Monday, June 18, 2012

Why the KJV New Testament Is Among the Best English Translations (Part Two)

(Continued from Part One)


            Dr. Wallace wrote, “The textual evidence shows me both that scribes had a strong tendency to add, rather than subtract.”  He should reconsider the textual evidence and withdraw this frequently repeated falsehood which is entrenched in the approach of the compilers of the Revised Text.  The research of J. R. Royse in his dissertation “Scribal Habits in Early NT Papyri” shows that early copyists made omissions more often than they made additions.  If Dr. Wallace really thought that this “strong tendency” that he imagines is to be mechanically applied, then he would adopt the Byzantine Text in the 650 or so places where, as he mentioned, it is shorter than the Alexandrian Text.       


            Dr. Wallace wrote, “Those scholars who seem to be excising many of your favorite passages from the New Testament are not doing so out of spite, but because such passages are not found in the better and more ancient MSS.”  Perhaps he refers to scholars such as Bart Ehrman, and to passages such as Mark 1:41 and Luke 22:43-44.  I am not so naïve as to imagine that Dr. Ehrman, a committed agnostic, is entirely agenda-free in his efforts to promote the ideas that Mark depicted Jesus as easily angered and that Luke depicted Jesus as an unfailingly calm super-Stoic.  In addition, Dr. Wallace’s claim about “better and more ancient MSS” is false where some variants are concerned.  I Cor. 14:34-35 is attested in all Greek manuscripts of the book, but Gordon Fee and others who believe that all church offices should be open to women consider it an interpolation.  Luke 22:43-44 is attested by Justin Martyr and other writers in the 100’s, but this early testimony is dismissed on highly speculative grounds.  And in Second Peter 3:10, no Greek manuscript reads ouc eureqhsetai [ouch eurethēsetai] (“will not be found”), but this will probably be in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Revised Text.   


            Dr. Wallace wrote, “In fact, it has been repeatedly affirmed that no doctrine of Scripture has been affected by these textual differences.”  Elsewhere he has adjusted this claim by referring to “cardinal” doctrine and “plausible” variants.  I wonder if Dr. Wallace included the doctrine of inerrancy among the doctrines to which he refers.  In the same manuscripts that he considers the most reliable (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus), the text of Matthew 27:49 says that Jesus was speared before He died.  This textual variant introduces a contradiction with the timing presented in John 19:33-34, where Jesus is speared after His death.  I welcome Dr. Wallace to explain how this variant in the “best” manuscripts – a variant which Hort (the most influential compiler of the Revised Text in the 1800’s) regarded as plausibly original – can be embraced without abandoning the doctrine of inerrancy. 

            Dr. Wallace claimed that the KJV has undergone three revisions, “incorporating more than 100,000 changes.”  That is extremely misleading.  Changes in spelling, such as a change from “citie” to “city,” have occurred, and the KJV’s text was converted from one typeface to another, and printing-errors in the 1611 edition were corrected.  The number of actual sense-affecting alterations, however, is nowhere near 100,000.  It is less than 1,000.  Meanwhile, how many changes in the Revised Text will be encountered in its 28th edition?  (In the Gospels alone, there were over 400 changes from the 25th edition to the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland text.)  How many changes will occur in the next revision of the NIV?  Will the text of the next edition of Dr. Wallace’s NET contain Mark 16:9-20?  We will have to wait and see.      


            Dr. Wallace criticized the KJV because it contains 300 words that no longer mean what they meant in 1611.  His first example is the word “Suffer,” as it is used in Matthew 19:14 – “Suffer little children…to come unto me.”  In 1611, “suffer” could mean “permit” or “allow” – like it did more recently when it was prominently used in the movie The Return of the King.  His second example was the word “Study” as it is used in II Timothy 2:15.  However, contrary to the impression given by Dr. Wallace, you don’t need a large unabridged dictionary to ascertain the “archaic” definition of these words.  My Merriam-Webster’s Vest Pocket Dictionary includes “permit” as a definition of “suffer,” and its last definition for “study” is “apply the attention and mind to a subject.”  But perhaps other terms should be used, lest we run the risk of improving the reader’s vocabulary.
            Dr. Wallace asked, “Should we really embrace a Bible as the best translation when it uses language that not only is not clearly understood any more, but in fact has been at times perverted and twisted?”  However, no Bible translation is impervious to misinterpretation and abuse, and all Bible translations can be supplemented with explanatory notes and glossaries.  Also, the New Testament itself affirms (in II Peter 3:16) that it contains some things that are hard to understand, so it is rather problematic to insist, as Dr. Wallace apparently does, that something is flawed simply because it is hard to understand.       
            What about modern translations of the New Testament?  Do they convey the meaning of the original text significantly more clearly than the KJV?  The KJV is clearer in one respect:  it differentiates between singular and plural subjects via the use of “thee” (singular) and “ye” (plural).  The KJV-reader also has the advantage of being able to easily discern, by noticing italicization, where the English text does not strictly correspond to the underlying Greek text.  Also, when people approach the KJV with the knowledge that it is 400 years old, they tend to expect antiquated language, and they prepare for it, just as they do when reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. 
            It is amazing that Dr. Wallace vocally objects to archaic but accurate terms in the KJV while tolerating paraphrases such as The Message.  Here are some terms and phrases from The Message New Testament:  “pet canary,” “house of cards,” “casseroles,” “black magic,” “put the screws to the man,” “helter-skelter,” “caught red-handed in the act of adultery,” “spotlight,” “the town was buzzing,” “potentates meet for summit talks,” “his underdog brother,” “corkscrew,” “English,” “a real bad apple,” “torpor,” “paraphernalia,” “Band-Aid,” [I emphasize this:  not “bandage,” but the brand name, “Band-Aid”]  “telescope,” “microscope,” “broccoli,” “addendum,” “sitting ducks,” “millennia,” “iron out their differences,” “the Anarchist,” “dog-eat-dog,” “adrenaline,” and “galaxies.”   
            As Eugene H. Peterson puts a spotlight, a telescope, and a microscope in the New Testament, Dr. Wallace is worried about the KJV’s phrase “strain at a gnat” in Matthew 23:24???  The phrase “strain at a gnat” is not senseless, inasmuch as it can simply mean that a person obtains a strainer at the sight of a gnat in a drink.  But suppose Dr. Wallace’s preference for the phrase “strain out a gnat” is accepted.  (That is, after all, how the Geneva Bible rendered the Greek word diulizonteV [diulizontes] there).  That is a gnat compared to the anachronistic camels in The Message.  (Also, The Message says, “This delights the Master no end” in Colossians 3:20.  The word “to” is missing.  This is a trivial error.  But why has Dr. Wallace allowed it to stand, if he is concerned about little things like “strain at” versus “strain out” in Matthew 23:24?).  I cannot believe Dr. Wallace’s claim that the KJV “has far more drastically altered the scriptures than have modern translations,” because I believe my eyes as I read the multitude of mistranslations, omissions, and insertions in The Message.


(1)  I concur with Dr. Wallace’s opposition to the idea that the English text of the KJV is as divinely inspired as the original text.  At this point, though, he has completely left the subject of the quality of the KJV, and is writing about something else.

(2)  Dr. Wallace contended that most evangelicals “prefer a different translation and textual basis than that found in the KJV.”  This is an observation about opinions and the effects of intense marketing; it is not a comment about the quality of the KJV.     

(3)  Dr. Wallace claimed that the sole basis for the theory that heretics are responsible for the Alexandrian Text is “that certain readings in these MSS are disagreeable to them!”  That is not the case.  If it would not divert from the present subject, several patristic claims that heretics altered the text of New Testament books could be presented.  But, again, Dr. Wallace has shifted his focus away from the subject of the quality of the KJV.

  Dr. Wallace wrote, “Those who vilify the modern translations and the Greek texts behind them have evidently never really investigated the data. Their appeals are based largely on emotion, not evidence.”  Again, Dr. Wallace has shifted his focus away from the KJV!  Nevertheless I will briefly engage this claim.  Dr. Wallace is partly right:  some vocal opponents of the Revised Text and translations based upon it are severely uninformed and misinformed.  Some of them make emotion-based appeals. 

          However, Dr. Wallace’s claim is a blanket statement and it does not accurately describe everyone who sees the Revised Text as an unstable test-tube text.  Nor does it accurately describe everyone who opposes loose paraphrases and gender-modified mistranslations.  Someone could just as easily say, “Those who promote modern translations and the Greek texts behind them are evidently motivated by a desire to make money by creating and perpetuating a novelty-Bible market.  Their efforts are fueled by a desire for monetary profit, not by a desire to spread the pure Word of God.”  That would not be a fair statement, even though it might fit some individuals accurately.  Similarly, Dr. Wallace’s claim is unfair.

(5)  As Dr. Wallace described the work of Erasmus, he wrote that Erasmus’ Latin translation “was meant to improve upon Jerome’s Latin Vulgate — a translation which the Catholic church had declared to be inspired.”  However, the Roman Catholic Church did not officially decree that the Vulgate must be considered authentic and authoritative until 1546, thirty years after Erasmus’ first Greek NT was published. 

(6)  Dr. Wallace claimed that the KJV’s rendering of Hebrews 4:8 involves a mistake, where it says, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” However, this is not a mistake.  Hebrews 4:8 contains one of two New Testament references to the Old Testament individual known as Joshua (Acts 7:45 is the other one), whose name in Greek is identical to the Greek name of Jesus (IhsouV [Iēsous]).”  Although, as Dr. Wallace affirms, a KJV-reader could momentarily imagine that the subject is Jesus Christ, a reader of the Greek text could momentarily imagine the same thing (which a reasonable consideration of the context will quickly resolve), because the names for Jesus and Joshua are identical in the Greek text itself.      

(7)  Dr. Wallace concluded by saying, “I trust that this brief survey of reasons I have for thinking that the King James Bible is not the best available translation will not be discarded quickly.”  He is correct; it has not been discarded quickly.  I hope that this candid assessment of his misleading claims will keep his readers from quickly discarding a Bible translation which, despite minor shortcomings, accurately communicates the essential message of the original text, and is a sufficiently sharp, strong, and powerful sword.      

Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.

Quotations from Dr. Wallace are from his essay from December 2009 at,
©Copyright 1995-2012  All rights reserved.Used for review purposes.  Dr. Wallace made some of the same statements in another essay at in which he affirmed that it would be helpful for Christians to possess a King James Bible.

The Message, by Eugene Peterson, is Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002.  Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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