Thursday, January 17, 2013

Daniel Wallace and Changes in the KJV

What I am writing about today is not directly related to the text of the Gospels.  Today, I want to address some misrepresentations that are being spread about the King James Version.  I am not a KJV-Onlyist, but I do not like seeing the KJV misrepresented and belittled by a writer whose descriptions of the KJV have consistently been the verbal equivalent of a funhouse-mirror.  

Some time ago, Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary (where belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture is one of seven essential “Core Beliefs,” according to the DTS website at ) responded to someone's clarification of his earlier claim that the KJV has undergone more than 100,000 changes.  His response is at and it is that painfully specious essay that I am writing about here.

The author of the rebuttal to which Wallace responds observed that if one sets aside changes to spelling and punctuation, changes related to differences of fonts, and changes consisting of shifts in the form of the same word (from “amongst” to “among,” for example), then there are only 421 changes from the 1611 KJV to the typical KJV that you can buy off the shelf today.  The author pointed out that Wallace, in his earlier essay, “clearly intended his reader to believe that the King James Bible of 1611 is significantly different than the King James of today.  As usual, however, the facts don’t bear the critics out.
Wallace could have said, "Guilty.  My statement was inaccurate and misleading.  In the text of the 66 books of the Bible, there are actually only several hundred meaningful differences between the 1611 KJV and the KJV as it is published today."  We all make mistakes.  Rare indeed are the individuals who are immune from the axiom that the more one speaks, the more one misspeaks; therefore the most generous speaker tends to be the subject of the most complaints.  

But how did Wallace respond?  With the most poorly argued essay he has ever put online (and that's saying something).  Here is the gist of his tactics: 
(1)  The person who objected to my claim wrote vigorously, like a person who has been offended or outraged, and this makes his claims questionable. 
(2)  What, me, intentionally mislead my readers?  I was just passing along information I received from other sources.  
(3)  The claim that font-changes account for the vast majority of changes to the KJV cannot be true, since a change of fonts would affect every word in the text. 
(4)  When comparing II Samuel 12:20-31 in the 1611 KJV to the same passage in a modern-day edition of the KJV, I found 41 changes, of which, after spelling-changes, punctuation-changes, and capitalization-changes are removed from the list, exactly none remain which result in a change of meaning.  Which is, of course, exactly what I wanted my readers to conclude from my earlier remark that today's KJV-text has 100,000 differences from the KJV-text of 1611!

Then he leaves the ring, stops talking about the rebuttal (which exposed the deceptive nature of his earlier statement),  and says:  “What is not admitted by KJV-only folks is that the changes in most modern translations from the KJV (though on a verbal level are certainly greater than these) do not affect the essentials of the faith.”  That is true as long as "essentials of the faith" are never defined, and everyone is allowed to move a doctrine from the “essentials” category to the “non-essentials” category at will.  Wallace knows very well that some variants that some very influential textual critics have regarded as original (at Mt. 13:35, for example) pose a real problem for the doctrine of inerrancy.  Yet he maintains his claim by gently putting the doctrine of inerrancy in the category of peripheral, rather than essential, doctrine.

Let’s briefly give this claim of his some attention:  do changes in most modern versions, where they mean something other than what the KJV means, affect the essentials of the faith?  I have already written several parts of a series of essays showing that textual variants have a significant impact on doctrine, and the series is not yet complete.  But to read those essays would take much time.  A speedier option is available:  let’s ask one of the translators of the 1881 Revised Version, the first popular English version (besides the earlier attempts by Unitarians and private individuals such as Abner Kneeland) based primarily on the Alexandrian Text, for his thoughts on this question.  George Vance Smith was a Unitarian who participated in the committee that produced the New Testament of the 1881 Revised Version of the New Testament.  And he was not a minor participant; he was a major participant:  C. J. Ellicott, another committee-member, noted that Vance Smith participated in 245 of the committee’s 407 meetings.  (For comparison:  Hort attended 362; Westcott attended 304.)

 Here is what Vance Smith said in his 1881 book Texts and Margins of the Revised New Testament Affecting Theological Doctrine Briefly Reviewed: about the claim that "the great doctrines of popular theology remain unaffected, untouched by the results of the revision." -- To the writer [i.e., to Smith], any such statement appears to be in the most substantial sense contrary to the facts of the case.  And he proceeded to give reasons, citing the absence of most of First John 5:7, the adjusted wording of John 5:44, the rendering of EIS in Matthew 28:18 as “into” rather than “in,” the textual change in I Tim. 3:16, the uncertainly conveyed by marginalia at Acts 20:28, Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, and I Peter [II Peter is meant] 1:1, the wording of Philippians 2:9, and the disappearance of the term “atonement.”  Then he proceeds:  The changes just enumerated are manifestly of great importance, and are they not wholly unfavourable to the popular [i.e., non-Unitarian] theology?  Many persons will deny this, but it is hard to see on what grounds they do so.  Or, if it be true that the popular orthodoxy remains unaffected by such changes, the inference is unavoidable that popular orthodoxy must be very indifferent as to the nature of the foundation on which it stands.       

Back to Wallace’s essay:  he writes, “My argument about the KJV is not that it has undergone radical changes in its long history . . . but that it has undergone changes — 100,000 of them.”  But look at his earlier statement (at ): We must remember that the King James Bible of today is not the King James of 1611.  It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes!”  The impression given by this is most definitely not true, because almost all of those 100,000 changes are trivialities that do not affect the meaning of the text.  His own list from II Sam. 12:20-31 illustrates that aside from 421 alterations, the modern-day text of the KJV is the same as the text of the KJV of 1611, allowing for updates in spelling, capitalization, fonts, punctuation, and the removal of the books of the Apocrypha.  Such updates are categorically different from changes to the base-text, or changes to what the translation was intended to mean, and Wallace knows it.

He then states that supporters of the KJV should not object to the changes that are observed among versions, or among different editions of the same version, on the grounds that the KJV has undergone similar changes:  “As the adage goes,” he concludes, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”  But this completely misses the real objections about (a) shifts in the base-texts of modern versions (such as the recent shift in the NIV at Mark 1:41, where a reference to Jesus' compassion has been replaced by a statement that Jesus was indignant) and (b) renderings in modern translations and paraphrases which mean two very different things despite being based on the same base-text. 

And there the main part of Wallace’s essay concludes.  But his argumentation continues, in a meandering way, in an Appendix, in which his main subject is not the rebuttal of his his earlier statement, but some aspects of KJV-Onlyism.  So now we reach tactic #5:  Let’s change the subject. 

Not far into the Appendix, I encounter tactic #6:  misrepresent your opponent.  Wallace wrote, “When Scott details a handful of changes that are indeed trivial, he says, “Friends, this is the ENTIRE extent of the nature of the changes from the King James Bible of 1611 to the King James Bible of the present day.” As we mentioned above, that is not correct. Some of the changes in the KJV through the centuries have been fairly significant."  But in the same material to which Wallace refers, it was reported three times that there are 421 non-trivial changes in the KJV. 

So desperate is Wallace to defend his indefensible claim that he resorts to treating the loss of the word “not” in the 1631 “Wicked Bible” as an example of a change in the KJV.  But the objection is not that modern translations have been poorly printed.  The objection, blazingly obviously, is against deliberate changes.  Wallace claims that a change is a change, whether it’s accidental or deliberate, and thus “the principle is still the same” -- even if the change is accidental, and is manifestly a printing-mistake, and the person responsible for it is punished, and it is retracted after being detected.  But that is simply not true!  The changes in modern versions against which the objection has been made are not accidental; they are not printing-mistakes; they are not punished, and they are not retracted, because the people responsible for them consider them improvements, not mistakes.  This is so obvious that further comment should not be necessary.
Also in the appendix, Wallace recycles his claim that Matthew 23:24 in the KJV has a typo; the idea is that the text was intended to read “strain out” instead of “strain at.”  This theory has been shown to be dubious because several English writers earlier than, or contemporary with, the KJV use the phrase “strain at,” and it is highly unlikely that all their writings endured the same misprint.  Nevertheless Wallace continued to repeat his claim.  Waitasecond:  did I say his claim?  I should say, instead, that he is repeating a claim that was expressed on pages 150-151 of the 1873 book The Revision of the New Testament (by Lightfoot, Trench, and Ellicott), at about the same time that those three men were busily working on the Revised Version alongside Vance Smith.  Is it not obvious that Wallace is echoing this claim, not because it can be shown to be true, but because it is convenient propaganda against the KJV? 

Wallace, near the end of the Appendix, says:  “To put all this in perspective: There are approximately 25,000 changes made in the KJV of the New Testament from the original version of 1611.  But in the underlying Greek text, the numbers are significantly smaller: there are approximately 5000 changes between the Textus Receptus (the Greek text used by the KJV translators) and the modern critical texts (used as the base for modern translations).  That’s one-fifth the amount of changes that have occurred within the KJV NT itself.

But such a comparison gives a false impression, because almost all of the 25,000 changes in the KJV to which Wallace refers are trivialities involving spelling, capitalization, fonts, and punctuation, whereas a large proportion of the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Revised Texts (and the Re-Re-x27-Revised Texts) yields a translation-affecting change.    

To illustrate:  in Room A there are 24,500 bubbles [representing benign differences between the 1611 KJV and modern editions of the KJV] and 500 dollars [representing sense-changing differences between the 1611 KJV and modern editions of the KJV].  In Room B there are 3,500 bubbles and 1,500 dollars.  Do both rooms have basically the same amount of money?  No.  Likewise Wallace’s analogy is false.   

As he closes, Wallace reaffirms that he does not regard the KJV as the best translation because (1) "its underlying text is farther from the original than is the text used in modern translations;" (2) "its translation is archaic, with now over 300 words that no longer mean what they did in 1611;" (3) "four hundred years of increased knowledge of the biblical world and languages have rendered many of the KJV renderings obsolete."  To which I answer:
(1)  The KJV’s NT base-text deviates sometimes from the original text, but at least it is stable, and the deviation is almost always benign, reaffirming a truth that is taught elsewhere in the New Testament, whereas the base-text of most modern translations is unstable and, because the text-compilers erroneously used a principle of preference for the shorter reading, it has lost some content.  I would rather sail in a ship with barnacles than in a ship with holes.    
(2)  Free tools to help readers learn these 300-400 archaic words are available online.  See, for example, the first 16 pages of the PDF at .
(3)  Since Wallace claims that “the Bible must be translated afresh every fifty years or so” in order to remain accessible, this charge that the KJV is full of verbal antiques, if valid, will apply, 50 years from now, to our modern versions too.  But inasmuch as Wallace made this claim about obsolete renderings without giving examples, I do not grant that he has shown that many renderings in the KJV are obsolete to the point of obscuring the meaning of the base-text.  No doubt such renderings exist, but I believe it could be concisely shown that the KJV’s archaic language (such as the distinction between thee and ye, reflecting the base-text’s distinction between singular and plural pronouns) makes the KJV more precise (compared to most modern version) more frequently than it makes the meaning obscure, and I also believe that some words that have been called archaic are merely obscure, and sometimes it is necessary to use an obscure term (that is, a term that will be obscure the very first time it is encountered, before being learned) in order to make a precise translation.  If a Bible-translation contributes to the expansion of its readers’ vocabulary, this is not necessarily a bad thing.    

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

No comments: