Bible Wars


Preface 1611 King James Bible

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Readers of this blog may recall my encounter with the King James Only (KJO) advocates. (See our posts, King James Only?, and Between Christians.) This is a good example of what disunity and division looks like in the body of Christ.

Entering King James Only into the search bar yielded over 20 million hits. This debate was rather heated back in the 70’s and 80’s; and many thought it would eventually fade away. But it seems to have taken on cult-like status, and I had a sour reception when I tried to present a counter-argument to the claims of the KJO defenders.

In fact, the whole exchange left me feeling rather ill for days after. It was just a zealous, unloving attitude that greeted me in that particular group, a kind of resentment I have never encountered before — not even with the Witnesses nor Mormons. Brothers told me to dust off my shoes and move on. Those wiser than me have learned from experience that this is a fruitless debate, but it was the Holy Spirit who churned my soul to confront this error.

When I examine unorthodox doctrine I attempt to trace its theological origins. Is it found in Scripture? Did the Apostles teach it? Was it a dogma of the early church fathers, or not introduced until much later?

The names commonly associated with KJO date back to the 1800’s, or 200 years after the King James Bible was published. Succeeding generations found mostly fundamental Baptist preachers asserting the supremacy of the KJV translation. Not even the KJV translators believed that about their work as revealed n their 11-page preface.  The Bible is written at the 11th grade reading level, but the average person only reads at an 8th grade level. We can see even from the outdated language why the Bible needs periodic revision.

Excerpts from The Translators To The Reader presented in the original King’s English as it read in the 1611 King James Bible.

So hard a thing it is to please all, even when we please God best, and doe seeke to approve our selves to every ones conscience. If wee will descend to later times, wee shall finde many the like examples of such kind, or rather unkind acceptance.

Happie is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrise happie that meditateth in it day and night. But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknowen tongue?

There were also within a few hundreth yeeres after CHRIST, translations many into the Latine tongue: for this tongue also was very fit to convey the Law and the Gospel. Now to the later we answere; that wee doe not deny, nay wee affirme and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English … containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.

… we have shunned the obscuritie of the Papists … whereof their late Translation … bee kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speake like it selfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar.

Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.

In other words … and this conforms with the translators’ desire to publish a Bible that people could understand lest they turn a deafe ear to the word of God …

1. Understanding the difficulty of trying to please all, the translators recognized that in later times their work may be received with unkind acceptance.

2. It was affirmed that the earliest Latin translations were very fit to convey the Law and the Gospel. 

3. Even the meanest (poorly edited) English translation is the word of God.

4. Of primary importance was the need to publish a Bible that was in the vulgar (common) language.

King James presented to the translators a guideline of 15 recommendations that included the retention of all ecclesiastical words and phrases in order to preserve the hierarchical traditions of the Church of England. Where the Puritans insisted on a literal, word-for-word translation (for example, washing instead of baptism) the translators retained the word baptism to preserve the church rite of sprinkling.

We can’t ignore the political implications of the KJV translation. King James wanted the translators to not only produce a Bible that upheld church tradition, but also the Monarchy.

The King James translation, then, would serve a three-fold purpose:

1. Defend the Crown against the Papacy.

2. Uphold the ecclesiastical traditions of the Anglican Church.

3. Provide a readable Bible as in agreement with Augustine that a variety of translations would help the lay person more clearly understand the Scriptures.

The translators were instructed by James to rely heavily on the six English translations that were in circulation at the time: Bishop’s, Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Whitchurch’s, and Geneva.

The Bishop’s Bible was the cleric’s choice, but it was much too anti-Catholic. However, King James wanted the new translation to copy Bishop’s wherever possible.

Called the Bible of the Protestant Reformation, the Geneva Bible remained the most popular, best-selling translation until it stopped printing in the mid-17th century. It was the official Bible of the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; and was the Bible carried over on the Mayflower by the Puritans and Pilgrims who were fleeing persecution at the hands of the Anglican Church.

The KJV translators were not seeking to produce a perfect Bible. Their final product was, in fact, in agreement with 90-95% of the Bishop’s Bible; and they recognized that a later generation might seek to improve upon their work.

Indeed, there was no need for a new English translation; but because of the Catholic-Anglican rift, the Monarchy wanted a Bible that was not an instrument of the Popery. Still, the KJV was influenced by the Catholic Bible, and even included the Apocryphal books until the 1666 edition.

The KJO advocates will present a lengthy defense of their position, citing an exhaustive number of contested words and phrases, mixed in with a bit of guilt and doubt that simply leaves you feeling spiritually drained, unsure of your salvation and questioning the authority of your non-King James Bible. This was not the intent of the translators.

Paul told the church at Ephesus — by the way, King James wanted the translators to use the word church rather than the more literal translation, congregation or assembly. The Greek word for church (kyriakos) was not the word Jesus used to describe His body. In Matthew 16:18 where our Lord tells Peter, Upon this rock I will build My church, the Greek word is ekklēsian (ἐκκλησίαν) or congregation — but Paul told the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1–3).

Where is the tolerance insisting that the church recognize only one translation?

There is one verse, in particular, cited by KJO to defend their assertion that the KJV is the preserved word of God:

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6).

This is simply not sound hermeneutics. Compare this verse to Proverbs 24:16:

For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.

The number “7” has Biblical relevance, but in these two verses it is simply expressed as a Jewish idiom. Shall the righteous man not rise the eighth time? Of course not. It simply is a Hebrew expression for many times like when Jesus said that we should forgive our brother seventy times seven.

The KJV, the argument goes, was the seventh English Bible, perfect in translation and purely refined. It is the Authorized Text from God.

The KJV translators, on the other hand, while noting the variances in Biblical text, stated that none of the textual differences that were present in the available translations altered essential Christian doctrine. They all were fit to teach the Law and Gospel.

With that I shall dust off my feet, and dig in to my (gasp!) NASB — oh, what blasphemy!

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

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14 thoughts on “Bible Wars

  1. You are very severe on those who use the KJV, of which I am one. I am not opposed to the principle of a modern translation. The KJV was a modern translation in 1611, actually we use the 4th edition, the 1769 Revision. I do not believe the KJV as an English Text is inspired. The Inspiration is in the Hebrew and Greek Text. Yet, I believe there are sound reasons for using the KJV, which are mostly centred around the differences between the Alexandrian and Byzantine Texts underlying the New Testament. Does that mean that I am against modern translations. No, but we I would be adamant the Traditional Text should be used and that the standard of scholarship should be on a par with that which the KJV translators enjoyed. Sorry you felt mistreated in an unloving fashion by God’s people.

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  2. If my position was opposed to anyone who reads the King James Bible then I would be most severe against myself for that was the first version I ever read, and still refer to even today.

    This article speaks only to those who present an almost idolatrous argument that the KJV is the exclusive, authorized Word of God.

    One thing I didn’t address was the ant-Semitic bias of the KJV translators. There was a mention of the wicked Jews, and that the Septuagint was an interpretation — not a translation.

    The Septuagint is quoted over 300 times in the New Testament, and extensively in the Pauline epistles. For those unaware, the Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, “seventy”) was a translation of the Hebrew Bible by 70 Jewish scholars.

    To discredit the Septuagint is to cast doubt on all that the Apostles and early church fathers believed and taught. That is a very dangerous proposition.

    And we can’t ignore that the KJV was as much a political document as Bible translation. The reign of King James was threatened by plots of assassination and kidnapping. Disaffected Catholics wanted to kill the King, or hold him for ransom. The Gunpowder Plot, orchestrated by disgruntled Jesuit priests, was a plan to blow up the House of Lords and kill the King.

    So, the KJV was birthed in an age of anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic sentiment. It would be unwise to not consider the underlying factors behind the origin of the KJV.

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  3. I quite agree that it is a grave error to elevate the English of the KJV to a place where it is regarded as inspired and beyond criticism. This attitude is ignorance and undermines the autographs. It is true that the translators were moulded by their times, but so are the translators of modern versions. I am convinced you over state the anti Jewish bias in the KJV. The Bible does not obscure the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew. The Protestant Churches eventually saw the error of anti Semitism as they understood the Scriptures. As KJV began to gain supremacy as a translation, Cromwell was the first English ruler in many years to grant Jews freedom. The popular view among the Puritans was Post Millennialism which sees the conversion of the Jews as the catalyst for the last great international awakening. As for your alleged anti Catholic bias in the KJV. The Catholic Church is anti gospel and antichrist, in nature. The bible will naturally be opposed to every perversion of truth. Let me get to the real point. The real problem is about manuscripts. The majority of modern manuscripts while they use modern English, also use a different Greek Manuscript as the basis for their New Testament translation. I have dealt with this issue in my blog: http://wp.me/p76gcq-3b. I reckon this debate with continue as modern versions come and go. Proving perhaps the real genius and success of the KJV?

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  4. Textual criticism is a black hole debate. There are over 400,000 variations in the 6000 New Testament manuscripts. If we compare the source material of the KJV with modern English translations we find there are about 5000 textual differences; and most of these are grammatical.

    Modern Bible scholars uniformly agree with the King James translators that none of these variants alter, or change essential Christian doctrine. It is important that people have confidence in their Bible, and the Word of God.

    With regards to the sins of the Catholic Church I will only say that the greatest defender of the unborn, and marriage, is Rome.

    In a face-off between a Catholic and a Protestant neither would be righteous enough to cast the first stone.

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  5. I would like to remind Food For The Soul that the point of this article is to respond to the argument that the KJV is the only version of holy Scripture that can be considered God’s pure word, and that all other versions are corrupted in one way or another. And, as the author mentions, the King James Only arguments even attack the salvation of believers who rely on versions of Scripture other than KJV.

    The author did not denigrate the KJV, but clearly excerpted from The Translators To The Reader that at the time it was written, it was simply the latest iteration of the reliable word of God. What about that is so difficult to deal with?

    This article points out the utter baselessness of the KJO position. I totally agree with the author’s reference to textual criticism being a black hole debate, but that’s where the KJO folks always take it — into the black hole, forgetting the love that is supposed to cover a multitude of sins and make us one. Rather than responding to the Scriptural call for unity among believers, including not passing judgement on others because of their opinions (see Romans 14) some Christians choose to beat their brothers in Christ over the head with the log that is in their own eye.

    One last point — For all the Christians all over the world who don’t speak or read in the English language, why should they care about the KJV? Shouldn’t Christians everywhere have the right to have holy Scripture translated into their own tongue directly from the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts? Does anyone really think we have fewer resources now than we did 500 years ago?

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  6. Yes, it is true that the Catholic Church has been resolute on moral issues. In relation to the Gospel, however, she remains antichrist. She has usurped Christ’s sacrifice with the Mass, Christ”s priesthood with a priesthood of men and Christ’s headship with the Papacy. The Gospel has been usurped with an elaborate system of works and traditions. Yes, we need a Bible we can have confidence in. The numerous variant readings in the Alexandrian Family of Manuscripts, do not inspire confidence. Horte boasted of a little gift where he could determine the correct reading. Hardly a proper method to treat the previous oracle!

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  7. That the Papacy is the seat of Antichrist is a whole other discussion. A religious purist might go so far to say that if Catholicism is the Beast then Protestantism is the false prophet — that the only authentic Christians are the first century Jews who accepted Yeshua as the Mashiach prophesied in the Law and Prophets. The Gentile church seems to have forgotten they are not the root, but were grafted in.

    KJO advocates, as one commentator said, are making a mountain out of a molehill — sort of like a log in the eye argument. To suggest that modern translations do not inspire confidence is like Satan whispering doubt into Eve’s conscience.

    It is an obfuscation to argue Hort-Westcott, Alexandrian vs. Byzantine, autographs vs. uncials as these serve only to confuse those of immature faith who need to know that their Bible is the Word of God.

    I will say again that the KJV translators affirmed that the various Latin and English versions were reliable. In closing remarks they wrote:

    … 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 contains the word of God, nay, is the word of God.

    Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against …

    Not justly to be excepted against — that is, it was not their intention to produce a translation that was supreme above all other versions. They noted that the French, Dutch, Italian and Latin Bibles were translated by men of grace; and though these works might not fit verse by verse they expressed everywhere the true sense of Scripture.

    This is a vain debate that causes unnecessary confusion and division. It is a disagreement born out of pride, and is at odds with Holy writ.

    Paul wrote that love lifts up, but knowledge puffs up. A man who thinks he knows anything knows nothing:

    … he is conceited and understands nothing. Instead, he has an unhealthy interest in controversies and semantics, out of which come envy, strife, abusive talk, evil suspicions (1 Timothy 6:4).

    We would do well to heed the words of the Apostle.

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  8. In response, there only was one Greek Text when the KJV, was translated. Vaticanus may have been known of but certainly the translators would never have had the opportunity to have inspected it’s contents. Therefore the Textus Receptus was the only Greek Text available. Therefore the translators were referring to translations of this text. They were not referring to manuscripts with hundreds of variant readings, which stem from a small number of manuscripts. These were manuscripts so obviously rejected by the early Church that they have been so well preserved. Well preserved because they simply were not read. Are we accept the Traditional Text, the basis of numerous translations throughout the centuries; Jerome, Luther, Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva Bible and the King James. Or are we accept the Alexandrian Family hidden from the Church until the 19rh Century. Why would God inspire his Word and then choose to hide it from view in favour of a spurious Greek Text? If the Alexandrian Text is superior why are the readings in conflict on so many occasions? The question is not whether we should use the King James exclusively, it is whether the Traditional Text should be used exclusively in translation. It is difficult to argue that the Alexandrian Text is superior: not preserved for the use of the church, contradictory readings. In relation to the Papacy, it is evident when the Pope claims to be Christ’s Vicar, when he is crowned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and when he claims infallibility when speaking ex cathedra, that he is usurping Christ. One does not need to
    read the Revelation to find that this is so. As for the Jews. A Gentile Church and a Jewish Church does not exist. The Church was called by Paul ‘one new man’ because the old sectarian division was broken down within the body of Christ. Yes, the Gentiles have been grafted in to enjoy the blessings that were promised to Abraham. Therefore the Gentile Christian by faith becomes one of Abraham’s Children. The unbelieving Jew is cut off from from the Church but before Christ comes there will be a return to God by Jews across the world. This is the general thrust of Romans 11.

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  9. Our discussion makes the point of my central theme. This is not a forum to promote one translation over another (nor to bash Catholics).

    I was quite clear that my issue is not with the King James Bible, but with those who stubbornly insist that it alone is the preserved Word of God. This fosters disunity and division within the body of Christ while sowing doubt in the minds of immature Christians as to the reliability of their translation.

    It is dangerous, and I would go so far to say that it is a sin to be so stiff-necked.

    Now, you say that your position is to not promote the supremacy of the King James Bible. Very well, then, we agree. That should be the end of the discourse, but then you go on and on making the same arguments that the King James Only advocates present in defense of their claim that the KJV only is the supreme Word of God.

    You stated:

    These were manuscripts so obviously rejected by the early Church that they have been so well preserved. Well preserved because they simply were not read.

    If they (Alexandrian scripts) weren’t read then why were they so well preserved? If they were rejected then what was the purpose of God’s providence to secure them for 1500 years? What was the action of the Holy Spirit to draw our attention to them, and why were they kept in Egypt under ideal climate conditions?

    Let’s say the Apostle Paul wrote a one-page letter to Luke. He made a copy and sealed it for future reference. Now, the copy that Luke received was transcribed and distributed to the churches in Asia.

    Over the years there were many copies made of this letter, but because of scribal errors not all the copies read alike. There were variations, maybe even alterations, as a scribe might insert notes in the margin.

    After a thousand years there might be 6000 copies of the letter, but now there is an extra sentence or phrase, words have been changed, and some copies are almost two-pages long.

    In a nutshell that is the crux of the issue.

    So, 1500 years have passed and an archaeologist discovers Paul’s original one-page letter. What would be the consensus of Biblical and scientific scholars?

    The answer should be obvious, but the KJO advocates would say that the original copy was tampered with, or even corrupted by enemies of the Gospel.

    For the casual reader let’s break it down. Paul’s original letter represents the Alexandrian manuscripts while Luke’s copies represent the Byzantine text.

    The KJO argument is that by the 2nd century the Alexandrian scripts were corrupted by Gnostic influence and, therefore, unreliable. If true, then it could be posited that the Byzantine text was corrupted by Arian, Nestorian, Sebellian, Apolonarian, and Marcionite heresies.

    The Gnostics didn’t believe in the virgin birth, or resurrection; but for the past 250 years, Bible scholars have agreed that not one Gnostic doctrine has been added to the Holy Bible. God has, indeed, preserved His word.

    We know that the Byzantine scribes edited manuscripts to harmonize the Scriptures. That alone explains why the Byzantine script is wordier and easier to read; but KJO will argue that the Gnostics tampered with the Alexandrian text thus making the script shorter and more difficult to understand.

    The Guttenberg printing press (1455) was the primary factor in the availability and use of the Byzantine text — not that it was necessarily better. Scholarly assumption is that the oldest manuscripts are more similar to the original autographs. When considering textual differences there are fewer variances in the Alexandrian text than Byzantine. Like Paul’s letter to Luke, it would have been handled by hundreds of scribes over the course of time and, therefore, subject to alteration.

    Russell Earl Kelly, PhD (a Dispensational theologian and defender of the KJV) noted the pagan influences of the first century, but concluded there is no internal evidence that the Alexandrian text was corrupt.

    Daniel Wallace, PhD (professor and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary) observed that the two different texts agree 98% of the time, and on essential Christian doctrine they are 100% in agreement.

    Robert L. Dabney (Presbyterian theologian and KJV advocate) wrote:

    In all the debated readings not a single doctrine of Christianity, nor a single cardinal fact would be thereby expunged … no fact or doctrine of Christianity would thereby be invalidated, and least of all would the doctrine of Christ’s proper divinity be deprived of adequate scriptural support.

    He concluded that textual criticism is of subordinate importance. Christians may have confidence in their Bible translation.

    Friend, that is all I’ve been trying to communicate to you, but it seems I have failed. This discussion does not glorify God, is of no interest to most people, sows division, and is of little importance to those who really need to hear the Gospel.

    Finally, your comment about my reference to the Gentile Church was unnecessary fault-finding.  I think we’ve taken this as far as we can go, but I thank you for making my point … and I will pray for you.

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  10. Your point, “…on essential Christian doctrine they are 100% in agreement” is the nub of this issue. Because of that fact, Christians are able to share the truth of the gospel, using different translations of Scripture and fulfill the Great Commission.

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  11. You misunderstand my point. I have never questioned one’s salvation who uses another version. I am not against a version in modern English. Of course a foreigner does not need to read the KJV any more than I need a German Bible but everyone has a right to a faithful translation. The question over manuscripts is not a black hole. It is commendable to seek to protect the purity of Scripture. Sadly many today only want what feels or seems right. A translation which omits or brackets verses or passages and casts doubt on God’s Word is not questioned. John Button raised these queztions in the 19th Century and they will continue to be raised because if God gave a pure word he also preserved this truth in a pure form for His Church.

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