The KJV Only argument?

February 09 2018
February 09 2018


You can find the earlier post here. Drawing on the contemporary research of Frederick H. A. Scrivener, the conservative theologians who established the KJV Only movement insisted that the Textus Receptus, along with a very specific family of manuscripts, were superior. To them, only English translations that depend upon these manuscripts, like the KJV, could be trusted. They were correct to oppose theological liberalism. But were they correct to do so on the basis of Greek manuscripts? Not exactly.

The KJV translation was published in 1611. However, the phrase, textus receptus (“received text”) didn’t appear until 1633. Printer Robert Estienne (Stephanus) published an edited and annotated Greek Bible in various versions from 1546 to 1551. It was beautifully printed and he consulted every published Greek New Testament he could find, some 10 to 15 of them, including the editions of Erasmus and Beza during the period of the Reformation. In the 1633 edition, the publisher, Abraham Elzevir, boastingly claimed that this was the textus receptus.

In the face of Higher Critics, conservative scholars of the 1800s argued that the KJV Bible was a better translation because it relied upon the same Greek manuscripts that the textus receptus relied upon. These manuscripts were of a certain family of manuscripts, later known as the Byzantine text-type. These Greek manuscripts mostly originated in the region around Constantinople and written during the fifth century. Western (or Caesarean) text-types were geographically spread out and generally older. Alexandrian text-types (Minority) originated around Northern Africa, were very early (second century) and usually quite difficult to read. Conservative scholars argued that the KJV Bible was better because it relied upon the textus receptus, which relied upon the Byzantine text-type family of manuscripts.

What’s wrong with this argument?

The argument is not a bad one. The KJV translators were brilliant scholars working from incredibly accurate manuscripts. To this day, even in light of new manuscript discoveries, the manuscripts that the translators had access to were extraordinary. Like William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale before them, they relied upon the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. However, they could also pour over manuscripts which Erasmus did not have, particularly manuscripts in Cambridge (Erasmus saw some of these in 1515). Relying upon the best manuscripts he could find, some 6 to 12 manuscripts mostly located in Basel (all from the Byzantine text-type family), Erasmus still had gaps. When he couldn’t find a manuscript for passages in Revelation and elsewhere, he turned to Latin texts. The KJV translators never did this; they always worked form the original language. The 47 translators of the KJV created a masterpiece far superior to any translation at the time, and impressive even when compared to English translations of the 1800s.

The KJV Bible is a remarkable accomplishment and very appropriate for personal study. The translators tried to duplicate the Greek texts with great accuracy, even capturing cues in the Greek grammar involving the order of words, unique tenses, missing articles, and broad prepositions (the KJV is known as a formal equivalent translation). Even so, the translators sought to elevate the English translation combining a majestic style with a personal intimacy. It is a stirring translation, but should it be used exclusively?


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