SHOOT THE MESSENGER! SO WHY DID I SAY THAT THE KING JAMES BIBLE (AND ALMOST ALL OLD TESTAMENTS) HAVE SOME SERIOUS FLAWS?

Summary: I’ve been called many names since I dare to assert that the King James Bible has flaws.  After all, isn’t it based on the “received text?” And doesn’t mean that it is inspired such that it is inerrant? I don’t think so. What the authors originally wrote were moved by God to compose what He wanted – inerrantly. But through the years changes were made, including the corruption of selected passages of the Old Testament by the rabbis of the second century A.D. Protestant Old Testaments, the Catholic Vulgate’s Old Testament, and the Hebrew Bible – the Biblia Hebraica, have these corruptions. In Rebooting the Bible I tell the story in depth. Here I point out why the “received text” was as much a critical text as the so-called “critical text” we have today in our Bibles. 

Is Name Calling the Best Argument to Prove Me Wrong?

It’s a ferocious debate. Yours truly has been called a heretic, an apostate, and even a Jesuit for challenging the inerrancy of the King James Bible!  Wow! I admit I once attended a conference at Georgetown. But as far as I know that’s the closest brush I’ve had with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Despite that, my experience is that KJV advocates throw one counter-proof at me and then begin the name calling (known as the “ad hominem” argument in logic class). So, you may ask, “Who cares?” Well, even if you believe in God’s Word but don’t identify it to be synonymous with the KJV like the KJV Only crowd, you still should care that our Bible was intentionally corrupted early in the second century A.D.  And, let me emphasize that how we got our Bible is pivotal!

The inerrancy of the King James Bible (KJV) is defended mostly by independent Baptist churches in the South. Their argument is that this popular Bible (the “standard”) was inspired in a special and totally unique way.  It is free from error in both Old and New Testaments. Why do they contend for the purity of the Bible?  Why would they attack me?  Because of the following assertion: There are two areas that demonstrate that, along with all Protestant Bibles and the Catholic Latin Vulgate, they all fell prey to corruptions made at the end of the first century A.D. by rabbinical leadership in Jamnia, Palestine.

Rebooting the Bible – Published January 2019

As my book, Rebooting the Bible documents, over two dozen passages that reveal the mission and nature of the Messiah were altered along with the chronology given in Genesis 5 and 11.  Happily, I am not alone in making this claim. It has been argued down through the history of the Church that such changes were made to obscure that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.[1]  I hold to the inerrancy of the autographs of Old and New Testament. And the King James New Testament (NT) “gets it right.” [2] But all Bibles that relied upon the version of the Hebrew Old Testament (OT) “altered” by the post-Second-Temple rabbis contain these corruptions. A side-by-side comparison proves it.

One of the principal arguments for KJV inerrancy is that it is a “received text” and not a critical text. Allow me to explain: The King James Version was compiled (not really translated) by 47 scholars who published their first edition in 1611.  This edition was based on two primary sources: a Greek New Testament known as the “Textus Receptus” first prepared by the Catholic scholar, Desiderius Erasmusin 1516. The Hebrew Old Testament was based on the Biblia Hebraica, published in 1524 by Daniel Bomberg. [3] Its translator was Jacob ben Hayyimibn Adonijah. This Hebrew OT version would stand until 1901 when Rudolf Kittel from Leipzig provided a ‘text critical’ version of the Hebrew Bible to update the Biblia Hebraicawith additional manuscripts that have been found such as the Codex Leningradis.

The 1873 King James Bible Easten Press Leather Bound Edition

As I mentioned, defenders of the King James Version as the “only” acceptable Bible build a case that this Bible was based on a “received text” – specially inspired – and not a “critical text.” What’s the difference?  The received text relies upon just a few texts.[4]The critical text relies on thousands. The KJV Only folks prefer fewer texts – thinking it more a work of the Holy Spirit and His inspiration of the King James Bible which was the basis for the KJV published in 1611.

This thinking appears to prefer an intentionally limited, select number of manuscripts (six or less), as gathered by Erasmus when he began working on revising the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) while working in Zurich. His plan was to translate the Greek New Testament first and then translate from the Greek into the Latin. In going through this process, however, he created a historical impact different than what he sought – creating a Greek New Testamentthat would form the basis for all Protestant Bibles for the next 350 years. But make careful note: When Erasmus finished with his 1516 version, he revised it four more times before his death two decades later (1536).

The Notion of a “Received Text” Doesn’t Imply Inerrancy

However, this position implies a major contradiction: The received text of the Old and New Testament used by the KJV scholars wasn’t a “non-critical” text – it also was a critical text. And once we understand this, the argument that the KJV was uniquely inspired as the only inerrant Word of God begins to unravel.  A received text doesn’t necessarily mean it is flawless.

Its history is quite clear. The received text was assembled over many years before it reached the King James “translators” (who really weren’t translators but insightful and intelligent amalgamators who knew Hebrew and Greek). David Trobisch documents the number of revisions that went into the TR before it was even declared the received text of the New Testament. He relies upon the exhaustive work of King James’ advocate F.H.A. Scrivener whose “Paragraph Bible” became the The King James Version standard after its publishing in 1873.  Trobisch states concerning Scrivener:

F.H. A. Scrivener compared the KJV of 1611 with the printed editions of the Greek text of the New Testament available at the time. He consulted the editions of the Complutensian Polyglott (1520), Erasmus (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1535), Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), Stephanus (1546, 1549, 1550, 1551), and Beza (1560, 1565, 1582, 1589).  Scrivener documented 252 variants from the printed text of Beza alone. Obviously, the translators of the KJV had created their own eclectic Greek text, a text that followed neither a specific manuscript nor a specific printed edition. [5]

Doing the count, we come up with 16 different “received texts” – or at least Greek texts that followed the Byzantine lineage of NT manuscripts (dating no earlier than the eighth century). It wasn’t until the 1633 Elzevir version of this line of Greek New Testaments (“text types”) that it finally declared itself a “textum… ab omnibus receptum” (a text accepted by everybody), aka “the received text.” Obviously, “critical analysis” was being done for over a century to improve upon earlier works, to make them better (they hardly would have set out to make them worse!). If the 1611 was inspired by God making it inerrant, consider that it’s received text went through 16 updates that corrected flaws in it. Much analysis and “critical thinking” went into this effort.  The history of how the 1611 NT version was arrived at demonstrates that if inspiration occurred in the received text, its inspiration involved an enormous amount of human effort to get it settled.  So, when the KJV scholars sat down to create the 1611 KJV, did they have a Greek New Testament that was the sole source for their NT? Was the received text that wasn’t “finalized” until 22 years later with Elzevir’s edition, the inspired version?

Keep in mind, please, I assert what is the conventional evangelical position on the Bible’s inerrancy – that only the original autographs of the authors (who all functioned as prophets or apostles) were inerrantly inspired. Again, this “messenger” is not speaking my mind alone.  All conservative evangelical scholars assert this is the way we should understand the inerrancy of the Bible.

The King James Bible, published in 1611, celebrates its 400th birthday this year. Above, a 1754 illustration depicts a group of robed translators presenting a bible to King James I. The king commissioned the new translation in 1604, and for the next seven years, 47 scholars and theologians worked through the Bible line by line.

And make note: All of these Greek New Testaments were available to the King James scholars. Additionally, KJV advocate Scrivener notes there were hundreds of variants between these many different sources.  It is against this backdrop that the King James Only advocates argue the compilation of the King James New Testament was inspired to perfection – such that it had no further improvements needed.  1611 was it – period.

But which source was the one the Holy Spirit inspired? Was the Holy Spirit making each revision better?  Or was the final “received text” so substantially altered that it was no longer inerrant? (Recall that even if one change was made it would prove the previous version wasn’t considered inerrant by the many KJV revisers, working one after another, throughout the seventeenth century.) [6]

When we turn to other sources used by these seventeenth century scholars who were charged with revising the Bishop’s Bible (which was King James’ original directive), we learn that many other translations were consulted to determine the best wording.  According to Trobisch, The Bishop’s Bible was not the only source consulted by the KJV scholars. They relied on the Geneva Bible, which was a true translation from the Hebrew, and others such as William Tyndale’s 1526 Bible, Miles Coverdale’s version (1535), John Roger’s Matthew’s Bible (1537), and the Bible used prior to the Bishop’s Bible, aka The Great Bible (1539). And the source Bible itself, The Bishop’s Bible that was used exclusively by the Church of England (having been published in 1568 and substantially revised in 1572) was also readily available for examination. [7]

Thus, the resulting Bible produced under the auspices of King James was a “critical text” very much in its own right.  Its New Testament wasn’t just utilizing only Erasmus’ half-dozen manuscripts of the New Testament, but all of the other Greek New Testaments descending from Erasmus’ first effort, which added many more sources to the “received text” not counting the other Bibles that also used those additional manuscripts.  The result was an “eclectic effort” compiled from many sources, chosen by the compilers and translators based upon their perceived authenticity. Those that assembled and revised the received text did not think that the prior version was perfect; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been making changes throughout the following 120 years before Elzevir declared in 1633 that “the text everyone now has” is the received text. Obviously, he meant something different than “the only inspired, inerrant text.”  Perhaps he meant, “We now have the text that everyone can agree on.” Well that might have been true then; but the process of improvement didn’t stop there.

Now for the Competition

The received text’s competing version is known as the Nestle-Aland Bible. This competitor is more popularly called “a critical text” rather than a “received text.” But, as I’ve just pointed out, this wording infers that one was critical and the other wasn’t. That is simply illogical and ignorant of the mountain of historical facts I’ve adduced that show how the King James was put together. The KJV was the result of critical processes as well.

On the other hand, the “text critical” version of the Greek New Testament considers the oldest manuscripts as more likely superior by being closer in time to the original than the manuscripts that Erasmus and the many other “received texts” were relying upon. You see, all along, more and more manuscripts were being found, some that agreed with Elzevir’s received text, and some that didn’t.  Telling them apart turns out not to be that hard.

Ancient Alexandria – The Center of the Intellectual World for 700 years.

Here’s how we can delineate between a New Testament that flows from the legacy of the received text versus those comprising the “critical text.” The received text’s original sources (which is the majority of found manuscripts – because they are closer to us in time and less subject to destruction and decay), are known as the Byzantine text family. Its primary alternative is known as the Alexandrian text family. [8] Whereas the Byzantine text family consists of manuscripts almost exclusively discovered dating to the ninth century, the other text family – the Alexandrian “text type” – consists of sources that date back to the third and possibly even the second century.  This text type excludes a number of passages that are found in the so-called received text.  What are they? There are four primary issues according to Trobisch that clearly identify a text belonging to the TR family:

  1. Matthew 6:13’s conclusion to the Lord’s prayer; the familiar, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
  2. Mark 16:9-20’s long ending. The oldest codices – Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (virtually complete Greek Bible’s) dating from the third and fourth centuries – exclude the long ending.
  3. John 7:53-8:11. The story of the adulterous woman placed at the feet of Jesus where Jesus stoops and writes on the ground and pronounces her “not condemned.” Some manuscripts mention this in other places such as in John 7:36 or in Luke 21:38 or 24:53.
  4. The organization of the Greek Next Testament. As Trobisch states, “A manuscript of the Byzantine tradition is most obviously recognized by the order of the writings. The Letters of Paul are inserted between Acts and the General letters, and the Letter to the Hebrews is placed after Philemon. The Textus Receptus follows this order. All extant manuscripts older than the eighth century, however, have – with only few exceptions – Hebrews between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy, and Acts preceding the General letters.” The sequence of the books is the telltale sign.

Moving on, Trobisch points out that there were many “critical” New Testaments in the eighteenth century. These included John Mill’s Greek New Testament in 1707, Richard Bentley’s proposed changes in 1720, and three editions published by Edward Wells and Daniel Mace in 1709, 1719, and 1729 respectively. We also have Johann Albrecht Bengel’s Greek NT in 1734. His version pointed out selected “readings” (the various ways a passage is presented), which he believed were better than what was available in the TR. This led one critic to castigate him claiming that if every bookmaker went down this path, we would have a “Greek text totally different from the received one… (his) audacity is unprecedented.” Ah, the ad hominem argument was employed 300 years ago too. Bengel was being “audacious” (impudent or overconfident) to use his critical faculty in assessing what was more likely the original author’s wording.

But still more discoveries of old manuscripts occurred. Trobisch points out how Wettstein (1751-1752) doubled the number of Greek NT source manuscripts. And Griesbach summarized all this work, reflected in his 1775-1777 and later 1796-1806 editions of the Greek New Testament. I suppose he too was audacious to claim that Christendom could now determine its Bible from as early as the fourth century and therefore, efforts should be made to do so.

Modern Attempts to “Get Back” to the Original Text

Then there was Constatin von Tischendorf, the Indiana Jones of old Bibles, who discovered two of the three ancient and essential Greek Codices (Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus) dating from the third and fourth centuries A.D. He published all the known Greek manuscripts in 1869-1872 (numbering 64 majuscules – all CAPS text types, and some minuscules – upper- and lower-case Greek manuscripts). After this Tishcendorf publication, there would be too many coming to light to make publishing a catalogue make sense. Cataloguing the manuscripts would be a continuous activity with no foreseen end in sight. Tischendorf’s catalogue compares with today’s 321 majuscules, 2,907 minuscule manuscripts, and 2,450 lectionaries, totaling 5,805 source documents, which are now indexed electronically with digital facsimiles available. You can bet your bottom dollar; this number won’t be the final tally. New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace (from Dallas Theological Seminary) operates an organization that continues to obtain and digitize all such manuscripts. He admits his team stays very busy.

But then we see the process of textual criticism change. It would move away from a somewhat ad hoc analytic approach to one that lays down very precise rules for how to determine the oldest and best source. This would lead to the bogeymen of the KJV Onlyism advocates, Westcott and Hort. Their labor focused on how to analyze the data, not just gather more data (as Trobisch succinctly points out). The Byzantine text family would cease being the dominant text type. Thus, by 1904, the publishing of the Textus Receptus was discontinued. In 1898, Eberhard Nestle (not the chocolate manufacturer) published a New Testament featuring the comparison of the TR with Westcott and Hort’s critical text. When there was a disagreement, Nestle consulted other sources and presented the consensus opinion on what was most likely the authentic, original wording. His approach and publication grew into the “relied upon” Greek New Testament today, presenting what is believed to be the NT’s original wording – at least at the time of the second century. No other ancient document (such as Plato or Herodotus) has such source document support.  Mind you, this takes our NT as published today back to within a few decades of the final touches being put on what were likely the last New Testament books, those penned by the Apostle John.  And that work to put an even finer point of the NT text continues still. There have been a total of 28 editions of the Nestle/Aland Greek New Testament, the last published November 1, 2012. The 29this pending.

Where does the OT Biblia Hebraica stand in terms of its most recent revision? The German Bible Society publishes the work begun by Rudolf Kittel at the turn of the century and later edited by Paul Kahle with the first one-volume edition printed in 1977. And now, the fifth version aka Quinta, a “completely reworked and expanded edition,” will consist of 20 volumes and will be published in 2020. It includes revisions based upon discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls.[9] Text criticism, it seems, is part and parcel of both Old and New Testament endeavors.

Conclusion

So, what can we conclude? We can argue that the 1611 edition of the King James Version is inspired by God and without error. But history tells us that just isn’t true. That history I have summarized here is at a level I believe sufficient to compel the open-minded to acknowledge that all texts published were subject to “textual criticism.”

You see, the process of determining the authentic and original wording is a science and I contend it is a process that God has considered and chosen. It is in His providence for humankind to produce what constitutes, to the greatest extent possible (given His manner of working through the agency of humankind – fallible though we be), to provide for us a trustworthy Scripture. All the variants and all the changes that have been made to the original through the centuries does not in the least invalidate the doctrines of the Bible nor diminish its witness. Advocating for this process to present God’s Word provides for its intelligent defense.

Indeed, make no mistake: The King James Version of God’s Word has rightly sold hundreds of millions of copies and been instrumental in the salvation of tens if not hundreds of millions of persons. God’s Word is preserved throughout time and it does not return to Him void. (Isaiah 55:10-14) But the “preservation of the text” does not imply that the English Version of 1611 was His last word. This is an illogical conclusion that ignores the processes and proven history of what we know as textual criticism that has existed throughout the process of textual transmission. This process has given us a reliable Bible. This process began with Erasmus, [10] continued with the scholars of the King James Version, and was at the basis of the work of Nestle as well as Westcott and Hort. The notion that a “received text” was produced to provide only English-speaking persons an inerrant Bible, is what constitutes an audacious (and arrogant) claim. Both textual families rely upon “critiquing the text.” Translations into other languages that seek to be true to the original as much as possible, also preserve and provide God’s Word to those who speak and write their native language. God’s Word has gone out into all the world, making disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

Speaking as one who has been willing to step to the foreground and provide the facts, I have accepted the blows Hamlet called “slings and arrows” (‘tis my outrageous fortune you see) from those who advocate an inerrant King James Version. Nonetheless, I have elected to take up arms “against this sea of troubles” [11] – specifically, to challenge an ill-conceived point of view that harms the presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most assuredly: We have the sure Word from God. We who are called Christians should know how we got our Bible and why we can trust it.

So, if I’m wrong, let’s debate the issue on its merits. You can shoot the messenger if you want and challenge my sincerity or my character. But most would judge it’s better (and more “Christian”) if you debate the content without “dissing” the contender. For the sake of Christ and His Gospel, I hope you agree.

Notes

[1] Perhaps the first, Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho, ca. 160 A.D.

[2] The best source to prove the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles gets it wrong, is comparing those passages quoted in the New Testament which get the wording right.  Why do they? Because they cite the Greek Septuagint, the oldest and closest to the original autographs, whose translation from the Hebrew took place 400 years before the Rabbis at Jamnia altered the wording in these particular passages.

[3] The Biblia Hebraicawas known as Mikraot Gedolot(aka Bombergiana), printed in 1524.

[4] The received text points out that the majority of manuscript sources identified with the Byzantine text type outnumber the lesser number of texts that are seen as Alexandrian manuscript sources. However, the discovery of these texts came much later (in some cases found centuries later) and were not available when the KJV was first published. As indicated later, these sources are in the majority because they are later (newer) than the alternative sources (older). Less decay, destruction, and more copying accounts for this. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church has always held the Byzantine text type as their base for their Greek New Testament (since as early as the eighth century).

[5] Trobisch, David. “The KJV and Text Criticism,” from, The King James Version at 400. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, Number 26. (2013). 227-234.

[6] We should also make note the original KJV identified 8,422 variants in its margins, suggesting that the reader should evaluate other possible interpretations or meanings of the passage.

[7] Note: John Wycliffe’s Bible was the earliest English Bible – but it was translated from the Latin Vulgate (not the original Hebrew and Greek) over the period from 1382 to 1395.

[8] That it is called Alexandrian is for the KJV Only advocates a “dead giveaway” that it is heretical. After all, didn’t Origen come from Alexandria? And wasn’t Alexandria awash with pagan Platonism? While true, it must also be acknowledged that it was the home of Athanasius and Bishop Alexander, the top two defenders of the Trinity at Nicaea. Alexandria was the home of all the greatest scholars in the world for almost 700 years, whether they were pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Rome held military might, but Alexandria held the power of the human mind.

[9] Its status is presented in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblia_Hebraica_Quinta.

[10] It actually began with the scribes down through the ages who inserted what they thought was best whether it was striving for consistency or including something that thought had been left out from the version they were copying. They meant well. But they were altering not improving on what God had said through the autographs.

[11] From Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1.

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