Saturday, October 27, 2018

Todd Friel, the KJV, and Wretched Oversimplifications

Todd Friel

            I’m not sure that Todd Friel asserted anything in his recent Wretched program in which he addressed KJV-Onlyism.  But amid all the question-raising, question-rephrasing, tangent-chasing, suggestion-making, and excerpt-taking from another video, I think Todd Friel said a few things that need to be clarified – not to promote KJV-Onlyism, but to reduce inaccuracies in how Friel’s audience might picture the manuscript-evidence as a result of some shortcomings in Friel’s descriptions of it. 
            When Friel said, “We’ve found better manuscripts than the Textus Receptus,” he was correct; the  Greek text from which the New Testament was translated in the KJV includes some words that originated with copyists rather than with the authors of the New Testament, and it also leaves out some words that were written by the authors.  It is true that we have better manuscripts today than in 1611.  So, Friel is partly right.    
            But then Friel said, “We’ve found thousands of manuscripts – which is rockin’ cool.”  That also is true – but something important went unsaid.  Most of those thousands of Greek manuscripts discovered in the past 400 years agree with the Textus Receptus far more often than with the Greek compilations on which the NIV, ESV, and CSB are based.  This is especially true regarding manuscripts of the Gospels. 
            To put this another way:  suppose we were to simultaneously read aloud the KJV’s base-text of the Gospels and one of the Greek Gospels-manuscripts discovered after 1611, making a note each time they were materially different.  And suppose that we did the same thing using the Nestle-Aland compilation (the base-text of the NIV, ESV, and CSB) and one of those Greek Gospels-manuscripts.  And suppose that we did this for every Greek Gospels-manuscript, setting aside instances where a manuscript diverged from the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland compilation.  We would see that most of the Gospels-manuscripts discovered since the early 1600s agree with the KJV’s base-text far more frequently than they agree with the NIV’s base-text. 
            The impression given by Friel – that thousands of manuscripts have been found that point away from the KJV’s base-text – is not an accurate picture of what the manuscripts actually say.  Granting that some readings in the Textus Receptus are supported only by a small minority of manuscripts, the Textus Receptus is far closer to the majority text of the Gospels than the Nestle-Aland compilation is. 
            I do not mean to contend that the analysis of textual variants should be like a democratic election, with the majority always winning.  The thing to see is that when someone points out that we have “thousands of manuscripts” now, as opposed to relatively few in the 1500s, the vast majority of those manuscripts display a Byzantine Text.  Unlike the ESV, they include Matthew 12:47, Matthew 17:21, Matthew 18:11, Mark 7:16, Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 15:28, Luke 22:43-44 (included in the ESV today, but give it time), Luke 23:34a (included in the ESV today, but give it time), and Luke 23:17.  They support the reading “firstborn” in Matthew 1:25, and the reading “in the prophets” in Mark 1:2, and they do not convey that Matthew confused king Asa with the psalmist Asaph, or that Matthew confused king Amon with the prophet Amos.  And when we survey the Gospels-manuscripts that have been discovered in the past 400 years, we see that 85% of them support the inclusion of John 7:53-8:11, and over 99% of them support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20.
            If the differences between the KJV and modern versions were merely the differences between the Textus Receptus and the readings in the majority of Greek manuscripts, then the significant differences would not involve any of those verses.  They would involve instead the Textus Receptus’ minority readings, in passages such as Luke 2:22, Acts 8:37, Acts 9:6, Ephesians 3:9, and First John 5:7.      
            So I have three suggestions for Todd Friel’s audience.

            ● First, those who listen to Todd Friel ought to be informed – when he defends the ESV and NIV by pointing out the existence of thousands of manuscripts discovered subsequent to 1611 – that the vast majority of those manuscripts agree with the KJV (and NKJV, and MEV, and WEB, not exactly “pretty much every other translation except KJV,” contra Friel) far more often than they agree with ESV and NIV. 

            ● My second suggestion:  when Todd Friel refers to the “eclectic” text, listeners should understand that for all practical purposes he is referring to the Alexandrian Text.  The base-text that he considers superior to the Textus Receptus – and to the Byzantine Text – is “eclectic” in about the same way that a group of 19 housecats and one parakeet is a zoo.  To put it another way:  in Matthew-Jude, the so-called “eclectic” base-text of the NIV is over 95% Alexandrian in the textual contests where the Byzantine Text and the Alexandrian Text disagree. 

            ● Thirdly, I suggest that Friel’s audience should filter his appeals to older manuscripts through the sieve of knowledge about the background of those manuscripts.  When Friel appeals to older manuscripts, he refers to manuscripts found in Egypt.  Due to the especially low level of humidity in Egypt, papyrus lasts longer there than it does in other places; this is why we have so many more papyrus copies of New Testament books (and assorted other books, and letters, and receipts) from Egypt.  But it is not as if younger copies from other locales sprang up out of the ground; they had ancestor-manuscripts which have not survived.  To reject the readings in younger manuscripts merely because the material on which they are written is younger would be tantamount to letting the weather make one’s text-critical decisions. 

            Also, Friel’s audience should be aware that in many cases, the earliest manuscript disagrees with the NIV and ESV.  For example, the Textus Receptus has the word οτι in the first part of First Peter 5:8, represented in the KJV by the word “because.”  You will not find the word “because” in First Peter 5:8 in the ESV and ESV, because the word οτι is not in their Greek base-text.  Yet if you consult Papyrus 72 at the Vatican Library’s website, you will see the word οτι in its text.
John 7:8 in Papyrus 66.
            Another example:  the Textus Receptus has the word ουπω in John 7:8, where the Nestle-Aland compilation has the word ουκ.  Accordingly, in the KJV, Jesus says, “I go not up yet unto this feast,” where in the ESV, Jesus says, “I am not going up to this feast,” and in the NIV (using the same base-text as the ESV), “I am not going up to this festival.”  (Verse 10 then explains that Jesus proceeded to secretly go to the feast.)  One might think, if one believed Todd Friel, that our earliest manuscripts support the NIV’s reading, and the Textus Receptus’ reading was concocted by “some overly ambitious scribes” in the Middle Ages.  But when we consult Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75, we find that they both support the reading ουπω.        
            Hundreds of other examples could be supplied of readings in the papyri (readings capable of impacting translation) that are not adopted in the Nestle-Aland compilation.  These include a substantial number of Byzantine readings. 
            So:  when Friel appeals to quantities of manuscripts, keep in mind that that manuscript-mountain affirms the KJV’s readings much more than it opposes them (and that that manuscript-mountain opposes the NIV’s readings much more than it affirms them).  And when Friel appeals to older manuscripts, keep in mind that this is frequently not the case; the Nestle-Aland compilation still depends heavily on Codex Vaticanus, which is younger than witnesses such as Papyrus 66, Papyrus 45, Papyrus 46, Papyrus 75, and patristic testimony from authors such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, and Origen.  I am not arguing here that this means that Vaticanus’ text is inferior to the others; the thing to see is that it is an oversimplification to assume that quantity and age are assured measurements of quality.  Without that wretched oversimplification, Friel’s case against the KJV is just an assertion, or a suggestion – not anything remotely close to a real case.



Unknown said...

Not the point of Friel's lecture is it. We're talking about What makes the best 21st Century English Bible. If you're a student of the original languages, it is not the 17th Century KJV. Also, you're not giving out the most honest view of the Textus Receptus and its origins. That's also the point of this ledture.

James Snapp Jr said...

I'm not sure we saw the same lecture; if one were to boil it down it amounts to Friel answering KJV-Onlyism by saying that the KJV is not the best version because it is not based on the best manuscripts -- and as part of that case he pointed out that many more manuscripts have been discovered since 1611. Obviously this *does* pertain to the point of his lecture, and obviously (if you're a student of textual criticism) it conveys a false impression.
Likewise the point about the age of manuscripts can only be applied inconsistently. These were the two pedestals on which Friel set his position; one is sand and the other is cracked.

Unknown said...

Great article! I have never heard such a concise and detailed argument for the TR, but have really only listened to the mainstream and others (James White). This was really cool and has very much made me neutral when it comes to base texts and I feel comfortable committing to the NKJV. I have always felt conviction that there's something weird about this whole movement, throwing out the "old reliable", tried and true, TR. I have always thought the act of compilating Greek texts is somewhat of a vulnerability and an overall judgement call. So why do we just willy nilly throw out the TR, when it's clear the Lord has blessed it? I hate KJVO, but I'm now more neutral when it comes to greek texts and have something to say about those who will easily throw out the TR.