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?

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The King James Translators & The King James Only Debate

The King James Version of the Bible is a wonderful translation.  It is my preferred translation.  It is my favorite translation.  I love it, study from it, enjoy it, preach from it, and believe what it says.  It is God’s Word.  What is said below is by no means intended to denigrate the KJV.  It is intended to show that the King James Version Only arguments are invalidated by the translators of the King James Version.

Though I shall retain the King James Version as my favorite and preferred Bible, I must say that it is not a defensible position to maintain that all other translations are Satanic in nature.  Neither is it defensible to call them “perversions” of the Bible.  There are, no doubt, poor translations available.  The King James is not a poor translation.  It is excellent.  It is not, however, a perfect translation.  The Word of God is perfect.  Scripture is perfect.  We must understand, however, that if the King James Version or any other translation were perfect we would not have to consult dictionaries to understand various words.  We would not have trouble with obscure passages.  Perfection is the nature of Scripture.  The transmission of Scripture in translation is not perfect.  Thus we have to strive hard for clarity of translation and we must strive hard for understanding of God’s Word.

It is to be noted that one website which posts the entire preface (www.jesus-is-lord.com) says the following about the translator’s preface to the reader:

The complete translator’s notes of the Authorized King James scholars are not included in today’s publishings. This is unfortunate because these notes say a lot about these men– they were humble, loved the word of God, loved the King, were berated by the Catholic religion, and they desired a translation for the common man who was kept in darkness. Some of the translators where killed for their faith. This book was forged in blood, sweat, and tears.”

While attempting to use the preface to the reader as a KJVO support, the one who established this website has actually posted something that speaks IN FAVOR of continual effort to improve the translation of the Scriptures into the language of the common man. Thus it is that this preface to the reader from the KJV1611 has been left intact as it was taken from the website of those in favor of the King James Version only stance.

In the Preface to The Reader below my comments are in red. ««Jump to the Preface with comments»». Originally posted at Pastoral Musings.

Which King James Bible? A Double Standard

It goes without saying that KJV Onlyists make a big deal about differences–any differences– between the KJV and modern versions. I’ve heard some stress that changes even in word order (as in Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ) and spelling (every jot and tittle, remember) are equally important. In many KJV Only materials, the presence or absence of Lord in Jesus’ title (Lord Jesus Christ) is called out as a doctrinal deficiency in the modern versions. Whenever “God” is removed (it depends how you look at it whether it was removed or added in by the KJV), important contextual clues like “my” or “their”, and even when words are have a different number, red flags fly and our suspicions are to rise regarding the doctrinal position of the translators or the editors of the text.

So when it comes to the King James Only position, David Cloud sums things up well when he asserts:

In the N.T. alone there are almost 10,000 word differences between the Textus Receptus and the Westcott-Hort text… It is true that many of these changes are not as significant as others–but ALL ARE real differences. More than 2,800 of the words in the Received Text are omitted in the W-H text underlying the modern versions….  — David Cloud, For Love of the Bible: The Battle for the King James Version and the Received Text from 1800 to Present (WoL 1995), pg. 57.

While they do set up the KJV as the standard by which everything else is judged (which begs the question), I can understand their point.  Differences matter, even small ones.  But when we come to the different editions of the Textus Receptus and the differences between King James Bibles in common use today, the KJV Only tune changes.  Almost in total, KJV Onlyists downplay the differences between the King James Bibles.  They try to pretend they aren’t signifcant differences even as they elevate every minor difference between the KJV and modern versions.

Isn’t this a double standard?  I’m not saying the differences between the KJV editions are as many or as big a deal as the difference between the KJV and modern versions.  But it is an important point for KJV Onlyists to answer.  If small differences are enough to condemn modern versions, think NKJV here too; then small differences of word order and even to God’s name exist within the various KJV editions.  Why is it okay that King James Bibles differ among themselves, but not okay that modern versions differn from King James Bibles?

Consider what some leading KJV Only advocates say about the various editions of the KJV: Continue reading