Friday, August 11, 2017

Michael Brown and the Elephant in the Room

[Note for newcomers:  I am most definitely NOT a KJV-Onlyist.]
  

            Recently, Dr. Michael Brown, on The Line of Fire radio show, made an episode which, at first, targeted King-James-Onlyism, but which quickly shifted so as to target the King James Version itself.  His primary objection against the KJV was that its language is unfamiliar to people nowadays.  He stated, “What may have been an accurate translation then will not convey the same thing today.”  Of course that is true, where archaic terms and obsolete grammar is concerned – but that is an effect of the natural development of the English language in the past 400 years; it does not reflect upon the quality of the translation itself. 
            To illustrate:  if someone were to read about dissolving political bands in the Declaration of Independence and conclude that U2 was breaking up, the Declaration of Independence would not be to blame.  When readers approach a 400-year old text, it is their responsibility to take its age into consideration when interpreting it.  The chronological distance between 1611 and 2017 makes the King James Version more difficult to understand, but it does not necessarily make it erroneous.
            The accuracy of the KJV can only be measured fairly when it is measured in light of the meaning of words in 1611, and in light of the text upon which it was based.  Dr. Brown seemed to grant this when he provided two examples of terms in the KJV that meant one thing in 1611, but which mean something else in 2017:  the term “meat” – which could refer to food in general, including grains and fruits – and the term “study,” which was intended, just as Dr. Brown said, to mean, “Do your best,” or to exercise diligence when pursuing a particular goal. 
            So, when someone interprets the term “meat offerings” as if the cooked flesh of an animal must be involved, and when someone interprets “study” as if the word necessarily involves peering into a book, the error does not emanate from the KJV.  The error emanates from the reader’s failure to perceive what those particular words meant in 1611.  A simple glossary of the KJV’s archaic terms can greatly lower the risk of this sort of misimpression. 
            When Dr. Brown turned to the King James Version’s use of the word “Easter” in Acts 12:4, he called it an error.  However, a careful investigation shows that the term “Easter,” in the early 1600’s, was synonymous with “Passover.”  Dr. Brown said, “The Greek does not say ‘Easter.’  The Greek says ‘The Passover.’” 

            The term “Passover” was an invention of William Tyndale.  If you were to take in hand Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, you would see that he freely interchanged the term “Easter” and his own new word “Passover.”  One example should suffice:  in Matthew 26:18-19, in Tyndale’s translation, Jesus tells His disciples to go into the city and deliver the message “I will kepe Myne ester at thy housse with my disciples,” – “and the disciples did as Iesus had apoynted them, and made redy the ester-lambe.” [Bold print added to make the reference super effective.] 
       
            So it should be plain as day that the KJV’s “Easter” in Acts 12:4 is not an error; it means the same thing that the versions which refer to the end of the Passover-feast mean:  that Herod intended to wait until after the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread before having Peter executed.  Dr. Brown said, “To say ‘Easter’ is 100% inaccurate and misleading.  It’s a mistake.”  However, what he has perceived as an error is really just another case of obsolete language.
            Likewise, Dr. Brown charged the KJV with error because the term didaskalos” is translated in the KJV as “Master,” rather than as “Teacher,” apparently unaware that in 1611, the term “master” was entirely capable of referring to a teacher.  (An echo of this usage is still retained in the term “schoolmaster.”)
            What were the other prime examples of errors in the KJV?  Dr. Brown said that instead of referring to “devils,” the KJV should refer to “demons.”  But does anyone imagine that the KJV’s use of the word “devils” is really confusing?  As confusing as using four English Bibles translated from four base-texts using four different translation-techniques?    
            A few of Dr. Brown’s other examples are more convincing:
            ● Readers could be spared some confusion if the King James Version’s translators had not used the term “unicorn.”  However, the KJV’s preface (The Translators to the Reader) specifically cautions readers against putting too much weight on their renderings of rare terms for animals, plants, and minerals.  Plus, the precise meaning of the Hebrew term re’em that is often translated as “wild ox” is still a matter of debate – it might be a wild ox, or the extinct buffalo-like animal known as the aurochs, or the rhinoceros.  From before the time of Christ, this term has been translated as if it refers to a one-horned animal (a real one, not a mythical bearded goat-horse thing), and the KJV’s translators deferred to the traditional understanding of the term, cautioning their readers not to treat this rendering dogmatically.
            ● Dr. Brown’s objection against the KJV’s artificially plural term “cherubims” seems entirely valid. 
            ● The text of First Kings 18:37 in the KJV could be made more literal by reading “Answer me” rather than “Hear me.” 
            ● Another inaccuracy in the KJV, Dr. Brown said, is found in Psalm 84:  “Psalm 84:  one of the verses that I grew up loving was, ‘Blessed be the Lord our God, who daily loadeth us with benefits’ in the King James.”  Dr. Brown was recollecting Psalm 68:19, not anything in Psalm 84.  His point (minus the mistaken reference) seems valid; more recent versions render the Hebrew phrase as “who bears our burdens,” or “who bears us up.”

            Dr. Brown put a microscope to the text, symbolically speaking, and found an error in how the KJV treats the Greek word exousian in Luke 10:19.  He also objected against translating the word ekklesia as “church.”  Another “major example” of errors he has found in the KJV is its use of two different words (“weakness” and “infirmities”) to represent the same Greek word in Second Corinthians 12:9.  
            In these cases, he may have a technical point, but it’s like watching an archer hit the bullseye, and having a referee say that the arrow didn’t hit the very center of the bullseye, so it’s not close enough and the archer might as well have missed the whole target.   If one were to put such a yardstick alongside the NASB, NIV, ESV, etc., then one could identify hundreds of such “errors,” every time there is no distinction between the singular and plural pronouns, and every time the word και (and) is not represented, and every time a proper name is put in place of a pronoun, and so forth.
            Dr. Brown also proposed that if a team of the King James version’s scholars had been able to sit down to improve the translation 20 years after its initial publication, they would have changed passages such as Acts 12:4 and Luke 10:19.  History stands in the way of Dr. Brown’s theory:  in 1638, some scholars who had served on the KJV’s translation-committees (John Bois and Samuel Warddid tidy up the text of the KJV – and they did not change those passages. 
            And then . . . 

THE ELEPHANT ENTERS THE ROOM

            About 21 minutes into his presentation, Dr. Brown brought up manuscript-related issues, even though initially he had said that he would set that sort of thing aside.  
            In the fourth segment of the presentation, the manuscript-base of the KJV’s New Testament text came up again when Charles from Tennessee called the show and pointed out that “The bigger issue is actually the textual issue,” and that modern translations treat Mark 16:9-20 in ways that call it into question.  Charles also alluded to the enormous amount of manuscript-evidence in favor of Mark 16:9-20, and to the features in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus which indicate that their copyists were aware of Mark 16:9-20 “and willingly omitted it.”  Finally, Charles asked Dr. Brown, “Would you recommend any version that brackets or negates the ending of a Gospel, that basically removes the resurrection-account of Christ?”
            In reply, Dr. Brown first said that if one feels a certain way about the manuscripts, one should use the NKJV or MEV – but then he said (referring to Mark 16:9-20), “We know that that was not the original ending of Mark.  The vocabulary is totally different.”
            Charles responded that he had read Burgon’s book on the last 12 verses of Mark.
            Dr. Brown responded that Burgon’s book “has been refuted many times over.”  Yet he failed to name any specific refutation of Burgon’s book; instead, he recommended reading D. A. Carson’s book (The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism) and James White’s book (The King James Only Controversy), too – “They’ll help you there.”  Those who have read Carson’s book may wonder what Brown was talking about, since Carson specifically says in A Plea for Realism, on page 65, “I am not here arguing for or against the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.”  White’s book is also remarkably unhelpful for people looking for accurate information about the external evidence pertinent to the ending of Mark – and concludes its discussion of Mark 16:9-20 with the affirmation that “Every translation should provide the passage” as well as mention “that there is good reason to doubt the authenticity of the passage as well.”  Well, that clears things up, eh.  (I contend in my book Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20 that with patristic support for Mark 16:9-20 from the 100’s, and with over 99.9% of the Greek manuscript-evidence supporting the inclusion of the passage, across all text-types and across many locales, such a definite maybe is not the best we can do.)  
           
            Dr. Brown then reaffirmed, “We don’t have the original ending to Mark’s Gospel.”  But he added that Mark 16:9-20 was “received by the church, and I personally am happy to use it.”
            Wait, WHAT?!  Dr. Brown just said that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of the original text, but he is happy to use it.  Happy to use it as what?  As if it is Scripture, or as if it is the work of some non-inspired person in the second century? 

            Dr. Brown recommended reading good commentaries on Mark to get the details about the ending; unfortunately he did not name any specific commentaries.  Then, after mentioning First John 5:7 again, he reminded himself that he had said that he wouldn’t be debating about the manuscripts – and again told his listeners that if they are at home with the Textus Receptus, “then by all means use the New King James, or the Modern English Version.”  (This seems a little inconsistent, since the NKJV has some of the same features – in Psalm 68:19 and Second Corinthians 12:9, for example – that Dr. Brown called errors.)
            Thirty-four minutes into the show’s video, Dr. Brown tried to reframe the narrative after Charles’ lively contribution to the discussion – but manuscripts were clearly still on his mind:  at one point he started a sentence with “Putting the manuscript debate aside” but continued, “don’t we want a translation . . . that has better manuscript evidence?”. 
           
            I don’t think that there is much of a chance that Dr. Brown will persuade any King-James-Onlyists that they are on the wrong track, as long as he pretends that the textual matters do not matter.  Most people who are willing to learn the archaic language of the KJV are not the sort of people who are going to be satisfied knowing that they have acquired the basic doctrinal message of the Bible; they want the full counsel of God, with no adulteration.  Few and far between are those individuals who would abandon the status of the KJV, the textual stability of the KJV, and the familiarity of the KJV, in order to be rid of the trivial inaccuracies listed by Dr. Brown.  One might as well invite people to kill their Cocker Spaniel in order to get rid of a few fleas.
            There are still some KJV-Onlyists who insist that the KJV’s translators themselves were as inspired as the apostles and prophets, but that is not where the momentum of the KJV-Only movement is going.  Increasingly, KJV-Onlyists (such as Samuel Gipp and David Sorenson) are making textual issues the centerpiece of their case.  To insist that all the essential doctrine is still there in the Alexandrian base-text of the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc., and that that makes it okay to select either the Textus Receptus or the Nestle-Aland compilation with as much consideration as one uses to select ice cream flavors, while it is spectacularly obvious that the differences between the two yield dozens of interpretive differences, is to insult the intelligence of one’s listeners.

            

17 comments:

Daniel Buck said...

We do have a clear case of mistranslation in the KJV of Deut. 33:17. In order to avoid anatomical nonsense while perpetuating tradition, the KJV translators changed a singular into a plural in "the horns of unicorns." But this was a radical move away from thousands of years of translation history. From the Logos1560 at the baptistboard in 2004:
"Very likely following the Greek Septuagint rendering monokeros or the Latin Vulgate rendering unicornis or both, the earlier pre-1611 English Bibles (Wycliffe's, Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, Great, Taverner's, Geneva, and Bishops') all had unicorn [singular] at Deuteronomy 33:17. The 1602 Spanish Valera had unicornio [singular] at this verse. The 1611 KJV changed this noun that was singular in number in the Hebrew Masoretic text and in all the earlier English Bibles to a plural. Either the 1762 Cambridge standard KJV edition or the 1769 Oxford standard KJV edition added the following marginal note for the word unicorns: “Hebrew an unicorn.” Other KJV editions that had marginal notes such as the 1810, 1821, 1835, 1857, 1865, and 1885 Oxford editions, the 1853 American Bible Society standard edition, the 1769, 1844, 1872, 1887, and the 2005 Cambridge editions, and the 2002 Zondervan KJV Study Bible have this same marginal note at this verse. This marginal note in standard editions of the KJV affirms with the earlier pre-1611 English Bibles, the 1602 Spanish Valera, and the 1657 English translation of the standard Dutch Bible that the Hebrew word was singular in number."

Timothy Joseph said...

James,
Did I just misunderstand or did you really just say that there are interpretive issues that make the KJV and modern texts different enough that one cannot use them both? Um, if that is what you meant, then change the note that says you are not KJV-Only, cause your writing says otherwise.
I am not a fan of the TR/KJV, yet I still know and proclaim that that the KJV is God's Word in the fullest sense.


Tim

James Snapp said...

Timothy Joseph,

TJ: "Did I just misunderstand or did you really just say that there are interpretive issues that make the KJV and modern texts different enough that one cannot use them both?"

You just misunderstood me. What is meant is that although the tenets expressed in basic creedal statements of the Christian faith are maintained whether one uses the TR, or Byz, or NA, there are dozens of points at which the *interpretive* content is different. For example, there is a difference in how one will interpret Mark 9:29 in the Byzantine Text, and how one will interpret Mark 9:29 in the Alexandrian Text (because one mentions fasting, and the other one does not). There is a difference in how one will interpret Luke 23:34-35 with Jesus' prayer for the forgiveness of those who crucufied Him, versus the text that lacks those words. Ditto for Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, Lk. 22:43-44, and Acts 8:37.

There is even a interpretive difference between an English translation that consistently contains the longer reading, without mentioning rival readings, versus one which also contains the longer reading but bracketed and given doubt-inducing footnotes, just as there is bound to be an interpretive difference by people who hear a preacher say, "Thus says the Lord," and one who says, "Thus says the Lord, maybe and maybe not."

maurice a. robinson said...

I consider myself blessed in that that the first translation I ever read or had to deal with was the old RSV. From that basis, I could slowly learn about and learn how to refute certain claims regarding translation, various OT conjectures, and matters of textual variation, without becoming distracted by archaic English expressions, let alone any exaggerated claims regarding a particular English version.

yeoberry said...

The purpose of any translation is to render the original into language the intended readers will understand in a way that best communicates the meaning of the original. The KJV simply no longer does that. Dr. Brown's example of "meat" is an apt one. Some translations of the KJV were erroneous to begin with. "Easter" was never the right translation of "pascha". It doesn't matter that Tyndale established the precedent. "Pascha" means Passover. Even in 1611 the intended readers would likely not have been thinking of the Israelite feast celebrating their deliverance from Israel by the word "Easter." Other interpretative errors in the KJV were on purpose, by insistence of King James himself, namely translating "episcopas" (overseer) as "bishop" and "ekklesia" (assembly) as "church", both done to give the appearance that the Bible supported King James' state church.

Dr. Brown's presentation was fine. It was simple, because it was done for a popular level but it doesn't need any correction from you, who I don't believe is qualified to offer such correction. Dr. Brown is to be commended for his courage for taking on the KJV-onlyist and other closed-minded fundamentalists who are sure to react to the truths Dr. Brown gave, especially about the Longer Ending of Mark.

yeoberry said...

to: James Snapp:
re: doctrinal differences of texts

The largest doctrinal difference between text lines, I believe, is far and away based on John 1:18. The earliest manuscripts read "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (ESV). The KJV, based on later manuscripts reads, "o man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
The earliest manuscripts thus convey the divinity of Jesus in explicit, forceful terms and complete a chiasm that began in John 1:1 also with an explicit, forceful expression of the divinity of Christ, bringing the prologue in John to a close with insisting that Jesus is God.
The later manuscripts, however, have only the term "only begotten Son", echoing John 3:16 but not necessarily conveying the idea of Christ's divinity. Likely this was a copyist error because "the only begotten Son" is a common phrase, the kind a copyist beginning to read, would expect unless he looked carefully and saw that John actually wrote the unique phrase "only God" (μονογενὴς Θεὸς).
A similar doctrinal omission with the KJV is regarding Romans 9:5 in which the translators probably didn't know the grammatical rule that required the text be translated in a way that also forcefully stated the divinity of Christ: "the Christ, who is God over all" (ESV). The KJV renders it: "Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever", thus easily allowing an interpretation that avoids the divinity of Christ.
This is also a major doctrinal omission in the later manuscripts and far, far more significant than the rather trivial (if even existent) doctrinal matters you were trying to argue were in the so-called "Alexandrian" texts.

yeoberry said...

to: maurice a. robinson

I agree that the RSV was a fine translation. Do you think the ESV continues its legacy?

maurice a. robinson said...

Since the ESV is openly asserted to be a revision of the RSV, why would it not? My own preference, however, remains Byzantine-text based, and therefore I would adjust any modern translation to parallel that base before any serious utilization of such for exegetical or hermeneutical purposes.

yeoberry said...

to: maurice a. robinson:

Would that mean losing the emphatic declarations of the divinity of Christ found in John 1:18, Romans 9:5, and Jude 5?

maurice a. robinson said...

Nothing is "lost" in those locations except for those who choose a differing form of exegesis and hermeneutic so as to match their preference of variant readings. What it would mean is a retention of the (quite doctrinally sound) Byzantine reading at Jn 1.18 and Jude 5 and proceeding from there (Rom 9.5 is a matter of punctuation and not of variant reading).

yeoberry said...

to Dr. Robinson:

Yes, you're right that the Byzantine reading of John 1:18 is orthodox. However it contributes nothing new. The "Alexandrian" (i.e. "only God") reading is not only, as I understand it, more ancient (at least in manuscripts attesting to it) and makes an emphatic declaration of Jesus' divinity, it also makes more sense contextually (as the final element of the chiastic structure of the prologue to John) and the reason for it being lost in transmission seems easily understandable, with the unique phrase "monogenes theos" being mistaken for the more common "monogenes uios".
You're right that Romans 9:5 isn't a textual issue but a grammatical one with the KJV translators, as I understand it, mistranslating it because they didn't know the grammar.
Jude 5 is also an emphatic declaration of Christ's divinity, as translated by the ESV. I suppose it's possible the text was altered as part of an anti-Arian polemic but in my opinion the reasoning that the ESV rendering is likely the original seems sound.

maurice a. robinson said...

Even Bart thinks the Byzantine of Jn 1.18 is original; and editions from WH through NA26/27 had no problem with κυριος at Jude 5...So why need I worry when supporting the Byzantine reading in those places? (And no, I don't think the issue with the Byzantine readings is in any manner theologically deficient).

yeoberry said...

My old (3rd ed) UBS gives "Lord" a D (Jude 5). I wouldn't call that not having a problem.
It puts "monogenes theos" in the text and gives it a B.

maurice a. robinson said...

That "D" rating represents the opinion of the editors of the critical UBS editions (and by extension the NA editions), and has no relation to other textual theories that would consider the Byzantine Textform far more authoritative than the vagaries of reasoned, rigorous, or other varieties of eclectic praxis.

Colwell at least was correct in stating that to some extent Hort had "put blinders on our eyes" (at least in varying degree on the eyes of some).

yeoberry said...

As I understand it, the rating would try to take into account all the arguments for the reading. In this case (Jude 5), the Byzantine reading held sway but just barely. The ESV translators were persuaded otherwise. I don't understand the comment about Hort putting blinders in our eyes in this context when Hort, etc, went with the Byzantine reading and now apparently translators are breaking away from him.

maurice a. robinson said...

"As I understand it, the rating would try to take into account all the arguments for the reading."

But only within the purview of the reasoned eclecticism practiced by the UBS/NA committee. Other mileages will vary.

Hort's "blinders" comment actually related to his view of "genealogical evidence" in which the Byzantine was claimed to be a late recension, created primarily by combining Western and Alexandrian type readings plus further stylistic modification, thereby resulting in a highly secondary status accorded that type of text. The same blinders generally remain in place today, as evidenced by the general character of the various critical text editions.

yeoberry said...

Interesting. My speciality is not in textual criticism (but church history, Puritan era). So much of this new to me. Thanks for the interaction! :)