The King James Bible Defended
by Edward F. Hills
THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS AND THE KING JAMES VERSION
What about all the modern Bible versions and paraphrases which are being sold today by bookstores and publishing houses? Are all these modern-speech Bibles “holy” Bibles? Does God reveal Himself in them? Ought Christians today to rely on them for guidance and send the King James Version into honorable retirement? In order to answer these questions let us first consider the claims of the Textus Receptus and the King James Version and then those of the modern versions that seek to supplant them.
1. Three Alternative Views Of The Textus Receptus (Received Text)
One of the leading principles of the Protestant Reformation was the sole and absolute authority of the holy Scriptures. The New Testament text in which early Protestants placed such implicit reliance was the Textus Receptus (Received Text), which was first printed in 1516 under the editorship of Erasmus. Was this confidence of these early Protestants misplaced? There are three answers to this question which may be briefly summarized as follows:
(a) The Naturalistic, Critical View of the Textus Receptus
Naturalistic textual critics, of course, for years have not hesitated to say that the Protestant Reformers were badly mistaken in their reliance upon the Textus Receptus. According to these scholars, the Textus Receptus is the worst New Testament text that ever existed and must be wholly discarded. One of the first to take this stand openly was Richard Bentley, the celebrated English philologian. In an apology written in 1713 he developed the party line which naturalistic critics have used ever since to sell their views to conservative Christians. (1) New Testament textual criticism, he asserted, has nothing to do with Christian doctrine since the substance of doctrine is the same even in the worst manuscripts. Then he added that the New Testament text has suffered less injury by the hand of time than the text of any profane author. And finally, he concluded by saying that we cannot begin the study of the New Testament text with any definite belief concerning the nature of God’s providential preservation of the Scriptures. Rather we must begin our study from a neutral standpoint and then allow the results of this neutral method to teach us what God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text actually has been. In other words, we begin with agnosticism and work ourselves into faith gradually. Some seminaries still teach this party line.
(b) The High Anglican View of the Textus Receptus
This was the view of Dean J. W. Burgon, Prebendary F. H. A. Scrivener, and Prebendary Edward Miller. These conservative New Testament textual critics were not Protestants but high Anglicans. Being high Anglicans, they recognized only three ecclesiastical bodies as true Christian churches, namely, the Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church, in which they themselves officiated. Only these three communions, they insisted, had the “apostolic succession.” Only these three, they maintained, were governed by bishops who had been consecrated by earlier bishops and so on back in an unbroken chain to the first bishops, who had been consecrated by the Apostles through the laying on of hands. All other denominations these high Anglicans dismissed as mere “sects.”
It was Burgon’s high Anglicanism which led him to place so much emphasis on the New Testament quotations of the Church Fathers, most of whom had been bishops. To him these quotations were vital because they proved that the Traditional New Testament Text found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts had been authorized from the very beginning by the bishops of the early Church, or at least by the majority of these bishops. This high Anglican principle, however, failed Burgon when he came to deal with the printed Greek New Testament text. For from Reformation times down to his own day the printed Greek New Testament text which had been favored by the bishops of the Anglican Church was the Textus Receptus, and the Textus Receptus had not been prepared by bishops but by Erasmus, who was an independent scholar. Still worse, from Burgon’s standpoint, was the fact that the particular form of the Textus Receptus used in the Church of England was the third edition of Stephanus, who was a Calvinist. For these reasons, therefore, Burgon and Scrivener looked askance at the Textus Receptus and declined to defend it except in so far as it agreed with the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.
This position, however, is illogical. If we believe in the providential preservation of the New Testament text, then we must defend the Textus Receptus as well as the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts. For the Textus Receptus is the only form in which this Traditional Text has circulated in print. To decline to defend the Textus Receptus is to give the impression that God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text ceased with the invention of printing. It is to suppose that God, having preserved a pure New Testament text all during the manuscript period, unaccountably left this pure text hiding in the manuscripts and allowed an inferior text to issue from the printing press and circulate among His people for more than 450 years. Much, then, as we admire Burgon for his general orthodoxy and for his is defense of the Traditional New Testament Text, we cannot follow him in his high Anglican emphasis or in his disregard for the Textus Receptus
(c) The Orthodox Protestant View of the Textus Receptus
The defense of the Textus Receptus, therefore, is a necessary part of the defense of Protestantism. It is entailed by the logic of faith, the basic steps of which are as follows: First, the Old Testament text was preserved by the Old Testament priesthood and the scribes and scholars that grouped themselves around that priesthood (Deut. 31:24-26). Second, the New Testament text has been preserved by the universal priesthood of believers by faithful Christians in every walk of life (1 Peter 2:9). Third, the Traditional Text, found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, is the True Text because it represents the God-guided usage of this universal priesthood of believers. Fourth, The first printed text of the Greek New Testament was not a blunder or a set-back but a forward step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. Hence the few significant departures of that text from the Traditional Text are only God’s providential corrections of the Traditional Text in those few places in which such corrections were needed. Fifth, through the usage of Bible-believing Protestants God placed the stamp of His approval on this first printed text, and it became the Textus Receptus (Received Text).
Hence, as orthodox Protestant Christians, we believe that the formation of the Textus Receptus was guided by the special providence of God. There were three ways in which the editors of the Textus Receptus Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs, were providentially guided. In the first place, they were guided by the manuscripts which God in His providence had made available to them. In the second place, they were guided by the providential circumstances in which they found themselves. Then in the third place, and most of all, they were guided by the common faith. Long before the Protestant Reformation, the God-guided usage of the Church had produced throughout Western Christendom a common faith concerning the New Testament text, namely, a general belief that the currently received New Testament text, primarily the Greek text and secondarily the Latin text, was the True New Testament Text which had been preserved by God’s special providence. It was this common faith that guided Erasmus and the other early editors of the Textus Receptus.
2. How Erasmus and His Successors Were Guided By the Common Faith
When we believe in Christ, the logic of faith leads us first, to a belief in the infallible inspiration of the original Scriptures, second, to a belief in the providential preservation of this original text down through the ages and third, to a belief in the Bible text current among believers as the providentially preserved original text. This is the common faith which has always been present among Christians. For Christ and His Word are inseparable, and faith in Him and in the holy Scriptures has been the common characteristic of all true believers from the beginning. Always they have regarded the current Bible text as the infallibly inspired and providentially preserved True Text. Origen, for example, in the :3rd century, was expressing the faith of all when he exclaimed to Africanus “Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the churches of Christ had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died!” (2)
This faith, however, has from time to time been distorted by the intrusion of unbiblical ideas. For example, many Jews and early Christians believed that the inspiration of the Old Testament had been repeated three times. According to them, not only had the original Old Testament writers been inspired but also Ezra, who rewrote the whole Old Testament after it had been lost. And the Septuagint likewise, they maintained, had been infallibly inspired. Also the Roman Catholics have distorted the common faith by their false doctrine that the authority of the Scriptures rests on the authority of the Church. It was this erroneous view that led the Roman Church to adopt the Latin Vulgate rather than the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as its authoritative Bible. And finally, many conservative Christians today distort the common faith by their adherence to the theories of naturalistic New Testament textual criticism. They smile at the legends concerning Ezra and the Septuagint, but they themselves have concocted a myth even more absurd, namely, that the true New Testament text was lost for more than 1,.500 years and then restored by Westcott and Hort.
But in spite of these distortions due to human sin and error this common faith in Christ and in His Word has persisted among believers from the days of the Apostles until now, and God has used this common faith providentially to preserve the holy Scriptures. Let us now consider how it guided Erasmus and his successors in their editorial labors on the Textus Receptus.
(a) The Life of Erasmus—A Brief Review
Erasmus was born at Rotterdam in 1466, the illegitimate son of a priest but well cared for by his parents. After their early death he was given the best education available to a young man of his day at first at Deventer and then at the Augustinian monastery at Steyn. In 1492 he was ordained priest, but there is no record that he ever functioned as such. By 1495 he was studying in Paris. In 1499 he went to England, where he made the helpful friendship of John Colet, later dean of St. Paul’s who quickened his interest in biblical studies. He then went back to France and the Netherlands. In 1505 he again visited England and then passed three years in Italy. In 1509 he returned to England for the third time and taught at Cambridge University until 1514. In 1515 he went to Basel, where he published his New Testament in 1516, then back to the Netherlands for a sojourn at the University of Louvain. Then he returned to Basel in 1521 and remained there until 1529, in which year he removed to the imperial town of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Finally, in 1535, he again returned to Basel and died there the following year in the midst of his Protestant friends, without relations of any sort, so far as known, with the Roman Catholic Church. (3)
One might think that all this moving around would have interfered with Erasmus’ activity as a scholar and writer, but quite the reverse is true. By his travels he was brought into contact with all the intellectual currents of his time and stimulated to almost superhuman efforts. He became the most famous scholar and author of his day and one of the most prolific writers of all time, his collected works filling ten large volumes in the Leclerc edition of 1705 (phototyped by Olms in 1962). (4) As an editor also his productivity was tremendous. Ten columns of the catalogue of the library in the British Museum are taken up with the bare enumeration of the works translated, edited, or annotated by Erasmus, and their subsequent reprints. Included are the greatest names of the classical and patristic world, such as Ambrose, Aristotle, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, Cicero, and Jerome. (5) An almost unbelievable showing.
To conclude, there was no man in all Europe better prepared than Erasmus for the work of editing the first printed Greek New Testament text, and this is why, we may well believe, God chose him and directed him providentially in the accomplishment of this task.
(b) Erasmus Guided by the Common Faith— Factors Which Influenced Him
In order to understand how God guided Erasmus providentially let us consider the three alternative views which were held in Erasmus’ days concerning the preservation of the New Testament text, namely, the humanistic view, the scholastic view, and the common view, which we have called the common faith.
The humanistic view was well represented by the writings of Laurentius Valla (1405-57), a famous scholar of the Italian renaissance. Valla emphasized the importance of language. According to him, the decline of civilization in the dark ages was due to the decay of the Greek and Latin languages. Hence it was only through the study of classical literature that the glories of ancient Greece and Rome could be recaptured. Valla also wrote a treatise on the Latin Vulgate, comparing it with certain Greek New Testament manuscripts which he had in his possession. Erasmus, who from his youth had been an admirer of Valla found a manuscript of Valla’s treatise in 1504 and had it printed in the following year. In this work Valla favored the Greek New Testament text over the Vulgate. The Latin text often differed from the Greek, he reported. Also there were omissions and additions in the Latin translation, and the Greek wording was generally better than that of the Latin. (6)
The scholastic theologians, on the other hand, warmly defended the Latin Vulgate as the only true New Testament text. In 1514 Martin Dorp of the University of Louvain wrote to Erasmus asking him not to publish his forthcoming Greek New Testament. Dorp argued that if the Vulgate contained falsifications of the original Scriptures and errors, the Church would have been wrong for many centuries, which was impossible. The references of most Church Councils to the Vulgate, Dorp insisted, proved that the Church considered this Latin version to be the official Bible and not the Greek New Testament, which, he maintained, had been corrupted by the heretical Greek Church. (7) And after Erasmus’ Greek New Testament had been published in 1516, Stunica, a noted Spanish scholar, accused it of being an open condemnation of the Latin Vulgate, the version of the Church. (8) And about the same time Peter Sutor, once of the Sorbonne and later a Carthusian monk, declared that “If in one point the Vulgate were in error, the entire authority of holy Scripture would collapse.” (9)
Believing Bible students today are often accused of taking the same extreme position in regard to the King James Version that Peter Sutor took more than 450 years ago in regard to the Latin Vulgate. But this is false. We take the third position which we have mentioned, namely, the common view. In Erasmus’ day this view occupied the middle ground between the humanistic view and the scholastic view. Those that held this view acknowledged that the Scriptures had been providentially preserved down through the ages. They did not, however, agree with the scholastic theologians in tying this providential preservation to the Latin Vulgate. On the contrary, along with Laurentius Valla and other humanists, they asserted the superiority of the Greek New Testament text.
This common view remained a faith rather than a well articulated theory. No one at that time drew the logical but unpalatable conclusion that the Greek Church rather than the Roman Church had been the providentially appointed guardian of the New Testament text. But this view, though vaguely apprehended, was widely held, so much so that it may justly be called the common view. Before the Council of Trent (1546) it was favored by some of the highest officials of the Roman Church, notably, it seems, by Leo X, who was pope from 1513 to 1521 and to whom Erasmus dedicated his New Testament. Erasmus’ close friends also, John Colet, for example, and Thomas More and Jacques Lefevre, all of whom like Erasmus sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within, likewise adhered to this common view. Even the scholastic theologian Martin Dorp was finally persuaded by Thomas More to adopt it.” (10)
In the days of Erasmus, therefore, it was commonly believed by well informed Christians that the original New Testament text had been providentially preserved in the current New Testament text, primarily in the current Greek text and secondarily in the current Latin text. Erasmus was influenced by this common faith and probably shared it, and God used it providentially to guide Erasmus in his editorial labors on the Textus Receptus.
(c) Erasmus’ Five Editions of the Textus Receptus
Between the years 1516 and 1535 Erasmus published five editions of the Greek New Testament. In the first edition (1516) the text was preceded by a dedication to Pope Leo X, an exhortation to the reader, a discussion of the method used, and a defense of this method. Then came the Greek New Testament text accompanied by Erasmus’ own Latin translation, and then this was followed by Erasmus’ notes, giving his comments on the text. In his 2nd edition (1519) Erasmus revised both his Greek text and his own Latin translation. His substitution in John 1:1 of sermo (speech) for verbum (word), the rendering of the Latin Vulgate, aroused much controversy. The 3rd edition (1522) is chiefly remarkable for the inclusion of 1 John 5:7, which had been omitted in the previous editions. The 4th edition (1527) contained the Greek text, the Latin Vulgate, and Erasmus’ Latin translation in three parallel columns. The 5th edition (1535) omitted the Vulgate, thus resuming the practice of printing the Greek text and the version of Erasmus side by side. (11)
(d) The Greek Manuscripts Used by Erasmus
When Erasmus came to Basel in July, 1515, to begin his work, he found five Greek New Testament manuscripts ready for his use. These are now designated by the following numbers: 1 (an 11th-century manuscript of the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles), 2 (a 15th-century manuscript of the Gospels), 2ap (a 12th-14th-century manuscript of Acts and the Epistles), 4ap (a 15th-century manuscript of Acts and the Epistles), and 1r (a 12th-century manuscript of Revelation). Of these manuscripts Erasmus used 1 and 4ap only occasionally. In the Gospels Acts, and Epistles his main reliance was on 2 and 2ap. (12)
Did Erasmus use other manuscripts beside these five in preparing his Textus Receptus? The indications are that he did. According to W. Schwarz (1955), Erasmus made his own Latin translation of the New Testament at Oxford during the years 1505-6. His friend, John Colet who had become Dean of St. Paul’s, lent him two Latin manuscripts for this undertaking, but nothing is known about the Greek manuscripts which he used. (13) He must have used some Greek manuscripts or other, however, and taken notes on them. Presumably therefore he brought these notes with him to Basel along with his translation and his comments on the New Testament text. It is well known also that Erasmus looked for manuscripts everywhere during his travels and that he borrowed them from everyone he could. Hence although the Textus Receptus was based mainly on the manuscripts which Erasmus found at Basel, it also included readings taken from others to which he had access. It agreed with the common faith because it was founded on manuscripts which in the providence of God were readily available.
(e) Erasmus’ Notes—His Knowledge of Variant Readings and Critical Problems
Through his study of the writings of Jerome and other Church Fathers Erasmus became very well informed concerning the variant readings of the New Testament text. Indeed almost all the important variant readings known to scholars today were already known to Erasmus more than 460 years ago and discussed in the notes (previously prepared) which he placed after the text in his editions of the Greek New Testament. Here, for example, Erasmus dealt with such problem passages as the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13), the interview of the rich young man with Jesus (Matt. 19:17-22), the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), the angelic song (Luke 2:14), the angel, agony, and bloody sweat omitted (Luke 22:43-44), the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53 – 8:11), and the mystery of godliness (l Tim. 3:16).
In his notes Erasmus placed before the reader not only ancient discussions concerning the New Testament text but also debates which took place in the early Church over the New Testament canon and the authorship of some of the New Testament books, especially Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Not only did he mention the doubts reported by Jerome and the other Church Fathers, but also added some objections of his own. However, he discussed these matters somewhat warily, declaring himself willing at any time to submit to “The consensus of public opinion and especially to the authority of the Church.” (14) In short, he seemed to recognize that in reopening the question of the New Testament canon he was going contrary to the common faith.
But if Erasmus was cautious in his notes, much more was he so in his text, for this is what would strike the reader’s eye immediately. Hence in the editing of his Greek New Testament text especially Erasmus was guided by the common faith in the current text. And back of this common faith was the controlling providence of God. For this reason Erasmus’ humanistic tendencies do not appear in the Textus Receptus which he produced. Although not himself outstanding as a man of faith, in his editorial labors on this text he was providentially influenced and guided by the faith of others. In spite of his humanistic tendencies Erasmus was clearly used of God to place the Greek New Testament text in print, just as Martin Luther was used of God to bring in the Protestant Reformation in spite of the fact that, at least at first, he shared Erasmus’ doubts concerning Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. (15)
(f) Latin Vulgate Readings in the Textus Receptus
The God who brought the New Testament text safely through the ancient and medieval manuscript period did not fumble when it came time to transfer this text to the modern printed page. This is the conviction which guides the believing Bible student as he considers the relationship of the printed Textus Receptus to the Traditional New Testament text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.
These two texts are virtually identical. Kirsopp Lake and his associates (1928) demonstrated this fact in their intensive researches in the Traditional text (which they called the Byzantine text). Using their collations, they came to the conclusion that in the 11th chapter of Mark, “the most popular text in the manuscripts of the tenth to the fourteenth century” (16) differed from the Textus Receptus only four times. This small number of differences seems almost negligible in view of the fact that in this same chapter Aleph, B. and D) differ from the Textus Receptus 69,71, and 95 times respectively. Also add to this the fact that in this same chapter B differs from Aleph 34 times and from D 102 times and that Aleph differs from D 100 times.
There are, however, a few places in which the Textus Receptus differs from the Traditional text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. The most important of these differences are due to the fact that Erasmus, influenced by the usage of the Latin-speaking Church in which he was reared, sometimes followed the Latin Vulgate rather than the Traditional Greek text.
Are the readings which Erasmus thus introduced into the Textus Receptus necessarily erroneous’? By no means ought we to infer this. For it is inconceivable that the divine providence which had preserved the New Testament text during the long ages of the manuscript period should blunder when at last this text was committed to the printing press. According to the analogy of faith, then, we conclude that the Textus Receptus was a further step in God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text and that these few Latin Vulgate readings which were incorporated into the Textus Receptus were genuine readings which had been preserved in the usage of the Latin-speaking Church. Erasmus, we may well believe, was guided providentially by the common faith to include these readings in his printed Greek New Testament text. In the Textus Receptus God corrected the few mistakes of any consequence which yet remained in the Traditional New Testament text of the majority of the Greek manuscripts.
The following are some of the most familiar and important of those relatively few Latin Vulgate readings which, though not part of the Traditional Greek text, seem to have been placed in the Textus Receptus by the direction of God’s special providence and therefore are to be retained. The reader will note that these Latin Vulgate readings are also found in other ancient witnesses, namely, old Greek manuscripts, versions, and Fathers.
Matt. 10:8 raise the dead, is omitted by the majority of the Greek manuscripts. This reading is present, however, in Aleph B C D 1, the Latin Vulgate, and the Textus Receptus.
Matt. 27: 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots. Present in Eusebius (c. 325), 1 and other “Caesarean” manuscripts, the Harclean Syriac, the Old Latin, the Vulgate, and the Textus Receptus. Omitted by the majority of the Greek manuscripts.
John 3:25 Then there arose a questioning between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. Pap 66, Aleph, 1 and other “Caesarean” manuscripts, the Old Latin, the Vulgate, and the Textus Receptus read the Jews. Pap 75, B. the Peshitta, and the majority of the Greek manuscripts read, a Jew.
Acts 8:37 And Philip said, If thou beievest with all shine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. As J. A. Alexander (1857) suggested, this verse, though genuine, was omitted by many scribes, “as unfriendly to the practice of delaying baptism, which had become common, if not prevalent, before the end of the 3rd century.” (17) Hence the verse is absent from the majority of the Greek manuscripts. But it is present in some of them, including E (6th or 7th century). It is cited by Irenaeus (c. 180) and Cyprian (c.250) and is found in the Old Latin and the Vulgate. In his notes Erasmus says that he took this reading from the margin of 4ap and incorporated it into the Textus Receptus.
Acts 9:5 it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. This reading is absent here from the Greek manuscripts but present in Old Latin manuscripts and in the Latin Vulgate known to Erasmus. It is present also at the end of Acts 9:4 in E, 431, the Peshitta, and certain manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate. In Acts 26:14, however, this reading is present in all the Greek manuscripts. In his notes Erasmus indicates that he took this reading from Acts 26:14 and inserted it here.
Acts 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? and the Lord said unto him. This reading is found in the Latin Vulgate and in other ancient witnesses. It is absent, however, from the Greek manuscripts, due, according to Lake and Cadbury (1933), “to the paucity of Western Greek texts and the absence of D at this point.” (18) In his notes Erasmus indicates that this reading is a translation made by him from the Vulgate into Greek.
Acts 20:28 Church of God. Here the majority of the Greek manuscripts read, Church of the Lord and God. The Latin Vulgate, however, and the Textus Receptus read, Church of God, which is also the reading of Aleph B and other ancient witnesses.
Rom. 16:25-27 In the majority of the manuscripts this doxology is placed at the end of chapter 14. In the Latin Vulgate and the Textus Receptus it is placed at the end of chapter l6 and this is also the position it occupies in Aleph B C and D.
Rev. 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life. According to Hoskier, all the Greek manuscripts, except possibly one or two, read, tree of life. The Textus Receptus reads, book of life, with the Latin Vulgate (including the very old Vulgate manuscript F), the Bohairic version, Ambrose (d. 397), and the commentaries of Primasius (6th century) and Haymo (9th century). This is one of the verses which Erasmus is said to have translated from Latin into Greek. But Hoskier seems to doubt that Erasmus did this, suggesting that he may have followed Codex 141. (19)
(g) The Human Aspect of the Textus Receptus
God works providentially through sinful and fallible human beings, and therefore His providential guidance has its human as well as its divine side. And these human elements were evident in the first edition (1516) of the Textus Receptus. For one thing, the work was performed so hastily that the text was disfigured with a great number of typographical errors. These misprints, however, were soon eliminated by Erasmus himself in his later editions and by other early editors and hence are not a factor which need to be taken into account in any estimate of the abiding value of the Textus Receptus.
The few typographical errors which still remain in the Textus Receptus of Revelation do not involve important readings. This fact, clearly attributable to God’s special providence, can be demonstrated by a study of H. C. Hoskier’s monumental commentary on Revelation (1929), (19) which takes the Textus Receptus as its base. Here we see that the only typographical error worth noting occurs in Rev.17:8, the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Here the reading kaiper estin (and yet is) seems to be a misprint for kai paresti (and is at hand), which is the reading of Codex 1r the manuscript which Erasmus used in Revelation.
The last six verses of Codex 1r (Rev. 22:16-21) were lacking, and its text in other places was sometimes hard to distinguish from the commentary of Andreas of Caesarea in which it was embedded. According to almost all scholars, Erasmus endeavored to supply these deficiencies in his manuscript by retranslating the Latin Vulgate into Greek. Hoskier however, was inclined to dispute this on the evidence of manuscript 141. (19) In his 4th edition of his Greek New Testament (1527) Erasmus corrected much of this translation Greek (if it was indeed such) on the basis of a comparison with the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (which had been printed at Acala in Spain under the direction of Cardinal Ximenes and published in 1522), but he overlooked some of it, and this still remains in the Textus Receptus. These readings, however, do not materially affect the sense of the passages in which they occur. They are only minor blemishes which can easily be removed or corrected in marginal notes. The only exception is book for tree in Rev. 22:19, a variant which Erasmus could not have failed to notice but must have retained purposely. Critics blame him for this but here he may have been guided providentially by the common faith to follow the Latin Vulgate.
There is one passage in Revelation, however, in which the critics rather inconsistently, blame Erasmus for not moving in the direction of the Latin Vulgate. This is Rev. 22:14a, Blessed are they that do His commandments, etc. Here, according to Hoskier, (19) Aleph and A and a few Greek minuscule manuscripts read, wash their robes, and this is the reading favored by the critics. A few other Greek manuscripts and the Sahidic version read, have washed their robes. The Latin Vulgate reads wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb. But the Textus Receptus reading of Erasmus, do His commandments, is found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts and in the Bohairic and Syriac versions and is undoubtedly the Traditional reading.
It is customary for naturalistic critics to make the most of human imperfections in the Textus Receptus and to sneer at it as a mean and almost sordid thing. These critics picture the Textus Receptus as merely a money-making venture on the part of Froben the publisher. Froben, they say, heard that the Spanish Cardinal Ximenes was about to publish a printed Greek New Testament text as part of his great Complutensian Polyglot Bible. In order to get something on the market first, it is said Froben hired Erasmus as his editor and rushed a Greek New Testament through his press in less than a year’s time. But those who concentrate in this way on the human factors involved in the production of the Textus Receptus are utterly unmindful of the providence of God. For in the very next year, in the plan of God, the Reformation was to break out in Wittenberg, and it was important that the Greek New Testament should be published first in one of the future strongholds of Protestantism by a book seller who was eager to place it in the hands of the people and not in Spain, the land of the Inquisition, by the Roman Church, which was intent on keeping the Bible from the people.
(h) Robert Stephanus—His Four Editions of the Textus Receptus
After the death of Erasmus in 1536 God in His providence continued to extend the influence of the Textus Receptus. One of the agents through whom He accomplished this was the famous French printer and scholar Robert Stephanus (1503-59). Robert’s father Henry and his stepfather Simon de Colines were printers who had published Bibles, and Robert was not slow to follow their example. In 1523 he published a Latin New Testament, and two times he published the Hebrew Bible entire. But the most important were his four editions of the Greek New Testament in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551 respectively. These activities aroused the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, so much so that in 1550 he was compelled to leave Paris and settle in Geneva, where he became a Protestant, embracing the Reformed faith. (20)
Stephanus’ first two editions (1546 and 1549) were pocket size (large pockets) printed with type cast at the expense of the King of France. In text they were a compound of the Complutensian and Erasmian editions. Stephanus’ 4th edition (1551) was also pocket size. In it the text was for the first time divided into verses. But most important was Stephanus’ 3rd edition. This was a small folio (8 1/2 by 13 inches) likewise printed at royal expense. In the margin of this edition Stephanus entered variant readings taken from the Complutensian edition and also 14 manuscripts, one of which is thought to have been Codex D. In text the 3rd and 4th editions of Stephanus agreed closely with the 5th edition of Erasmus, which was gaining acceptance everywhere as the providentially appointed text. It was the influence no doubt of this common faith which restrained Stephanus from adopting any of the variant readings which he had collected. (21)
(i) Calvin’s Comments on the New Testament Text
The mention of Geneva leads us immediately to think of John Calvin (1509-64), the famous Reformer who had his headquarters in this city. In his commentaries (which covered every New Testament book except 2 and 3 John and Revelation) Calvin mentions Erasmus by name 78 times, far more often than any other contemporary scholar. Most of these references (72 to be exact) are criticisms of Erasmus’ Latin version, and once (Phil. 2:6) Calvin complains about Erasmus’ refusal to admit that the passage in question teaches the deity of Christ. But five references deal with variant readings which Erasmus suggested in his notes, and of these Calvin adopted three. On the basis of these statistics therefore it is perhaps not too much to say that Calvin disapproved of Erasmus as a translator and theologian but thought better of him as a New Testament textual critic.
In John 8:59 Calvin follows the Latin Vulgate in omitting going through the midst of them, and so passed by. Here he accepts the suggestion of Erasmus that this clause has been borrowed from Luke 4:30. And in Heb. l l:37 he agrees with Erasmus in omitting were tempted. But in readings of major importance Calvin rejected the opinions of Erasmus. For example, Calvin dismisses Erasmus’ suggestion that the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer is an interpolation (Matt. 6:13). He ignores Erasmus’ discussion of the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). He is more positive than Erasmus in his acceptance of the pericope de adultera (John 7:53-8:11). He opposes Erasmus’ attack on the reading God was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim.3:16). And he receives 1 John 5:7 as genuine.
To the three variant readings taken from Erasmus’ notes Calvin added 18 others. The three most important of these Calvin took from the Latin Vulgate namely, light instead of Spirit (Eph.5:9), Christ instead of God (Eph. 5:21), without thy works instead of by thy works (James 2:18). Calvin also made two conjectural emendations. In James 4:2 he followed Erasmus (2nd edition) and Luther in changing kill to envy. Also he suggested that 1 John 2:14 was an interpolation because to him it seemed repetitious. (22)
In short, there appears in Calvin as well as in Erasmus a humanistic tendency to treat the New Testament text like the text of any other book. This tendency, however, was checked and restrained by the common faith in the current New Testament text, a faith in which Calvin shared to a much greater degree than did Erasmus.
(j) Theodore Beza’s Ten Editions of the New Testament
Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Calvin’s disciple and successor at Geneva, was renowned for his ten editions of the Greek New Testament nine published during his lifetime and one after his death. He is also famous for his Latin translation of the New Testament, first published in 1556 and reprinted more than 100 times. Four of Beza’s Greek New Testaments are independent folio editions, but the six others are smaller reprints. The folio editions contain Beza’s critical notes, printed not at the end of the volume, as with Erasmus, but under the text. The dates of these folio editions are usually given as 1565, 1582, 1588-9, and 1598 respectively. There seems to be some confusion here, however, because there is a copy at the University of Chicago dated 1560, and Metzger (1968), following Reuss (1872), talks about a 1559 edition of Beza’s Greek New Testament. (23)
In his edition of 1582 (which Beza calls his third edition) Beza listed the textual materials employed by him. They included the variant readings collected by Robert Stephanus, the Syriac version published in 1569 by Tremellius, a converted Jewish scholar, and also the Arabic New Testament version in a Latin translation prepared by Francis Junius, later a son-in-law of Tremellius. Beza also mentioned two of his own manuscripts. One of these was D, the famous Codex Bezae containing the Gospels and Acts, which had been in his possession from 1562 until 1581, in which year he had presented it to the University of Cambridge. The other was D2, Codex Claromontanus, a manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, which Beza had obtained from the monastery of Clermont in Northern France. But in spite of this collection of materials, Beza in his text rarely departs from the 4th edition of Stephanus, only 38 times according to Reuss (1872). (24) This is a remarkable fact which shows the hold which the common faith had upon Beza’s mind.
In his notes Beza defended the readings of his text which he deemed doctrinally important. For example, he upheld the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 against the adverse testimony of Jerome. “Jerome says this,” he concludes. “But in this section I notice nothing which disagrees with the narratives of the other Evangelists or indicates the style of a different author, and I testify that this section is found in all the oldest manuscripts which I happen to have seen.” And in 1 Tim. 3:16 Beza defends the reading God was manifest in the flesh. “The concept itself,” he declares, “demands that we receive this as referring to the very person of Christ.” And concerning 1 John 5:7 Beza says, “It seems to me that this clause ought by all means to be retained.”
On the other hand, Beza confesses doubt concerning some other passages in his text. In Luke 2:14 Beza places good will toward men in his text but disputes it in his notes. “Nevertheless, following the authority of Origen, Chrysostom, the Old (Vulgate) translation, and finally the sense itself, I should prefer to read (men) of good will.” In regard also to the pericope de adultera (John 7:53-8:11) Beza confides, “As far as I am concerned, I do not hide the fact that to me a passage which those ancient writers reject is justly suspect.” Also Beza neither defends nor rejects the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13) but simply observes, “This clause is not written in the Vulgate edition nor had been included in a second old copy (D?).”
The diffident manner in which Beza reveals these doubts shows that he was conscious of running counter to the views of his fellow believers. Just as with Erasmus and Calvin, so also with Beza there was evidently a conflict going on within his mind between his humanistic tendency to treat the New Testament like any other book and the common faith in the current New Testament text. But in the providence of God all was well. God used this common faith providentially to restrain Beza’s humanism and lead him to publish far and wide the true New Testament text.
Like Calvin, Beza introduced a few conjectural emendations into his New Testament text. In the providence of God, however, only two of these were perpetuated in the King James Version, namely, Romans 7:6 that being dead wherein instead of being dead to that wherein, and Revelation 16:5 shalt be instead of holy. In the development of the Textus Receptus the influence of the common faith kept conjectural emendation down to a minimum.
(k) The Elzevir Editions—The Triumph of the Common Faith
The Elzevirs were a family of Dutch printers with headquarters at Leiden. The most famous of them was Bonaventure Elzevir, who founded his own printing establishment in 1608 with his brother Matthew as his partner and later his nephew Abraham. In 1624 he published his first edition of the New Testament and in 1633 his 2nd edition. His texts followed Beza’s editions mainly but also included readings from Erasmus, the Complutensian, and the Latin Vulgate. In the preface to the 2nd edition the phrase Textus Receptus made its first appearance. “You have therefore the text now received by all (textum ab omnibus receptum) in which we give nothing changed or corrupt.” (25)
This statement has often been assailed as a mere printer’s boast or “blurb”, and no doubt it was partly that. But in the providence of God it was also a true statement. For by this time the common faith in the current New Testament text had triumphed over the humanistic tendencies which had been present not only in Erasmus but also Luther, Calvin, and Beza. The doubts and reservations expressed in their notes and comments had been laid aside and only their God-guided texts had been retained. The Textus Receptus really was the text received by all. Its reign had begun and was to continue unbroken for 200 years. In England Stephanus’ 3rd edition was the form of the Textus Receptus generally preferred, on the European continent Elzevir’s 2nd edition.
Admittedly there are a few places in which the Textus Receptus is supported by only a small number of manuscripts, for example, Eph. 1:18, where it reads, eyes of your understanding, instead of eyes of your heart; and Eph. 3:9, where it reads, fellowship of the mystery, instead of dispensation of the mystery. We solve this problem, however, according to the logic of faith. Because the Textus Receptus was God-guided as a whole, it was probably God-guided in these few passages also.
3. The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7)
In the Textus Receptus 1 John 5:7-8 reads as follows:
7 For there are three that bear witness IN HEAVEN, THE FATHER, THE WORD, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT: AND THESE THREE ARE ONE. 8 AND THERE ARE THREE THAT BEAR WITNESS IN EARTH, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
The words printed in capital letters constitute the so-called Johannine comma, the best known of the Latin Vulgate readings of the Textus Receptus, a reading which, on believing principles, must be regarded as possibly genuine. This comma has been the occasion of much controversy and is still an object of interest to textual critics. One of the more recent discussions of it is found in Windisch’s Katholischen Briefe (revised by Preisker, 1951); (26) a more accessible treatment of it in English is that provided by A. D. Brooke (1912) in the International Critical Commentary. (27) Metzger (1964) also deals with this passage in his handbook, but briefly. (28)
(a) How the Johannine Comma Entered the Textus Receptus
As has been observed above, the Textus Receptus has both its human aspect and its divine aspect, like the Protestant Reformation itself or any other work of God’s providence. And when we consider the manner in which the Johannine comma entered the Textus Receptus, we see this human element at work. Erasmus omitted the Johannine comma from the first edition (1516) of his printed Greek New Testament on the ground that it occurred only in the Latin version and not in any Greek manuscript. To quiet the outcry that arose, he agreed to restore it if but one Greek manuscript could be found which contained it. When one such manuscript was discovered soon afterwards, bound by his promise, he included the disputed reading in his third edition (1522), and thus it gained a permanent place in the Textus Receptus. The manuscript which forced Erasmus to reverse his stand seems to have been 61, a 15th or 16th-century manuscript now kept at Trinity College, Dublin. Many critics believe that this manuscript was written at Oxford about 1520 for the special purpose of refuting Erasmus, and this is what Erasmus himself suggested in his notes.
The Johannine comma is also found in Codex Ravianus, in the margin of 88, and in 629. The evidence of these three manuscripts, however, is not regarded as very weighty, since the first two are thought to have taken this disputed reading from early printed Greek texts and the latter (like 61) from the Vulgate.
But whatever may have been the immediate cause, still, in the last analysis, it was not trickery which was responsible for the inclusion of the Johannine comma in the Textus Receptus but the usage of the Latin-speaking Church. It was this usage which made men feel that this.reading ought to be included in the Greek text and eager to keep it there after its inclusion had been accomplished. Back of this usage, we may well believe, was the guiding providence of God, and therefore the Johannine comma ought to be retained as at least possibly genuine.
(b) The Early Existence of the Johannine Comma
Evidence for the early existence of the Johannine comma is found in the Latin versions and in the writings of the Latin Church Fathers. For example, it seems to have been quoted at Carthage by Cyprian (c. 250) who writes as follows: “And again concerning the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit it is written: and the Three are One.” (29) It is true that Facundus, a 6th-century African bishop, interpreted Cyprian as referring to the following verse, (30) but, as Scrivener (1833) remarks, it is “surely safer and more candid” to admit that Cyprian read the Johannine comma in his New Testament manuscript “than to resort to the explanation of Facundus.” (31)
The first undisputed citations of the Johannine comma occur in the writing of two 4th-century Spanish bishops, Priscillian, (32) who in 385 was beheaded by the Emperor Maximus on the charge of sorcery and heresy, and Idacius Clarus, (33) Priscillian’s principal adversary and accuser. In the 5th century the Johannine comma was quoted by several orthodox African writers to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against the gainsaying of the Vandals, who ruled North Africa from 489 to 534 and were fanatically attached to the Arian heresy. (34) And about the same time it was cited by Cassiodorus (480-570), in Italy. (35) The comma is also found in r an Old Latin manuscript of the 5th or 6th century, and in the Speculum, a treatise which contains an Old Latin text. It was not included in Jerome’s original edition of the Latin Vulgate but around the year 800 it was taken into the text of the Vulgate from the Old Latin manuscripts. It was found in the great mass of the later Vulgate manuscripts and in the Clementine edition of the Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.
(c) Is the Johannine Comma an Interpolation?
Thus on the basis of the external evidence it is at least possible that the Johannine comma is a reading that somehow dropped out of the Greek New Testament text but was preserved in the Latin text through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church, and this possibility grows more and more toward probability as we consider the internal evidence.
In the first place, how did the Johannine comma originate if it be not genuine, and how did it come to be interpolated into the Latin New Testament text? To this question modern scholars have a ready answer. It arose, they say, as a trinitarian interpretation of I John 5:8, which originally read as follows: For there are three that bear witness the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. Augustine was one of those who interpreted 1 John 5:8 as referring to the Trinity. “If we wish to inquire about these things, what they signify, not absurdly does the Trinity suggest Itself, who is the one, only, true, and highest God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, concerning whom it could most truly be said, Three are Witnesses, and the Three are One. By the word spirit we consider God the Father to be signified, concerning the worship of whom the Lord spoke, when He said, God is a spirit. By the word blood the Son is signified, because the Word was made flesh. And by the word water we understand the Holy Spirit. For when Jesus spoke concerning the water which He was about to give the thirsty, the evangelist says, This He spake concerning the Spirit whom those that believed in Him would receive. ” (36)
Thus, according to the critical theory, there grew up in the Latin speaking regions of ancient Christendom a trinitarian interpretation of the spirit, the water, and the blood mentioned in 1 John 5:8, the spirit signifying the Father, the blood the Son, and the water the Holy Spirit And out of this trinitarian interpretation of 1 John 5:8 developed the Johannine comma, which contrasts the witness of the Holy Trinity in heaven with the witness of the spirit, the water, and the blood on earth.
But just at this point the critical theory encounters a serious difficulty. If the comma originated in a trinitarian interpretation of 1 John 5:8, why does it not contain the usual trinitarian formula, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Why does it exhibit the singular combination, never met with elsewhere, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit? According to some critics, this unusual phraseology was due to the efforts of the interpolator who first inserted the Johannine comma into the New Testament text. In a mistaken attempt to imitate the style of the Apostle John, he changed the term Son to the term Word. But this is to attribute to the interpolator a craftiness which thwarted his own purpose in making this interpolation, which was surely to uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, including the eternal generation of the Son. With this as his main concern it is very unlikely that he would abandon the time-honored formula, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and devise an altogether new one, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.
In the second place, the omission of the Johannine comma seems to leave the passage incomplete. For it is a common scriptural usage to present solemn truths or warnings in groups of three or four, for example, the repeated Three things, yea four of Proverbs 30, and the constantly recurring refrain, for three transgressions and for four, of the prophet Amos. In Genesis 40 the butler saw three branches and the baker saw three baskets. And in Matt. 12:40 Jesus says, As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. It is in accord with biblical usage, therefore, to expect that in 1 John 5:7-8 the formula, there are three that bear witness, will be repeated at least twice. When the Johannine comma is included, the formula is repeated twice. When the comma is omitted, the formula is repeated only once, which seems strange.
In the third place, the omission of the Johannine comma involves a grammatical difficulty. The words spirit, water, and blood are neuter in gender, but in 1 John 5:8 they are treated as masculine. If the Johannine comma is rejected, it is hard to explain this irregularity. It is usually said that in 1 John 5:8 the spirit, the water, and the blood are personalized and that this is the reason for the adoption of the masculine gender. But it is hard to see how such personalization would involve the change from the neuter to the masculine. For in verse 6 the word Spirit plainly refers to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Surely in this verse the word Spirit is “personalized,” and yet the neuter gender is used. Therefore since personalization did not bring about a change of gender in verse 6, it cannot fairly be pleaded as the reason for such a change in verse 8. If, however, the Johannine comma is retained, a reason for placing the neuter nouns spirit, water, and blood in the masculine gender becomes readily apparent. It was due to the influence of the nouns Father and Word, which are masculine. Thus the hypothesis that the Johannine comma is an interpolation is full of difficulties.
(d) Reasons for the Possible Omission of the Johannine Comma
For the absence of the Johannine comma from all New Testament documents save those of the Latin-speaking West the following explanations are possible.
In the first place, it must be remembered that the comma could easily have been omitted accidentally through a common type of error which is called homoioteleuton (similar ending). A scribe copying 1 John 5:7-8 under distracting conditions might have begun to write down these words of verse 7, there are three that bear witness, but have been forced to look up before his pen had completed this task. When he resumed his work, his eye fell by mistake on the identical expression in verse 8. This error would cause him to omit all of the Johannine comma except the words in earth, and these might easily have been dropped later in the copying of this faulty copy. Such an accidental omission might even have occurred several times, and in this way there might have grown up a considerable number of Greek manuscripts which did not contain this reading.
In the second place, it must be remembered that during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (between 220 and 270, according to Harnack); (37) the heresy which orthodox Christians were called upon to combat was not Arianism (since this error had not yet arisen) but Sabellianism (so named after Sabellius, one of its principal promoters), according to which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were one in the sense that they were identical. Those that advocated this heretical view were called Patripassians (Father-sufferers), because they believed that God the Father, being identical with Christ, suffered and died upon the cross, and Monarchians, because they claimed to uphold the Monarchy (sole-government) of God.
It is possible, therefore, that the Sabellian heresy brought the Johannine comma into disfavor with orthodox Christians. The statement, these three are one, no doubt seemed to them to teach the Sabellian view that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were identical. And if during the course of the controversy manuscripts were discovered which had lost this reading in the accidental manner described above, it is easy to see how the orthodox party would consider these mutilated manuscripts to represent the true text and regard the Johannine comma as a heretical addition. In the Greek-speaking East especially the comma would be unanimously rejected, for here the struggle against Sabellianism was particularly severe.
Thus it was not impossible that during the 3rd century amid the stress and strain of the Sabellian controversy, the Johannine comma lost its place in the Greek text, but was preserved in the Latin texts of Africa and Spain, where the influence of Sabellianism was probably not so great. In other words, it is not impossible that the Johannine comma was one of those few true readings of the Latin Vulgate not occurring in the Traditional Greek Text but incorporated into the Textus Receptus under the guiding providence of God. In these rare instances God called upon the usage of the Latin-speaking Church to correct the usage of the Greek speaking Church. (38)
4. The King James Version
Not only modernists but also many conservatives are now saying that the King James Version ought to be abandoned because it is not contemporary. The Apostles, they insist, used contemporary language in their preaching and writing, and we too must have a Bible in the language of today. But more and more it is being recognized that the language of the New Testament was biblical rather than contemporary. It was the Greek of the Septuagint, which in its turn was modeled after the Old Testament Hebrew. Any biblical translator, therefore, who is truly trying to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and to produce a version which God will bless, must take care to use language which is above the level of daily speech, language which is not only intelligible but also biblical and venerable. Hence in language as well as text the King James Version is still by far superior to any other English translation of the Bible.
(a) The Forerunners of the King James Version
Previous to the Reformation a number of translations were made of the Latin Vulgate into Anglo-Saxon and early English. One of the first of these translators was Caedmon (d.680), an inmate of the monastery of Whitby in northern England, who retold in alliterative verse the biblical narratives which had been related to him by the monks. Bede (672-735), the most renowned scholar of that period, not only wrote many commentaries on various books of the Bible, but also translated the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon. King Alfred (848-901) did the same for several other portions of Scripture, notably the Ten Commandments and the Psalms. And eclipsing all these earlier translations in importance was that made by John Wyclif (d.1384) of the entire Latin Bible into the English of his day, the New Testament appearing in 1380 and the Old in 1382. Not long after Wyclif’s death a second edition of his English Bible, more satisfactory in language and style than the first, was prepared by his close associate, John Purvey.
The first printed English version of the Bible was that of William Tyndale, one of England’s first Protestant martyrs. Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire in 1484 and studied both at Oxford and Cambridge. About 1520 he became attached to the doctrines of the Reformation and conceived the idea of translating the Scriptures into English. Unable to do so in England, he set out for the Continent in the spring of 1524 and seems to have visited Hamburg and Wittenberg. In that same year (probably at Wittenberg) he translated the New Testament from Greek into English for dissemination in his native land. It is estimated that 18,000 copies of this version were printed on the Continent of Europe between 1525 and 1528 and shipped secretly to England. After this Tyndale continued to live on the Continent as a fugitive, constantly evading the efforts of the English authorities to have him tracked down and arrested. But in spite of this ever-present danger his literary activity was remarkable. In 1530-31 he published portions of the Old Testament which he had translated from the Hebrew and in 1534 a revision both of this translation and also of his New Testament. In this same year he left his place of concealment and settled in Antwerp, evidently under the impression that the progress of the Reformation in England had made this move a safe one. In so thinking, however, he was mistaken. Betrayed by a friend, he was imprisoned in 1535 and executed the following year. According to Foxe, his dying prayer was this: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” But his life’s work had been completed. He had laid securely the foundations of the English Bible. A comparison of Tyndale’s Version with the King James Version is said to indicate that from five sixths to nine tenths of the latter is derived from the martyred translator’s work.
After the initial impulse had been given by Tyndale, a number of other English translations of the Bible appeared in rapid succession. The first of these was published in 1535 by Myles Coverdale, who translated not from the Hebrew and Greek but from the Latin Vulgate and from contemporary Latin and German versions, relying heavily all the while on Tyndale’s version. In 1537 John Rogers, a close friend of Tyndale, published an edition of the Bible bearing on its title page the name “Thomas Matthew”, probably a pseudonym for Rogers himself. This “Matthew Bible” contained Tyndale’s version of the Old and New Testaments and Coverdale’s version of those parts of the Old Testament which had not been translated by Tyndale. Then in 1539, under the auspices of Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chamberlain, Coverdale published a revision of the Matthew Bible, which because of its large size was called the Great Bible. This Cromwell established as the official Bible of the English Church and deposited it in ecclesiastical edifices throughout the kingdom. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth two revisions were made of the Great Bible. The first was prepared by English Protestants in exile at Geneva and published there in 1560. The second was the Bishops’ Bible, published in 1568 by the English prelates under the direction of Archbishop Parker. And finally, the Roman Catholic remnant in England were provided by their leaders with a translation of the Latin Vulgate into English, the New Testament being published in 1582 and the Old in 1609-10. This is known as the Douai Version, since it was prepared at Douai in Flanders, an important center of English Catholicism during the Elizabethan age. (39)
(b) How the King lames Version Was Made—The Six Companies
Work on the King James Version began in 1604. In that year a group of Puritans under the leadership of Dr. John Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, suggested to King James I that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken. This suggestion appealed to James, who was himself a student of theology and of the Scriptures, and he immediately began to make the necessary arrangements for carrying it out. Within six months the general plan of procedure had been drawn up and a complete list made of the scholars who were to do the work. Originally 54 scholars were on the list, but deaths and withdrawals reduced it finally to 47. These were divided into six companies which checked each other’s work. Then the final result was reviewed by a select committee of six and prepared for the press. And because of all this careful planning the whole project was completed in less than seven years. In 1611 the new version issued from the press of Robert Barker in a large folio volume bearing on its title page the following inscription: “The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New: Newly Translated out of the Original tongues; & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by his Majesties special Commandment. Appointed to be read in Churches.” The original tongues referred to in the title were the current printed Hebrew Bibles for the Old Testament and Beza’s printed Greek Testament for the New. The “former translations” mentioned there include not only the five previous English versions mentioned above hut also the Douai Version, the Latin versions of Tremellius and Beza, and several Spanish, French, and Italian versions. The King James Version, however, is mainly a revision of the Bishops’ Bible, which in turn was a slightly revised edition of Tyndale’s Bible. Thus the influence of Tyndale’s translation upon the King James Version was very strong indeed. (40)
(c) The King James Version Translators Providentially Guided—Preface to the Reader
The translators of the King James Version evidently felt themselves to have been providentially guided in their work. This belief plainly appears in the ‘Preface of the Translators’, written by Dr. Miles Smith, one of the leaders of this illustrious band of scholars. Concerning his co laborers he speaks as follows: “Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one; but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark. To that purpose there were many chosen, that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise . . . And in what sort did these assemble? In the trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of wit, or deepness of judgment, as it were an arm of flesh? At no hand. They trusted in him that hath the key of David, opening, and no man shutting; they prayed to the Lord, the Father of our Lord, to the effect that St. Augustine did, O let thy Scriptures be my pure delight; let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them. In this confidence and with this devotion, did they assemble together; not too many, lest one should trouble another; and yet many, lest many things haply might escape them.” (41)
God in His providence has abundantly justified this confidence of the King James translators. The course of history has made English a worldwide language which is now the native tongue of at least 300 million people and the second language of many millions more. For this reason the King James Version is known the world over and is more widely read than any other translation of the holy Scriptures. Not only so, but the King James Version has been used by many missionaries as a basis and guide for their own translation work and in this way has extended its influence even to converts who know no English. For more than 350 years therefore the reverent diction of the King James Version has been used by the Holy Spirit to bring the Word of life to millions upon millions of perishing souls. Surely this is a God-guided translation on which God working providentially, has placed the stamp of His approval.
(d) How the Translators Were Providentially Guided —The Marginal Notes
The marginal notes which the translators attached to the King James Version indicate how God guided their labors providentially. According to Scrivener (1884), there are 8,422 marginal notes in the 1611 edition of the King James Version, including the Apocrypha. In the Old Testament, Scrivener goes on to say, 4,111 of the marginal notes give the more literal meaning of the original Hebrew or Aramaic, 2,156 give alternative translations, and 67 give variant readings. In the New Testament 112 of the marginal notes give literal rendering of the Greek, 582 give alternative translations, and 37 give variant readings. These marginal notes show us that the translators were guided providentially through their thought processes, through weighing every possibility and choosing that which seemed to them best. (42)
The 1611 edition of the King James Version also included 9,000 “cross references” to parallel passages. These are still very useful, especially for comparing the four Gospels with each other. These “cross references” show that from the very start the King James Version was intended not merely as a pulpit Bible to be read in church, but also as a study Bible to guide the private meditations of God’s people. (43)
As the marginal notes indicate, the King James translators did not regard their work as perfect or inspired, but they did consider it to be a trustworthy reproduction of God’s holy Word, and as such they commended it to their Christian readers: “Many other things we might give thee warning of, gentle Reader, if we had not exceeded the measure of a preface already. It remaineth that we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of His grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His Word, enlarging our hearts, yea, correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, yea, that we may love it to the end. Ye are brought unto fountains of living water which ye digged not; do not cast earth into them, neither prefer broken pits before them. Others have laboured, and you may enter into their labours. O receive not so great things in vain: O despise not so great salvation.” (44)
(e) Revisions of the King James Version— Obsolete Words Eliminated
Two editions of the King James Version were published in 1611. The first is distinguished from the second by a unique misprint, namely Judas instead of Jesus in Matt. 26:36. The second edition corrected this mistake and also in other respects was more carefully done. Other editions followed in 1612,1613, 1616, 1617, and frequently thereafter. In 1629 and 1638 the text was subjected to two minor revisions. In the 18th century the spelling and punctuation of the King James Version were modernized, and many obsolete words were changed to their modern equivalents. The two scholars responsible for these alterations were Dr. Thomas Paris (1762), of Cambridge, and Dr. Benjamin Blayney (1769), of Oxford, and it is to their efforts that the generally current form of the King James Version is due. In the 19th century the most important edition of the King James Version was the Cambridge Paragraph Bible (1873), with F. H. A. Scrivener as its editor. Here meticulous attention was given to details, such as, marginal notes, use of Italic type, punctuation, orthography, grammar, and references to parallel passages. In 1884 also Scrivener published his Authorized Edition of the English Bible. a definitive history of the King James Version in which all these features and many more are carefully discussed. (45) Since that time, however, comparatively little research has been done on the history of the King James Version, due probably to loss of interest in the subject.
(f) Obsolete Words in the King James Version —How to Deal with Them
But are there still obsolete words in the King James Version or words that have changed their meaning? Such words do indeed occur, but their number is relatively small. The following are some of these archaic renderings with their modern equivalents:
by and by, Mark 6:25………………………………………………… .at once
charger, Mark 6:25……………………………………………………..platter
charity, 1 Cor.13:1………………………………………………………..love
chief estates, Mark 6:21 ……………………………………………chief men
coasts, Matt. 2:16 ……………………………………………………..borders
conversation, Gal. 1:13……………………………………………….conduct
devotions, Acts 17:23 ……………………………………..objects of worship
do you to wit, 2 Cor. 8:1 …………………………………make known to you
fetched a compass, Acts 28:13 …………………………………………circled
leasing, Psalm 4:2, 5:6……………………………………………………lying
let, 2 Thess. 2:7 ……………………………………………….……….restrain
lively, l Peter 2:5 ……………………………………………..………….living
meat, Matt. 3:4 ……………………………………………………………food
nephews, 1 Tim. 5:4 ……………………………………………grandchildren
prevent, 1 Thess. 4:15 ……………………………………………….precede
room, Luke 14:7-10 ……………………………………………….seat, place
scrip, Matt. 10:10 …………………………………………………………bag
take no thought, Matt. 6:25 …………………………………..be not anxious
There are several ways in which to handle this matter of obsolete words and meanings in the King James Version. Perhaps the best way is to place the modern equivalent in the margin. This will serve to increase the vocabulary of the reader and avoid disturbance of the text. Another way would be to place the more modern word in brackets beside the older word. This would be particularly appropriate in Bibles designed for private study.
(g) Why the King lames Version Should be Retained
But, someone may reply, even if the King James Version needs only a few corrections, why take the trouble to make them? Why keep on with the old King James and its 17th-century language, its thee and thou and all the rest? Granted that the Textus Receptus is the best text, but why not make a new translation of it in the language of today? In answer to these objections there are several facts which must be pointed out.
In the first place, the English of the King James Version is not the English of the early 17th century. To be exact, it is not a type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. It is biblical English, which was not used on ordinary occasions even by the translators who produced the King James Version. As H. Wheeler Robinson (1940) pointed out, one need only compare the preface written by the translators with the text of their translation to feel the difference in style. (46) And the observations of W. A. Irwin (1952) are to the same purport. The King James Version, he reminds us, owes its merit, not to 17th-century English—which was very different—but to its faithful translation of the original. Its style is that of the Hebrew and of the New Testament Greek. (47) Even in their use of thee and thou the translators were not following 17th-century English usage but biblical usage, for at the time these translators were doing their work these singular forms had already been replaced by the plural you in polite conversation. (48)
In the second place, those who talk about translating the Bible into the “language of today” never define what they mean by this expression. What is the language of today? The language of 1881 is not the language of today, nor the language of 1901, nor even the language of 1921. In none of these languages, we are told, can we communicate with today’s youth. There are even some who feel that the best way to translate the Bible into the language of today is to convert it into “folk songs.” Accordingly, in many contemporary youth conferences and even worship services there is little or no Bible reading but only crude kinds of vocal music accompanied by vigorous piano and strumming guitars. But in contrast to these absurdities the language of the King James Version is enduring diction which will remain as long as the English language remains, in other words, throughout the foreseeable future.
In the third place, the current attack on the King James Version and the promotion of modern-speech versions is discouraging the memorization of the Scriptures, especially by children. Why memorize or require your children to memorize something that is out of date and about to be replaced by something new and better? And why memorize a modern version when there are so many to choose from? Hence even in conservative churches children are growing up densely ignorant of the holy Bible because they are not encouraged to hide its life-giving words in their hearts.
In the fourth place, modem-speech Bibles are unhistorical and irreverent. The Bible is not a modern, human book. It is not as new as the morning newspaper, and no translation should suggest this. If the Bible were this new, it would not be the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible is an ancient, divine Book, which nevertheless is always new because in it God reveals Himself. Hence the language of the Bible should be venerable as well as intelligible, and the King James Version fulfills these two requirements better than any other Bible in English. Hence it is the King James Version which converts sinners soundly and makes of them diligent Bible students.
In the fifth place, modern-speech Bibles are unscholarly. The language of the Bible has always savored of the things of heaven rather than the things of earth. It has always been biblical rather than contemporary and colloquial. Fifty years ago this fact was denied by E. J. Goodspeed and others who were pushing their modern versions. On the basis of the papyrus discoveries which had recently been made in Egypt it was said that the New Testament authors wrote in the everyday Greek of their own times. (49) This claim, however, is now acknowledged to have been an exaggeration. As R. M. Grant (1963) admits (50) the New Testament writers were saturated with the Septuagint and most of them were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence their language was not actually that of the secular papyri of Egypt but biblical. Hence New Testament versions must be biblical and not contemporary and colloquial like Goodspeed’s version.
Finally, in the sixth place, the King James Version is the historic Bible of English-speaking Protestants. Upon it God, working providentially, has placed the stamp of His approval through the usage of many generations of Bible-believing Christians. Hence, if we believe in God’s providential preservation of the Scriptures, we will retain the King James Version, for in so doing we will be following the clear leading of the Almighty.
5. The Text Of The King James Version — Questions And Problems
When a believer begins to defend the King James Version, unbelievers immediately commence to bring up various questions and problems in the effort to put the believer down and silence him. Let us therefore consider some of these alleged difficulties.
(a) The King James Version a Variety of the Textus Receptus
The translators that produced the King James Version relied mainly, it seems, on the later editions of Beza’s Greek New Testament, especially his 4th edition (1588-9). But also they frequently consulted the editions of Erasmus and Stephanus and the Complutensian Polyglot. According to Scrivener (1884), (51) out of the 252 passages in which these sources differ sufficiently to affect the English rendering, the King James Version agrees with Beza against Stephanus 113 times, with Stephanus against Beza 59 times, and 80 times with Erasmus, or the Complutensian, or the Latin Vulgate against Beza and Stephanus. Hence the King James Version ought to be regarded not merely as a translation of the Textus Receptus but also as an independent variety of the Textus Receptus.
The King James translators also placed variant readings in the margin, 37 of them according to Scrivener. (52) To these 37 textual notes 16 more were added during the 17th and 18th centuries, (53) and all these variants still appear in the margins of British printings of the King James Version. In the special providence of God, however, the text of the King James Version has been kept pure. None of these variant readings has been interpolated into it. Of the original 37 variants some are introduced by such formulas as, “Many ancient copies add these words”; “Many Greek copies have”; “Or, as some copies read”; “Some read”. Often, however, the reading is introduced simply by “Or”, thus making it hard to tell whether a variant reading or an alternative translation is intended.
One of these variant readings is of special interest. After John 18:13 the Bishops’ Bible (1568) had added the following words in italics, And Annas sent Christ bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. This was a conjectural emendation similar to one which had been suggested by Luther and to another which had been adopted by Beza in his Latin version on the authority of Cyril of Alexandria (d.444). The purpose of it was to harmonize John 18:13 with Matt. 26:57, which states that the interrogation of Jesus took place at the house of Caiaphas rather than at the house of Annas. The King James translators, however, along with Erasmus and Calvin, solved the problem by translating John 18:24 in the pluperfect, Now Annas HAD sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. This made it unnecessary to emend the text at John 18:13 after the manner of the Bishops’ Bible. Hence the King James translators took this conjectural emendation out of the text and placed it in their margin where it has retained its place unto this day. (54)
Sometimes the King James translators forsook the printed Greek text and united with the earlier English versions in following the Latin Vulgate. One well known passage in which they did this was Luke 23:42 the prayer of the dying thief. Here the Greek New Testaments of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza have, Lord, remember me when Thou comest IN Thy kingdom, with the majority of the Greek manuscripts. But all the English Bibles of that period (Tyndale, Great, Geneva, Bishops’ Rheims, King James) have, Lord, remember me when Thou comest INTO Thy kingdom, with the Latin Vulgate and also with Papyrus 75 and B.
At John 8:6 the King James translators followed the Bishops’ Bible in adding the clause, as though He heard them not. This clause is found in E G H K and many other manuscripts, in the Complutensian, and in the first two editions of Stephanus. After 1769 it was placed in italics in the King James Version.
Similarly, at 1 John 2:23 the King James translators followed the Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible in adding the clause, he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also, and in placing the clause in italics, thus indicating that it was not found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts or in the earlier editions of the Textus Receptus. Beza included it, however, in his later editions, and it is found in the Latin Vulgate and in Aleph and B. Hence modern versions have removed the italics and given the clause full status. The Bishops’ Bible and the King James Version join this clause to the preceding by the word but, taken from Wyclif. With customary scrupulosity the King James translators enclosed this but in brackets, thus indicating that it was not properly speaking part of the text but merely a help in translation.
(b) The Editions of the Textus Receptus Compared — Their Differences Listed
The differences between the various editions of the Textus Receptus have been carefully listed by Scrivener (1884) (55) and Hoskier (1890). (56) The following are some of the most important of these differences.
Luke 2:22 their purification, Erasmus, Stephanus, majority of the Greek manuscripts. Her purification, Beza, King James Elzevir, Complutensian, 76 and a few other Greek minuscule manuscripts, Latin Vulgate (?).
Luke 17:36 Two men shall be in the field: the one shall be taken and the other left. Erasmus, Stephanus l 2 3 omit this verse with the majority of the Greek manuscripts. Stephanus 4, Beza, King James, Elzevir have it with D, Latin Vulgate, Peshitta, Old Syriac.
John 1:28 Bethabara beyond Jordan, Erasmus, Stephanus 3 4 Beza, King James, Elzevir, Pi 1 13, Old Syriac, Sahidic. Bethany beyond Jordan, Stephanus 1 2, majority of Greek manuscripts including Pap 66 & 75 Aleph A B. Latin Vulgate.
John 16:33 shall have tribulation, Beza, King James, Elzevir, D 69 many other Greek manuscripts, Old Latin, Latin Vulgate. have tribulation, Erasmus, Stephanus, majority of Greek manuscripts.
Rom. 8:11 by His Spirit that dwelleth in you. Beza, King James, Elzevir, Aleph A C, Coptic. because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you. Erasmus, Stephanus, majority of Greek manuscripts including B D, Peshitta, Latin Vulgate.
Rom. 12:11 sewing the Lord, Erasmus 1, Beza, King James, Elzevir, majority of Greek manuscripts including Pap 46 Aleph A B. Peshitta, Latin Vulgate. serving the time, Erasmus 2345,Stephanus, D G.
1 Tim. 1:4 godly edifying, Erasmus, Beza, King James, Elzevir, D, Peshitta, Latin Vulgate. dispensation of God, Stephanus, majority of Greek manuscripts including
Aleph A G.
Heb. 9:1 Here Stephanus reads first tabernacle, with the majority of the Greek manuscripts. Erasmus, Beza, Luther, Calvin omit tabernacle with Pap 46 Aleph B D, Peshitta, Latin Vulgate. The King James Version omits tabernacle and regards covenant as implied.
James 2:13 without thy works, Calvin, Beza (last 3 editions), King James Aleph A B, Latin Vulgate. by thy works, Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza 1565, majority of Greek
This comparison indicates that the differences which distinguish the various editions of the Textus Receptus from each other are very minor. They are also very few. According to Hoskier, the 3rd edition of Stephanus and the first edition of Elzevir differ from one another in the Gospel of Mark only 19 times. (57) Codex B. on the other hand, disagrees with Codex Aleph in Mark 652 times and with Codex D 1,944 times. What a contrast!
The texts of the several editions of the Textus Receptus were God-guided. They were set up under the leading of God’s special providence. Hence the differences between them were kept down to a minimum. But these disagreements were not eliminated altogether, for this would require not merely providential guidance but a miracle. In short, God chose to preserve the New Testament text providentially rather than miraculously, and this is why even the several editions of the Textus Receptus vary from each other slightly.
But what do we do in these few places in which the several editions of the Textus Receptus disagree with one another? Which text do we follow? The answer to this question is easy. We are guided by the common faith. Hence we favor that form of the Textus Receptus upon which more than any other God, working providentially, has placed the stamp of His approval, namely, the King James Version, or, more precisely, the Greek text underlying the King James Version. This text was published in 1881 by the Cambridge University Press under the editorship of Dr. Scrivener and there have been eight reprints, the latest being in 1949. (58) In 1976 also another edition of this text was published in London by the Trinitarian Bible Society. (59) We ought to be grateful that in the providence of God the best form of the Textus Receptus is still available to believing Bible students. For the sake of completeness, however, it would be well to place in the margin the variant readings of Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs.
(c) The King James Old Testament—Variant Readings
Along side the text, called kethibh (written), the Jewish scribes had placed in the margin of their Old Testament manuscripts certain variant readings, which they called keri (read). Some of these keri appear in the margin of the King James Old Testament. For example, in Psalm 100:3 the King James text gives the kethibh, It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves, but the King James margin gives the keri, It is He that hath made us, and His we are. And sometimes the keri is placed in the King James text (16 times, according to Scrivener). For example, in Micah 1:10 the King James text gives the keri, in the house of Aphrah roll thyself in the dust. The Hebrew kethibh, however, is, in the house of Aphrah I have rolled myself in the dust.
Sometimes also the influence of the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate is discernible in the King James Old Testament. For example, in Psalm 24:6 the King James text reads, O Jacob, with the Hebrew kethibh but the King James margin reads, O God of Jacob, which is the reading of the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and also of Luther’s German Bible. In Jer. 3:9 the King James margin reads fame (qol) along with the Hebrew kethibh, but the King James text reads lightness (qal) in agreement with the Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate. And in Psalm 22:16 the King James Version reads with the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Latin Vulgate, they pierced my hands and my feet. The Hebrew text, on the other hand, reads, like a lion my hands and my feet, a reading which makes no sense and which, as Calvin observes, was obviously invented by the Jews to deny the prophetic reference to the crucifixion of Christ.
(d) The Headings of the Psalms—Are They Inspired?
Many of the Psalms have headings. For example, To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David (Psalm 65). The King James translators separated these headings and printed them in small type, each one above the Psalm to which it belonged. Some conservative scholars, such as J. A. Alexander (1850) (60) have criticized the King James translators for doing this. These headings, they have insisted, should be regarded as the first verses of their respective Psalms. They give three reasons for this opinion: first, in the Hebrew Bible no distinction is made between the Psalms and their headings; second, the New Testament writers recognized these headings as true; third, each heading is part of the Psalm which it introduces and hence is inspired. This position, however, may go beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. In any case, it is better to follow the leading of the King James translators and recognize the obvious difference between the heading of a Psalm and the Psalm itself.
The King James translators handled the subscriptions of the Pauline Epistles similarly, printing each one after its own epistle in small type. But this has never been a problem, since these subscriptions have never been regarded as inspired.
(e) Maximum Certainty Versus Maximum Uncertainty
God’s preservation of the New Testament text was not miraculous but providential. The scribes and printers who produced the copies of the New Testament Scriptures and the true believers who read and cherished them were not inspired but God-guided. Hence there are some New Testament passages in which the true reading cannot be determined with absolute certainty. There are some readings, for example, on which the manuscripts are almost equally divided, making it difficult to determine which reading belongs to the Traditional Text. Also in some of the cases in which the Textus Receptus disagrees with the Traditional Text it is hard to decide which text to follow. Also, as we have seen, sometimes the several editions of the Textus Receptus differ from each other and from the King James Version. And, as we have just observed, the case is the same with the Old Testament text. Here it is hard at times to decide between the kethibh and the keri and between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate versions. Also there has been a controversy concerning the headings of the Psalms.
In other words, God does not reveal every truth with equal clarity. In biblical textual criticism, as in every other department of knowledge, there are still some details in regard to which we must be content to remain uncertain. But the special providence of God has kept these uncertainties down to a minimum. Hence if we believe in the special providential preservation of the Scriptures and make this the leading principle of our biblical textual criticism, we obtain maximum certainty, all the certainty that any mere man can obtain, all the certainty that we need. For we are led by the logic of faith to the Masoretic Hebrew text, to the New Testament Textus Receptus, and to the King James Version.
But what if we ignore the providential preservation of the Scriptures and deal with the text of the holy Bible in the same way in which we deal with the texts of other ancient books? If we do this, we are following the logic of unbelief, which leads to maximum uncertainty. When we handle the text of the holy Bible in this way, we are behaving as unbelievers behave. We are either denying that the providential preservation of the Scriptures is a fact, or else we are saying that it is not an important fact not important enough to be considered when dealing with the text of the holy Bible. But if the providential preservation of the Scriptures is not important, why is the infallible inspiration of the original Scriptures important? If God has not preserved the Scriptures by His special providence, why would He have infallibly inspired them in the first place? And if it is not important that the Scriptures be regarded as infallibly inspired, why is it important to insist that Gospel is completely true? And if this is not important, why is it important to believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God?
In short, unless we follow the logic of faith, we can be certain of nothing concerning the Bible and its text. For example, if we make the Bodmer and Chester Beatty Papyri our chief reliance, how do we know that even older New Testament papyri of an entirely different character have not been destroyed by the recent damming of the Nile and the consequent flooding of the Egyptian sands? (61)
6. Modern English Bible Versions — Are They Of God?
Modern-speech English Bible versions were first prepared during the 18th century by deists who were irked by the biblical language of the King James Version. In 1729 Daniel Mace published a Greek New Testament text with a translation in the language of his own day. The following are samples of his work: When ye fast, don’t put on a dismal air, as the hypocrites do (Matt. 6:16). Social affection is patient, is kind (1 Cor. 13:4). The tongue is a brand that sets the whole world in a combustion . . . tipp’d with infernal sulphur it sets the whole train of life in a blaze (James 3:6). Similarly, in 1768 Edward Harwood published a New Testament translation which he characterized as “a liberal and diffusive version of the sacred classics.” His purpose, he explained, was to allure the youth of his day “by the innocent stratagem of a modern style to read a book which is now, alas! too generally neglected and disregarded by the young and gay.” And about the same time Benjamin Franklin offered a specimen of “Part of the First Chapter of Job modernized.” (62)
Serious efforts, however, to dislodge the King James Version from its position of dominance and to replace it with a modern version did not begin until a century later, and it is with these that we would now deal briefly.
(a) The R. V., the A. S. V., and the N. E. B.
By the middle of the 19th century the researches and propaganda of Tischendorf and Tregelles had convinced many British scholars that the Textus Receptus was a late and inferior text and that therefore a revision of the King James Version was highly necessary. This clamor for a new revision of the English Bible was finally met in 1870, when a Revision Committee was appointed by the Church of England to carry out the project. This Committee consisted of 54 members, half of them being assigned to the Old Testament and half to the New. One of the most influential members of the New Testament section was Dr. F. J. A. Hort, and the text finally adopted by the revisers was largely the Westcott and Hort text. The New Testament was finished November 11, 1880, and published May 17, 1881, amid tremendous acclaim. Within a few days 2,000,000 copies had been sold in London, 365,000 in New York, and 110,000 in Philadelphia. The Old Testament was completed in 1884 and published in 1885. By this time, however, popular demand had died down and the market for the entire Revised Bible was merely fair, the sale of it reaching no such phenomenal heights as the Revised New Testament had attained.
While this work of revision had been going on in England a committee of American scholars had been organized to cooperate in the endeavor. They promised not to publish their own revised edition of the Bible until 14 years after the publication of the English Revised Version (R.V.), and in exchange for this concession were given the privilege of publishing in an appendix to this version a list of the readings which they favored but which the British revisers declined to adopt. In accordance with this agreement, the American Committee waited until 1901 before they published their own Revised Version, which was very like its English cousin except that there was a more thorough elimination of antiquated words and of words specifically English and not American in meaning. By the publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons, it was called the Standard Version, and from this circumstance it is commonly known as the American Standard Version (A.S.V.). (63)
Neither the R.V. nor the A.S.V. fared as well as their promoters had hoped. They were never widely used, due largely to their poor English style, which, according to F. C. Grant (1954), “was, in many places, unbelievably wooden, opaque, or harsh.” (64) Because of this lack of success these two versions have been largely abandoned, and their place has been filled by the Revised Standard Version (1946) in America and the New English Bible (1961) in England. Both are in modern speech. The R.S.V. was prepared by a committee appointed by the International Council of Religious Education, representing 40 Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada. The N.E.B. was prepared by a similar committee representing nine denominations in Great Britain.
The modernism of the R.S.V. and the N.E.B. appears everywhere in them. For example, both of them profess to use thou when referring to God and you when referring to men. Yet the disciples are made to use you when speaking to Jesus, implying, evidently, that they did not believe that He was divine. Even when they confess Him to be the Son of God, the disciples are still made to use you. You are the Christ, Peter is made to say, the Son of the living God (Matt.16:16). In both the R.S.V. and the N.E.B. opposition to the virgin birth of Christ is plainly evident. Thus the N.E.B. calls Mary a girl (Luke 1:27) rather than a virgin, and at Matt. 1:16 the N.E.B. and some editions of the R.S.V. include in a footnote a reading found only in the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript which states that Joseph was the father of Jesus.
The N.E.B. exhibits all too plainly a special hostility to the deity of Christ. This is seen in the way in which the Greek word proskyneo is translated. When it is applied to God, the N.E.B. always translates it worship, but when it is applied to Jesus, the N.E.B. persistently translates it pay homage or bow low. Thus the translators refuse to admit that Jesus was worshipped by the early Church. Even the Old Testament quotation, Let all the angels of God worship Him (Heb.1:6), is rendered by the N.E.B., Let all the angels of God pay him homage. The only passage in which proskyneo is translated worship when applied to Jesus is in Luke 24:52. But here this clause is placed in a footnote as a late variant reading. By using the word worship here these modernistic translators give expression to their belief that the worship of Jesus was a late development which took place in the Church only after the true New Testament text had been written.
(b) Contemporary Modern-speech English Bibles
In addition to the R.S.V. and the N.E.B. at least 25 other modern speech English Bibles and New Testaments have been published. Some of these, notably the Weymouth (1903), the Moffatt (1913), and the Goodspeed (1923), enjoyed great popularity in their own day but now are definitely out of date. We will confine our remarks therefore to contemporary modern-speech versions which are being widely used today by evangelicals.
(1) The New Testament In the Language of the People, by Charles B. Williams (1937). As he states in his preface, Williams follows the text of Westcott and Hort. He not only adopts all their errors but even goes beyond them in omitting portions of the New Testament text. For example, he omits Luke 22:43-44 (Christ’s agony and bloody sweat) and Luke 23:34a (Christ’s prayer for His murderers) instead of putting these passages in brackets as Westcott and Hort do. As for John 7:53-8:11 (the woman taken in adultery), he does not place this passage at the end of John’s Gospel, as Westcott and Hort do, but omits it altogether. In addition, Williams interjects bits of higher criticism into his introductions to the various New Testament books. For example, he tells us that the author of John’s Gospel is likely John the Apostle but some scholars think another John wrote it. It is usually thought, he says, that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, I and 2 Timothy, but some deny it, etc.
(2) New American Standard New Testament (1960) Lockman Foundation. As its name implies, this is a modernization of the A.S.V. I t follows the text of the A.S.V. very closely and even goes farther in it’s omissions. For example, in Luke 24:51 it omits Christ’s ascension into heaven, which the A.S.V. had left standing in the text. In the “Way of Life Edition” of this modern-speech version we have an illogical mixture of pietism and naturalistic thinking. In the text there are verses in black letter which a sinner is to believe to the saving of his soul, while at the bottom of the page are frequent notes which destroy all confidence in the sacred text, stating that such and such readings are not found in the best manuscripts, etc. How can such a Bible convert a thinking college student? No wonder it has to be supplemented by much music and mysticism, fun and frolic.
(3) The New Testament in the Language of Today (1963), by William F. Beck. This modern-speech version makes much of Papyrus 75 mentioning it frequently. In John 8:57 the translator adopts the unusual reading of Papyrus 75, Has Abraham seen You? instead of the common reading, Have You seen Abraham ? Consistency requires that Dr. Beck adopt the other unusual readings of Papyrus 75, such as Neves for the name of the Rich Man (Luke 16:19), shepherd for door (John 10:7), raised for saved (John 11:12). But in these passages Dr. Beck adopts the common readings, forsaking Papyrus 75, and he doesn’t even mention the fact that this recently discovered authority omits the blind man’s confession of faith (John 9:38). In short, as a textual critic Dr. Beck seems rather capricious in his choices.
(4) Good News For Modern Man, The New Testament in Today’s English Version (1966), American Bible Society. This version claims to be based on a Greek text published specially by the United Bible Societies in 1966 with the aid of noted scholars. The translation was prepared by Dr. Robert G. Bratcher. In it some verses are omitted and others marked with brackets. But this is done capriciously without regard even to naturalistic principles. For example, Christ’s agony and bloody sweat (Luke 22:43-44) is bracketed, while Christ’s prayer for His murderers (Luke 23:34a) is left unbracketed. This version has been called “the bloodless Bible,” since it shuns the mention of Christ’s blood, preferring instead to speak of Christ’s death.
(5) The Living New Testament, Paraphrased (1967), by Ken Taylor. This paraphrase uses the A.S.V. as its basic text. Like so many other modern-speech Bibles in vogue among evangelicals, it is arbitrary in its renderings. The name, Son of Man, for example, which Jesus applied to Himself is rendered six different ways. Sometimes it is translated I, sometimes He, sometimes Son of Mankind, sometimes Man from Heaven, sometimes Man of Glory, and sometimes Messiah. And this variation is kept up even in parallel passages in which the Greek wording is identical. For example, in Matt.9:6 Son of Man is translated I, while in Mark 2:10 it is translated I, the Man from Heaven. What reason is there for this whimsical treatment of one of our Saviour’s sacred titles? Taylor gives none. Doctrinally also Taylor wrests the Scriptures with his paraphrase. For instance, in Rom. 8:28 Taylor tells us that all things work for our good, if only we love God and fit into His plans.
(6) The Jerusalem Bible (1966), Doubleday. This Bible was originally a French modern-speech version prepared by French Roman Catholic scholars at L’Ecole Biblique (The Biblical School) at Jerusalem and published in Paris in 1955. It sold so widely in the French-speaking world that a few years later commercial publishers in England and America jointly undertook an equivalent English version, which they published in 1966 under the sensational and misleading title Jerusalem Bible. The modernism of this Bible also is offensive to orthodox Christians.
(7) The New American Bible (1970), Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. This official, Roman Catholic, modern-speech Bible, with a prefatory letter of approval from Pope Paul VI, has been authorized as a source of readings in the Mass. In the text and notes and in the introductions to the New Testament books many critical positions formerly regarded as official have been sharply reversed. For example, it is now permissible for Roman Catholics to hold that the Gospel of Matthew is an expanded version of the Gospel of Mark and later than the Gospel of Luke. Permission is also given to maintain that the Gospel of John was not written by the Apostle John but by a disciple-evangelist and then was later revised by a disciple-redactor. It is also suggested that 2 Peter was not written by the Apostle Peter and even that 1 Peter may likewise have been pseudonymous. Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are not regarded as original portions of their respective Gospels, and the Johannine comma (1 John 5:7-8) is omitted without comment. This complete about-face is ominous, for it shows how far Roman Catholic authorities are willing to go in their efforts to give themselves a “new image” and to make room for modernists in their ecclesiastical structure. Liberal Protestantism is about to collapse and fall into the waiting arms of Roman Catholicism. And many inconsistent Fundamentalists will be involved in this disaster because of their addiction to naturalistic New Testament textual criticism and naturalistic modern-speech versions.
(8) New International Version (1973), New York Bible Society. This translation follows the critical (Westcott and Hort) text. There seems to be nothing particularly remarkable about it. However, it is falsely called International. Obviously it is wholly American, sometimes painfully so. For example, it joins Beck’s version and Good News for Modern Man in consistently substituting rooster for cock. But this is American barnyard talk. Is there anything wrong with our American barnyard talk? As good Americans we answer, of course not. Nevertheless, however, such talk is not literary enough to be given a place in holy Scripture.
(c) The King James Version — The Providentially Appointed English Bible
Do we believing Bible Students “worship” the King James Version? Do we regard it as inspired, just as the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo (d. 42 A.D.) and many early Christians regarded the Septuagint as inspired? Or do we claim the same supremacy for the King James Version that Roman Catholics claim for the Latin Vulgate? Do we magnify its authority above that of the Hebrew and Greek Old and New Testament Scriptures? We have often been accused of such excessive veneration for the King James Version, but these accusations are false. In regard to Bible versions we follow the example of Christ’s Apostles. We adopt the same attitude toward the King James Version that they maintained toward the Septuagint.
In their Old Testament quotations the Apostles never made any distinction between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures. They never said, “The Septuagint translates this verse thus and so, but in the original Hebrew it is this way.” Why not? Why did they pass up all these opportunities to display their learning? Evidently because of their great respect for the Septuagint and the position which it occupied in the providence of God. In other words, the Apostles recognized the Septuagint as the providentially approved translation of the Old Testament into Greek. They understood that this was the version that God desired the gentile Church of their day to use as its Old Testament Scripture.
In regard to Bible versions, then, we follow the example of the Apostles and the other inspired New Testament writers. Just as they recognized the Septuagint as the providentially appointed translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, so we recognize the King James Version and the other great historic translations of the holy Scriptures as providentially approved. Hence we receive the King James Version as the providentially appointed English Bible. Admittedly this venerable version is not absolutely perfect, but it is trustworthy. No Bible-believing Christian who relies upon it will ever be led astray. But it is just the opposite with modern versions. They are untrustworthy, and they do lead Bible-believing Christians astray.
It is possible, if the Lord tarry that in the future the English language will change so much that a new English translation of the Bible will become absolutely necessary. But in that case any version which we prepare today would be equally antiquated. Hence this is a matter which we must leave to God, who alone knows what is in store for us. For the present, however, and the foreseeable future no new translation is needed to take the place of the King James Version. Today our chief concern must be to create a climate of Christian thought and learning which God can use providentially should the need for such a new English version ever arise. This would insure that only the English wording would be revised and not the underlying Hebrew and Greek text.
(For further discussion see Believing Bible Study, pp. 81-88, 214-228).
(d) Which King James Version? — A Feeble Rebuttal
Opponents of the King James Version often try to refute us by asking us which edition of the King James Version we receive as authoritative. For example, a professor in a well known Bible school writes as follows: “With specific reference to the King James translation, I must ask you which revision you refer to as the one to be accepted? It has been revised at least three times. The first translation of 1611 included the Apocrypha, which I do not accept as authoritative.”
This retort, however, is very weak. All the editions of the King James Version from 1611 onward are still extant and have been examined minutely by F. H. A. Scrivener and other careful scholars. Aside from printers errors, these editions differ from each other only in regard to spelling, punctuation, and, in a few places, italics. Hence any one of them may be used by a Bible-believing Christian. The fact that some of them include the Apocrypha is beside the point, since this does not affect their accuracy in the Old and New Testaments.