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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Revelation, Inscripturation, and Preservation


Much is said these days about the preservation of Scripture logically flowing from the inspiration of Scripture. To be honest, I would not take much time to debate that particular viewpoint, and would assent to it. After all, what good is an inspired Bible that will not be preserved for all generations?

On the other hand, preservation is seen by many to be an issue of textual families (Antiochian/Byzantine) and compiled texts such as the Textus Receptus and the King James Version.

It is the latter that came to mind when I read the following:
“..God provided for its inscripturation, so that His revelation now comes to us, not in the form of deeds and events, but as a description of these. In order to guard against volatilization, corruption, and falsification, He gave it permanent form in writing.”

Berkhof, Louis Systematic Theology pg 141; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans

Note what Berkhof said; not that the revelation would be preserved in a certain textual family, or version, but that the revelation would be preserved in words. In other words, a written record of Divine revelation would suffice to preserve the revelation. Spoken words, and the spoken interpretations of the deeds seen, and revelations experienced are easily corrupted. Just imagine playing the gossip game in which a message is whispered from person to person only to mangle the message terribly by the end of the game. Such is the nature of the spoken word. The written word is different. It is difficult to modify and change a written account after it has gone through multiple copies that are identical.

What is the relevance of this to the issue of preservation today? The significance is that we have the written record of revelation today. The various manuscripts that are in existence today are manifold. They also agree much more than they disagree, and where they do disagree the disagreement does not change a single important doctrine. Neither do the disagreements between manuscripts change Biblical morality. Thus it is that we contend that “ the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth … containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God.” (The King James Version Translators Preface to The Reader)

Oh, I know we can get into a “jots and tittles” discussion. Honestly, that is a topic for another time. What is necessary for us to see is that we have Divine revelation preserved for us in many translations, and not in a lone English translation that is neither understood by people who can’t read English nor by many who do.

God gave us His revelation in verbal form, and we have it with us still today. That is what we must remember to be the important issue.

The King James Only-ites Vs Modern Versions on Lk 2:21-25

The King James Only-ites Vs Modern Versions on Lk 2:21-25

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Lk 2:21-24) KJV

What, you ask, is the problem here? It is this: the modern versions of the Bible use the pronoun “their” in verse twenty-two instead of “her.” The King James Version Only advocates tell us that this is a mistake, because Jesus had no need to be purified.

Is this truly a problem?

First of all, let’s consult an authority on the issue.

The expression ??? ?????????? ????? cannot refer to the Purification of the Virgin and her Babe , nor to that of the Virgin and Joseph, because neither the Babe nor Joseph needed, nor were they included in, the purification. It can only refer to ‘their’ (i.e. the Jews’) purification. But this does not imply any Romish inferences as to the superhuman condition or origin of the Blessed Virgin; on the contrary, the offering of the sin-offering points in the other direction.”

Edersheim, A. (1896, 2003). The life and times of Jesus the Messiah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Edersheim is here declaring to us that “their” refers to the Jew’s purification, and not that Mary and Jesus were both purified.

Next we must understand that “their” is in the Greek TR of 1550 which was edited by Stephens. It is not, however, in Scrivener’s TR of 1894, yet it is given as a variant in Scrivener’s TR of 1881. One wonders when the perfection of the TR actually came into being. The Matthew Bible of the sixteenth century translates the Greek as “their.” So does the Tyndale of 1525 and the Coverdale of 1535(HT Bob Hayton). Though Wycliffe and Geneva Versions do not use the plural pronoun, we can at least see that some of the translations which led up to the King James Version did us the plural. For most of us this is significant cause for pausing and refusing to dogmatize or cry “heresy” over a pronoun. As a matter of fact, our next point shows why “their” is a suitable translation.

Finally, we must look at the context to see what is going on. Jesus went to the temple to be redeemed per Jewish law, As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” (Lk 2:23) KJV Edersheim says, “mothers who were within convenient distance of the Temple, and especially the more earnest among them, would naturally attend personally in the Temple;? and in such cases, when practicable, the redemption of the firstborn, and the purification of his mother, would be combined. Such was undoubtedly the case with the Virgin-Mother and her Son.”

Edersheim, A. (1896, 2003). The life and times of Jesus the Messiah (1:194-195). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

It is very reasonable to use the pronoun “their” in reference to this event, when Mary’s purification (according to Lev 12:1-6) is combined with the presentation of Jesus before the Lord (according to Ex 13:1-15).

In conclusion, whether it be “her” or “their” (textual evidence pointing to “their”1) the fuss that it put up the KJVO advocates is truly much ado about nothing. Why? Because either translation is Biblically admissible. If one were to quibble that God preserves the Scriptures, we affirm that, too. In fact, we affirm that He has preserved the Scriptures and has preserved “their” (auton) in the majority of extant texts as well as the Majority Text according to the Byzantine family of texts from which we get the TR.

1Daniel Wallace also writes concerning this issue here and addresses the manuscript evidence.

OP here.

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