The Reliability of the New Versions


Are New Versions Reliable


Part One - The Reliability of the New Versions


There are few current theological issues that have flared up as much strife and division in the Church as has the King James (KJV) only position. The KJV only people want to come to our church, minister and seek our support but they would not let us enter one of their schools or churches because we use another English translation. What is a Christian to believe when it comes to various English translations which seem continually multiply faster than rabbits.

Let us explore this issue by first covering some need information. 

1) What is the KJV? The KJV is a translation made under the authority of King James of England in 1611. It really was not so much a translation as it was a revision of English translations that had preceded it. It was based on the Textus Receptus (Greek copies) and the Masoretic text (Hebrew copies) which dated no earlier than 1000 AD. At this time there were no older manuscripts available to scholars and so scholars used these texts to remove any copying errors in order to establish the original Hebrew and Greek text as given through the inspiration of God. The KVJ was a reliable translation but even it under went some revisions leading to the present KJV text used by most today. By the early 1700’s, the KJV had become the accepted English Bible by almost all American Christians and it had remained as such until the 1960s.

2) Why new translations? Beginning in the 1960’s a series of newer translations came out starting with the New American Standard Version (NASV), followed by the New King James Versions (NKJV), and the New International Version (NIV). These translations though agreeing in most passages with KJV, yet they had some differences based on more recent archeological evidence and the discovery of older Greek and Hebrew texts. These findings offered additional help to scholars to determine what was originally recorded by the original writers. Some examples can be given to illustrate this.

a. The hapax legomenon: At the time of the translation of the KJV there were about 250 words of the original text that were used only once and there were no other usages of that word in any literature of that time. Therefore based on the context, the root of the words, and earlier translations such as the Vulgate, the translators did their best to make a correct translation of these words and in most cases were successful. However there were some words they were wrong about. Take the OT word translated “unicorn” in the KJV. With recent discoveries of writings that include this term the new translations have correctly translated it “wild ox.” There never was a “unicorn.” Of these 250 words that were without any other reference, all but about 30 of them have been found in other literature of the time helping to determine a correct meaning.

b. Older Manuscripts: the original writings were hand written on either the skins of animals or on papyri which is a paper like substance made from reeds. Once the originals were completed, copies were begun in order to make the sacred text available to as many as people as possible. Scribes, were dedicated almost from birth to this task and they took it extremely serious, even to the point destroying almost completed copies due to one single error. Anyone who has tried to hand copy a long passage, regardless of how concentrated they maybe, will eventually make a mistake and not catch it. If some one copies from that copy, chances are that the mistake will be passed on. Even in an age of the printing press which makes the mass reproduction of written works almost flawless, still many have mistakes.

Now God promised that not one word or even letter of what He originally gave would pass from existence. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus declared, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” The jot and tittle were the vowels of the Hebrew language. In essence Jesus stated that all that God had given to man in writing would be preserved for all generations.

However, with that said, God turned the reproduction of these texts over to the sometimes imprecise work of scribes who made copying errors. 

This should not disturb us, because with the existence of so many copies, over 5200 of the NT alone, it is easy In most cases to see were the copying errors were made and to correct them. When the NT was translated into the KJV, there were about 1400 Greek texts, not any two of which perfectly agreeing on every word. However, in all cases, where there would be say 25 texts that said one thing and there would be 1380 that agreed on a different reading. With such evidence it was pretty clear to see which ones had the copying error. Likewise, in the parallel passages of the gospels, often one writer, say Matthew, may add some details that say Mark leaves out. Remember that the Holy Spirit guided these men in their writing so God had a reason to include something in Matthew but leave it out in Mark. Sometimes when Scribes were copying one of these parallel accounts, when they found detail missing that they knew existed in one of the others gospels, they wrongfully assumed that their copy had accidentally left it out. So the Scribe would record those details from the other gospel into his new copy. Whoever used his copy to make a copy would perpetuate the same mistake. However, it was not taking away from the Word of God nor did it add things that never took place, therefore the Word of God was still preserved. These kinds of additions are commonly seen by scholars and the corrections are made to reflect what the original writer has written.

Since the translation of the KJV, thousands more manuscripts have been found and often they are much closer to the original writings. When the KJV was translated there were about 1400 manuscripts, the oldest of which dated 900 years after the last original NT writing. By the early 1960s, An addition 4000 Greek copies had been discovered, many of which date to within 100 years of the original writings indicating they were much closer to the original texts. In other words, less copies between them and the originals and thus less potential for mistakes. The same was true for the OT writings, as the texts found in the caves of the Dead Sea moved the Hebrew text 1100 years closer to the original writings. What showed God preservation work was that though many of these copies were much closer to the originals, they did not differ that much from what was used to translate the KJV. However, their testimony of what the original text read needed to be considered in order to make sure our English translations were as accurate to God’s originals as possible. Therefore, the few differences between the modern translations and the KJV are for the most part insignificant. Of the few differences that might be considered significant, none of them effects any doctrinal teaching of the Scriptures.

Let me give an example: In 1 John 5:7-8 there is a difference between the new versions and the KJV

The KJV translates it, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth:* the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.”

The NASV translates it, “For there are A three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

It is clear that the new translation leaves out mention of the Trinity. The reason it does is because out of all the original writings, some 5000, there is only one or two copies that contain these words about the Trinity and these copies are very questionable. Does this take away from the teaching of the Trinity. In no way! There are many other passages in which the evidence of the Trinity is clearly presented in the newer translations. Take for example the baptism of Jesus or the role that the trinity places in the use of Spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:5-7).

3) Changes in Language. Whether we like it or not, the English language continues to evolve and reflects less and less the English of the early 1600’s. For those of us who grew up on the King James Version, it is not that hard to follow but to a new convert that has never used the KJV, it is a difficult task to come up to speed. Is it not our responsibility to put the Word of God in the language of the people? Let me give you a few examples:

"Thee and Thou" is replaced by "you and your"

"Durst" (Matt. 22:46) is replaced by "dare"

“Quickened” (Eph. 2:1) is replaced by “made alive”

“Perfect” is replaced by “complete”

“Charity” is replaced by “love”

“Shalt” is replaced “shall” or “will”

“Calleth” is replaced by “calls”

“Holy Ghost” is replaced by “Holy Spirit”

With the ground laid for our discussion let us take a look at the issue at hand. Those who believe in the KJV only oppose the use of new versions. They believe they are inferior to the KJV and often attack them saying they are the tools of the devil, denying the deity of Christ. Last week it was on the Fox News that one preacher who holds this position had a Bible burning where he encouraged everyone to bring in Bibles of other English translations other than the KJV so that they might be burned “to the glory of God.”

There is a lot more on this subject I want to cover but it will have to wait until next week. Keep in mind that not all KJV supporters are radical Christians. There are actually two basic groups who support the KJV only position. They are separate from each other based on their view of the preservation of the Scripture. The one group believes that the Hebrew and Greek writings of the time of the KJV were preserved by the Holy Spirit and were thus more accurate than the older writings found in recent years. Since the new translations use the evidence found in the older writings, they reject them. However, to them I ask one question which has yet been answered, at least to me. If the original language texts of the KJV were superior, then why has no one made a current translation from them? The fact that no one wants to make an updated translation indicates to me that those who hold this position hold to the KJV for more reasons then just better original texts.

The other group believes that the original language copies became so full of errors, that God re-inspired His Word in the same manner He did with the Greek and Hebrew, this time in the form of the KJV. They go so far as to say that the King James is not a version, but it is the “inspired inerrant Word of God” just as it was given to the original writers. With this said, we no longer need to consider the Greek or Hebrew texts. The KJV is inspired down to the letter without error and thus all we need to study is it. More about this view next time.