I was reminded this morning of this issue when I saw a couple of people I vaguely know posting lunacy about the Bible. So I thought this was a good time to reprint this article on the topic of textual criticism that I did several years ago. There are a sizable number of people in the United States who believe that the King James Version of the Bible, a translation produced in 1611, is the only acceptable translation. There is at least one denomination that believes this that I know of, and the largest church in my local community happens to hold to this idiotic point of view: Sunday mornings they have in excess of ten thousand people in attendance.
Thankfully, it remains a fringe movement on the lunatic fringe of the Christian community, but periodically they rise up and manage to confuse people who don’t know better, as I saw on Facebook this morning.
I feel no qualms in being somewhat nasty in confronting them. In years past, I would attempt to be pleasant and rational. I discovered that this only resulted in these crackpots becoming verbally abusive. There is no reason to be nice to crackpots; in fact, being nice is counterproductive.
Admittedly this posting is long and technical; I should also warn that it was written primarily for a Christian evangelical audience, but it might still be interesting to anyone who is curious about how textual criticism works and what it is. Something to keep in mind, too, of course, is that textual criticism is not limited to biblical studies. It is a necessary tool for all texts, particularly those made before the advent of printing, so it comes into play in evaluating multiple copies of other ancient texts from the Ancient Near East, to classical Greek and Roman texts, to even questions regarding the wording of Shakespeare.
So. In the minds of some individuals the King James Translation of 1611 has become the only legitimate translation of the Bible in the English language. As far as they are concerned, all other translations are unfaithful and purposefully misleading.
Those who disagree are often castigated as brain-washed pseudo-intellectuals who have been led astray by "so-called" modern scholarship. Therefore, it is difficult to respond to those who hold a KJV only position because they have "poisoned the well" of discussion -- that is, before any information exchange can take place, they have already discounted the reliability and reputation of any who would dare disagree.
This article will present an example of the sort of arguments used by those who believe that the KJV is the only acceptable translation, followed by a point by point refutation and a demonstration of the inferiority of the text of the KJV and its many errors of translation. The purpose of the article is to help those who have been exposed to the KJV only position and been confused by it, but who have not yet swallowed it and built their life and faith upon it.
II. The KJV Only Argument
The KJV argument is best presented by quoting from those cranks who believe it. So including some actual quotations by those who believe this nonsense. The following is from a pamphlet produced by J.J. Ray:
Any version of the Bible, that does not agree with the Greek Textus Receptus, from which the King James Bible was translated in 1611, is certainly to be founded upon corrupted manuscripts. Origen, being a textual critic, is supposed to have corrected numerous portions of the sacred manuscripts. Evidence to the contrary shows he changed them to agree with his own human philosophy of mystical and allegorical ideas. Thus, through deceptive scholarship of this kind, certain manuscripts became corrupt. Evidently from this source our modern revised version Bibles and paraphrases have come. Read pages 900-902, Vol. 16, 1936 edition Encylopedia [sic] Britannica, and you will see that Origen taught the Lord Jesus Christ is a created being who did not have eternal existence as God.
The following, taken from an anonymous, hand-written note that someone once sent to me, is an example of the approach taken by those who believe that the KJV alone is to be used and accepted. The target is the New International Version, a very popular modern translation, last updated in 2011.
A. The New International Version is a mutilated version, to say the least. Why isn't it the same as the KJV 1611?
1. because the NIV comes from a corrupted textual basis -- the Alexandrian, Westcott-Hort Critical Text instead of the Textus Receptus (T.R.)2. Because the NIV translators did not have the same high view of Scripture as did the King James translators.
B. Mutilating John 3:16 with "one and only" instead of "only begotten Son." (Only begotten Son is much stronger on the Deity of Christ.)
C. Changed the word "author" to "pioneer" in both Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2.
1. This follows the James Moffatt translation. Moffat was a noted modernist and liberal.2. The two words "author" and "pioneer" have nothing in common whatsoever. They are two completely different words as is easily seen.
D. Eliminates the old pronouns "thee, thou," and so on, as in Matthew 6:9-10 and other places.
1. These pronouns lend appropriate dignity and majesty to the Word of God.2. These translators need to be consistent. Do they sing, "Come you fount of every blessing"?
E. Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11 If these passages are not in the best manuscripts (only their opinion), then why even bother printing them, since they left out so many other verses?
F. 1 Timothy 3:16 and 1 John 5:7, in the NIV translation mutilate the deity of Christ and the Trinity, respectively.
G. There could be much more. The NIV is not a faithful translation, it is deceiving and erroneous. Just look at the following examples:
1. It omits the following entirely:
a. Matthew 17:21 Comment: Don't the NIV translators believe in prayer and fasting?b. Matthew 18:11 Don't they believe Jesus came to save? c. Matthew 23:14 Comment: Don't they condemn cruelty to widows and hypocrits? d. Mark 7:16 e. Mark 9:44 Comment: Don't they believe Hell has fire? f. Mark 9:46 Comment: Same as above. g. Mark 11:26 h. Mark 15:28 Comment: Don't they believe in fulfilled prophesy? i. Luke 17:36 j. Luke 23:17 k. John 5:33-34 l. Acts 8:37 Comment: This is one of the greatest verses in the Bible on the deity of Christ. Why leave it out? m. Acts 15:34 n. Acts 24:7 o. Acts 28:29 p. Romans 16:24
III. Response to the KJV Only Argument
The short and sweet answer is that there is no truth to the KJV only arguments. However, it is necessary to go into specifics (as an aside, the reason that much stuff produced by crackpots is never countered by those who know better is because of the amount of work required to refute what we already know to be complete lunacy. It just seems to experts so unnecessary to refute what is obvious rubbish. Unfortunately, crackpots have a habit of reacting to the lack of reaction to what they write with the phrase “see, no one has refuted me, so I must be right.” Ugh. So here is a lengthy refutation):
1. What Origen really believed about the Trinity is somewhat different than that given by the KJV onlies. It is one thing to read about Origen. It is another thing to read what he himself wrote. Take a look at some relevent sections of his Principiis:
The particular points clearly delivered in the teachings of the apostles are as follows:-- First, That there is one God, who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into being -- God from the first creation and foundation of the world --...Secondly, That Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures; that, after He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things -- "For by Him were all things made" -- He in the last times, divesting Himself (of his glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was;...Then, Thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son....John, however, with more sublimity and propriety, says in the beginning of his Gospel, when defining God by a special definition to be the Word, "And God was the Word, and this was in the beginning with God." Let him, then, who assigns a beginning to the Word or Wisdom of God, take care that he be not guilty of impiety against the unbegotten Father Himself, seeing he denies that He had always been a Father, and had generated the Word, and had possessed wisdom in all preceding periods... We worship one God, the Father and the Son, therefore, as we have explained; and our argument against the worship of other gods still continues valid. And we do not "reverence beyond measure one who has but lately appeared," as though He did not exist before; for we believe Himself when He says, "Before Abraham was, I am." Again He says, "I am the truth;" and surely none of us is so simple as to suppose that truth did not exist before the time when Christ appeared. We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will. So entirely are they one, that he who has seen the Son, "who is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of His person," has seen in Him who is the image of God, God Himself. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. IV, Origen de Principiis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956, pp. 240, 246, 643-644)
As becomes clear, Origen believed in the Trinity, despite what some of his critics may say.
2. To suggest that those who translated the NIV had a less than high view of scripture is to libel them. The Preface to the NIV states the following:
From the beginning of the project, the Committee on Bible Translation held to certain goals for the New International Version: that it would be an accurate translation and one that would have clarity and literary quality and so prove suitable for public and private reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing and liturgical use. The Committee also sought to preserve some measure of continuity with the long tradition of translating the Scriptures into English.In working toward these goals, the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God's Word in written form. They believe that it contains the divine answer to the deepest needs of humanity, that it sheds unique light on our path in a dark world, and that it sets forth the way to our eternal well-being.... ...We offer this version of the Bible to him in whose name and for whose glory it has been made. We pray that it will lead many into a better understanding of the Holy Scriptures and a fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ the incarnate Word, of whom the Scriptures so faithfully testify.
3. Much is made by KJV onlies of "only begotten" in John 3:16; they argue that to translate it any other way is to mistranslate and mutilate the text.
The reality is, that to translate monogeneis as "only begotten" is the real mistranslation. Certainly the Greek word mono means "only" and the Greek word geneis means "to give birth to" or "beget"; however, when combined they mean something entirely different, just as the combination "butter" and "fly" do not result in an insect bothersome to horses that would taste good on your popcorn. In Hebrews 11:17 we are told:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son...
The word that the NIV translates "one and only" or that the KJV translates "only begotten" is the Greek word monogeneis. It is obvious, with a little thought, that Isaac is not Abraham's "only begotten" son. Not only did Abraham also have Ishmael, we are told in Genesis 25:1-6 that he remarried after Sarah's death and had six children by his second wife, Keturah; in addition, we are told that he had "sons of his concubines".
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used monogeneis to translate Hebrew words which in English we translate as "precious" or "unique" (cf. Psalm 22:20 and 35:17, for example where it occurs in the phrase "my precious life"). This would be the proper translation of the term monogeneis, better even than the NIV's "one and only", though that is considerably better than the KJV's mistranslation.
4. Some KJV only people try to say that the NIV translates Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2 with the word "pioneer" instead of the word "author". Oddly, the NIV does not use the word "pioneer". It uses the word "author". The KJV onlyites have misrepresented the NIV and then criticized it for a nonexistent problem.
This is either sloppy work on their part or outright deception.
5. The old pronouns do not lend dignity to the text. The old pronouns are just that: old. In 1611 everyone used "thee" and "thou", educated and uneducated, professor or fisherman. There is nothing special or dignified about the language used in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. In fact, the NT was written in what is calledkoine Greek -- that is common Greek, the Greek that ordinary people used in contrast to the literary or classical Greek of the philosphers, poets and dramatists. And if we want to talk about dignity, perhaps we should contrast the KJV's translation of 2 Kings 18:27 and 2 Kings 9:8 with that of the NIV:
2 Kings 18:27But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung and drink their own piss with you? 2 Kings 9:8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel...
2 Kings 18:27But the commander replied, "Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall -- who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?" 2 Kings 9:8 The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel -- slave or free.
IV. History of the Text
The King James Translation of 1611 is based on the so-called Textus Receptus. This Textus Receptus is essentially the same as the Majority Text and the Byzantine text type.
Abundant evidence exists and is constantly growing to show that critical opinion and methods were known at least from the very early days of the formation of the NT Canon.
The era of printing obviously marks a new epoch. Among available manuscripts choice must be made and a standard set, and in view of the material at hand it is remarkable how ably the work was done. It began in Spain under Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, who printed at Alcala (Complutum) in 1514 the NT volume of his great Polyglot, though it was not actually issued until 1522. Meanwhile, Erasmus, a Dutch scholar, under patronage of Froben the printer of Basel, had been preparing a Greek NT and it was published early in 1516. It was the first published (printed with movable type) Greek New Testament. At the urging of a publisher who wanted to do be first, he prepared it very hastily, as he himself admitted. He had only about half a dozen Greek manuscripts, none of them earlier than the tenth century AD.
In 1522 Erasmus published his third edition.
His 4th edition in 1537 contains his definitive text. The next important step was taken by Robert Estienne (Stephanus), whose 3rd edition, "Regia," a folio published in Paris in 1550, was a distinct advance, and, though based directly upon the work of Ximenes and Erasmus, had marginal readings from 15 new manuscripts, one of which was Codex Bezae. Theodore Beza himself worked with Stephanus' son Henri and brought out nine editions of the NT, but no great critical advance was made in them. The same may be said of the seven Elzevir editions brought out at Leyden and Amsterdam between 1624 and 1678, the second, that of 1633, in the preface of which occurs the phrase "Textum ergo habes nune ab omnibus receptum", became the continental standard, as the 1550 edition of Stephanus had for England. The 1550 edition of Stephanus was the so called "Textus Receptus", used by the translators of the KJV.
The most notorious case of an added reading in the TR -- and in this case there is no doubt about its having been added -- is found at 1 John 5:7. It is the strongest statement in the KJV on the Trinity, but it has no basis in the Greek text. It is found in the KJV, of course, because it is in the Textus Receptus. How did it get there? Erasmus did not have it in his first edition of the Greek New Testament (1516) or his second edition (1519). It is thought that under Roman Catholic pressure -- because the passage was in the Latin Vulgate -- Erasmus put it in his third edition (1522). Martin Luther wisely did not include it in his German New Testament of that same year. It seems that Roman Catholics produced Codex Montfortianus, inserting this passage from the Latin. It is a sixteenth century manuscript in Dublin.
The facts are that these added words are not quoted by any Greek Fathers of the early church and are absent from all the early versions. They were not in the text of the original Latin Vulgate made by Jerome but were inserted later. There can be no doubt today that the words are not a part of the original text of 1 John.
V. KJV Problems
1. Manuscript errors resulting in contradictions
Compare the following passages:
2 Kings 24:8 with 2 Chronicles 36:9Ezra 2:5 with Nehemiah 7:10 Ezra 2:69 with Nehemiah 7:70-72 1 Kings 7:16 with 2 Kings 25:17 2 Samuel 8:13 with 1 Chronicles 18:12 1 Samuel 18:25, 27 with 2 Samuel 3:14 2 Samuel 8:4 with 1 Chronicles 18:41 Kings 6:2 with 2 Chronicles 3:4 1 Kings 9:23 with 2 Chronicles 8:10 2 Samuel 23:8 with 1 Chronicles 11:11 1 Kings 4:26 with 2 Chronicles 9:25
These are all examples of errors created by scribes when they were copying. For some, there are manuscripts that reconcile the problems, for others, we still don't know what the correct numbers are, yet the KJV retains all these errors.
2. Translation errors:
The King James has made some major errors in translation. The following are just a few examples. Compare the KJV reading with that of the NIV:
Isaiah 45:7KJV: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. NIV: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. Amos 3:6 KJV: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? NIV: When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Luke 13:24 and 2 Timothy 2:24 Two distinct Greek words are both rendered "strive". The term in Luke has the sense "to strive to achieve" while the word in 2 Timothy has the sense of "to quarrel." KJV: Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. KJV: And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. NIV: Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. NIV: And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Daniel 11:9 KJV: So the king of the south shall come into his kingdom, and shall return into his own land. Hebrew, my translation; cf. NIV: And he [the king of the north] will come into the kingdom of the king of the south and will return to his land. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV: Abstain from all appearance of evil. NIV: Avoid every kind of evil.
VI. The Nature of Translation
A. How translation occurs
It is important to realize -- and most people who have not learned a second language wouldn't know -- that there is no such thing as a one-to-one correspondence between languages. You cannot have a word for word translation that is at all readable, because the word order is different, the nature of the grammar is different and even the sense of a word may cover a wider or smaller range than the corresponding English word.
For instance, the word "house" in Hebrew can mean "immediate family" or "a royal dynasty" besides the equivalent English idea of a building where a person dwells. Therefore to have an accurate English translation you cannot simply translate the Hebrew word with "house"; you need to translate it according to which of the possible meanings is intended.
Idioms, likewise, do not translate across directly: for instance the English phrase "I'm sick and tired of apple pie" if translated literally could give a reader in another language the false impression that the individual in question is sleepy and ready to throw up.
Consider the following "literal translation" of the first verse of the Bible, which maintains the Hebrew word order and phrasing and ask yourself if it is easily comprehensible:
In-beginning he-created God (definite direct object) the-heavens and- (definite direct object) the-earth.
But even this is not entirely accurate in a word for word sense, because biblical Hebrew does not strictly have past tense; however, there is no other way to indicate perfect aspect (completed action).
And in front of the single words (they are only one word in Hebrew) "the-heavens" and "the-earth", is a Hebrew word that indicates that what follows is a definite direct object -- a word, as you can see, that is hardly translatable into English at all.
Having said all this, one might imagine that this first verse is a complicated sentence. Not at all. It is remarkably simple. It only becomes difficult if we expect translation to be "literal". It isn't. All translation, by its very nature, is paraphrastic and interpretive.
The way translation happens is as follows. The translator learns a foreign language and learns it well. Learning Hebrew or Greek is just like learning French or Spanish in high school. There is nothing mysterious or special about the ancient languages. Then the translator reads the foreign text and understands it. Having understood it, he or she then puts it into the best English possible.
There is no mystery associated with the translation of the Bible, nor are there any significant disagreements between translations. However, by the nature of what translation is -- the work of individuals with their own separate styles -- the wording of say, Today's English Version is not going to be identical to the King James Version or the New International Version. This is not because anyone is trying to twist something or make it say what it doesn't, but only because each translator is going to word the translation as he thinks best. But the MEANING will generally be the same. And of course between the King James and the more modern translations there is also the gap caused by the change in the English language itself -- we don't speak like the people in Shakespeare's time did, but their way of speaking is no "grander" or any more "eloquent" than ours. King James English was the way any farmer or fisherman of 1611 would have talked, just as Today's English Version or the New International Version is close to the way an average person speaks today. For all the snobbishness of attitude on the part of some regarding Shakespeare today, in his own day he was considered somewhat vulgar and not a little risque. Shakespeare was like an ordinary television drama or sitcom is for us today.
VII. Textual Criticism
KJV only people will expend considerable time and energy on finding places in the text of modern translations that "leave out" selected passages. Usually the response will be that "see, this proves that the NIV (or whatever modern translation of the Bible is being castegated) doesn't believe in this doctrine" or is "weak on this doctrine." Such comments are a bit offensive, since there are usually plenty of other passages in the newer translations that such critics conveniently ignore, which speak on the same subject.
So why do the modern translations leave things out? Those who critisize the modern translations will be quick to quote Revelation 22:19:
And if any man shall take away from the words of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and fromt he things which are written in this book (KJV)
However, one rarely, if ever hears them quote the preceding verse, verse 18:
....If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book...(KJV)
Yet, adding in is precisely what the KJV is guilty of, and those things that the newer translations "leave out" are those things that the KJV unjustly "added in."
It is necessary, therefore, to give a little discussion on the nature of textual criticism in general so that the reasons for the specific ommissions can be stated.
One change since the time of the King James translation, of course, is the improvement in the texts that are available to today's translators. They are older and that much closer to the original; moreover, the methods of textual criticism -- the science of comparing the different and sometimes inconsistent manuscripts and determining which one is the closest to the original reading -- have advanced considerably since the 1600's.
The history of the biblical texts shows clearly that all of them stand far removed from the originals both by time and by the process of transmission. They contain not only scribal errors, but even some actual transformations of the text, both deliberate and accidental. By means of textual criticism we attempt to find all the alterations that have occurred and then recover the earliest possible form of the text.
Textual criticism proceeds in three steps:
a. All the variant readings of the text are collected and arranged. Of course, this is the very reason textual criticism is necessary at all. If we had only a single copy, there would be no questions, but since we have several, which all say different things, we have a problem. Which text accurately records the original statements? We are in the position of a man with two watches: never quite sure what time it is.b. The variants must then be examined. c. The most likely reading is then determined.
The simple fact that the Masoretic text of the Old Testament (the standard text essentially the Textus Receptus of the OT) occasionally differs with the quotations of the Old Testament in the New, indicates need for textual criticism. Because the New Testament is inspired, it is wise to go with the Holy Spirit's decisions regarding which reading is the correct one.
As an example, look at Hebrews 10:5-7 in the KJV:
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
Now look at Psalm 40:6-8, which this passage in Hebrews was quoting:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
Notice the differences. The New Testament follows the reading of the Greek translation, the Septuagint, which was made about 250 BC.
It should be remembered that the Masoretic Text, produced between 600 and 1000 AD, was done by Jewish scholars who were not without their biases. An obvious bias would be an anti-Christian one. It should not surprise us that the Masoretes would prefer readings that differed from the New Testament or were in any way a comfort to Christians.
In addition, the demonstrable conflicts between the synoptic sections of the OT (Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, for instance -- see the list above) also demonstrates the need for textual criticism and indicates the unreliability of this so-called Textus Receptus of the Old Testament, the Masoretic Text.
2. The most important Hebrew manuscripts for Old Testament textual criticism are:
a. The St. Petersburg (or Leningrad) Codex, 1008 A.D. It is the largest and only complete manuscript of the entire Old Testament.b. The Aleppo Codex, 930 A.D. It used to be a complete copy of the Old Testament, but was partially destroyed in a synagogue fire in 1948. c. The British Museum Codex, 950 A.D. It is an incomplete copy of the Pentateuch. d. The Cairo Codex, 895 A.D. A copy of the Former and Latter Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets). e. The St. Petersburg (Leningrad) Codex of the Prophets, 916 A.D. containing only the Latter Prophets. f. The Reuchlin Codex of the Prophets, 1105 A.D. g. Cairo Geniza fragments, 6th to 9th century, A.D. h. Qumran Manuscripts (the Dead Sea Scrolls), 200 B.C - 70 A.D.
3. The most important ancient translations of the Old Testament into languages other than Hebrew are:
a. The Septuagint (several versions)b. The Aramaic Targums (several versions) c. The Syriac Peshitta d. The Samaritan Pentateuch e. The Latin Vulgate f. Citations in the Greek New Testament
4. Ideally, the work of textual criticism should proceed with all of these ancient versions and copies readily available. There are then some basic rules that help place the textual criticism of the Bible, whether Old or New Testament, on a firm basis that generally avoids arbitrariness and subjectivity.
a. For the Old Testament, where the Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions agree, we may assume that the original reading has been preserved. Likewise, with the New Testament, where the various manuscripts agree, we may assume the original text has been preserved. To our great relief, this covers 95 per cent of the Bible.b. Where the manuscripts differ among themselves, one should choose either the more difficult reading from the point of view of language and subject matter or the reading that most readily makes the development of the other readings intelligible. In order to make this choice, it is necessary that the critic have a thorough knowledge of the history and character of the various manuscripts. It needs also to be realized that these criteria work together and complement one another. A "more difficult reading" does not mean a "meaningless reading." c. However, the critic must not assume that just because a reading appears meaningless that it necessarily is. Scribes are not likely to turn a meaningful passage into gibberish. Therefore, if a passage is not understandable, that is often as far as we can go. We must, as scholars, acknowledge our own ignorance. d. With the Old Testament, where the Hebrew manuscripts and the translations differ, and a superior reading cannot be demonstrated on the basis of the above rules, then one should, as a matter of first principle, allow the Hebrew text to stand, unless it differs with the New Testament, in which case the New Testament reading will obtain. With text criticism of the New Testament, one will generally choose the shorter reading because of the tendency of scribes to try to "explain" passages. e. Where the different manuscripts differ and none of them seem to make any sense, one may attempt a conjecture concerning the true reading -- a conjecture that must be validated by demonstrating the process of the textual corruption that would have lead to the existing text forms. Such a conjecture, however, must not be used to validate the interpretation of a whole passage in that it might have been made on the basis of an expectation derived from the whole.
5. The Causes of Textual Corruption
The goal of textual criticism is to remove the textual errors and restore the original readings. To aid in this goal, it is helpful if the textual critic has an idea of what sorts of errors he or she is likely to find.
When copying out a text, errors occur in every conceivable way, as we no doubt know from our own experiences. Sometimes it is difficult to explain, even to ourselves, how we might have come to make a particular error. Therefore it is unlikely that we will be able to correct or explain everything that has eluded the scribes over the centuries. A reading that appears doubtful or corrupt to us today may have been caused by a hole or some other damage to the copyist's manuscript. Or maybe the letters or words in a given section of his text were faded and nearly illegible, forcing the copyist to make his best guess. Moreover, a single error can give rise to many others, leaving us with no clue as to how it might have happened.
And of course, as always, the assumption of a textual error may really be only a cover for our failure to understand the language or the idiom.
Beyond these unrecoverable sorts of errors, there are two categories of errors that may be distinguished and often corrected: errors due to an unintentional, mechanical lapse on the part of the copyist (often called Errors of Reading and Writing), and two, errors that are the result of deliberate alteration (called Intentional Alterations).
a. Errors of Reading and Writing
1. Confusion of similar lettersIn Hebrew, there are several letters which look very similar to one another: the B and K, R and D, H and T, W and Y. 2. Transposition of Letters 3. Haplography -- a fancy word that means when there were two or more identical or similar letters, groups of letters, or words all in sequence, one of them gets omitted by error. Of course, there is some evidence that some of these supposed "errors" are actually equivalent to English contractions like "don't" instead of "do not" and therefore are not errors at all. 4. Dittography -- another fancy word that refers to an error caused by repeating a letter, group of letters , a word or a group of words. The opposite, really, of Haplography. 5. Homoioteleuton -- an even fancier word which refers to the error that occurs when two words are identical, or similar in form, or have similar endings and are close to each other. It is easy in this sort of situation for the eye of the copyist to skip from one word to the other, leaving out everything in between. A good example of this occurs in 1 Samuel 14:41:
Therefore Saul said unto the Lord God of Israel, give a perfect lot. (KJV)Therefore Saul said, "O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim: but if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim. (RSV)
The copyist's eye jumped from the first instance of the word "Israel" to the last instance, leaving out everything in between for the reading that the KJV translators had at their disposal. The word translated "perfect lot" in the KJV is spelled with the same consonants in Hebrew (TH-M-M) as the word Thummim (the vowels were added to the Hebrew text by the Masoretes between AD 600 and 1000.6. Errors of Joining and Dividing Words. This is more a problem in the New Testament than it is in the Old Testament, for while the Greek manuscripts were written well into the Medieval period without spacing or dividing signs between words, there is no evidence that this was EVER the case with the Old Testament Hebrew texts. In fact, the evidence is very strong to the contrary; inscriptions on walls from the time of Hezekiah actually had dots between each word to separate them from one another.
b. Deliberate Alterations
The Samaritan Pentateuch, as an example, is notorious for its purposeful changes designed to help legitimize some of their sectarian biases. They were sort of like the Jehovah's witnesses of their day.
A more substantive change in the Hebrew text came after the Babylonian captivity in the time of Ezra (fifth century BC) when the alphabet changed from the Old Hebrew Script to the Aramaic Square Script -- in which all copies of the Old Testament except for the Samaritan Pentateuch are written.
It should not surprise us that there has been a certain amount of alteration in the text over time, since the Bible was not intended to be the object of scholarly study but rather was to be read by the whole believing community as God's word to them. Thus, the text would undergo adaptations to fit the linguistic needs of the community. For instance in Isaiah 39:1 the Masoretic Text preserves a rare word, hazaq, which has the sense of "to get well, recuperate." The community that produced the Dead Sea scrolls altered this word to the more common Hebrew word for get well, zayah. Other examples of adaptation to colloquial usage are likely. The lack of early material for the Old Testament makes it impossible to demonstrate these sorts of alterations on a larger scale. But a few small alterations are easily demonstrable.
The treatment of the divine name Baal is an example of deliberate change for theological reasons. In personal names which included the word "Baal", which simply means "master" or "lord", the scribes deliberately replaced "Baal" with "Bosheth," which means "shame". Hence, Jonathan's son was actually named "Meribbaal" rather than "Mephibosheth" (cf. 1 Chron. 8:34, 9:30 and 2 Sam 9:6, 19:24, 21:7)
Another example of deliberate alteration is found in Job 1:5, 11 and 2:5, 9 where we now read the word berek, to bless (with God as the object) even though we should expect to find the word qalal, to curse. The scribes replaced the offensive expression "to curse God" with a euphemism -- motivated no doubt by their fear of taking God's name in vain (see Exodus 20:7).
The KJV was an acceptable translation in 1611; however, not only has the English language changed substantially, but our understanding of the original languages and the textual evidence has improved to such an extent that in point of fact, the KJV is currently one of the worst translations available. It is difficult for the modern reader to understand, it contains numerous errors, and it is very weak on the doctrine of the Trinity.
No translation is perfect; all are produced by fallible humans. Only God's word in the original manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek were flawless.
Unfortunately, the originals are no longer in existence. However, through the science of textual criticism the original word of God has been substantially restored.
And it should be borne in mind that in over 90% of the passages in the Bible there are no differences between the various texts.
Kenneth L. Barker, ed. The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986Eugene H. Glassman. The Translation Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981 James Orr, ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Vol. 5, pp. 2956-2957 MacRae, Allan A., and Robert C. Newman. The Textus Receptus and the King James Version. Hatfield, Penn.: Biblical Theological Seminary, 1975. Brown, Kenneth I. A Critical Evaluation of the Text of the King James Bible. Allen Park, Mich.: Detroit Baptist Divinity School, 1975. Carson, D.A. The King James Version Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.