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KJV exclusively?

February 14 2018
February 14 2018

By

You can find the previos post here. It was inevitable that, over time, with the increasing global mobility, advancements in archaeological science, and improved technology for finding and examining texts, the manuscript evidence for the New Testament would grow. Even before the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Christians have been a people passionately concerned for the written word. We should expect manuscript evidence wherever Christians have been.

The KJV translators, like Erasmus before them, had access to a very limited body of manuscripts. These manuscripts were mostly from regions associated with the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire. This part of the world was near centers of early translation activity. And obviously, this part of the world preserved the Greek language for the longest period of time; Latin replaced Greek in the West, but Greek remained strong in the East right up to Islamic expansion of the seventh to ninth centuries. So it was by natural circumstances that the KJV translators (and the textus receptus editors) had easy access to the Byzantine family of manuscripts. They used what they had.

In the 1800s, however, far more manuscripts were accessible to translators. In addition to the Byzantine text-types, other families of manuscripts emerged through archaeological discovery or, more likely, previously unaccessible libraries. A Western (or Caesarean) family of manuscripts surfaced, along with an Alexandrian family of manuscripts. None were as plentiful as the Byzantine text-types, buy many were far older and far more complete. Scholars of the 1800s sought to utilize these manuscripts to create more accurate editions of the Greek New Testament. With the preponderance of manuscripts, translators had to more carefully define their methods. Is an older manuscript better, even if differs widely from the majority of newer manuscripts? If a lengthy and literarily consistent manuscript includes a unique passage, should the unique portion be included? And so on.

With this availability there were numerous English translations competing with the KJV. Some were good, and some were not. Even in this setting the KJV held its own and was, by far, the most popular English translation of the Bible. If other translations were weak, it was more often because of the Higher Critical presuppositions behind their translators. Of course, this is not to say that there were not also poor translation techniques, or poor manuscript evidence. This is true. However, the culprit was a liberal doctrine of Scripture more so than unreliable Greek manuscripts.

Here, then, is why the KJV Only movement is unhelpful: it seeks to freeze in time a single period of historical investigation.

The 47 translators of the KJV worked within a limited historical setting in which they utilized every tool at their disposal to produce an English translation of the Bible. They were the brightest scholars of their day. They used every resource they could. They were faithful to Evangelical doctrine (all but one were ordained in the Church of England). Yet, even in their own time, the work of translating never really ended. From 1604 to 1611 they revised and revised, but even after the 1611 printing they continued to revise their English translation. Every edition included various differences from the edition before.

This spirit of utilizing every tool to get it just right was, itself, an act of trust. They were certain that no new evidence would damage the Word of God for, after all, the Word of God is truth. As an analogy, in their preface to the KJV, they trusted that a king’s speech would remain the words of the king, even through the work of an imperfect translation:

“We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession…containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure [perhaps] so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere.”

By the middle of the seventeenth century there were hundreds of revisions to original 1611 edition. To be sure, the confusion of various versions drove first, Cambridge University, and then Oxford University to attempt to produce a standardized text of the KJV. The Cambridge University attempt of standardization was published in 1760. In 1769, Benjamin Blayney of Oxford University published what has come to be known as the Oxford Standard Edition, which became the  version that KJV Only adherents depend upon as the standard. Ironically, it is not the 1611 KJV that the KJV Only adherents defer to, but a version published more than 150 years later as a means of standardizing a shifting translation.

This, then, is the problem. Over the years numerous new manuscripts have been discovered, both in Greek and in Hebrew. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 revealed an entire scroll of Isaiah more than 700 years older than the Masoretic Text. Part of what makes the integrity of Scripture so monumental, even supernatural, is that with every new manuscript discovery, the cohesive shape of the Bible is confirmed. The variations from manuscript to manuscript, in Hebrew or in Greek, is infinitesimally small. New manuscript discoveries have occurred in almost every year since the 1611 KJV, and each discovery actually elevates the integrity of the written word.

Not only this, there have been advancements in the linguistic study of ancient languages that enable scholars to be better able to read Hebrew texts and Greek text as the original readers read those texts, increasing a translator’s understanding even of the manuscripts long available.

The KJV Only movement sought to preserve the Evangelical doctrine of Scripture against a challenge in the 1800s. The challenge was not, however, one of translation. And because it was not a challenge of translation, freezing all translation effort in the seventeenth century (or 1769) is intellectually and practically, unhelpful. It doesn’t address the real challenge and because it doesn’t address the real problem, it leaves the followers of the movement, crippled.

In the 1800s, as today, the doctrine of Scripture was being threatened by men who employed Higher Critical approaches to support a defective view of Scripture’s integrity as the Word of God. These scholars believed that a mere critical approach, by itself, could prove that a biblical author was not the true author, that a biblical event was not a prophetic event, and that a biblical proposition was not a statement of truth. However, no critical approach can disprove what God says of Himself and of His Word. The problem was not the translation, it was the unfaithfulness of the translators.



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