Thursday, December 18, 2008

KJV Only, Please!

Note: The following is an e-mail I recently sent to someone who goes to one of my churches. He is a very bright young man, who has informed me that the King James Version is the only Bible we should be reading. He is not one of these typically closed-minded individuals who is just trying to cause an annoyance. I detect in him a sincere desire to know the truth. This desire recently led him to our small country church, and even though we have only 10 other persons at the church (all at least 20 years older than him) he has stuck with us. Truth matters.

He relies heavily on Dr. Walter Veith, and until I talked with him about it recently, I thought that KJV-only advocates were simply fundamentalists who closed-mindedly wanted to stick to the old English. But their arguments are a little more in-depth than that, and their main argument is that the KJV is based on better Greek manuscripts. Of course, after watching the Veith video, I am not convinced by their arguments. Below is my response to him, with my four main arguments as to why this theory does not hold water.

1. Lack of evidence.
At the beginning of Veith's video, he makes the claim that the "family" in which the Textus Receptus comes from most closely resembles the original manuscripts. However, there is just no evidence, whatsoever, to support this claim. The same can be said of the Codex Sinaiticus, of course, as well as any other manuscript that is anything other than the original. The fact is, we do not have the original manuscripts that the apostles wrote and so any claim that such and such a manuscript most closely resembles the original is pure conjecture.

The other challenge is that the Textus Receptus is anything but perfect itself. Erasmus originally created it based on two 12th century MSS. The one manuscript that he was working from on the book of Revelation was completely missing the last 6 verses of the book. So Erasmus took the Latin Vulgate version of it and translated it back into Greek. This is hardly good scholarship.

Erasmus also placed the famous Comma Johanneum in 1 John himself, even though there was not one Greek MS at the time that he consulted with that included these words. He informed others that he would place it in the TR if he could find one MS that supported this. Not surprisingly, someone came up with a MS that had this phrase, but even Erasmus was suspicious that the person placed it in there on his behalf (and he made a note of this suspicion). Since Erasmus' day, three MSS have been found with the phrase: a twelfth-century MS with it written in the margin in a sixteenth-century hand, a sixteenth-century MS copy of the Polyglot Greek text, and a fourteenth- (or as some argue a sixteenth-) century MS. The phrase seems to have originated in a fourth-century Latin work.

2. Little significance. Even if, for the sake of argument, the King James is based on "better" manuscripts, the changes that are made in the other versions are not as drastic as one would like to imply. Many in the KJV camp argue, for example, that replacing Jesus with "He" is akin to stripping Jesus of His divinity, or some other terrible thing. The problem is, no such thing results from that variant translation. Isn't the Bible allowed to use pronouns - especially when, in immediately preceeding verses, Jesus' name is explicitly mentioned?

Similarly, some modern translations are actually stronger on Jesus' divinity than the KJV. Notice this example that was cited in that article that I sent you:

In some passages, modern versions make a clearer statement about the divinity of Jesus than the KJV. This is especially true in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 where they adhere to Granville Sharp's rule. Sharp's rule, simply stated is, When two common, singular nouns in the same case are connected by "kai" (and) and there is an article in front of the first noun only, both nouns refer to the same person or thing.
Compare Titus 2:13 in the KJV and the RSV:
Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (RSV).

The wording of the KJV presents two Gods: (1) "the great God" and (2) "our Saviour Jesus Christ." The RSV presents only one, "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." The RSV is following Sharp's rule of Greek grammar and thus renders a clearer statement on the deity of Jesus.
This difference can be seen again in 2 Peter 1:1:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (RSV).

The RSV is clear that Jesus is both God and Saviour, while this important truth is obscured in the KJV. Is there then a conspiracy on the part of the men who produced the KJV to minimize the divinity of Jesus? No.

As I said the other day, none of our doctrines are based on one or two passages, anyway. A person can certainly prove the divinity of Christ from the NIV or NASB or other modern translations. I think, for many zealous proponents of the KJV, they often use the Bible in a "proof-text" method. Thus, they want to be able to point to one verse - ignoring the context - and be able to prove a doctrine. The Comma Johanneum is a classic example of this. In order to proove the Trinity, it would be so convenient to just point to this one verse and say, "See! There is a Trinity." But the Bible does not always work this way. We must dig deep and put themes and ideas together. And a person can certainly establish an argument in favor of a plural godhead without using 1 John 5:7. In fact, a person can see the hints of this plurality in the first two verses of the Bible: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (NIV).

At the same time, why can't Matthew 28:19 serve as a good evidence of a Trinity? "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (NIV). If the producers of the Codex Sinaiticus, etc., were trying to conspire against the Trinity and Jesus' divinity, why wouldn't they have ommitted this clear passage?

I would also pause to say something else: the translators of the KJV were stewards of some bad theology as well! They were not Adventist. They did not believe in anhilationalism; they did not believe in soul sleep; they did not believe in the seventh-day Sabbath; they did not share our views on clean/unclean meats. Are we then to conclude that we should not read this translation because they may have had an agenda to downplay or undermine these doctrines?

No English translation is perfect. Inevitably a person's theology is going to creep into his/her translation of a given text. This is why it is good to know the original languages, keeping in mind that even the Greek/Hebrew manuscripts we do have, whether from the 12th century, or the 4th century, were copied by fallible human beings.

Which leads me to my next point . . .

3. Verbal inspiration. I think many people who push the KJV-only agenda have a somewhat skewed view of inspiration. Walter Veith quoted Jesus, saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," and he thus asked, "How can we live by every Word from God's mouth, if we cannot be sure that what we are reading is completely accurate to the original letters/epistles, etc." Such a question reveals to me that Veith believes that every single word that Paul or Peter or Moses or Jeremiah wrote was dictated by God to be written. This is called "verbal inspiration" and it is what many fundamentalist Christians (including some Adventists) subscribe to. The other extreme, of course, is that God didn't inspire any of the biblical writers to write anything, but that they were just writing from their own perspective. Neither of these is a healthy view of the Bible, and it denies the reality of how the biblical authors wrote.

Except where there are direct quotations from God, and God explicitly instructs a certain person to write something exactly, the Bible was written under "thought inspiration." So, for example, if Paul was writing to the Corinthians, God wasn't telling Him the exact words to write (this would deny the human element of the Bible and would make the need for a human being to write it unnecessary. If God simply wanted to deliver a dictated Bible, He could have delivered it by an angel, much like Joseph Smith allegedly received the Morman Bible from the hands of the angel Moroni), but impressing him with the thoughts to share with his audience. To some extent there is mystery surrounding how the Bible was written as we realize that it is both human and divine.

This is much like Jesus Himself. We cannot fully comprehend how He was both fully human and fully divine. So, too, with the Bible. God chose to reveal Himself through the pen of godly men, but He chose to reveal Himself through "their armor," so to speak. This is why we can see sylistic differences between Paul's letters, say, and Peter's, or Moses'. If the writers wrote only what God had explicitly dictated to them, then we would not see any stylistic differences.

The reason I bring this up is because if a person believes in verbal inspiration, then they have to figure out some way to make the claim that this particular Bible, and this particular Bible alone, is "the Word of God." Every word that this Bible contains is directly from God. But such an idea has weaknesses, because unless a person wants to maintain that the translators of the KJV were also themselves verbally inspired by God (and that God was dictating to them exactly the word he/she should use in translating from the Greek), then believing in verbal inspiration is somewhat challenging. After all, even if the original Greek manuscripts were verbally inspired and dictated by God, I doubt anyone would like to claim that the translators of the KJV, or versions in other languages, have the same status.

Thus, inevitably, our desire to live by "every word" that proceeds from God's mouth, is going to be somewhat veiled.

Instead, I can rest in the assurance that God has miraculously preserved the Bible insofar as He needed it to be preserved, in order for us, living the 21st century, to be edified by it.

4. Ad hominum attacks. As so often happens in the courtroom, people try to do a "character assisination" on the individual that they are trying to build a case against. And when a person does not have a strong case based on the facts alone, they must spend a great deal of time using ad hominum tactics. Thus, according to Veith; Westcott and Hort are two of the worst people in the world, it seems. Nevermind the fact that the quotes he uses from them are totally devoid of their context (which I would be hard-pressed to check myself), but if we are wanting to use such tactics, then no person would be qualified to even touch the Bible, let alone preach, translate, or teach from it. King James I, who commissioned our wonderful KJV translation, may or may not have been gay. And he certainly didn't share our sentiments on the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the sanctuary, etc. Martin Luther seems to have been antisemitic. And on and on it goes.

Aside from this, I am not even convinced, based on Veith's claims and quotes, that Wescott and Hort had an agenda to simply demolish the TR because they wanted to undermine the authority of scripture. When he quotes them as saying that they wanted to "subtly" change a verse here and there, so as not to rock the boat all at once, that is a legitimate method - for good or bad - when trying to bring about change. Abraham Lincoln didn't abolish slavery all at once. And if Westcott and Hort felt as though the TR was not completely legitimate and that there were some textual challenges, why would they make these changes all at once - especially since the KJV is so highly revered (and almost worshiped).

At the same time, Westcott and Hort's Greek NT is not even the used text today anymore, anyway. The Nestle-Aland NT, which has some considerable changes from Westcott and Hort's NT, is the prevailing Greek NT that is used among scholars today. Of course, even with this as the prevailing Greek NT, it is very exhaustive in its margins as to variant readings, and how many MSS have a certain alternate reading, etc. They are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes.


Morning's Minion said...

An interesting and well presented thought process. I discovered the Geneva Bible [on-line] several years ago and was interested to learn that KJV was commissioned [so to speak] in order to water down or alter certain texts which did not support the "divine right of kings" in quite the way that King James wished. The marginal notes in the Geneva are fascinating--and of course they are illuminated by the prevailing Calvinist viewpoint of the translators. I dislike the more modern "translations" which reduce the beauty of the KJV to modern slang, but they may reach those who don't care for a classical language rendition. I often use the Bible Gateway site, comparing versions for the pleasure of it. I can have my favorites [NJKV, English Standard, Holman's] without yet another stack of books.
We need to understand what we profess to believe and have some confidence that doctrine is well founded and substantiated. I would hope that the era of harangueing "proof texts" could subside. We can't "prove" every idea to the full. We can enjoy the elements of faith which the Bible sustains, enjoy the sheer beauty and history contained within the pages. We can find mysteries to ponder and promises to cherish.

Yolanda said...

I agree with this post a lot. I am glad you shared it.

Dingo said...

Thanks for a well-reasoned presentation and a clearer view of where KJV-only supporters may be coming from.

Kind of takes me back 50 years to when my dad was asked to teach Sunday School. he made two strathmore board posters. One was called the tree of life with all the "good" translations portrayed as branches with the KJV being the trunk. The other was the "pyramid of evil" with such terrible evils as the RSV. Mom didn't quite see things the same way. The pyramid poster disappeared before Sunday. Little did Dad know that the green crepe paper covered pine tree I was holding in the Christmas play that evening had what was left of his pyramid of evil on the back.

I like the KJV for finding things because that is what I memorized everything in as a young person. Then, having found the text, I like to turn to a variety of versions to study and preach from.

Blake Jones said...

Good article.

Alexander Carpenter said...

Well done, sir.

Shawn Brace said...

Thanks for plowing through this all, friends. I appreciated all of your feedback.

kjv3n1 said...

If Mark 1:2 in one Bible says "as it is written in Isaiah the prophet..." and "as it is written in the prophets..." in another, when in fact it isn't written in Isaiah but Malachi, (Just check the reference in the margin) which is right and which is a contradiction?

In Hebrews 9:4 in some versions say the Golden Altar of Incense was in the Holy of Holies when only the Ark of the Covenant was, and another version says that the golden censer (which was the incense holder that the high priest took in to the Holy of Holies from off of the Altar of Incense, which is a contradiction?

David said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your clear, well-reasoned, and eloquent explanation!

.:*Beautiful Self*:. said...

I did not have time to read this entire post because I am at work currently.... BUT... I was just curious. Could you just answer this one question for me:
Are you a KJV-only believer or are you not?

Just wondering. Thank you.

Shawn Brace said...

Hello "Beautiful Self"! Thanks for stopping by. Come back when you have a little more time!

To answer your question, though: NO I am not a KJV-only proponent. While I am not against the KJV at all, I certainly don't think that it is superior to any other English translation.

Do you agree, or disagree?

Anonymous said...

Wrong .
Walter Veith brings light.
On another point , Ellen White was not at all any kind of trinitarian ; Her advice was : go somewhere apart and diligently study the bible '.
My comment is brief : There abounds plenty of what Ellen White wrote , and Scripture to enable you to correct yourself ,or you may choose to be deceived .