There is a belief in fundamentalist Christian groups that the King James Bible is the most reliable biblical text and some even claim it is the only true Bible translation. They are firm in the loyalty to the KJV and trust it is the closest version to the original texts of scripture and some claim it is the exact same as the originals in translation. But is this true? To figure this out we will look at the KJV sources, translation, author, and consider God’s prevision of his Word through textual criticism.
Most of the Byzantine texts (group of biblical manuscripts) used in translating the KJV source text (Novum Instrumentum omne) are from the 6th and 12th century. Since the time of compiling the KJV, we have discovered other older texts closer to the date and of the Apostles (Alexandrian texts). After comparing all the manuscripts we can see additions in later texts that were not in the earlier texts.
The last 6 verses of Revelation, the translator, Erasmus, had no early Greek manuscripts except for later Latin manuscripts. He attempted to translate those back into Greek. By comparing his Greek translations of Latin manuscripts, to actual older Greek manuscripts discovered later in history, we see some key issues. In this attempt to re-translate, he created 17 variants not found in any other, older, Greek manuscript. In Rev 17:4 he created a new Greek word: ἀκαθαρτητος (instead τὰ
ἀκάθαρτα). There is no such word in Greek language as ακαθαρτητος. In Rev 17:8 he used καιπερ εστιν (and yet is) instead of και παρεσται (and shall come). Thus, we can conclude that his translated source text for the KJV is the source for those discrepancies. This causes concern for his translations.
1 John 5:7 has an insertion that is not in older manuscripts. Erasmus was pressured by the Catholic Church of that day to include a statement supporting the Trinity (whether it’s true or not) that is not found in older manuscripts. Erasmus based his translation on the codex 61 which is a manuscript dated to the 16th century. Thus showing that his insertion of this verse is not based on any older more reliable manuscript, but instead based on a generated texted around his time. Originally he did not include the addition into his translation, but under pressure from the Catholic Church with the newly generated manuscript, he did.
The issue is not the truth of the inserted statement. The issue is the fact that the statement was most likely not in the original texts from the Apostles. I could insert the statement “Jesus is Lord” where I see fit in the Bible, and, even though it may be true that Jesus is Lord (due to evidence of the older manuscripts), it is not my place or authority to add to scripture where it was not added to begin with. We will discuss Erasmus’ ‘authority’ later in the article.
KJV Matthew 23:24 says “strain at a gnat…” but the more reliable older Greek manuscripts say “strain out a gnat”. “At” and “out” are different word meanings for the Jewish figure of speech. This is an error of translation in the KJV. The older manuscripts use “διϋλίζω” which in Greek means “strain through or out”. It is an outward through concept not a positional concept. Like looking through someone verses looking at someone.
The debate about which type of biblical manuscript are more reliable is clearly still debated, but in simple terms, the older and closer to the event in location and time the manuscript is, the greater reduction in the issue of copy errors and added incertions. Some of our modernly discovered older manuscripts could have even be the actual copies used in some of the churches most important counsels like in The Council of Nicaea for example. Early quotes from original Scripture, from the disciples of the Apostles and earliest Christian teachers, resembles the older Greek Alexandria manuscripts as well. Manuscripts which Erasmus did not have access to later in the 16th and 17th century until their rediscovery in the 19th and 20th century. This however did not effect or change the truths of the Christian faith; just revealed the problem in the idea that the KJV alone is divine in translation.
King James Bible Revisions
Even after Erasmus’ 3rd King James revision of its source texts, it has been revised numerous times over the centuries. The KJV now is not the same as the KJV originally. To argue that revisions of modern bible translations is reason to doubt those; is self defeating and contradictory.
As time goes on, literature evolves with the changing of cultures. Novels written in the 19th century are having culturally and politically correct revisions; such as Huckleberry Finn. Even religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, have revised their publications through time as their beliefs (heresies) have changed. With just these modern examples we see how older copies, closer to the date they were written, are more likely to reflect the original. This can be true for scripture as well. Newer manuscripts have additions or slight changes when compared to much older manuscripts. That’s partly why. This is also true when considering the first publication of KJV source texts and the four revisions of the KJV.
Cultural Word Usage
There are hundreds of words used in the KJV that English speaking cultures no long use or have commonly changed the definition. An example is the word “gay”. If I was to state “I’m gay”, that has a different meaning on face value than it did 100 years ago. If you post on Facebook “I’m gay”, think about the common understanding people will have. But that word meant something completely different when it was used a century ago.
Even context does not always point to which meaning at that time in history when the word’s definition culturally has changed. 2 Timothy 2:15 is an example of this. KJV states “Study
to shew thyself…” but this does not mean what is means now. In the NASB, a word for word translation into current English language, states “Be diligent
to present yourself…” which helps readers more accurately understand what Paul is saying. To “study” then does not mean the same as now. Now, I can “study” but not in the way this word was actually means. I can study the paint on the wall without effort or diligence. The Greek word in the older manuscripts is “σπουδάζω
” which, when it was used in Roman and Greek literature, means “to use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest:—do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavour, labour, [intensely] study.” In which “diligent” is a better fitting word for the current generations of English speakers from a more reliable older manuscript. That’s like saying “I moved forward” when actually “I ran forward”. Both technically say the same thing because running is moving, but one uses a better descriptive word; especially if the original act was about me running.
Also read Correctly Interpret and Understand The Bible
Proponents of “KJV Only” then appeal to Erasmus as having some sort of divine authority or under divine inspiration when translating. But, due to simple errors this clearly can not be true. First let us understand that he was a self proclaimed and proud humanist thinker. His primary focus is on the importance of man rather than the importance on the supernatural. This self identity played a factor in his rational for his translations. At the end of the day, the will of man when it comes to decision making in regards to translating scripture, took presidents. This is proven by him giving into pressure by the Catholic Church to add statements in his translations that which was not in any of his manuscripts or any older manuscript ever discovered . He knew it too, even hesitated and argued against including it, but eventually he did. He was a great author and scholar, no doubt, but so are some atheists. Most importantly, he never claimed to be directly inspired or influenced by God except in duty and obligation to the Catholic Church.
PRESERVATION OF GODS WORD, BY GOD.
This must be true or Christian truth is unknowable for certain. But considering this logically; God is God. God, creator of the universe, can preserve his written word if he so chooses to. Given the mass amount of total preserved biblical manuscripts, all the outside supporting manuscripts (early church and nonchristian quotes) with historical and archeological evidences; He has. And we can know this for certain. God has allowed us to retain and rediscover older manuscripts and other older quotes to this day. We can compare all known manuscripts and evidences and reliably conclude what the original message is. We can also compare newer manuscripts with older manuscripts and help filter out what was not in the originals more accurately. Though word definitions may change over time and cultures, we can still reliably translate and discern the original message. God has preserved his message contained in the sum of all reliable manuscripts and in the 2nd through 4th century quotations and historical accounts; all of which we have access to today. Strict dependence on Erasmus’ problematic translations and his KJV source text is not completely necessary.
This issue is directly related to what is known as ‘textual criticism’. Where all manuscripts are studied, compared, and organized to determine more accurate readings of the original writing. The exact same process is done with all ancient manuscripts. To simplify it, in relation to Erasmus and the KJV, there are two predominate ‘text types’: Alexandrian text type (oldest and fewer) and Byzantine text type (later and majority). Alexandria is favored more commonly by a majority of biblical textual scholars.
Alexandrian text type tends to be shorter while Byzantine is longer in wording. In Luke 11:12, the Alexandrian just states “Father” but in the later Byzantine it states “Our Father in Heaven”. Even though the message is the same and both true; we can see that the Byzantine added extra. In Matthew 24:36, the Alexandrian has “nor the son” but the later Byzantine omits that. Byzantine scribes may have left that out due to ignorance or fear of negatively effecting Jesus’ divinity. Which actually has no effect when properly understanding Jesus’ willing and voluntary role on earth. In Acts 20:28 the Alexandrian reading is του Θεου (of God) but the majority Byzantine texts say του κυριου και του Θεου (of the Lord and God). The point is we can clearly see where the Byzantine text type is at more risk for humanistic additions or subtractions (without changing the original meaning).
In some cases there are areas of text that are missing in the Alexandrian texts. The gospel of Mark abruptly ends at 16:8. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist, but for whatever reason, through the manuscripts history, it became missing. How do we know? Because of early church father quotes and 2nd and 3rd century textual support. Other times, some verses are omitted in the Alexandria text types. Why? Damage, corrosion, and being scratched clean to write over (like using an eraser) because the scribe needed the paper. But we can know if it was at one point in the text because of quotes and teachings from the early church teachers who used that type of manuscripts.
The earliest Egyptian Coptic manuscripts of the 1st century are based off the Alexandrian text type. Also used by Clement of Rome (a disciple of Paul and appointed by Peter), Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria in their quotes and references. There is even Alexandrian witness in some Byzantine texts used by Origen. Through church history, early teachers and scholar used the Alexandrian texts when available and early Byzantine texts when the Alexandrian texts where incomplete or not accessible. But if you notice, Alexandrian text type was primary source for even the disciple of an Apostle and the earliest church teachers.
Back to the point from that brief simplistic textual overview; Erasmus based his translation on the Greek Byzantine text type but when he didn’t have a Byzantine Greek text type, he used a much later Latin Byzantine text type. Thus increasing the likelihood of perpetuating and transmitting textual additions that were not in the original bible manuscript; of which we noted above.
Also read Modern Secular Historians and The Bible | Early Accounts of Christianity from Non-Christians | Why The Disciples of The Apostles Matter Today
Erasmus compiled source texts for the KJV using text types that he chose and that which were only available to him at that time. It was a monumental task and effort. He is a respected translator and scholar as well. Despite all this, there exists scores of evidence to show that his source text for the KJV was more flawed than current bible translated source texts. There have been more discoveries of biblical manuscripts and more earlier church father quotes and their notes about more ancient texts to guide us, now, in more accurate textual criticism to determine better biblical translations. This is why most modern scholars favor the Alexandrian text types and the source documents that use the Alexandrian text type as their primary sources. To claim that the King James Bible is a divine translation in the English language and all other translations are ‘of the devil’ is to ignorantly or selfishly avoid the evidence against this. Given the historical record and considering all evidences; we can conclude that the King James translation is not the best in and of itself.
Also read What Makes Christianity The True Faith? | What is ‘Doctrine’ and does it matter? | Why Are There So Many Translations? | Has The Bible Changed?