Monday, June 18, 2012

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

            As I begin this reply to Dr. Daniel Wallace’s essay, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today,” I want to affirm that I use and recommend some Bible translations other than the King James Version.  I prefer the NKJV over the KJV, and I read the HCSB.  Also, I believe that the original Greek text of the New Testament is more authoritative than any translation of it, on the grounds that the Greek text was uniquely produced via the inspiration of God.  Translations bear divine authority only to the extent that they convey, or are able to convey to receptive readers, the meaning conveyed by the original text.  I measure the quality of Bible translations according to how well they convey the meaning of the original text to receptive readers. 
            Dr. Wallace’s essay promotes several false impressions.  I am concerned that Dr. Wallace’s students and other readers may, as a result of the false impressions elicited by his essay, harbor some unjustified doubts about the adequacy of the King James Version.  I am particularly concerned about ten subjects that were presented by Dr. Wallace in a misleading or unbalanced way.  I intend to concisely address the following questions:

1.  Were the compilers of the Textus Receptus limited to a few late manuscripts?
2.  What about the disputed phrase in First John 5:7-8?
3.  How extensive are scribal errors in the KJV?
4.  Does a manuscript’s age automatically improve its text?
5.  Does the Revised Text always follow the oldest readings?
6.  Are scribal additions more frequent than scribal omissions?
7.  Are the compilers of the Revised Text objectively following the best manuscripts?
8.  Do readings in the Revised Text affect doctrine?
9.  Is textual stability important?
10.  What about obscure terminology?

I will also cover some miscellaneous points.  Here in Part One, we will cover the first five questions.


     Dr. Wallace gave readers the impression that the KJV was based directly and exclusively on the Greek text edited by Erasmus in the early 1500’s, and that the first edition of Erasmus’ Greek text was a carelessly printed representation of a carelessly compiled text:  “the most poorly edited volume in all of literature.”  That is not an accurate description.  Instead of taking the time to dissect Dr. Wallace’s assertion, though, I wish to stress that no one should imagine that after Erasmus produced his Greek text in 1516, the next important event happened in 1611 when the KJV-translators finished translating it into English.  There are other important links in the chain of events that led to the KJV.  The Complutensian Polyglot was published in 1520.  Robert Estienne (Stephanus) produced editions of the Greek New Testament in the mid-1500’s.  Theodore Beza’s second edition of the Greek New Testament was released in 1582.  John Calvin’s Harmony of the Three Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke and his Commentary on John, in both of which Calvin addressed some textual variants, were translated into English in 1584. 

     It is not difficult to see why Dr. Wallace did not mention the Complutensian Polyglot, or the Greek New Testaments produced by Stephanus and Beza.  These works were made more carefully than Erasmus’ first edition.  Also, it cannot be truthfully stated that these works were made without consulting early manuscripts.  Beza used Codex Bezae, which has been assigned a date of c. 400 by text-critic D. C. Parker.  Stephanus made annotations about the readings of Codex Regius (L, 019), a Gospels-MS which was produced in the 700’s, and which is ranked by advocates of the Revised Text as one of the most accurate extant copies of the Gospels.  Erasmus used Codex 1, which is related to the Gospels-text used by Origen in the first half of the 200’s.  When Erasmus visited England, he saw minuscule 69, and noticed some of its readings.

     Erasmus also accessed the extensive quotations of the New Testament embedded in many patristic writings, such as Against Heresies, by the second-century bishop Irenaeus.  He personally hand-copied some compositions by Jerome, who worked in the late 300’s and early 400’s.  And in 1533, a supervisor of the Vatican Library at Rome provided Erasmus with a list of over 300 readings of Codex Vaticanus, the flagship manuscript of the Revised Text.   

     It would be hard to tell readers that these ancient sources were known to the scholars who compiled the text-base of the KJV, and then expect readers to believe the claim that the KJV was based on a few late manuscripts.  So Dr. Wallace decided not to mention those ancient sources.    Instead, he used First John 5:7 as Exhibit A in his case that “Very few of the distinctive King James readings are demonstrably ancient.” 

     We will look into First John 5:7-8 in the next entry.


            Dr. Wallace has repaired Bruce Metzger’s fictitious tale about a “rash promise” made by Erasmus about the Comma Johanneum (the phrase, “in heaven:  the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness on earth”).  However, more needs to be said.  I do not regard the CJ as part of the original text.  The Comma Johanneum (which I’ll call “CJ”) probably began as a loose quotation of a statement by the third-century patristic writer Cyprian which was placed in the margin of a Latin copy of First John, and was subsequently inserted into the text.      But consider how things stood in the 1500’s and early 1600’s: 

Most copies of the Vulgate text of First John contain the CJ, and since the Vulgate represents a text from the late 300’s, that was a strong point in favor of the CJ. 

The CJ, or something closely resembling it, is attested in the Liber Apologeticus, which was written in the 380’s:  “As John says, ‘and there are three which give testimony on earth, the water, the flesh the blood, and these three are in one, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus.’”      

            The author of the Prologue to the Canonical (i.e., Catholic) Epistles in the important Latin manuscript Codex Fuldensis (made in 546) mentions the CJ:  after referring to the place “where we read the unity of the Trinity laid down in the Epistle of John,” he states, “I found translators (or copyists) widely deviating from the truth; who set down in their own edition the names only of the three witnesses, that is, the Water, Blood, and Spirit; but omit the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; by which, above all places, the Divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is proved to be one.”  The CJ is not in the text of Codex Fuldensis, but clearly it was known and confidently advocated by someone in the mid-500’s.   

            In addition, the Greek text in the Complutensian Polyglot contained the CJ.  When one also considers that a statement by Cyprian (which, as I mentioned already, is probably the source of the CJ) and a statement by Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis seemed capable of being interpreted as support for the CJ, it is not difficult to see why many individuals in Europe in the 1500’s, who did not have access to an abundance of ancient Greek copies of First John, regarded the CJ as authentic. 

            (We don’t have access to an abundance of ancient Greek copies of First John today, either.  Out of the 660 or so extant continuous-text Greek manuscripts of any part of the Catholic Epistles, only about a dozen Greek copies earlier than the 800’s contain First John.  If you have a copy of D.C. Parker’s Introduction to NT MSS and Their Texts, there’s a helpful chart with data to this effect on pages 284-285.)       

            The CJ is, though, one of the most weakly supported variants in the Textus Receptus.  Its low level of support is not typical.  However, Dr. Wallace makes it seem as if this is just one of hundreds of meaning-affecting variants in the Textus Receptus that are not supported by ancient evidence.  He writes:  “Very few of the distinctive King James readings are demonstrably ancient.”  We shall test his claim shortly.


            Dr. Wallace claimed, “The King James Bible is filled with readings which have been created by overly zealous scribes!”  Later in the very same essay, Dr. Wallace says, “Over 98% of the time, the Textus Receptus and the standard critical editions agree.”  How is it that a text agrees with the Revised Text over 98% of the time and is filled with scribal errors?  It looks like Dr. Wallace has used the phrase “filled with” as a synonym for “less than 2% of the time.”

            I don’t think more needs to be said about that; if Dr. Wallace’s claim that the KJV’s text-base and the modern versions’ text-base agree about 98% agreement is correct, then his claim that the Textus Receptus is “filled with” scribal errors is an exaggeration.  Let’s move on his next claim.


            Dr. Wallace wrote, “Most textual critics just happen to embrace the reasonable proposition that the most ancient MSS tend to be more reliable since they stand closer to the date of the autographs.”  That is a carefully worded statement.  I hope that all readers will read it carefully, so that the words “tend to be” will not be misinterpreted as “are.”  Unfortunately footnotes in modern translations of the Revised Text fail to express that important distinction.   

            The age of a manuscript is just one factor to consider when evaluating the quality of its text.  The oldest extant manuscripts are, by definition, those that have survived the longest.  They have survived the longest because of the conditions in which they were preserved.  Early copies of New Testament books were written on papyrus, and the climate of Egypt is particularly favorable to the preservation of papyrus.  That is why our oldest manuscripts are found in Egypt.  Does that mean that Egyptian copies are more likely to resemble the autographs than younger copies from, say, Antioch or Constantinople?  It all depends on how faithfully the text was copied in Egypt, in Antioch, and in Constantinople.  And that’s the point:  it all depends on how well the copyists preserved the text, not on how well the climate preserved the material upon which the text was written.    


            Dr. Wallace gave his readers the impression that the Revised Text is superior to the Byzantine Text because the Revised Text contains the oldest readings.  However, when we take the time to wade through the earliest readings and compare them to the Revised Text, it becomes clear that the compilers of the Revised Text have frequently rejected the oldest readings.  Let’s consider some of the readings in the oldest manuscripts of Mark chapter 7. 

Mark 7:4a:  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus both read the Greek equivalent of “pour upon themselves,” but this is not adopted in the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland text. 

Mark 7:4b:  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus do not contain the phrase kai klinwn [kai klinōn] (“and couches”), but the phrase is in NA-27, bracketed. 

Mark 7:6a:  Papyrus 45, produced in about 225, has apokriqeiV [apokritheis].  The Byzantine Text (and the Textus Receptus) also has apokriqeiV [apokritheis].  NA-27’s text, however, does not have it. 

Mark 7:6b:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has oti [oti], but this is not adopted in NA-27.

Mark 7:12a:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has kai [kai], but this is not adopted in NA-27.

Mark 7:30:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has the words in a different order than what is found in NA-27.

Mark 7:31:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has kai SidwnoV hlqen [Sidōnos ēlthen], but this is not adopted in NA-27.

Mark 7:32:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) does not have kai [kai] before mogilalon [mogilalon], but it is in NA-27.

Mark 7:35:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has dihnoicqhsan [diēnoichthēsan], but this is not adopted in NA-27.

Mark 7:36:  P45 (and the Byzantine Text) has autoV [autos], but this is not adopted in NA-27.

Mark 7:37b:  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus do not have the last occurrence of touV [tous], but it is included in NA-27 in brackets.

        So when somebody claims that “Very few of the distinctive King James readings are demonstrably ancient,” it is hard for me to take such claims seriously in light of data like this list.  This list shows that in a single chapter of Mark, eight readings in the KJV’s base-text are supported by the oldest known manuscript of a passage, and three more readings in the KJV’s base-text are preferred by the NA-compilers themselves over the readings in the oldest known manuscript of a passage. 

To Be Continued in Part Two.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.      


Quotations from Dr. Wallace are from his blog-article at (December 2009), © Copyright 1995-2012 All rights reserved. Used for review purposes.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the excellent research. It's about time someone answers the proponents of so-called Reasoned Eclecticism with a better way.