Enter the Revised Version

The vital question we face today as both Bible readers and students is: do we believe in the God-guided preservation of Scripture down to our day, or should we rely on scholars to restore the long-lost true Bible text? For example, in the New Revised Standard Version (1989 edition) it is stated, “Here we can only follow the best judgment of competent scholars as to the most probable reconstruction of the original text”. How can one believe in the full inspiration of the Bible and still be looking for the original text? Whilst the King James Version has been shown to be far from perfect, it has been proven by our expositors to be adequate for our needs and corrections are able to be made by appealing to the original-language texts behind it. A strong advocate for the King James Version was an Anglican theologian, J.W. Burgon. He stated (1883), “we hold that a revised edition of the Authorised Version of our English Bible (if executed with consummate ability and learning) would at any time be a work of inestimable value”1. However, Burgon emphatically did not hold that view regarding the Revised Version of 1881. If contemporary versions did no more than accurately update the English of the King James Bible, there would be no problem but this was not what was done and herein lies the problem.

In dealing with the pros and cons of what Bible version to read, we must remember that we are dealing with the book “wholly given by inspiration of God”. ‘The Foundation’ was added to our Statement of Faith due to the introduction to the Brotherhood in 1884 of a belief that the Bible was only partially inspired. That introduction was due in part to the rendition of 2 Timothy 3:16 in the then recently introduced Revised Version: “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching …”. That contrasts with the KJV: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”. Whilst Brother Roberts was personally comfortable with either rendition, he acknowledged that others saw in the RV a loophole to suggest that there were Scriptures not “inspired of God” and therefore not “profitable for doctrine” etc. He spent three pages refuting that proposition2. If we believe that the Bible is “wholly inspired,” it follows that the same Scriptures have also been providentially preserved.

The King James OT translates almost exclusively from the Ben Chayim Masoretic Text, first printed in 1524. More contemporary Bible versions (after 1913) translate mainly from the Ben Asher Masoretic Text. Both are essentially the same except for some 11 verses3. Use has more recently been made in some contemporary versions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, plus early “foreign language” translations such as the Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta and the Latin Vulgate, according to “accepted principles of textual criticism” (NIV Preface). According to that preface, some 13 sources have been used for the NIV OT. The Ben Asher text, used since 1937 (Biblia Hebraica Kittel or BHK), has evolved into two updated editions of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia or BHS. The latest, Biblia Hebraica Quinta, is a work in progress scheduled for completion in 2020.

Differences between the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls are small. Even where differences do occur, the Masoretic is usually preferred due to the copyists’ standards of professionalism4. Of most concern in the contemporary versions is their reliance on the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament allegedly produced in 250 BC, but whose earliest extant manuscript is dated 250 AD. With the exception of the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy), its general unreliability is known5. Many changes in the OT text of contemporary versions are largely due to the Septuagint. Some changes are probably valid, for example 2 Samuel 24:13, where “seven years” is changed to “three years,” and Isaiah 9:3, where “not” has been taken out. Any changes made to any text should only be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the context and other Scriptures. On the other hand (and of great concern), “his enemies” of Genesis 22:17 becomes “their enemies” and the “five hundred reeds” of Ezekiel 42:16,17 becomes “five hundred cubits,” effectively reducing the Temple to less than 3% of its true size.

The main text behind the KJV for the NT is the 1598 ‘Received Text’ of Theodore Beza. Bible versions since 1881, however, whilst substantially retaining the same OT text, have largely adopted readings from older and (therefore) supposedly more reliable texts in the case of the NT. Notable exceptions to that rule lie in the New King James and King James 21 versions.

Is the “older is best” argument valid? The work of Erasmus’ Greek NT

To address the above question, we must first look at the origin of the Received Text, which was compiled by a Roman Catholic scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, in 1516. Providentially, it seems, the following year saw the beginning of Martin Luther’s Protestant ‘Reformation’. Erasmus remained a Catholic until his death, believing (forlornly) that he could reform it from within. God indeed uses all types of people to further His purpose. As research for this Greek New Testament, Erasmus visited a number of European libraries and made notes of different readings in hundreds of Greek manuscripts. He found that 90–95% of these manuscripts had essentially the same text; remarkable when they come from different parts of Europe and Asia Minor during a time when copying was done by hand6. Was this also providential? Erasmus then travelled to Basle, Switzerland, in 1515 and, using five (some say ten) Greek manuscripts plus his notes, put together the first printed and published Greek NT. (Printing was introduced to Europe in 1450.) He called it “Novum Instrumentum Omne”, a Latin phrase meaning “new piece of equipment for all”. Erasmus did not create this text. Significantly, Erasmus did not include a section of 1 John 5:7–8 in his first edition (or for that matter his second edition of 1519). Martin Luther’s German Bible of 1522 was translated from this second edition and leaves out that section (as does his 1545 edition). However, William Tyndale’s first English NT of 1526 was translated from Erasmus’ third edition (1522) and both text and translation contain it. The contested portion is: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth”. Advice? Draw a line through those spurious words, as they do not belong to Scripture. The story behind the exclusion then inclusion of this passage constitutes an article in its own right.

This text went through a number of editions through a number of editors. In 1633 an edition published by the Elzevir partners stated, “Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum” or “You have therefore the text now received by all”. The title ‘Received Text’ or ‘Textus Receptus’ has been given retrospectively to all the previous editions. The last edition of Textus Receptus was by F.H.A. Scrivener in 1881, published posthumously in 1908.

Does the Received Text need further revision?

J.W. Burgon thought so (1883): “in not a few particulars, the ‘Textus receptus’ does call for revision, certainly; although revision on entirely different principles from those which are found to have prevailed in the Jerusalem Chamber”7. (The RV was put together in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey, its NT being a translation of a synthetic Greek text.)

From 1611 until 1881, the Received Text was the basis of all English translations8. By this time some 600 extra NT Greek texts had been discovered, some older than the ones available to the King James translators. In 1967 there were some 5255 manuscripts of the NT, mainly scraps of paper. Some 99% of these support the Received Text tradition. The other 45 are the most used in modern textual criticism9. This ‘majority of manuscripts argument’ as implying divine providence has been criticised by a textual critic: “But to argue thus is to maintain that the textual history of the Bible is fundamentally different from that of all other books of ancient literature”10. Whilst intended as a criticism, Bible believers should take it as a compliment! The Bible is not ‘just another book’.

Three ‘new’ manuscripts challenge the Received Text

Of these more recently discovered manuscripts, there are three principal ones which have emerged to challenge the Received Text, and hence the KJV NT. They are Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Of these, only Vaticanus was nominally available prior to 1516. Even so, it was zealously guarded (not surprisingly) within the Vatican Library and available neither to Erasmus nor to the King James translators (was that providential?). It was finally published in 185711, nearly 400 years after its appearance there. Brother Thomas mentioned the 1857 publication12. These codices date from 350–450 AD. Taking the Received Text as a reference point, Alexandrinus varies in 842, Vaticanus in 2370 and Sinaiticus in 3392 places13. The variations seem to increase with time. Codex Alexandrinus made its appearance in 1627. Both it and Sinaiticus are in the British Museum, and Vaticanus is in the Vatican Library. Both Alexandrinus and Sinaiticus may be viewed/read online; Vaticanus (facsimilie) may be purchased from the Pope for US $6,62014.

On the assumption that ‘oldest is best’, a German ‘Bible scholar’, Constantine Tischendorf (who ‘discovered’ the Codex Sinaiticus in 1844), published, in 1870, an Authorised Version (KJV) New Testament with footnotes15. The footnotes drew attention to the variations between the King James Version and the readings of the three codices. In his introduction, Tischendorf (part ix) claims: “These three manuscripts undoubtedly stand at the head of all the ancient copies of the NT, and it is by their standard that both the early editions of the Greek text and the modern versions are to be compared and corrected … (part x) so as to settle the original text”. Some 140 years later and now into the 28th Edition of the Nestle Aland/United Bible Societies 4 Critical Text, 2012, scholars are still trying “to settle the original text”. An example of: “ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7).

Tischendorf, Wescott and Hort

Concurrent with the work of Tischendorf was the collaboration of two English theologians, Brooke Foss Wescott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. For thirty years prior to 1881, they worked on producing a Greek NT fundamentally at variance with the Received Text16. Westcott and Hort came on to the Committee of the Revised Version, forcing their text as the one to be followed in translation and revision. Called the Westcott and Hort Text, this forms the basis of the New Testaments of the Revised Version, J.B. Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible, and (surprisingly) the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Westcott and Hort Text uses primarily Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus17. It varies from the Received Text in 5604 places18. The more contemporary versions have, in the words of their proponents, “moved on” from Westcott and Hort. They have consulted other like-worded texts to the three mentioned above, but are still essentially based upon them19. The first edition of the Critical Text was published by Eberhard Nestle in 189820. Versions subsequent to the Revised have used different Critical Text editions. For example, the RSV (1946) uses the 17th edition for the NT. The 27th Edition of Nestle Aland’s Critical Text (1993) now varies from the Received Text in 8032 instances (Moorman, 8000 Differences, Preface p.v). That represents a progression from 5604 to 8032 variations.

A criticism levelled against the Received Text and texts of that tradition is that it allegedly did not exist prior to the fourth century21. Texts represented by the Westcott and Hort tradition existed prior to that only to be (allegedly) superseded by the Received Text or Byzantine tradition during the fourth century. This view is disputed22. We are asked to believe that all the texts underpinning the post-1881 versions were suppressed for over 1500 years, then providentially, through Westcott and Hort, restored! In point of fact, the Scriptures of the Received Text tradition were translated, preserved and promulgated by persecuted minorities, represented by “the woman” of Revelation 12:14–17. They operated primarily but not exclusively out of Antioch (Syria) and Piedmont (Italy)23. It should also be remembered that the turn of the fourth century saw a savage persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, where not only believers, but their Bibles, particularly Bibles in use,were burnt24. The logic of that was obvious: destroy the Bibles, and you have destroyed the faith. The “Diocletians” of today are a bit more subtle; they ‘change the Bible’, but the effect is the same.

Two types of translations

There are essentially two types of translation, with variations in between. Versions such as Rotherham’s, Young, the King James, the New King James and the 21st Century King James are literal, or word-for-word, in their following of the source text. This type is also called formal equivalence.

However, a strictly literal translation is not always readily understandable. Genesis 1:1, following the Jay Green Interlinear Bible, reads, “In the beginning created God the heavens and the earth”. The King James translators use italics where the original word is either ‘missing’ or where additional words are needed to ‘give the sense’. These literal versions tell us what the Bible says: it is then left to the Bible student/teacher to determine the meaning.

More modern versions such as the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version also claim to be literal; this is presented as a selling point. These two, in their New Testaments, are based on the 23rd and 27th editions respectively of the Nestle Aland Critical Texts. These texts deviate from the Received Text as indicated above. Sadly, an accurate translation from an inaccurate text will still result in an inaccurate English/vernacular version. For example, John 1:18 in these versions faithfully follows the erring texts in describing Jesus Christ as “the only begotten God” (NASB) or “the only God” (ESV ).

The other type is called dynamic equivalence, which means thought-for-thought in their following of the source text. This concept was championed largely by linguist Eugene von Nida (1914–2011)25. Versions such as the New International Version, The Living Bible, Good News Bible, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New Living Translation, New English Bible, New English Translation, New Century Version and The Message (to name a few!) fall into this category. Translators of these versions put into their English text what they think is its meaning. That may or may not coincide with what the text says. No italics are used, so it is almost impossible to tell the difference between text and “commentary”.

Not surprisingly, interpretations between versions can contradict. For example, in John 19:14, the KJV (and other literal versions) tell us that Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews “at about the sixth hour”. We leave it to our expositors to tell us when that was. Better still, we as Bible students search out the matter for ourselves (Prov 25:2).

On the other hand, versions such as the New Revised Standard Version, Good News Translation, NIV (2011), The Living Bible, New Living Translation, New English Translation and the New English Bible tell us it was “about noon”. No need for exposition: that is the interpretation! To confuse matters, these same versions contradict themselves when in Mark 15:25 we are told that “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him”. How could Jesus have been crucified before he was handed over to the Jews?26.

However, other versions such as Names of God, God’s Word, Holman Christian Standard Bible and Weymouth tell us (John 19:14) that Pilate delivered Jesus at “about six o’clock in the morning”. No need for exposition: that is the interpretation. But when was it? Noon or 6 am? Why not leave it at “about the sixth hour” and the crucifixion time (Mark 15:25) at “the third hour” and let a more competent Bible student determine when these events really happened?

Readability or accuracy?

A feature of the dynamic equivalent versions lies in their desire to simplify the reading. A consultant to the English Standard Version, Leyland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College, Illinois, U.S.A., wrote: “To put it bluntly, what good is readability if a translation does not accurately render what the Bible actually says? If a translation gains readability by departing from the original, readability is harmful. It is, after all, the truth of the Bible that we want”27.

Ryken further says, “Instead of lowering the Bible to a lowest common denominator, why should we not educate people to rise to the level required to experience the Bible in its full richness and exaltation?”28.

He concludes: “If we were to apply to the rest of life what lowest-common-denominator translations espouse for the Bible, we might as well close our schools and give up on the hope of educating citizens and workers in various specialized spheres of knowledge”29.

In the next article, it is hoped to look at some of the doctrinal problems posed by many of the contemporary versions, including, sadly, the New King James Version.

References:

  1. The Revision Revised J.W. Burgon p.114. Dean Burgon Society Press. September, 2000.
  2. The Christadelphian January 1885. pp. 1–4.
  3. Joshua 21:36–37 (not in the Ben Asher text); 2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Kings 20:38Proverbs 8:16; Isaiah 10:16; 27:2; 38:14; Jeremiah 34:1; Ezekiel 30:18Zephaniah 3:15; Malachi 1:12. (See www.kjvtoday.com)
  4. Second thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls F.F. Bruce p. 63. Paternoster Press. 1966 Ed.
  5. The Text of the Greek Bible. F.G. Kenyon Ch. 2. Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. 1949 Ed. Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings 1909. Art. Greek Versions of the Old Testament. F.G. Kenyon.
  6. The King James Version Defended. E.F. Hills pp. 194–203. Christian Research Press. 1984 Ed. Which Version is the Bible? F.N. Jones pp. 53 -54. Kings Word Press. 2004 Ed.
  7. The Revision Revised. J.W. Burgon pp. 107,21. Dean Burgon Society Press. September, 2000.
  8. From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man. J.B. Williams and R. Shaylor. Ambassador Emerald International. 1999 Ed. Ch. 4. “The History of the Textus Receptus” J.E. Ashbrook p. 105.
  9. Foes of the King James Bible Refuted. D.A. Waite p. 42 Bible for Today Press. 2003 Ed. Forever Settled. J.A. Moorman pp. 63–67; 103–126. Dean Burgon Society Press. 1999 Ed.
  10. Dictionary of the Bible. James Hastings 1909. Art. Text of the New Testament 44. F.G. Kenyon.
  11. The Text of the Greek Bible. F.G. Kenyon p. 87 1949 Ed.
  12. Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come. October, 1859 p. 259 (Vol. IX. No. 10).
  13. The Revision Revised. J.W. Burgon. Preface xviii, p. 14. 2000 Printing. Dean Burgon Society Press. September, 2000.
  14. www.linguistsoftware.com/codexvat.htm
  15. The New Testament: The Authorised English Version with Introduction and Various Readings from the three most celebrated manuscripts of the Original Greek Text. Constantine Tischendorf 1870. University of Michigan Library reprint.
  16. Wikipedia. Art. B.F. Westcott.
  17. The Text of the Greek Bible. F.G. Kenyon p. 81 1949 Ed. Which Version is the Bible? F.N.Jones p. 91 2004 Ed.
  18. Defending the King James Bible. D.A. Waite pp. 41–42. Bible for Today Press. 2006 Ed.
  19. The Greek New Testament (Pamphlet 9 pp) pp. 2–3. Trinitarian Bible Society. 2007 Ed.
  20. Wikipedia. Art. Novum Testamentum Graece.
  21. The King James Only Controversy. J.R. White pp. 195–197. Bethany House. 2009 Ed. The King James Version Debate. D.A. Carson Ch.7. Baker Book House. 18th Printing 2005.
  22. The Identity of the New Testament Text. W.N. Pickering pp. 93–96. Thomas Nelson. 1980 Ed. The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. J.W. Burgon and E. Miller. Ch. 5. 1896. Reprint 1998. Preface to the New King James Version. Early Manuscripts, Church Fathers and the Authorised Version. J.A. Moorman Summary XII pp. 104–107. Bible for Today Press. 2005 Ed.
  23. Forever Settled. J.A. Moorman p. 153. 1999 Ed. Crowned With Glory. T. Holland pp.57–58.Writers Club Press. 2000 Ed. Which Version is the Bible? F.N. Jones pp. 167–173. 2004 Ed. Which Translation? P. Moore. The Testimony July 1998. pp. 271–275. Seeds of Reformation. P.Billington. The Bible Magazine. January 2012. pp. 12–15.
  24. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. E. Gibbon. Ch. 16. Eureka Vol. 28 Historical Illustration of the Fifth Seal.
  25. The Word of God in English. L. Ryken. Introduction pp. 13–20. Crossway Books. 2002 Ed.
  26. The versions referenced as in www.biblegateway.com
  27. The Word of God in English. L. Ryken p. 91. 2002 Ed.
  28. Ibid. pp. 106–107.
  29. Ibid. p. 113.