Are you critical of the KJV or in the majority?

Would it make a difference if you knew that the New Testament of your Modern Bible did not have First and Second Peter? Yet if the total number of missing words were added up, this is how much shorter the modern translations are than the King James Version. Is it a cause for concern if the names of Christ are missing 175 times, or if the word "hell" is not found in the Old Testament, or if key doctrinal passages have been diminished? And, the biggest shock of all! Is it possible that the most basic and blatant of all early heresies concerning the Person of Christ has been given a "new lease on life" through the Modern Versions? That these things are so, with the reasons why, are set forth in the following pages.

Source: MODERN BIBLES: the Dark Secret

I thought I’d take a little detour to talk about the difference between the Majority Text and the Critical Text of the Greek New Testament.

Here’s Matthew 5:44 in KJV and RSV. Spot any differences?

matt 5 44 kjv rsv

There’s a major chunk of text missing from the RSV. Why is that? The RSV was based on the 17th edition of the Nestle Aland Greek text as opposed to the KJV which was based on the best Greek text of its day, the NT editions of Theodore Beza.

Commenting on the omission of this passage from the Critical text, Bruce Metzger writes:

Later witnesses enrich the text by incorporating clauses from the parallel account in Lk. 6:27-28. If the clauses were originally present in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, their omission in early representatives of the Alexandrian, Western, Eastern, and Egyptian witnesses would be entirely unaccountable. The divergence of readings among the added clauses likewise speaks against their originality.

Source: Bruce M. Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994). p. 12.

This is the source of the frequent claims that modern translations remove parts of the Word of God. The argument goes like this, “Would God allow speakers of English to use a flawed version of the Word of God for more than 300 years? Of course not.”

Is it true that Modern Bibles have a dark secret? Are they undermining the trinity, the virgin birth and the deity of Christ?

85 thoughts on “Are you critical of the KJV or in the majority?

  1. Tim Archer says:

    I don’t buy the conspiracy theories against modern versions. I also don’t follow the reasoning of the “Would God allow…” argument; what about all the languages that haven’t had the Bible in their own language? Is a flawed version better than no version at all? Or do they think that God inherently loves English speakers more than those that speak other languages?

    I believe in a God that is helping us improve that flawed translation, day by day.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Richard Hendricks says:

    I think the TR needs to be put into the dustbin of history.

    Richard Hendricks

  3. Theophrastus says:

    I will not defend TR (except on the basis of its influence and history). However, I do wish to state that as one looks through the UBS4/NA27 text, it is clear that some fairly arbitrary decisions have been made. I commend to you Philip Comfort’s outstanding new book New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, in which he is quite critical of Metzger (he favors in many instances Westcott and Hort). See Chuck Grantham’s review.

    I must say that purely on the basis of copyright disputes discussed widely on this board, I agree with Comfort preference for WH — we need to get Greek New Testament out of the hands of the German Bible Society.

    As a criticism of the KJV, this is all a bit tangential. The translators worked with the best materials they had at the time. There is no doubt that scholarship has improved since then, but that does not stop us from reading old books.

    For example, we still read the great histories: Herodotus, Thucydides, Josephus, Sima Qian, Gibbon, Macaulay, etc — they are all still in print in multiple editions. Yet, a modern historian may have better materials available. Only a bumpkin would say that Donald Kagan’s four volume history of the Peloponnesian War makes Thucydides obsolete. Yet, we tolerate analogous behavior when we do not stop those who claim that the NIV has made KJV obsolete.

  4. Michael Nicholls says:

    Great topic. I’d like to hear/see more about the differences between the Critical and Majority texts, as this was something we looked at a lot in seminary.

    As a criticism of the KJV, this is all a bit tangential. The translators worked with the best materials they had at the time. There is no doubt that scholarship has improved since then, but that does not stop us from reading old books.

    I agree. New discoveries shouldn’t detract from the effort the KJV team put in, just like discoveries that might be made in the future shouldn’t detract from the efforts of good modern translations. The KJV’s literary qualities and impact for its time can’t be called into question. Perhaps its usefulness as an accurate and meaningful translation might be superseded though by new manuscript findings and the changes in the English language.

  5. Richie says:

    In teaching British and American history from 1611 up until c. WWII the KJV is almost the only Bible to use. To use a modern version would be anachronistic and would surely cause misunderstanding of the language, culture and mindsets of those years. Every educated person knew the Bible and knew it well from the KJV. Uneducated people knew it from church, conversation and general usage. It would not be too much to say that a person can not really understand that period of British and American history without knowing the KJV and without knowing it well.

  6. Polycarp says:

    Would it make a difference if you knew that the New Testament of your KJV Bible had books the size of First and Second Peter added to it? Yet if the total number of added words were added up, this is how much longer the KJV translation is than the modern versions. Is it a cause for concern if the names of Christ are added 175 times, or if the word “sheol” is not found in the Old Testament, or if key doctrinal passages have been added to? And, the biggest shock of all! Is it possible that the most basic and blatant of all early heresies concerning the Person of Christ has been given a “new lease on life” through the KJV? That these things are so, with the reasons why, are set forth in the following pages. – Source: King James Version: the Dark Secret of James’ anti-Putianism and pro-imperialistic stance.

    Seriously, the KJV has served well these many years, and indeed, amny for years longer than I, but if we applied the same text crit that Erasmus used, and the others, would we not then have something similiar to the modern texts?

  7. Joshua says:

    The argument goes like this, “Would God allow speakers of English to use a flawed version of the Word of God for more than 300 years? Of course not.”

    If we are to be honest we must admit that God does allow people to use flawed versions of the Bible. The Septuagint can at times be really messed up compared to the Hebrew, yet the NT records the apostles and Jesus quoting from it. They even sometimes quote passages that we can’t find at all in what we have of the OT. The exacting, word-for-word standard of KJV-onlyism is unscriptural.

  8. codepoke says:

    I’m not literate in Greek, but the bible means the world to me. As such, I find myself in a desparate position. When I look at every decision point between the TR and WH Christ is denigrated. I was baffled that the Watchtower bible changed a certain verse in Timothy from Christ to Jehovah, until I looked at the difference between WH and the TR. It was a huge doctrinal decision in that verse, but completely justified by the WH text.

    What am I supposed to do with that?

    What am I supposed to think when hundreds of times WH sees the Greek differently, and the difference is the denigration of Christ?

    I truly have no clue.

    I know beyond question that the TNIV, ESV, NLB and dozens of other bibles carry the meaning of the WH text forward into English much more accurately and immeasurably more readably. I love reading any of those versions (even though they’re so often placed at odds with each other). I’m really not a version bigot, but it’s hard to overlook a text that reverses so many points. Especially when the arguments on both sides are so forcefully presented and so esoteric as to be beyond any hope I might have of untangling them.

    It’s easily the most discouraging bible subject on Earth to me. I can be for Better Bibles all day, but I will always have the titanic doubt the underlying text has been corrupted by men who didn’t value Christ as fully a member of the Godhead.

  9. Polycarp says:

    Codepoke, can you please provide such examples as when modern versions – which generally do not follow the WH text – ‘denigrate’ Christ?

    Coming from a KJVO background, I recognize the WH code words, and yet, after research on my own, I do not see ‘denigration’ of Christ from either the WH, the NA, or the UBS.

  10. David Ker says:

    I mentioned in my post that this was a little detour. But I think it’s worth taking because a lot of the controversy regarding “Modern Versions” balances on the TR/NU divide.

  11. John Hobbins says:

    The idea that critical editions of the text of the New Testament, and translations based on them, or eclectic texts of the Old Testament, and translations based on them, are designed to denigrate classical Christian or traditional Jewish beliefs, is absurd. It really is. I’m surprised that someone as smart as Codepoke would doubt otherwise.

    It IS necessary to have a historical understanding of the development of doctrine. Many conservative believers, Jewish and Christian, seem to think that doctrinal formulations forged on the anvil of later disputes can be read off of passages in the Bible. That too is absurd, unless one is a card-carrying member of the society dedicated to creative anachronism.

    I am fully convinced that both Nicene Christianity and rabbinic Judaism are legitimate and faithful developments from the canonical texts. When it comes to Nicene Christianity, I would probably be able to out-conservative anyone on these threads, if for no other reason than that I’ve spent lots of time reading the primary sources.

    But that is not the same thing as imagining that Moses would even understand how someone like Jesus or Akiva developed Torah. He wouldn’t. The same applies to the complexities of Nicene Trinitarianism. Paul would have scratched his head in despair. Jesus: don’t even go there. Now however, freed from historical constraints, Jesus and Paul defend Nicene Christianity from heaven. So I believe.

    On another note, the polemics against the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft are completely overblown. Enough already.

  12. Michael Nicholls says:

    What am I supposed to think when hundreds of times WH sees the Greek differently, and the difference is the denigration of Christ?

    Codepoke, let’s say that I published a new version of the ESV, only I added a hundred more references to Christ. Would you agree that my version is superior?

  13. Peter Holloway says:

    I’m surprised that you think this old chestnut worthy of repeating. From experience the proponents of the TR/KJV are hypercritical of any other viewpoint to the extent that they see users of other texts as being heretical. They may think they have the truth, but certainly don’t demonstrate any of the love that is mentioned in all texts of the bible.

    I certainly don’t think the subject deserves airing in a scholarly setting.

  14. David Dewey says:

    The issue of purely one of textual criticism. Nothing that I know of in the history of Bible translation supports a conspiracy theory or theological agenda among translators, the one exception being the JW New World Translation. One may or may agree with the textual choices made in any particular instance by modern translators, but there is simply no justification for holding to a Textus Receptus or Majority Text position. By the way, those of the KJV-only school need to ask which KJV? Several hundred changes have taken place between 1611 and the present text which dates from 1769.

  15. David Ker says:

    Peter, I’ll respectfully disagree with you on that. If we can discuss this in an intellectual environment it might be of help to people like codepoke who are troubled by the topic.

    David, you wrote, “but there is simply no justification for holding to a Textus Receptus or Majority Text position.” Care to expand on that?

  16. David Ker says:

    An essay by Dan Wallace is worth mentioning here. His closing paragraph is:

    So, is there a conspiracy today? My answer may surprise the reader: yes, I believe there is. But the conspiracy has not produced these modern translations. Rather, I believe that there is a conspiracy to cause division among believers, to deflect our focus from the gospel to petty issues, to elevate an anti-intellectual spirit that does not honor the mind which God has created, and to uphold as the only Holy Bible a translation that, as lucid as it was in its day, four hundred years later makes the gospel seem antiquated and difficult to understand.2 It takes little thought to see who is behind such a conspiracy.

    See the whole article:

    He discusses Westcott and Hort and the process of adopting a more accurate Greek text.

  17. Chandler says:

    “but there is simply no justification for holding to a Textus Receptus or Majority Text position.”

    In a word, Tradition. That might be a dirty word now days, but it seems to have worked well for many groups for quite a long time, so they just stick with it. Maybe a church has always used the majority text, for example the official Greek New Testament for the Greek Orthodox Church is the Patriarchal Text of 1904, which is a majority text. (but then most majority texts are byzantine, since they were the ones coping it) The from the time of the church fathers it was known that there were variations in the text and it did not stop them from using them. As long as the reader is aware of the variations there shouldn’t be a problem, and as long as the reader is willing to acknowledge both tradition and modern scholarship. Then the task is to try to find a middle ground where the twain diverge. I’m sure there might be some other reasons for using the TR/Majority, but like many others I can not buy the KJV only position mostly because it seams to fear modern scholarship.

  18. codepoke says:

    > Codepoke, let’s say that I published a new version of the ESV, only I added a hundred more references to Christ. Would you agree that my version is superior?

    I’m not literate in Greek, but I’m not a moron.

    The argument I’ve received (along with the text) is that WH is a compilation of earlier but corrupt texts, as opposed to the TR’s later but jealously copied texts. The corruptions in particular were introduced by gnostics, arians, and other people with an axe to grind against an understanding of Jesus as Jehovah incarnate. As such, to accept a text that averages together numerous conflicting errors seems less profitable than to accept a text that hews to the original faithfully.

    I’m sure you can see where being nervous about a text I’ve been taught removes numerous valid, original references to Christ is at least logically consistent. Adding random, spurious references to Christ to soothe some need is not my goal. I do, however, question the accuracy of WH and English bibles based on it.

  19. codepoke says:


    > Codepoke, can you please provide such examples as when modern versions – which generally do not follow the WH text – ‘denigrate’ Christ?

    Thank you for this reassurance. I’ve not read a TR fanatic site in my life, and don’t want to start now. I read some leaflets on the subject about 25 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten their arguments. I honestly don’t know to what degree modern translations rely on WH, and could stand to learn a lot on the subject.

    Here’s the story that brought this back front and center for me a couple months ago, though.

    I was having a cordial and profitable debate with a Jehovah’s Witness and 1 Tim 2:19 came up:

    KJV 2Ti 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

    New World Translation: 2 Tim 2:19 For all that, the solid foundation of God stays standing, having this seal: “Jehovah knows those who belong to him,” and: “Let everyone naming the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.”

    So, is there a difference between these two verses or not? If you believe Jesus is pointedly not Jehovah, then yeah. They’re stunningly different. The path between the 2 versions is simple enough. The TR says, “Christos,” but the WH says “Kyrios.” And, in fact, the NIV, ESV, NLT, ASV, RSV all say, “Lord.” They have all chosen the WH variant of this verse.

    The Watchtower would have had a phenomonally hard time changing Christos to Jehovah, but it’s the teeniest of mental leaps for them to insist that Kyrios is Jehovah and not Christ.

    So, when I say “hundreds” of such decisions and differences exist between TR and WH, I’m speaking from 25 year old memory. It seemed like those leaflets could list “error” after “error,” but I won’t pretend I have a list in front of me. It’s 2 Tim 2:19 that rings in my head. I was standing face-to-face with a friend of mine who believes Jesus is a really powerful angel, and 2 Tim 2:19 was taken out of my hands by WH. I didn’t like that feeling. And I didn’t like finding every popular english version of the bible in tacit agreement with the Watchtower.

    I know Erasmus made mistakes, and I’d love to see them corrected. WH lost my trust, though, and now I don’t know what to do. I’ve been using the KJV for nearly 40 years now, and probably feel safest just sticking to what I trust.

  20. David Ker says:

    Codepoke, that’s a fascinating example. 2 Tim 2:19 in Vulgate has “Domini” while Tyndale has “Christ.” I’d be curious to figure out where this error came in. Wycliffe uses “Lord.”

    If you check out Wallace’s article that I mentioned earlier he emphasizes that no major doctrines are jeopardized by the WH or NU. Of course, in proof-texting with a JW or KJVO, individual verses out of context are going to be very crucial to their argument.

  21. sdonahue says:

    When I was growing up in Sunday School colouring pictures, the text in church was the RSV. I didn’t know anything else. When I was in Seminary, it was the Confraternity text, and I still love the Psalms from that version. Then, the NAB1. When I became a Christian, the Harper Study Bible RSV. But through all the trials and tribulations of the Bible Version controversies,in which I have been stewing for about 15 years (and it has NOT helped my spiritual growth), for some odd reason, I come back to the KJV. I may leave it for awhile and use everything else that is FE, but, oddly enough, I always come back to the KJV. Go figure/

  22. Theophrastus says:

    May I ask — is there any doctrine in the Byzantine text-type (which I am going to associate with the TR for this comment) and not in the WH eclectic text that major contemporary Christian churches find controversial, optional, or otherwise unacceptable?

    Other than the final six verses of Apocalypse, is there any part of the TR for which there is no manuscript evidence? (And even for those final six verses, is there not the manuscript evidence of the Vulgate)?

    Assuming the answer is “no”, then I have considerable trouble understanding hostility from WH advocates towards those who prefer to use the TR. At the very least, we can say the manuscript evidence is unclear.

    It seems to me that TR is still worth studying (a) because of its historic importance; (b) it the basis of liturgy and Scripture in the a major Christian church, namely the Greek Orthodox Church; (c) it is a possible rendering of Scripture.

    If WH advocates are of the position that TR is somehow inherently evil, why do they not protest the bracketed or footnoted inclusion of major Byzantine passages in contemporary translations (e.g., the Pericope Adulterae).

    I fail to understand why it is problematic to simply say that there are multiple textual traditions in New Testament writings. Certainly, claiming that the Authorized Version is “obsolete” when it uses a major textual tradition is a bit over the top and expresses far too much certainity in text critical methods.

  23. Polycarp says:

    @Theophrastus – I do not believe that the TR is ‘evil’ just lacking scholarship. It is worth studying, indeed, because it is a MSS which is historical – yet, if we do declare ourselves to hold to an inerrant text, perhaps we should actually attempt to hold said text.

    @Codepoke – No one really uses the WH, but the UBS/NA MSS. You are citing one example of a textual variant, one misused by JW’s (which are not generally known for treating the Text with any honesty). I would venture to say that the example you cite is related to the expansion of the text. If a doctrine is built upon one verse, it is rarely worth holding on to.

  24. Jake says:

    @Theophrastus: As for the doctrine that is missing, I believe that WH is missing “fasting” in Mark 9:29 and is missing Matthew 17:21 entirely, but I am not sure; I’m basing this on the English Revised Version which I *think* is based off of WH. This is the only place where the NT command fasting for healing.

  25. Jake says:

    @Polycarp: I am not a scholar, I do not know the original languages, and I only have translated versions of the Bible. I am in no position to say. However, most modern translations have both instances of fasting removed. The NASB in front of me, for instance, has Matthew 17:21 in brackets and “fasting” is not present in Mark 9:29.

  26. Polycarp says:

    I understand that, Jake, yet you, whether on purpose or not, are holding the KJV as the standard – so if something is not found in the new versions based on the NA/UBS text, then it must be ‘missing’. If you had read nothing by the NA/UBS texts, then according to your viewpoint then, the KJV would have added doctrine.

    It really depends upon where you are standing when you go looking.

  27. Jake says:

    Well, I first noticed this because it was footnoted. I do not normally use any majority texts. However, I was referring to YLT actually, which is the main translation I look at that is Majority/TR (with second being NKJV).

    I do realize I made TR/Majority (I know they aren’t exactly the same, but AFAIK they are in this case) look like the standard. I am honestly not convinced one way or the other. I use translations of critical texts almost exclusively, but I am not really convinced as I have not looked into the matter very much. However, it appears to me that the texts that made up the TR were added to because almost all text that is in the TR and not others can be found somewhere else in the Bible.

  28. codepoke says:


    > No one really uses the WH, but the UBS/NA MSS.

    Hmmm. Thank you. I went out and did a little reading on the Nestle-Aland. As nearly as I can tell, saying the NA is not the WH is a lot like saying Windows Vista is not Windows XP. It is, of course, completely true, but don’t try to sell a Linux advocate on the argument.

    > If a doctrine is built upon one verse, it is rarely worth holding on to.

    I hope you hear that I’m not trying to defend the position of Christ here. I’m trying to understand the difference between these texts. I have provided one example of a pain I felt along with vague assurances from my past that this is not a solitary example. Obviously, the Jehovah-hood of Jesus does not stand or fall on 2 Tim 2:19, but does the (alleged) weakening of that verse indicate a trend? Or did Paul write “Kyrios?”

    And how can a diesel mechanic and programmer feel confident of either answer when the points of the argument are esoteric beyond my comprehension?

  29. Theophrastus says:

    Polycarp — I’d like to understand your position better. Are you implying that “an inerrant text” exists, or that we can reasonably expect to determine it?

    If we do not have an “inerrant text” but a possible range of texts, does Bible-based Christianity collapse? Or is the message of Scripture sufficiently robust that it is meaningful even with different text variants?

    It is interesting to me that in literary contexts other than the Bible, critical texts have sometimes been seen as a major step backwards. For example, in Shakespearean criticism, the contemporary view is that attempts through most of the 20th century to publish critical texts were a failure, and thus the Oxford Shakespeare publishes two versions of King Lear (first folio and quarto), the Norton Shakespeare publishes three vesions of King Lear (first folio, quarto, conflated) and the Arden Hamlet publishes three versions of Hamlet (first folio, first quarto, and second quarto) because too many arbitrary decisions were made in developing a “critical” text.

    A similar story is told in the Gabler critical edition of Joyce’s Ulysses; its critical scholarship was so disputed that most scholars prefer the first edition or the 1960 Random House edition (all three editions are in print).

    I note that the editors of New English Translation of the Septuagint simply decided to translate different major versions of books in substantially different translations rather than attempt to establish a single critical edition.

    Returning to the issue of the Greek New Testament, I don’t see why our planet is not big enough to permit both a diplomatic and a critical edition. If the answer is: it will confuse the ordinary Bible reader, then I counter that she must already be confused by the textual footnotes in virtually all modern translations.

  30. Richie says:

    Theo, do you mean to imply that “the ordinary Bible reader” that is “confused by the textual footnotes” is confused due to being a “she”?:) I suppose the use of “she” in such contexts can be just as offensive as “he” or the “singular they” – esp. in the light of various interpretations of I Tim. 2:11-15.

    Also, I agree wholeheartedly that “the message of Scripture {is} sufficiently robust that it is meaningful even with different text variants.” Inerrancy is an important topic for consideration, study and discussion. However, an inerrant text – even an inerrant original text – is irrelevant to the truth of the gospel.

    P.S. I just read your own blog – “Firing Line” was one of my favorite programs growing up as well!

  31. David Ker says:

    Theophrastus wrote, “I’d like to understand your position better.”

    Thank you, everyone, for civil discussion on what can be a contentious topic. Check out the posting guidelines in the sidebar. #3 is especially important.

  32. Michael Nicholls says:

    [Ed. Note, comment edited to fix error]

    Here are some examples of differences between the Majority Text and the Critical Text. These differences are reflected in the KJV and NASB, which follow the MT and CT respectively.

    I’ve translated these as literally as possible, using the Nestle-Aland GNT, which gives the CT reading and lists the MT (or Byzantine reading) in the apparatus.

    Later, I’ll post the Scripture references and which text is which reading (I’ve purposely mixed up the examples), but for now, have a look at them see what you think without the influence of knowing.

    “They will mock him and spit on him and whip him and will kill and on the third day he will rise.”
    “They will mock him and spit on him and whip him and will kill and after three days he will rise.”

    But the Lord Christ sanctify in your hearts.
    But the Lord God sanctify in your hearts.

    But the ones of Christ crucified the flesh.
    But the ones of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh.

    …covenant having been previously confirmed by God.
    …covenant having been previously confirmed by God in Christ.

    …we all will stand before the judgment seat of God.
    …we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

    For, for this Christ died and lived, that of both dead and living he might be Lord.
    For, for this Christ died and rose and lived, that of both dead and living he might be Lord.

    …we are your boasting even as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
    …we are your boasting even as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.

    …all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    …all of you in Christ Jesus.

    The first man from earth, earthy; the second man from heaven.
    The first man from earth, earthy; the second man the Lord from heaven.

    …he broke it and said, “Take, eat: this is my body for the sake of you, broken.”
    …he broke it and said, “This is my body for the sake of you.”

    …because hair instead of a covering has been given to her.
    …because hair instead of a covering has been given.

  33. Peter Kirk says:

    Yet, we tolerate analogous behavior when we do not stop those who claim that the NIV has made KJV obsolete.

    Theophrastus, by using the word “stop” do you mean that you want to deny people like me the freedom of speech to express our viewpoint? (My position is not quite as you have summarised it, but it is similar.) You are perfectly entitled to put your own alternative view refuting mine, and I would make no suggestion about stopping you doing it. But it seems that you are not prepared to tolerate my viewpoint and want to stop me expressing it. That I will not tolerate. Our planet is big enough for diverse views and Bible texts, so let’s stop all talk of stopping people.

    On the specific point, Thucydides is not obsolete as a work of historical literature, but I would prefer Kagan (who has presumably used Thucydides and other relevant sources) if I was looking for the single most accurate account of what actually happened.

    By the way, there is no Greek manuscript evidence for the TR of 1 John 5:7-8, except for some manuscripts copied or altered to order to match the Latin. Of course this is not in the Majority Text, just in TR. You will also find justification by works taught in the TR and KJV of Revelation 22:14, but not in the critical text and modern translations. And I can confirm what Jake writes: there is no mention of fasting in connection with healing or exorcism in early MSS or the critical text, but this was added in Byzantine MSS presumably to fit with Byzantine church teaching.

    Codepoke, what am I supposed to think when I find evidence that in hundreds of places the copyists behind the TR have (deliberately or carelessly) changed the text of the Bible? Am I supposed to conclude that this is a good thing just because many of the alterations “honour Christ” in ways like replacing “Jesus” in the older manuscripts with “Jesus Christ”? That is the truth behind most of the places where “Christ” has allegedly been deleted from modern translations. And unlike many people here I have actually worked through these variants in the whole NT.

    Specifically, you mention an alleged textual variant in 2 Timothy 2:19. Oddly enough this is not even mentioned in the apparatus of the modern critical texts (not “WH” which no one uses and so is quite irrelevant to this discussion, but Nestle-Aland and UBS texts), which implies that they are so certain that the reading “Lord” (or “Jehovah”) rather than “Christ” is correct that they don’t even need to quote the evidence against. What in fact is that evidence? Are there any Greek manuscripts preserving the reading “Christ”? Or is it just a translation error in KJV and Tyndale?

  34. David Ker says:

    Your second sentence originally read, “These differences are reflected in the KJV and NASB, which follow the MT and NASB respectively.”

    I should have crossed out the NASB and added CT. Sorry for the confusion.

  35. Michael Nicholls says:

    Your second sentence originally read, “These differences are reflected in the KJV and NASB, which follow the MT and NASB respectively.”

    I should have crossed out the NASB and added CT. Sorry for the confusion.

    Lies!! I would never make a mitsake.

  36. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for a vibrant defense of the discipline of text criticism.

    Especially when it comes to the Old Testament, in which text and literary criticism sometimes coincide, TC is not for sissies.

    But it is possible to have a commitment to the results of scientific inquiry and have a robust faith at the same time.

  37. Theophrastus says:

    No Peter, I would never dream of disturbing your freedom of speech — and “stop” was a poor choice of word there. My point was to point out a symmetry I see (often not commented on) between KJVO and UBS4-only advocates.

  38. codepoke says:



    I’m glad you are direct and clear. Thank you.

    > Codepoke, what am I supposed to think when I find evidence that in hundreds of places the copyists behind the TR have (deliberately or carelessly) changed the text of the Bible?

    I’m quite sure you’ve reached a conclusion that satisfies you, so I won’t try to answer this question. And I’m quite sure (since I started this conversation not even knowing the difference between the TR and the Majority Text or between the WH and Nestle-Aland) I have ZERO useful information to add to this discussion. I’m attempting to gather information to help acclimate myself to the idea that NA may be the most accurate representation of the original texts.

    Your comment falls a little short of helping me in that regard, though. It sounds like you are proving your case by assuming your conclusion. You may not be doing so at all, but in my ignorance it sounds like you’re saying the Majority Text disagrees with the NA which proves the NA is superior.

    The story line I was given these 25 years ago now is this:
    + Alexandrians were comfortable “clarifying” the text, and many did.
    + Their clarifications were multi-vocal.
    + Textual critics compare differences between amended texts to ascertain the most likely original text.
    + Westcott-Hort convinced everyone they were the best in 1881.
    + This same thinking resulted in such monstrosities as the Q text.
    + The Byzantines considered clarifying and amending the texts anathema. They just copied.
    + Their Masoretic Hebrew texts were proven remarkably faithful the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    + So why not assume their Greek texts were copied as faithfully?
    + And assuming they were, it seems there should be narratives that might encompass the discrepancies between the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts.

    I realize there are hateful TR-only proponents out there, and I probably was one 25 years ago when I thought their leaflets were inspired. These days NT Wright is doing a pretty good job of convincing me textual criticism makes practical and spiritual sense. But that’s different from having very long-standing beliefs knocked completely down. That requires work, and that’s why I keep hanging out here at BBB gleaning insight and asking leading questions whenever one of these topics comes up.

    I am pretty sure someone out there believes the Byzantines were faithful copyists, and that most people believe they were hideously stilted editors. I don’t like being in the minority camp, but before I can be moved from it I need to know:
    1) Why do some smart people believe the Byzantines were good copyists?
    2) Why are those smart people wrong?

    Too often I hear the answers to other, less helpful questions:
    X) Which smart people believe the Byzantines were stilted editors?
    X) Which dumb people believe the Byzantines were good copyists?
    X) Why are dumb people dumb?

    Well, reviewing your questions to me, one more stands out.

    > Am I supposed to conclude that this is a good thing just because many of the alterations “honour Christ”

    No. But …

    In the narrative I was given, the multi-vocal Alexandrian editors contained a goodly number of gnostics, arians, etc., a number of people whose clarifications would naturally tend toward the denigration of Christ’s position. Since they were multi-vocal, their amendments would drift in various directions, but would tend toward the downplay of the miraculous. It’s just a narrative, but it seems to be a logical one. No conspiracy is needed, but a general tenor is identified.

    My desire is to find the most accurate representation of the words Paul, John, Peter and the rest left to us. The narrative I was given says the original authors’ words were most faithfully copied in Byzantium, and the Byzantines recorded Christos while the Alexandrians recorded Kyrios. That’s not a gloss. That’s an editorial correction by someone committed with (misplaced) benificence aforethought. It’s easier to believe a single Byzantine made that change than that dozens of Alexandrians did, but easy isn’t always right. I’m just trying to figure out what’s right.

  39. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, I take your point. But I am not a UBS-4-only person. I am very happy to make textual decisions differing from the UBS text if someone can give me sound arguments for why they are to be preferred. I do not consider the existence of multiple late manuscripts copied from one another to be proper evidence for readings found nowhere until well into the Byzantine period.

    Codepoke, sorry if my answer was not completely convincing. It wasn’t supposed to be the last word on the subject. It may well be that the Alexandrians “clarified” the text, but so did the Byzantines, in ways which can be traced through the centuries. There is no evidence that they “considered clarifying and amending the texts anathema”. And they had a whole millennium more than the Alexandrians to do so, if we are comparing the main MSS behind TR with the main MSS behind the critical text. The Masoretic text is irrelevant as it was not the Byzantines who preserved this. The generally good quality of the Alexandrian editors can be shown by comparing very early surviving papyri with the great Alexandrian codices, and with the Byzantine majority text – I think they are much more like the former.

    Actually it is very easy for the change from “Lord” to “Christ”, or vice versa, to be accidental. In the standard abbreviated uncial Greek, one looks like “KC” and the other like “XC”. Have you never confused in handwriting a K and an X?

  40. Theophrastus says:

    Peter, you are wholly entitled to your opinion, of course. What I object to is the attitude of UBS-only advocates who deride towards those who prefer TR, and then (in an amazing display of hypocrisy) take umbrage when they are treated similarly by their opponents. (Of course, it works both way — the strong rhetoric of some advocates of Byzantine text forms towards the text critics should be tempered.)

    Of course, early manuscript evidence counts, but it is not as if we had gleaming libraries of early manuscripts perfectly preserved and all in agreement with each other. What we have, to be blunt, is a mess.

    In the face of this, the preference for many for a diplomatic manuscript — even if it is late — should hardly be treated with contempt. The fact that this version is graced by tradition and treated as definitive by major Churches can also not be so easily dismissed.

    I must add that in this sense, Biblical studies is behind the curve of other literary studies, where (as I point out above) diplomatic manuscripts are now in favor over critical manuscripts.

    I am very pleased that you are not a UBS4-only advocate — because you undoubtedly realize just how arbitrary many of the decisions were that went into that manuscript.

  41. Michael Nicholls says:

    diplomatic manuscripts are now in favor over critical manuscripts.

    I don’t know enough about secular manuscripts to comment on that, but regarding biblical manuscripts we need to remember that the primary goal of textual preservation is to ascertain accuracy and originality. That may not always be the case in other fields, I don’t know.

  42. Michael Nicholls says:

    Back on topic, here’s the answer key to the above posted differences between the MT and the CT, with some of my comments.

    The most important thing to remember is that ultimately these differences are superfluous.

    So let’s have a look:

    Mark 10:34
    “They will mock him and spit on him and whip him and will kill and on the third day he will rise” – MT
    “They will mock him and spit on him and whip him and will kill and after three days he will rise” – CT

    There’s no reason to change reading A) to reading B). B) does not improve on A). There is a temptation to change B) to A), because technically Jesus didn’t rise after three full days; he rose on the third day. Linguists know that there’s nothing wrong with “after three days” because it is normal speech (“I’ve been working all day” does not actually mean from 12:00am-11:59pm), but semanticists or theologians would feel uncomfortable with Jesus saying after three days when technically it was on the third day. Hence, there is motive to change A) to B), but not to change B) to A).

    That is the crux of the argument. Most of the time there is motive to make the CT look like the MT, but there’s no reason (no benefit) why someone would change the MT to look like the CT. Either the CT copyists were sloppy, or the MT copyists ‘improved’ the text. There’s no ‘CT conspiracy.’

    1 Peter 2:15
    But the Lord Christ sanctify in your hearts – CT
    But the Lord God sanctify in your hearts – MT

    I thought this example was significant because the CT is often accused of removing references to Christ, although in this example it’s the other way around.

    Rom. 14:10
    …we all will stand before the judgment seat of God – CT
    …we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ – MT

    Perhaps a copying error, perhaps a desire to make explicit that Christ will be at the judgment seat. Who knows?

    Gal. 5:24
    But the ones of Christ crucified the flesh – MT
    But the ones of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh – CT

    The MT removes a reference to Jesus in this passage. Interesting… Although the NA GNT gives this a {C} grading of certainty, meaning there’s quite a bit of doubt either way.

    Gal. 3:17
    …covenant having been previously confirmed by God – CT
    …covenant having been previously confirmed by God in Christ – MT

    Here’s the context of this passage:

    16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
    17 And this I say, [that] the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

    16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
    17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

    This is the subjective part (some say ‘art’) of textual criticism, so don’t read too much into it, but when I read these passages I don’t see why Paul would have mentioned ‘Christ’ in v17. He’s referring to an historical event. Removing the reference to Christ doesn’t detract from Christ, since Christ is mentioned in the verse before as being the seed. Adding the reference to Christ strengthens Christology, by placing him back at the time when the covenant was made between God and Abraham. It seems that there’s incentive to add the reference, not take it out. But I admit it’s subjective.

    Rom. 14:9
    For, for this Christ died and lived, that of both dead and living he might be Lord. – CT
    For, for this Christ died and rose and lived, that of both dead and living he might be Lord. – MT

    If B) was original, why would changing it to ‘died and lived’ diminish the fact that he rose? The ‘gnostics’ didn’t remove enough to change the doctrine of the resurrection.

    It makes more sense to see that the copyists of B) wanted to make A) more explicit. There’s incentive to add ‘rose’. If ‘rose’ had been intentionally removed, they failed to remove ‘lived’ which inherently means that he rose. Either the MT copyists added ‘rose’, or the CT copyists tried to diminish the resurrection but failed because they left in ‘lived’.

    2 Cor. 1:14
    …we are your boasting even as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus. – CT
    …we are your boasting even as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. – MT

    Not a big difference. One says ‘our Lord Jesus’, one says ‘the Lord Jesus’.

    1 Cor. 16:24
    …all of you in Christ Jesus. – CT
    …all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. – MT

    Another example of “why would you take this out?” ‘Amen’ is one of those words more likely to be added by scribes, to complete a thought, prayer, doxology, etc., than taken out. Either it was added by scribes to sound better, or it was accidentally not copied by CT scribes, but you can’t accuse the CT scribes of wanting to remove important theology with this one.

    1 Cor. 15:47
    The first man from earth, earthy; the second man from heaven – CT
    The first man from earth, earthy; the second man the Lord from heaven – MT

    Seems like the CT text makes a comparison between 2 types of men – one from earth and one from heaven. The MT wants to specify that it’s the Lord, in case we missed it. But the comparison sounds better in A) if you ask me. Subjective, I know.

    1 Cor. 11:24
    …he broke it and said, “Take, eat: this is my body for the sake of you, broken” – MT
    …he broke it and said, “This is my body for the sake of you” – CT

    We know that they took it. We know that they ate it. We know that it was broken. So why would you remove that from the text? Removing it doesn’t detract from any theology or history or anything really. Seems more like someone wanted to make it explicit.

    1 Cor. 11:15
    …because hair instead of a covering has been given to her – CT
    …because hair instead of a covering has been given – MT

    Not much to say about this one. Just a difference.

    Comments? Examples of your own?

  43. Theophrastus says:

    Regarding biblical manuscripts we need to remember that the primary goal of textual preservation is to ascertain accuracy and originality. That may not always be the case in other fields, I don’t know.

    I think it is safe to say that this is the case in a wide variety of areas. (A significant exception is determining important texts as they were understood by important commentators — e.g., for the New Testament, as they were understood by the Church Fathers.)

    The problem arises when text criticism is so speculative — or holds so many alternative — that as well intentioned as the intent is, the critical text lacks authority.

    Let me give you an example from your list above, Mark 10:34. Now there is ancient evidence (here, I restrict myself to 5th century and before) for both forms. Your reading has the support of the Sinaiticus (4th c), Vaticanus (4th c), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c), and Bezae (5th c). But the majority text has the support of Alexandrius (5th c.; although the passage was manually corrected, the original text supports the majority text) and the Freer Gospels (5th c).

    No papyrus text of this verse has been found — in the 5th c. and before, we only have unicals.

    So here we have two different readings, both well supported by the manuscript evidence. On what basis did the text critics select the critical version? They invoked the principle that the more difficult reading is likely to be correct. The theory is that a copyist is more likely to “clean up” an original manuscript to a flawed copy than he is to “complicate” the original.

    But of course, this text critical principle is highly speculative, at best. It is a coherent theory, but by no means the only possible theory. One might just as well say that various manuscript flaws were introduced as copies were made and remade, and that the reading which is most natural (which favors the majority text) is best.

    My point is that the title “critical text” is far more reassuring to a reader than it really should be; the “critical text” in this case is based on a speculative, disputable theory.

    Given the number of cases in which this happens in the “critical” text, I wish to suggest that terms like “originality” and “accuracy” are not called for here.

  44. codepoke says:

    Michael Nichols,

    Your approach was interesting to me, so I broke my fast against TR only sites. I found one that lists 279 errors it considers sgnificant. Of your 11 references, 5 are listed. Your other 6 references are apparently considered insignificant. List are: Rom 14:9&10, Gal 3:17, 1 Cor 11:24 & 15:47

    Clicking at random through their list (about 11 clicks) I’d call a number of the differences more significant than any of the eleven you chose. For example, in John 3:13 the present-tense statement of Jesus that He is in heaven is omitted. That’s a pretty big deal because it’s miraculous, and a lot of miraculous stuff has either been added by Byzantines or removed by Alexandrians. Hearing Jesus say He was “in heaven” while He was on earth says a lot about what it meant to be the incarnate Jehovah, don’t you think? I’ve read the KJV all my life, so that’s an ingrained part of my thinking now, so if John didn’t say it I’ve got to rethink the incarnation. And if he did, I bet there are others with some rethinking to do.

    Do you feel like you’ve come up with the most significant 11 examples? You’ve proven pretty comprehensively that those 11 examples are trivial, but do you think there might be other examples that are non-trivial?

  45. Michael Nicholls says:

    Theophrastus, you seem to have dismissed a whole theory by stating that an alternative might exist.

    One might just as well say that various manuscript flaws were introduced as copies were made and remade, and that the reading which is most natural (which favors the majority text) is best.

    Is the accusation against the CT that it’s based on miscopied manuscripts, or based on manuscripts intentionally edited of the miraculous and containing a gnostic agenda?

    The problem with the ‘miscopied’ argument is that it ignores the fact that many of the differences are not random copy error differences, but potential areas of clarification, addition, and theologising. If the errors were mere copyist mistakes, they should be more random, and less incriminating.

    The problem with the ‘sabotaged’ theory is that a) the CT texts are generally younger, b) they’re not sabotaged enough to make a difference, and c) many of the changes make no sense at all to sabotage, but make a lot of sense to add what the MT adds. That is, in Rom 14:9, Mark 10:34, Gal 3:17 etc, there’s no gain for the ‘gnostics’ to change the text, but there is a gain for the MT copyists to change them. That brings us back to the ‘random copy error’ problem, which doesn’t add up, and isn’t the accusation being laid against the CT in the first place (except by perhaps a few).

    Do you feel like you’ve come up with the most significant 11 examples?

    Absolutely not. I flipped through my GNT and picked a number of examples as I came across them. For most of the differences that I found, the CT and the MT agreed, so I had to look for ones where they disagreed.

    What was the TR-only site that you visited?

  46. Theophrastus says:

    But I’ve cited documents of the same age (4th-5th c).

    My argument is that we cannot really know which is the correct alternative; that the CT’s decision is somewhat arbitrary (in particular, based on a theory that copiers “re-edited” and “cleaned-up” manuscripts.)

    I do think we can learn from the CT, but I think that it elevating its status over that of a diplomatic manuscript (which, at least, has integral status) is not justified.

  47. codepoke says:

    At least I’ve learned what a diplomatic text is. 🙂

    > What was the TR-only site that you visited?

    Will you forgive me if I don’t give the site any link love? Frankly, I think their site might be called, “Bitter Bibles Blog.” I only read it for the data. 🙂

  48. John Hobbins says:

    I don’t agree with Theophrastus’s radical pessimism about the possibility of identifying among the variant readings that reading most likely to be the one from which all the others developed. Of course there are examples of complete head-scratchers, but these are the exception, not the rule.

    Still, I would love to have a diglot Handausgabe of the entire Codex Alexandrinus, for example, Old and New Testaments and appendices in the order in which they are found in the ms, with all paratextual features, such as prefaces, delimitation markers and abbreviations, scrupulously preserved and explained in an introduction, plus a textual apparatus clearly set off from all of that, with textual notes for loci in which the presumed earliest and most original extant reading is a matter of serious dispute.

    In short, besides having a top-notch eclectic edition of the NT, something we already have, I would love to have top-notch diplomatic editions of the most important papyri and uncials. Said diplomatic editions would be far more useful than a diplomatic edition of the Majority Text unless one’s speciality is the history of reception of that particular text-type.

  49. Michael Nicholls says:

    No problem codepoke. I’m sure I can find something if I look around. I’ll be on the lookout for black backgrounds with red text and animated gifs of flames etc, and many different text sizes, probably centered on the page, with lots of CAPS. I know the type. 😉

  50. codepoke says:

    Thank you, Theophrastus, for that link. It should be no surprise that I find it makes a compelling argument, since I was already pretty much compelled.

    Now. Is there ANY translation of the bible anywhere that’s based on the Byzantine MSS?

  51. Theophrastus says:

    Codepoke — I don’t know about translations based on Byzantine MSS — I suspect some exist in non-English language (e.g., translations serving Orthodox Christians).

    I think the best you’ll get in English are translations based on TR, which is pretty close to the Byzantine MSS — and the two most popular such translations today are of course the KJV (which I like a lot) and NKJV (which I am cool towards).

    One book that I found recently that is a tremendous aid (especially for lay readers) is Philip Comfort’s rather amazing New Testament Text and Translation Commentary. There are several reviews of it in the blogosphere (all of them rather positive); my review is here.

    This may be the “Bible book of the year” for me; it is definitely the best book I’ve ever seen from its publisher, Tyndale. I like it much better than Metzger and using the apparatus of UBS4.

  52. CD-Host says:

    Just throwing my $.02 in here.

    I’ve tried to have discussions with knowledgeable KJVonly people. Their case essentially comes down to:

    meaningful inerrancy -> perfect preservation
    CT -> imperfect preservation

    A classic modus tolens defense. Problem is of course the counter evidence to perfect preservation is overwhelming. So if you accept that argument you end up with overwhelming evidence for errancy. They also unfortunately have never constructed a theory of history which leads to the KJV being anything special, like a clear explanation of how the Byzantine Text emerged.

  53. Theophrastus says:

    CD-Host, you write:

    I’ve tried to have discussions with knowledgeable KJVonly people.

    You’ve not tried very hard. Indeed, you don’t even acknowledge the arguments in this thread.

    For example, Robert Alter, Professor at UC Berkeley and a Bible translator himself, and Frank Kermode, formerly of Cambridge University, currently at Harvard, are certainly in most people’s top 20 lists of contemporary literary critics; one would think both are “knowledgeable”, and both favor the KJV. Indeed, it seems that your examination does not even go so far as reading the comments in this very thread, which largely discuss different issues.

    Several arguments in favor of the KJV can be outlined as follows:

    (i) The superiority of the Byzantine text form. See this essay by Maurice Robinson for details. Note that the Byzantine text form continues to the be standard for Orthodox Christians.

    (ii) The superiority of the English language of the KJV. The KJV is widely acknowledged, in literary circles at least, as the high water mark in the language of English Bible translations. Even those who find it archaic today often remark on its strong rhythmic nature and resulting ease of memorization.

    (iii) Continuity. The KJV has ruled as the “king” of translations for longer than any other in the English language, and is closely related to other influential translations such as the Geneva and Tyndale’s. As a result, those hoping to understand Biblical references both in English and American literature and theological writings in English are more likely to understand those references if they have familiarity with the KJV.

    (iv) Literal representation of the Hebrew. The KJV is widely acknowledged to be closer to the Hebrew, particularly in attempting to reproduce Hebrew’s rhythmic and literary effects than almost any translation (and certainly more than any non-Jewish translation). Alter and Hammond have each separately made this argument at length; I have also summarized some of the main points in the accompanying comment thread to this one.

    (v) Weakness of arguments against the KJV. The arguments against the KJV are in many cases undermined, see below.

    Several principle arguments against the KJV are easily rebutted:

    (i) Archaism of the KJV English. While the KJV language hearkens to an earlier age, it is far easier to understand than other texts which we normally expect high school students to master; e.g., Shakespeare or Milton. This can easily be verified by simply reading a passage from both the KJV and either Shakespeare or Milton. Nonetheless, giving the appalling standards of education among the Evangelical community this may be an issue, and no doubt accounts for the success of easy-reading translations such as the NLT. (As the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey indicates, in the US, only 7% of those belonging Evangelical Churches and 5% of those belonging to Historically Black Churches receive post-graduate education; as opposed to Catholics [10%] Mainline Christians [14%], Orthodox Christians [18%], Other Christians [20%], Other Faiths [21%], Buddhists [26%], Jews [35%], and Hindus [48%]). Clearly, this is an argument for better education of Evangelicals, who have too long tolerated “no nothingism”, than a serious argument against the KJV.

    (ii) Claimed superiority of the Critical Text. Given the arbitrary nature of many of the decisions of the critical text, this argument appears weak. See also Maurice Robinson’s essay, cited above.

    (iii) Better philology. The argument is made that we better understand Biblical Hebrew today than the KJV translators did, and this is certainly correct. Moses did not have horns, and Joseph did not have a coat of many colors. However, the trend in recent Evangelical translations (e.g., ESV, [T]NIV) has been to ignore the evidence of the DSS, and the translations with best Hebrew scholarship (e.g., the NJPS and the NRSV) do not enjoy wide popularity with Evangelicals. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge this is a serious failing of the KJV; one which can best be addressed with a serious commentary and supplement.

    (iv) Ecumenism. The KJV, it must be admitted, is a thoroughly Protestant translation and its use in secular education oppresses Jews and Catholics. However, this is a failing of almost every translation popular with the Evangelical community. To the best of my knowledge, only one major translation has included Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish translators: the NRSV (which also included a Christian Orthodox translator). As has been widely noted, translations such as the NLT, [T]NIV, and ESV represent a step backwards here from the RSV (all the more so from the NRSV). Furthermore, it is worth noting that translations popular with the Catholic community (e.g., the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims) and Jewish community (e.g., the 1917 JPS translation) are directly related to the KJV translation (in the case of the JPS translation, via the English RV translation).

    In summary, a serious argument can be made for the KJV without appeal to inspired translation or inerrancy. Your mischaracterization of the best arguments for the KJV — in the face of points made in this very thread — is disingenuous.

  54. CD-Host says:

    Hi Theo —

    I never really took you for a KJV-onlyist rather more of a literary fan. You’ve made excellent points regarding literary translations and literary preservation but that’s not the standard divine presentation. So the reason I didn’t respond specifically as if you were a KJV-onlyist is I didn’t take it that way. However if you want me to (keeping your numbering):

    i) I’d separate the TR from the MT (majority text / Byzantine text) , with the KJV being dependent on the TR not the MT. So I don’t see how that defends the KJV at all, though the TR is closer to the MT than the NA27. That being said I read the article. It doesn’t propose a plausible theory for the ancient witnesses we have given an MT original. The author somewhat glides over this issue, IMHO.

    ii) Arguably this entire blog addresses this point, that high quality literary English doesn’t aid and often hampers understanding. That being said I’d concur that the KJV is excellent for literary superiority and ease of memorization. KJV-onlyist however are debating on the field of accuracy, not literary quality generally. So I can concede this point if all that is meant is literary quality.

    iii) Agreed.

    iv) I generally focus on the Greek, since I know the Greek far better. In terms of capturing literary effects of the Hebrew I don’t have an informed opinion. This is likely true. Where the KJV is simply awful though is reading the NT back into the OT in inconsistent ways. I far prefer the NEB/REB, NRSV, NET, NJPS, though you other recommendation are in my shopping cart.


    i) I’m going to admit something here. I’m very well educated yet just reading an 19th century translation of Summa I took Aquinas to mean the exact opposite as a result of using archaic terms. In this case it was a sexual term and the victorian translator felt he had to make the latin even more obscure. What happened was I took “the natural resolution of seman without copulation” to be masturbation which was the opposite of what Aquinas meant. A 19th century reader would have been used to hemming and hawing; however I wasn’t so I completely misunderstood him. At least for me this is a very recent example of how culture difference from time resulted in incorrect understanding. It is hard for me to have the same experience with the KJV because I am familiar with the biblical text, but I have no trouble believing that if I weren’t I’d make those sorts of mistakes all the time.

    ii) Here I would very strongly disagree. There are additions in the MT which are at this point traceable and verifiable to have not been part of the earliest manuscripts. The break with the TR/MT came only because of overwhelming evidence that the TR/MT was not perfect.

    iii) Since you are conceding this point….

    iv) I’m not even quite sure how to addresses this. Clearly for secular usage the NRSV seems to be the translation of choice and most recent study tools are keyed to the NRSV. Generally I had assumed we are talking translations for use in religious functions. For secular usage I’d disagree with the KJV strongly based on:

    a) Wanting to break with the Christian translational tradition not uphold it
    b) Wanting modern language since the reader should be assumed to be non familiar and needing to read quickly
    c) Accuracy generally being paramount

    I’m frankly hard pressed to come up with a worse choice than the KJV for secular usage given what I think are standard criteria.

    So we disagree here though I’m not sure how relevant it is.

    Take care theo. I’ll examine the rest of the thread to see if there is anything else I want to jump in on.

  55. CD-Host says:

    Codepoke —

    I read your discussion of the long explanation and that is exactly the version of KJVonlyism I’m familiar with. That being the case the way I would counter those concerns is by making them worse:

    Why should we expect texts from the 1st or early 2nd century Hellenistic Jewish community to look like 4th century Christian texts and not like fringe Hellenistic Judaism? Given that the earliest text are “multi vocal” are you sure that isn’t representative of what 2nd century Christianity looked like? All evidence we have from the church fathers is that Christianity was coming together from wildly divergent theologies during the 2nd century. Why wouldn’t you expect the earliest texts to reflect this?

  56. Theophrastus says:

    It is certainly true that I am not an “only”-ist with respect to the KJV (I would hardly maintain that failure to use the KJV was on the level of heresy), it is the translation that I think should be used, for example, in most college courses such as “The Bible as Literature”.

    As to the question of the strength of the Byzantine text form (or its most widely available representative form in English translation, the TR) from WH (and its most widely used descendants, NA26/27-UBS3/4, which I will call in the sequel “NU”), I am here depending on Robinson’s analysis cited above. However, I have long been suspicious of those arguments that give nearly unqualified support to an eclectic method; which on its face necessarily involves guesswork and arbitrary decisions.

    As to misreading, this is nearly inevitable in the source material given the variety of hapax legomena in the Book of Job, for example. To require our English Bibles to be read without ambiguity when the source material is difficult, obscure, and in some cases completely speculative is a standard I have difficulty supporting. (This is, indeed, one of the few points I like about the NJPS — the editors do [somewhat inconsistently] indicate in footnotes in hundreds of places that source material is unclear.)

  57. John Hobbins says:


    Now that you hauled out every imaginable argument in favor of KJV, without regard for the fact that the arguments hardly cohere in any way, you conclude by saying that the KJV should be used in Bible as Literature courses.

    No, it shouldn’t, unless the course is taught in an English department. In that case only, it would be nice to have a KJV Study Bible with the gist of David Lyle Jeffery’s A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (an uneven work, to be sure, I cite it only for proof of concept) in footnotes and essays.

    Nowadays, Intro to Biblical Literature courses in state universities and secular private institutions are more often taught by biblical scholars who, if they are interested in the history of reception, are more often interested in the more ancient history of reception. The last thing Hendel or Hayes or Kugel or my friends at the UW-Madison want is to have to help semi-literate undergrads navigate KJV. The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV) is the obvious choice, unless the course is on OT/Tanakh only, in which case The Jewish Study Bible (NJPSV) is an excellent choice.

    For the rest, almost the only reason anyone would use the KJV in worship, group Bible study, and personal devotions is because they have been fed the KJV-only line.

    No one who is minimally informed is going to recommend the KJV for its faithfulness to the original language texts. We simply have learned a few too many things in the interim, such that, if the goal is to hear the texts again as they were meant to be heard by their 9th cent BC to 1 cent AD authors – then NRSV and NJPSV, for all their faults, are the best options out there.

    If instead the goal is to have a translation that delivers the message of the Bible – the message, of course, as understood by a particular faith community – then, for all their faults, the best options out there are the NAB if one is Catholic, the NJPSV is one is Jewish, the ESV if one is a more traditionalist Protestant, the NRSV if one is a liberal Protestant, the (T)NIV if one is mainstream evangelical, the NLT if one is more cutting edge evangelical, and so on.

    Seminaries, of course, indoctrinate according to particular traditions.

    Really, the only people who do not choose a Bible translation on the basis of tradition are those whose love for the Bible is deep and wide. They are going to use several translations for several different purposes.

    A case apart: those with purely aesthetic needs, or an interest in the history of reception. A diglot Vulgate-English text would be helpful. So are polyglot Bibles like the Luther – ESV Bible to appear.

  58. Theophrastus says:

    “without regard for the fact that the arguments hardly cohere in any way”

    Well, John, that is hardly an argument. Best to save the summary judgments for your sermons.

  59. David Ker says:

    Glad to see this conversation flaring up again. John expresses my position very well. Has he moved or have I? Actually, I think the key is differentiating between “translation as literature” and “Bible for religious use.”

    In our conversation I hear echoes of the controversy of moving from Vulgate to English 500 years ago. And even at that early stage we could see doctrinally motivated translations that match up pretty well with the list that John provides. What is significant is that within a century of its production the KJV had completely dominated the field pushing out the Geneva and Douay-Rheims (which both ended by coopting the KJV text). Could that happen again in English? The NIV franchise has faltered. The ESV is soaring. A vast array of micro-niche translations are selling very well.

    Any guesses on what translation people will be using in 100 years?

    NLT and Message are very contemporary and will not age well (any more than Living and Phillip’s did). ESV’s anachronism will become more pronounced. My bet is on some grandchild of the NIV but that could be my evangelical bias.

  60. Theophrastus says:

    Oh, how your comment makes me wish I could live for a hundred more years, just to say “I told you so”

    I predict that in 100 years, the KJV will be a bestseller, just as it was 100 years after the release of the English Revised Version (1881, 1885, 1894). While the RV’s advocates predicted doom for the KJV, I note that the KJV remains a best-selling translation and the Revised Version itself is in short supply today.

    I predict that in 100 years, the KJV will still be among the versions that people will still pay money for (and printed copies to boot — even though, perhaps, printed books will be a novelty a hundred year hence), and the NIV, ESV, and NLT will be passed over for the latest fads in Biblical translation. Indeed, I predict that the field will be fragmented from our current dozens of competing Evangelical translations into hundred of competing Evangelical translations, each attempting to serve John’s “semi-literate” audience. The literate, naturally, will prefer the KJV.

    I predict that 100 years, the KJV will remain the version of choice for standard “Bible as Literature” textbooks — just as it is with the widely hailed edition of Alter and Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible. They, of course, use the KJV.

  61. David Ker says:

    I’m also doubtful whether print for sale will still be around.

    The KJV will go the way of powdered wigs, snuff and the codpiece. That it has lasted this long has more to do with supply than demand.

  62. Polycarp says:

    @David – Isn’t that the point of translations, to change to fit the language?

    As far as the KJV being around in 100 years? Sure, in museums, and for collectors, but not in primary use, even at the levels it is today. For one reason, I doubt that in 100 years, we will recognize the English language, and it could be that in 100 years, the English language will no longer be the international language that it is today.

  63. CD-Host says:

    Well if we are going to make 100 year predictions….

    I think the fact that evangelicals (including the most conservative with the ESV) have adopted the UBS/NA text is a fundamental shift in their relationship with the bible. Evangelicals today read bibles with “some texts contain while other…”, “greek says____”, etc…. In other words a view of translation has emerged which says:
    1) The actual originals are unknown, what you are reading is an estimate
    2) The act of translation induces inevitable distortion in meaning
    That’s not a small thing. It is going to encourage more and more evangelicals to dig deeper into critical studies, hence the popularity of Study Bibles today which is far beyond what it was a generation ago. With computerization the amount of information in the tools used for lay study is exploding.

    Yet bibles today are still very conservative. I commented on my blog how delightful it was to read a translation of John in Bultmann’s order. As we get more comfortable with altering phrases from the traditional order I suspect we’ll start to see bibles which reorganize the material. John being the first, but books like Corinthians (Schmithals decomposition) and marking of the Q passages are likely to follow.

    In terms of the UBS/NA40 (or whatever it is called)…. The Greek (and maybe the Hebrew by then?) will present a tree view of the origins of the text. The books will show trees of descent, you will be able to track lines as they evolved in the 5th century from a host of sources. For example the UBS/NA Luke will clearly show what came from Ur-Lukas (Gospel of the Lord), which came from later Q additions or refinements from Matthew, which came from Mark and which came from reading the epistles back into the gospels. The scholars 100 years from now will be far more radical really moving from the position that the books themselves don’t represent anything more than politically reworked and redacted pieces of early more authentic works.

    I think the debate on the canon will be fiery in 100 years. In the last 15 years we’ve started to see several bibles that are arguing for changes to the canon. Today almost no evangelical believes that Hebrews is “Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews” and it is becoming acceptable to question the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles even within conservative circles. The counter evidence is just too strong. 100 ideas from now the idea that the canon is essentially political in nature not religious will be mainstream and the big question will be how to respond. It took 200 years for evangelicals to admit that the corrupt theology of the 16th century church really went all the way back to the 5th century and that revolution not reformation was the goal. Seeing this corruption i the selection of books will take time but 100 years from now it will be far more advanced and what is today a fringe view will be a well represented minority view. So put me down for Gospel of Thomas in at least one mainstream translation by then.

    I think the idea that a bible should be “general purpose” will die in the next generation. Translations will stop aiming to be all things to all people and instead will focus. The KJV may very well survive for “high liturgy” like funerals, but treated like Shakespeare. Study bibles will be explicating the text using a dual strategy having a much more literal than the ESV translation (like a good interlinear) and a profoundly dynamic capturing the meaning of the Greek. The concern with preserving traditional phrasing will be gone. Churches will use liturgical bibles designed to be understood best when read out-loud, translation like the Voice (which hasn’t been discussed here much) being an excellent example..

    So there we go, my 100 year predictions.

  64. John Hobbins says:

    Conservative is good. Conservative is excellent. Treasures old and new, according to Jesus, is the way to go.

    Speaking of preaching, is there any acclaimed preacher today who bases himself on the KJV? There must be, but I think almost all preachers with a missional focus have moved beyond the KJV. In that sense, KJV has already gone the way of the dinosaurs.

    [Ed. Note: Off topic – removed]

    Tim Keller, who is doing blockbuster work in Manhattan (see the latest issue of Christianity Today), preaches from the ESV. For those who are missional, whose church tradition has a historic commitment to the KJV, the ESV is an obvious choice. Its syntax could be improved, but its continuity with the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition is a definite plus, if that tradition is considered of value. ESV is an Altneu translation, a translation that conserves and innovates at the same time.

    On the other side of the evangelical spectrum, Joel Osteen prefers NLT I’m told.

    A lot of it has to do with how one enculturates the gospel. If Western culture as such is the context, then ESV is an obvious choice. NRSV is not that bad either. But it suffers from its association with declining mainline denominations, intent on sidelining themselves in today’s world (I know; I pastor in one).

    At some point, I wouldn’t be surprised if ESV is revised such that it moves toward greater readability, without however correcting the Masoretic Text left and right and adopting readings of the Septuagint and/or the Dead Sea Scrolls according to an eclectic method that makes Nestle-Aland very conservative in comparison.

    Meanwhile, NLT with each successive revision is less paraphrastic.

    But if pop culture is the context, NLT is an obvious choice. NIV and TNIV stand somewhere in the middle. The middle is a good place to be, if one wants to conserve and innovate at the same time.

    These kind of considerations matter more than is often pointed out.

  65. David Ker says:

    I’m liking all these predictions.

    John, that Osteen jab hurts. But his following is growing exponentially, you might give NLT a try.

  66. Theophrastus says:

    The KJV will go the way of powdered wigs, snuff and the codpiece. That it has lasted this long has more to do with supply than demand.

    Really? And yet today, when one can buy any of dozens of Bibles, the KJV is monthly in the top 3. And the most performed playwright of our era is . . . wait for it . . . William Shakespeare, although there are certainly writers of a more recent vintage.

    By the way, snuff — in the form of “smokeless tobacco” is also having something of a renaissance today.

    We are about to see the wind-up for KJV-mania (the 400th anniversary), Cambridge University Press has just edited a comprehensive New Paragraph edition, and books on the KJV are now being published at a rate greater than any other time in history. In terms of absolute numbers, the KJV is selling more volumes today than it ever has in its history.

    So, just to press the point a bit more, David — what year do you think the KJV is most likely to drop out of the top 10? (I do hope your prediction is during both our lifetimes, so I can trumpet “I told you so.”)

  67. David Ker says:

    Easy now, folks.

    T., I am also winding up to the 400th anniversary of the KJV. It would be a very easy target to read through it in 2011 and blog about all the funny wording.

  68. CD-Host says:

    John —

    You are a bright guy who likes the Hebrew. Let me throw out my regular question for ESV supports to you. Is there even one verse that the ESV translates more accurately than the NRSV?

  69. Theophrastus says:

    CD-Host —

    The NRSV uses an eclectic approach in reconstructing the Old Testament text, and in particularly relies more heavily on the Dead Sea Scrolls than the ESV. Especially in Samuel, the NRSV deliberately varies from the Masoretic Text. At least it warns the reader that it does this.

    The ESV varies from the Masoretic Text also, but not as much as the NRSV. One important difference is that the NRSV’s variances are largely supported by the evidence of other textual traditions; the ESV’s are largely motivated by the need to attempt to harmonize OT quotes with their use in the NT.

    Does the OT foretell the NT? It does in the ESV — the translators made darn sure that was the case. The RSV, having had a Jewish translator, provides a more objective view.

  70. John Hobbins says:


    Actually, I don’t have anything against Joel Osteen. He speaks a language that many people understand. I once asked an African American colleague of mine in the United Methodist Church, who also pastors a megachurch in Houston, what he thought of Joel Osteen. He pointed refused to say anything but good about him, based on the results he sees on the ground. I have people in my congregation who have benefited from his books.

    The linguistic register I use is close to that of Tim Keller. It is rooted more deeply in classical Western culture, whereas Osteen’s register is pop-cultural. The translation choices correlate.


    Yes, ESV sticks to the diction of the Hebrew more closely than NRSV. Here are a couple of examples at random. Psalm 1:1 begins, in ESV,

    “Blessed is the man who walks not in counsel of the wicked . . . his delight . . . he is like a tree. . . the wicked are not so.”

    ESV preserves the singular-plural contrast, which many exegetes, myself included, think is essential to the message of the Psalm. NRSV eliminates the contrast by pluralizing the singulars. “Blessed are those . . . They are like trees.” [material edited out by moderator]

    ESV Psalm 2:1 “Why do the nations rage?” respects the underlying Hebrew; NRSV Psalm 2:1 has “Why do the nations conspire,” is a limp paraphrase of the Hebrew.

    In these examples, as often, ESV is closer to Alter’s translation. Alter Psalm 1:1 “Happy the man . . . his desire . . . he shall be like a tree.” Alter Psalm 2:1 “Why are the nations aroused.”

    In point of fact, ESV conveys the sense of the first verb in 2:1 better than NRSV or Alter. All this just by sticking with the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition, which reads “rage.” The note in NIV, which also has “conspire,” says “[according to the] Hebrew; Septuagint ‘rage.'” But that is simply wrong. At least NIV translates the cognate noun in Ps 64:3 correctly (“noisy crowd”). BTW, for those whose Hebrew is dictionary-based, don’t forget to look up the references in DSS. This is a great example of an instance in which DSS Hebrew backs up old understandings of a Hebrew verb. The translations which get the first verb in Ps 2:1 right are, besides KJV-RSV-ESV, REB (“in turmoil”); NJB (“uproar”); NLT (“rage”), and NASB (“uproar”). In a DSS text, it is the waves of the sea that “ragash,” if that helps.

    CD, perhaps you are surprised by this. In honor of Theophrastus, who is ideologically opposed to ESV, I promise to do a series in the future in which I will give numerous examples of cases in which ESV is to be preferred to NRSV.

  71. John Hobbins says:


    What’s this, is Carolyn Ann Knight the proverbial needle in the haystack? With all due respect, you seem to be blissfully unaware of actual trends.

    If your first example is any guide, your examples, in any case, cannot be trusted. I have heard Jeremiah Wright preach on several occasions. At times he quotes KJV from memory, but he is not a KJV preacher. At TUCC, Wright’s church, both when he was the pastor there and now, as I chronicled for readers in the past, a whole range of Bible translations are quoted, read in unison, etc. NRSV and NIV are used more frequently than KJV. In fact, I don’t think KJV is ever used for unison readings (a key feature of TUCC worship).

    If all it takes for someone to be a KJV preacher is an occasional use thereof, then I am a KJV preacher, and so is Rick Warren.

    For the rest, I will let readers decide what to make of the tone of your response to my anecdotal observations. [material edited out by moderator]

    Suzanne’s views on the ESV are well-known. But everyone I know who preaches from ESV, as I have done myself, considers it well-suited in most contexts to preaching to both men and women. It differs little from NIV, NASB, NAB, NJB, and other widely used translations in that sense.

    [material edited out by moderator]

    As I’ve noted before, Bible translation choices are also in function of culture wars and overall socio-political stances. Always have been; always will be.

  72. David Ker says:

    I’m closing comments on this post.

    Please note that comments by Suzanne and John are both moderated. We try to approve comments as quickly as we can but there is sometimes a lag. When comments do not pertain to the post or involve disputes about gender issues or the ESV they are almost never approved.

    This was a decision made by the team of contributors at BBB. If you have questions about this feel free to email me directly.

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