, the men most vilified by KJV Only advocates, indicated that only about one eighth of the variants had any weight, the rest being “trivialities.” Accordingly, this would leave the text 98.33 percent pure no matter whether one used the Textus Receptus or their own Greek text!
Likewise, Philip Schaff, writing prior to the more recent discovery of the many papyrus manuscripts, estimated that only four hundred variants affected the sense of the passage, and only fifty of these were actually important. Furthermore, he asserted that not one affected “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.”
The great scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson, whose familiarity with the most intimate details of the Greek text is abundantly verified by his massive 1,454-page A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, indicated that areas of real concern regarding textual variants amounted to but “a thousandth part of the entire text.” Because of this, Dr. B. B. Warfield could state that “the great mass of the New Testament, in other words, has been transmitted to us with no, or next to no, variations.”20 As Dr. Gordon Fee put it,
It is noteworthy that for most scholars over 90 percent of all the variations to the NT text are resolved, because in most instances the variant that best explains the origin of the others is also supported by the earliest and best witnesses.
The reality is that the amount of variation between the two most extremely different New Testament manuscripts would not fundamentally alter the message of the Scriptures! I make this claim (1) fully aware of the wide range of textual variants in the New Testament and (2) painfully aware of the strong attacks upon those who have made similar statements in the past. KJV Only advocates are quick to attack such assertions, but I stand by mine, and I will document its truthfulness throughout the rest of this book. The simple fact of the matter is that no textual variants in either the Old or New Testament in any way, shape, or form materially disrupt or destroy any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Any semi-impartial review will substantiate this. (pp. 66–67)
As we noted before, it is important to emphasize that the differences between the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types do not result in two different New Testaments. A person who reads the New Testament as found in Codex Sinaiticus and applies sound exegetical methods to its text will come to the very same conclusions as anyone reading a Byzantine manuscript written a thousand years later. (p. 74)
Note the emphasized portion of the following quotation closely:
There be many words in the Scriptures, which be never found there but once, (having neither brother or neighbor, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen [helped] by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts and precious stones, etc. concerning the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as S. Jerome somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: [S. Aug. 2. De doctr. Christian. cap. 14.] so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded (italics added).
When the very preface to the King James Version says “variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures,” the KJV Only position thereby is proven utterly ahistorical. That stance requires the translation to be something its own authors never intended it to be. (pp. 121–122)
For those who have not been indoctrinated into the AV Alone camp, the middle ground between being anti-KJV and being a KJV Only advocate is easily seen. As long as one does not make that fateful identification—“The King James Bible Alone = The Word of God Alone”—one will recognize that it is quite possible to see errors made by the KJV translators without attacking the Word of God. Surely we can count the very translators of the AV as taking our side on this issue, for they provided alternate renderings in the margins of their work, showing they had no concept of infallible inspiration working in their behalf while translating. Hence they would be first to allow for the need for revision and correction over time. Nonetheless, it is vital to emphasize that demonstrating errors in the KJV in no way demonstrates errors in the Bible. The first involves recognizing the fallibility of human translators, while the second questions the very inspiration of Scripture itself. (p. 277)
God’s preservation of the New Testament text was not miraculous but providential. The scribes and printers who produced the copies of the New Testament Scriptures and the true believers who read and cherished them were not inspired but God-guided. Hence there are some New Testament passages in which the true reading cannot be determined with absolute certainty. There are some readings, for example, on which the manuscripts are almost equally divided, making it difficult to determine which reading belongs to the Traditional Text. Also in some of the cases in which the Textus Receptus disagrees with the Traditional Text it is hard to decide which text to follow. Also, as we have seen, sometimes the several editions of the Textus Receptus differ from each other and from the King James Version.
(p. 131, quoted from: Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1984), 224.))
It is argued that unless we embrace the KJV as our final authority, we have no final authority at all and, hence, all is subjectivity and uncertainty. People do not want subjectivity but desire certainty and clarity, and so we must hold to the traditional text.
This argument is extremely powerful and should not be underestimated. Many people fulfill their longing for certainty in religious matters by swearing allegiance to a particular leader or system. For example, many Roman Catholics find the idea of an infallible pope very comforting, for when things get confusing they always can turn to a source of absolute authority. In a similar way many Mormons look to their Prophet and Apostles in Salt Lake City, and Jehovah’s Witnesses look to the Governing Body at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn. Others find a TV preacher or evangelist and, without stating it in so many words, invest him or her with some level of infallible religious authority. The fact that groups offering this kind of trust-us-and-we-will-give-you-absolute-certainty-in-all-religious-matters system continue to attract followers should tell us that the lure of complete certainty is strong indeed.
Protestants, however, should be quick to question any such notion. The concept of the individual’s responsibility before God is deeply ingrained in our theology. We cannot hand off our responsibility in religious matters to someone else. We cannot say, “The pope told me to do this” or “The prophet instructed me to believe that.” God holds us individually responsible for our beliefs and our actions. (pp. 132–133)
The desire for a perfect Bible produced on the Xerox of heaven, or repeatedly spit out through the error-checking celestial supercomputer, is strong indeed. We do not want a text that comes to us through history. It is messy to deal with things like scribes and textual history and God’s providence. Then again, this is how He has built His church. In any case, the heart of the KJV position is reflected in the assertion that if there have been variants, and we do not have a supernatural, final variant-deciding mechanism, then we do not have a “real” or “reliable” Bible. (p. 303)
…The divine preservation of the scriptural text does not involve photocopiers but rather the deep, widespread, rapidly expanding New Testament manuscript tradition. Recall our earlier discussion of multifocality, which gives us assurance that the text has not been edited by a central organization so as to change its substance and message. Recall how the New Testament text’s rapid dissemination and distribution precluded the very purposeful corruption its critics are always theorizing. And recall “tenacity,” how the nature of the New Testament in tenaciously preserving readings gives us confidence that the original reading, even in the context of variation, remains in the manuscript tradition.
My response to Ehrman’s postulate is the same as my response to my King James Only friends: God has preserved His text; He simply has chosen to do so in a far more miraculous way than you would allow Him to. It is a surface-level magic trick, similar to the myth about how the LXX translators all translated the writings of Moses in identical words, to come up with a photocopied text. It is a far more real miracle for God to take the work of multiple authors, written in multiple locations, in multiple contexts, writing to multiple audiences, during a time of Imperial persecution, working through the very mechanisms of history (just like He did with His people in the Old Covenant), and in that process create the single most attested text of all antiquity where less than one percent of the text requires us to engage in serious examination of the sources to determine the original reading. God has done so in such a fashion that even Ehrman must admit that as far as “recreating the original text,” today’s scholars are merely tinkering, as the task is, for all intents and purposes, completed.3 Fifty-seven-hundred-plus manuscripts, fifteen hundred years of transmissional history, multiple authors, and the combined wrath of Rome and the gnostics—yet we have the New Testament we possess today. That is miraculous indeed! Textual variation is merely an artifact of the mechanism of preservation. (p. 307).
This book has been a plea for understanding. It is my desire that the reader, upon completing this work, will first and foremost want to understand why our English translations of the Bible read as they do. This is what I have found to be lacking in most KJV Only advocates with whom I have spoken: a desire to truly know why a person might be willing to use something other than the KJV, to really understand why some readings in the modern translations are in fact superior to those in the KJV. You cannot get far with someone who does not wish to travel with you. And I know that many in the KJV Only camp will never set foot upon the path I have attempted to clear in these pages.
I have written this work for the person who has a godly desire to know the truth. I have not attempted to convince the already convinced. I have written for those seeking answers, facts, explanations. I have been prompted by the honest inquiries, the concerned questions, of those who wonder about the claims made by KJV Only advocates. I have sought to be of assistance to the beleaguered pastor who does not need another problem cropping up in the congregation. And I admit to a desire to aid in the vindication of godly men who have labored diligently in the field of textual study and translation, one hardly fraught with riches and glory. The constant denigration of their work, their spirituality, and even their intelligence cries out for a solid refutation and even rebuke, and this I hope to have provided. (pp. 308–309)
The rule, according to Granville Sharp, is:
When the copulative connects two nouns of the same case [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connexion, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill,] if the article , or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle: i.e., it denotes a farther description of the first named person.
(pp. 337–338… Mark included this just for fun)
However, Robertson put it well: “Sharp stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. We must let these passages mean what they want to mean regardless of our theories about the theology of the writers.” (p. 339)