What Differences between the Manuscripts Tell Us

Much of the reason for various positions in the textual debates centers on the differences between the manuscripts.  If all the manuscripts were virtually identical, we’d not be blogging about the problem of textual variation.

King James Only proponents like to stress how much the differences matter.  Additionally, they like to highlight the many differences between Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (א), two of the chief witnesses for the Alexandrian text-type. Thee manuscripts differ thousands of times in the Gospels alone, it is pointed out. So they must be faulty witnesses, and bad manuscripts. In short, this proves they aren’t worth much when it comes to their textual quality.

In sharp contrast with those manuscripts, the Byzantine manuscripts largely agree and have little variation. The conclusion is raised that these must be carefully copied and more accurate and worthy manuscripts.

What do the differences really tell us? Dan Wallace has a helpful, brief article which addresses just this question. I’m going to excerpt a portion of it, but recommend you go read the whole thing.

There are a few thousand differences between Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. This is a point that MT advocates think helps their cause. Actually, it hurts them. Here’s why: (a) Westcott and Hort noticed those differences, too, and argued that precisely because of so many differences the common ancestor between B and Aleph must be at least ten generations back. They felt, with good reason, that the common ancestor came from deep within the second century. Consequently, when the two MSS agree, their combined testimony should normally be regarded as quite ancient.

Majority Text advocates like to tout how much Byzantine MSS agree with each other. Yet, they also want to claim that each Byzantine MS is an independent witness to the text. They can’t have it both ways. The high level of agreement shows that there has been extensive editing of the Byzantine MSS. Indeed, we have fairly firm evidence of such activity in the 9th and 11th century, for after both eras the Byzantine MSS grew in their conformity to one another. This is unheard of except when conscious editing takes place. Further, some MT advocates want to claim that Aleph and B were copied in the same scriptorium and that they have a common ancestor that is not much earlier than either one of them. How can they claim this while simultaneously noting the many disagreements between these two MSS?…

Wallace’s remarks helped me immensely when I first read them. They still ring true today. What do you think? Is he right?

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 2)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period.  The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of one of the editors, Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”.  Bauder explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence.  Bauder illustrates how these arguments really are illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and now we get to the first of the theological arguments for KJV Onlyism.

The first illusion is the appeal to faith. According to its leading defenders, the King James-Only movement is fundamentally a “faith position.” Genuine, biblical faith, however, must rest in the promise of God. To be believed, the promise of God must be clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture itself. The question is not whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve His Word. King James-Only advocates go much further. They insist that God has preserved His words and preserved them exactly in a singular, identifiable, and accessible form. So the question is whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve, word for word, the text of the original documents of Scripture in a particular manuscript, textual tradition, printed text, or version. As this book has shown, the Bible contains no promise whatsoever that includes the preservation of all the words of the autographa (without addition or deletion) in a single, publicly accessible source. Without such a promise, the appeal to faith does not rest in the promise of God, but in the untestable and unverifiable speculation of the King James-Only advocates themselves. Until they can produce a Scripture that (properly and contextually understood) does promise all that they assert, they have no legitimate right to appeal to faith.

(Bolded emphasis mine. Excerpted from pg. 158, One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder; Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2001.)

?This is the rub in my opinion.  The various texts that apply to a doctrine of preservation, do not make the explicit claim that all the words of Scripture will be preserved in an accessible form.  For at least 1500 years, most KJV Onlyists allow that the words of Scripture weren’t together in a printed text or version that is accessible too.  Especially when one considers what E.F. Hills points out that several of the TR passages are preserved in the Latin language texts rather than the Greek language texts, and the New Testament was purified when the two streams were brought together.

Preservation: How and What by Aaron Blumer (part 4)

We’ve been posting links to an excellent series on the Bible’s teaching on preservation, by Aaron Blumer over at SharperIron.org. The last couple installments in this series, have looked closely at Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, edited by Kent Brandenburg.

Here is an excerpt from today’s article by Blumer. I encourage you to go over and read the whole thing.

This series has not aimed to examine the case for perfect text preservation (PTP) comprehensively. Rather, my aim has been to scrutinize the biblical facts and identify what believers may properly term “doctrine of preservation.” Do we have biblical statements that say, or clearly imply, that believers will always have access to every word of Scripture in the form of a text they know is flawless?

Please note what the question is not. It is not, “Do verses indicate God’s Word will last forever?” It is not, “Do passages teach that God has tasked His people with maintaining written copies?” It is not, “Do verses emphasize that the words of Scripture are vital for Christian doctrine and Christian living?” Nor is the question, “Do people try to distort and sabotage the words of God?” Finally, the question is not, “Is God able to overcome human nature so that those He chooses perfectly preserve the text?”

The answers to all of these questions is yes. But if we look closely at what Scripture claims regarding the how-and-what details of preservation—and read the relevant passages with a scriptural view of human nature in view—what we see over and over again is that PTP is neither stated nor clearly implied.

Presuppositional Apologetics & KJV Onlyism: A Question

My friend John Chitty asks a question of those familiar with E.F. Hills and his book The King James Version Defended.  The question centers on Hills’ use of the “logic of faith”, and the idea of presuppositional apologetics.

I’m sharing the question to let our readers chime in, here or over at Chitty’s blog.

…since Edward F. Hills, author of The King James Version Defended is a graduate, not only of Yale, but also of Westminster Theological Seminary, and that much of Hills’ defense of the Textus Receptus (the popular name of the Greek text that underlies the King James Version New Testament) is written from a characteristically Reformed standpoint… when he further makes his defense from what he calls “The Logic of Faith,”… this must be his way of applying presuppositional apologetics to the defense of the superiority of the Greek Text underlying the King James Version, as well as that translation itself.

My question for presuppositionalists who’ve read The King James Version Defended, therefore, is: Am I right? Was Hills a presuppositionalist, and is his so-called “Logic of Faith” a fair representation of the presuppositionalist apologetic, and is belief in the inherent superiority of the Textus Receptus therefore the consistently Reformed answer to the question, “Which New Testament text is closest to the original manuscripts?” [emphasis mine]

If you are familiar with presuppositionalism or with E.F. Hills, please feel free to chime in. John would appreciate your interacting with the comments already over at his blog. Or feel free to leave your thoughts below. I will post my reply under this post here, as well as on Chitty’s site.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 1)

For the last several years, I have considered One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible to be the best book on the King James Only debate, period.  Kevin Bauder and Roy Beacham, the editors, are fundamentalists.  All the authors were professors at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, a fundamentalist institution.  They understand the issue from the inside out.  Their circles have been most affected by KJV Onlyism and so their book is extremely helpful.

Perhaps the best chapter in the book, is Kevin Bauder’s conclusion: “An Appeal to Scripture”.  It is full of so many excellent quotes that I plan to share bits and pieces from the chapter over a series of posts.  Of course, you need to get the book to get the full effect, but I hope this whets your appetite for the real thing.

Bauder sets the stage for his discussion of KJV-Onlyists’ appeal to scripture by presenting the quandry that King James onlyists face.

If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.  No two manuscripts… [no] two editions of the Masoretic Text… [no] two editions of the Textus Receptus… [no] two modifications of the King James Version contain exactly the same words, and the Bible nowhere tells us which edition, if any, does contain the exact words of the originals.  These are not speculations; these are plain facts.

Confronted with these facts, King James-Only advocates are faced with one of two choices.  Either they may specify, a priori and without biblical evidence, a single manuscript or edition of the Bible in which the exact words are preserved, or they may begin to qualify their insistence upon exact preservation….

If they are pressed, they will admit that they do not have all the words and only the words of the original in a single place.  Instead, they will point out how similar most of the manuscripts are…. most King James-Only advocates are eventually willing to admit the possibility of an acceptable range of variation.

These King James-Only proponents, therefore, wish to have it both ways.  They insist upon condemning the Ben-Asher Hebrew text, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the contemporary eclectic Greek texts, and the New American Standard Bible because they only contain some (not all) of the words of God.  But they are willing to accept differences in the various editions of the Ben-Chayyim Hebrew text, of the Textus Receptus in Greek, and of the King James Version in English, even though no more than one edition of one of these documents can conceivably contain all of the words and only the words of God….

In other words, if the King James-Only advocates were candid, most of them would have to admit to holding precisely the same theory of those whom they oppose.  They would have to admit that the whole debate is merely an academic quibble over the percentage of acceptable variation.  …they would have to admit that their preference was based on a difference of degree and not a difference of kind.

Of course, such an admission would be fatal to the King James-Only movement.  If its leaders were so candid, people would recognize that the whole debate amounts to a cyclone in a coffee cup….  The movement survives, but only by clouding the issues and distracting people from the main point.  It protects itself with an elaborate structure of theological illusions.

(Bolded emphasis mine. Excerpted from pg. 155-158, One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder; Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2001.)

Was a Freemason the Chief Editor of the KJV?

When reading about the Freemasons and their influence in the founding of America, I came across a very interesting piece of information that the KJV Only conspiracy theorists would love to be true about another version of the Bible, but unfortunately, it may be true of their own beloved, perfect version:

“The headpiece of page 41 of Bacon’s Great Insaturation also contains light-dark scrolls…they are also shown in the 1650 edition of Bacon’s New Atlantis….Similar colophones suggest that other important works of Bacon’s time were assisted by Bacon’s secret society. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible (1611), includes light-dark scrolls and the ‘A’-type emblem, and it is claimed that Bacon was its chief editor.” 

 –  Nicholas Hagger, The Secret Founding of America. Watkins Publishing, London England 2007, p. 91

So, is it true that Sir Francis Bacon, who was the originator of English Freemasonry, was the King’s chief editor for the publication of the KJV? This book also claims that the intentions of King James was to solidify the English language by sending his Bible to all English colonies to strengthen his kingdom and the pursuit of establishing the New Atlantis or as we know it today, the New World Order.

Here’s a website that has more in depth detail about the Masonic symbols that found their way into the first edition of the 1611 KJV. Those who like to assign cult connections with the NIV, Westcott and Hort’s Greek text and other conspiracies that seem to lend weight to the alleged corruption of other versions tend to overlook the skeletons in their own closet.  

Let’s just face it, the preservation, transmission, translation and publication of the Bible in nearly all versions from the LXX to as lately as the HCSB and ESV have all had dirty hands involved in the work that God has sovereignly used to preserve His Word in the multiplicity of manuscripts and translations that we have today. To try to claim that the KJV is the only one that is un-spotted from such people is delusional and wishful thinking.

A Reader Comments on Manuscript Evidence for a Pre-Origen Septuagint

Readers of this debate blog will be aware of the position by some influential KJV Onlyists that the Septuagint is a post-Christian creation.  Some say it didn’t exist before Origen.  Others are more nuanced and say that we can’t know if the Septuagint as an entity existed before that time.

The rationale for this tactic is to avoid the implications of the New Testament’s prolific use of the Septuagint.  John Owen and Jerome and others are put forth as defendants for a position which claims that the New Testament shaped the creation of the Septuagint, and scribes amended the LXX to conform to the NT.

While I would agree that an entire monolithic Septuagint was not to be found, I would nevertheless say that there is plenty of evidence for multiple translations of the Old Testament into Greek.  The variations between the Greek editions themselves, and between them and the New Testament quotations, point toward an inescapable conclusion.  Some harmonization by the New Testament’s influence may have happened, but by and large, the New Testament unmistakably leans heavily on the Septuagint.

All this is agreed on, I believe, by most scholars today.  In fact we recently had a reader leave an insightful comment as he was baffled by our defense of a pre-Origen LXX.  Since the comment may have been missed by our readers, and since it is worthy of repetition, I thought I’d share it here.

I tend not to use the KJV as I prefer to use a Hebrew OT and a Greek NT. For English translations my favourite is the KJV for its beauty – so please don’t react to what I have to say with any assumption that I must be some sort of KJV hater – I’m not.

May I suggest that many of the blog posters spend less time arguing, less time quoting whatever popular apologetic works they have read as “proof” that they are right when the popular apologetic works are usually badly researched – and spend serious time actually reading and researching the topics – I’ve spent the last 25+ years researching early biblical manuscripts, and work as a theological librarian in an academic institution. I’m also an evangelical Protestant Christian – I might even be described as a fundamentalist!

I have just read the blog posts about the Septuagint – it contains some incredibly stupid comments about no early Septuagint manuscripts, and none among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Please feel free to share the following with your blog posters.

Early Septuagint – pre-dating the third century A.D.

1. MS 89 of P.Foud 266 – remains of 24 chapters from Genesis and Deuteronomy, mid 1st century BC.
2. P Yale I 1 – remains of 1 chapter from Genesis, 1st or 2nd century AD
3. P.Oxy.656 – remains of 6 chapters from Genesis, 2nd or perhaps early 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a borderline case
4. P. Deissman – remains of 1 chapter from Exodus, 2nd or 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
5. P.Baden 56, remains of 4 chapters of Exodus and Deuteronomy, 2nd century AD
6. Schoyen Collection MS 2649 – remains of 6 chapters of Leviticus, late 2nd or early 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
7. P.Beatty IV + P.Mich.5554 – remains of 38 chapters of Numbers and Deuteronomy, late 2nd or early 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
8. P.Ryl.458 – remains of 6 chapters of Deuteronomy, 2nd century BC
9. Schoyen Collection MS 2648 – remains of 3 chapters of Joshua, late 2nd or early 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
10. P.Montserrat Inv.3 – remains of 2 chpaters of 2 Chronicles, late 2nd century AD
11. P.Chester Beatty IX+X + John H. Scheide 3 + P.Colon theo.3-40 + P.Montserrat 42+43 + P.Matr.bibl.1 (the manuscript was broken up and ended up in 5 collections!) – remains of 58 chapters of Esther, Ezekiel and Daniel, 2nd century AD
12. P.Oxy.4443 – remains of 2 chapters of Esther, 1st or 2nd century AD
13. P.Oxy.3522 – remains of 1 chapter of Job, 1st century AD
14. P.Taur.27 – remains of 1 chapter of Psalms, 2nd century AD
15. PSI inv.1989 – remains of 1 chapter of Psalms, late 2nd century AD
16. P.Montserrat Inv.2 – remains of 1 chapter of Psalms, 2nd century AD
17. P.Bodmer XXIV – remains of almost all of Psalms, 2nd or 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
18. Bodleian MS.Gr.Bib.g.5 (P) – remains of 2 chapters of Psalms, 2nd century AD
19. PSI.inv.921 – remains of 1 chapter of Psalms, 2nd century AD
20. P.Antin.7 – remains of 2 chapters of Psalms, 2nd century AD
21. Leipzig Uni.Bib.Pap.170 – remains of 1 chapter of Psalms, 2nd or 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
22. Garrett Deposit 1924, H.I. Bell II G: small flat box 5 – remains of 1 chapter of Isaiah, 2nd or 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
23. P.Beatty VIII – remains of 2 chapters of Jerimiah, 2nd or 3rd century AD – imprecise dating of this manuscript makes it a boarderline case
24. 4Q119 – remains of 1 chapter of Leviticus, pre First Jewish Revolt (pre destruction of the Temple)
25. 4Q120 – remains of 6 chapters of Leviticus, pre First Jewish Revolt
26. 4Q121 – remains of 2 chapters of Numbers, pre First Jewish Revolt
27. 4Q122 – remains of 1 chapter of Deuteronomy, pre First Jewish Revolt
28. 7Q1 – remains of 1 chapter of Exodus, pre First Jewish Revolt
29. 8Hev 1 – remaains of 24 chapters of the Minor Prophets, 1st century BC or 1st century AD

So we have 29 manuscripts of which 20 are unquestionably 2nd century or earlier.

I won’t give the all bibliographical details from all of the mansucripts listed above, but here is a start of just 3 books for the Septuagint manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls:

  • Qumran Cave 4: IV. Palaeo-Hebrew and Greek Biblical Manuscripts, by P.W. Skehan, E. Ulrich and J.E. Sanderson; with a contribution by P.J. Parsons (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), Discoveries in the Judaean Desert volume IX
  • Les ‘Petites Grottes’ de Qumrân: Exploration de la falaise, Les grottes 2Q, 3Q, 5Q, 6Q, 7Q, à 10Q, Le rouleau de cuivre, by M. Baillet, J.T. Milik and R. de Vaux; with a contribution by H.W. Baker (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962), Discoveries in the Judaean Desert volume III
  • The Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever (8HevXIIgr), (The Seiyâl Collection I), by E. Tov; with the collaboration of R.A. Kraft; and a contribution of P.J. Parsons (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), Discoveries in the Judaean Desert volume VIII

Matthew Hamilton
Sydney, Australia