The King James Controversy Revisited – Program 3

By: Dr. Kenneth Barker, Dr. Don Wilkins, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Dr. James White, Dr. Samuel Gipp, Dr. Thomas Strouse, Dr. Joseph Chambers; ©2002
Upon what basis do King James Only advocates claim that version is superior? Does the discipline of textual criticism support their position?

Is the King James Version Superior To All Other Translations?

Introduction

Today, Dr. John Ankerberg hosts a debate on the King James Only controversy. Which translation of the Bible is best for Christians to use: the 1611 King James, the New King James, the NIV, the New American Standard Bible, or some other translation? Are all translations truly the word of God, or only the 1611 King James? This is an important debate in which the general editors and scholars of the new translations meet face-to-face with some of their critics and those who hold that only the King James Version should be used.

John’s guests include : Dr. Kenneth Barker, general editor of the NIV Bible; Dr. Arthur Farstad, Executive Editor of the New King James; Dr. Don Wilkins, translator for the New American Standard Bible; Dr. Dan Wallace, expert on the ancient Greek texts; Dr. James White, author of The King James Only Controversy; Dr. Samuel Gipp, who holds the 1611 King James is the only infallible Bible translation; Dr. Thomas Strouse, who argues that only the 1769 King James translation should be read. Finally, Dr. Joseph Chambers, who also argues for the King James Version, and represents the views of author Gail Riplinger and her book New Age Bible Versions?

The King James Only Controversy has become a divisive issue among many Christians. Should it be? Join us for this important debate.


Ankerberg: Welcome. Why do some Christians insist that only the King James Version of the Bible should be read? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out during our debate today. We’ve gathered the general editors and scholars of the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the New King James Version, and asked them to respond to scholars who hold that Christians should only read the King James Version. We’ll begin today with the question, “Why do King James Only advocates believe that the King James Version is superior to all other translations?”

[excerpt]

Ankerberg: Sam, and also Joe, let’s start, Joe, with you. You say that the 1611 King James Bible is superior to all the translations, and that these guys have also in their translations really, they’ve got an occultic bent; they’ve gone away from orthodoxy; they’re corrupting the Church. We need some proof of that. But tell us, first of all, why you believe the King James is superior.
Chambers: Three reasons, John. I believe, first, the manuscripts. Second, I believe the translators themselves. And third, the technique. I believe the manuscripts, something better than 90%, some say as high as 99%, of all the manuscripts that are available, 5,000 plus, document and support the King James Version of the Scriptures.
Number two, the translators. When you do a study of the translators who worked for the 1611, they were impeccable scholars. We have one man, for instance, who could read Hebrew at four years of age and could write in Hebrew at five years of age. You have one man in particular who could speak fluently, I think it was six or eight languages. You had another gentleman who had read the early church fathers from the very early autographs and all of their quotes where they quoted the different texts in Scripture. And all of these support beautifully the King James Version of 1611.
So, when you take the manuscripts, you take the translators, and you take the technique—which is, they used literal equivalence rather than dynamic equivalence—again, you had literal translation: word for word, verb for verb, noun for noun. You stayed with the text. Those three reasons give us support, beautiful and powerful, for the 1611 King James.
Ankerberg: Okay. But on the modern translations, a couple of my buddies that were my professors, Dr. Gleason Archer, for example, I think he knows 27 languages, okay? I remember he used to sit in the teachers’ meetings and take notes in Hittite. And the fact is that he’s a godly man and he’s got a wealth of information in terms of his background. He’s got a Ph.D. from Harvard. I mean, he’s one of the known experts in the world, and he was on one of the newer translations. Now, let’s say that he worked with Art over there, and Art uses the same Greek manuscripts that you did. And Gleason Archer, with that wealth of background, works on the same thing that Erasmus and some of the others worked on, and actually we’ve got documents that go back closer to the time of the apostles. Are you saying that Gleason Archer and Art and Ken and Don over here, with all of their degrees and all their information, can’t do as good a job as the guys like Erasmus?
Chambers: I will say they didn’t do as good of a job. I’m not going to say they can’t. I’m not going to impugn any of their characters. I’m just going to say they didn’t do as good of a job because they moved, as we all know, to the Alexandrian Text, the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus. We know that much. In fact, The NIV: Making of a Contemporary Translation, says that those were two of their main texts for their translation. So that’s very clear. I don’t think there’s any question in my mind, at least, that the Alexandrian Text was full of confusion. It did have individuals—Origen, Clement, others—who quoted that text, who transcribed that text and did so wrongly because of their view of Christ.
Ankerberg: Okay. But Art over here, with the New King James, didn’t do that. He says he based his New King James more accurately than the 1611 guys did. If you really want the Textus Receptus, he’s got it!
Chambers: Well, they’ve changed some things that I certainly disagree with.
Ankerberg: Speak to that, Art. Speak to that. Is that true?
Farstad: We did use the Textus Receptus, but there are 30 Textus Recepti, or however you say it.
Ankerberg: Say that again. How many of them, Art?
Farstad: The Textus Receptus is the printed text from the Reformation period. It’s not a manuscript. You can’t just point to one and say, “This is the Textus Receptus.” We used the same thing because we were updating the King James.

Ankerberg: Let’s take a moment and give a little background information here. What is the Textus Receptus? Well, it is a Latin phrase that was placed in the Preface to a Greek text that was printed 22 years after the publication of the 1611 King James Version. The Latin words Textus Receptus mean “the received text” which referred to the fact that this Greek text was generally received among scholars and people as being an accurate account of the biblical text. It was principally from this Greek text that the King James translators translated the New Testament from Greek into the British English used in 1611.
Now, here is the problem. This Greek text, the Textus Receptus, was not laid in stone and perfect. The origination of this Greek text was begun by the scholars Desiderius Erasmus, who died in 1536; it was added to by Stephanos, who died in 1559; and finally changed and printed by Theodore Beza, who died in 1605. Each of these men compiled and studied the few Greek texts that were available to them and then produced their own compilation. Though each of their texts is substantially the same, there are variations between them. In fact, as you just heard, there were 30 different printed Greek texts of the Textus Receptus.
When the King James translators began translating, they utilized not just one Greek text of the New Testament, but they drew from a variety of these sources, but mainly from Erasmus, Stephanos and Beza. Now, what did the King James translators do when these sources disagreed? Well, obviously the decision lay with the King James translators themselves. But this also tells you why the 1611 King James English text does not agree totally with any one of the 30 Greek texts that they drew from. It was an eclectic effort. The King James translators knew that Erasmus didn’t think his text was inerrant, that is, without error; Stephanos placed variant readings in the margins; Beza made conjectural emendations, and the King James translators chose between the different Greek editions made by these men.
Now, the Greek text that was published 22 years after the 1611 English translation, in which the phrase “Textus Receptus” was printed in the front, does not agree totally with the 1611 English translation. In fact, the standard Textus Receptus used today by nearly all King James Only advocates is not identical to texts of Erasmus, Stephanos or Beza but, again, is an eclectic text that draws together one Greek text from various sources. This is the reason that some King James Only folks do not argue for the Textus Receptus as being perfect; rather, they argue for the inspiration and perfection of the English translation.
The problem with this argument is that when the different translators chose certain Greek copies, there was an amazing amount of information not available to them that is available to us today. Therefore, the King James translators placed many mistakes into the Textus Receptus which was later translated into the King James English version, and those mistakes continue to this day.
What kind of mistakes? What kind of errors? Well, for example, Revelation 1:8, where the King James Version reads, “Saith the Lord,” where nearly every one of the thousands of Greek manuscripts reads “Says the Lord God.” Now, do you think it would be significant if the Lord Jesus Christ was called God but the King James translators deleted that from the text? What if that were the case with some of the modern translations? We’d never hear the end of it. But here, the King James translators made a simple mistake. It is an errant reading which has almost no Greek manuscript support for it at all, which can be cleared up just by looking at the vast majority of Greek copies that have come down to us.
Does that mean the King James translation is a bad one? No. But there were things that were not known in 1611 that are known today. Still, if you compare the Textus Receptus with some of the earlier Greek texts, like the Alexandrian and western texts, they’re almost identical. There’s only 2% of the text that is debated by scholars, and of the variants that they debate, none of these variants affect any essential Christian doctrine.
But probably what is more important to talk about is that the 1611 King James Version uses words that were used in 1611, not the English that we use today. But some still argue for the worth of those particular English words.

[excerpt]

Farstad: We did use the Textus Receptus but there are 30 Textus Recepti, or however you say it.
Ankerberg: Say that again. How many of them, Art?
Farstad: The Textus Receptus is the printed text from the Reformation period. It’s not a manuscript. You can’t just point to one and say, “This is the Textus Receptus.” We used the same thing because we were updating the King James. But we have footnotes showing the other type of readings. But the main differences are the changes in English. For example, words change their meaning and people who don’t know the history of the English language, which is most people, will not know that “prevent” means “precede” and that “charity” means “love.” And there are words in the old King James, quite frankly, that are vulgar today. P-i-s-s, for example, is not used in better circles, and yet there it is several times in the old King James, through no fault to them. That was just from the French pisser and it was quite nice or acceptable, but no longer.

Ankerberg: Now, here’s another important question. Has the English language changed from the time of 1611 to the present? To be accurate, do we need a fresh translation into English? Well, to answer this question, I want you to hear Dr. Norman Geisler, who is the author of A General Introduction to the Bible, a standard text used in seminaries and Bible colleges. He asks you whether or not you know the meaning of these English words that are a part of the 1611 King James Bible.

Geisler: I would say that most translations of the Bible are good. And by “good” I mean all the essential doctrines, all the fundamental doctrines, all major and minor doctrines come through correctly in the translation. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the King James—which I’ll say more about in a moment, which is archaic and the language is outdated—right on up to the NIV, the New International Version. None of them deny the deity of Christ; none of them deny the substitutionary atonement or the bodily resurrection, or any of the fundamentals of the faith. So, they’re all good in that sense.
Now, some of them are better than others. For example, I personally believe that the King James is archaic, it’s out of date. The words don’t even have those meanings anymore. For example, anyone who thinks the King James was let down on a string from heaven—it was good enough for Paul and it’s good enough for them—I’d like to give a quiz to. What does “He that letteth will now let” mean (2 Thess. 2:7)? It means “hinder.” See, the word “let,” which means “permit” today, meant just the opposite in 1611. So if you’re reading the original King James, you’re getting the wrong meaning because you’re getting a meaning that is just the reverse of what it meant in 1611.
Or try this one: “The superfluity of naughtiness” in James 1:21. What does that mean? You don’t have the foggiest idea. It means, “The overflowing of wickedness.”
Or what does this mean: “We do you to wit of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1). “We do you to wit?” We just don’t talk that way anymore. It means “We want you to know of the grace of God.”
Or “Quit ye like men.” What are they quitting about? Actually it means, “Be strong like men” (2 Cor. 16:13).
So here we have verses that people don’t even know what they mean and they say this is the Bible to be used. It’s a good Bible; it was very good in its day. It lasted for a long time, hundreds of years. It was beautifully translated, has beautiful poetry and rhythm to it. But it’s archaic and needs to be retranslated.

Ankerberg: Alright, realizing that, for the most part, a translator of the Greek text in 1611 would have chosen a different English word at that time than he would today, let’s go back to our debate with the scholars:

[excerpt]

Gipp: Well, one of the things, you know, he’s talking about updating English. And one of the things that’s been pointed out is, “Well, no doctrine has changed. No doctrine has changed.” The Bible is not just used to teach doctrine, it is used to preach righteousness.
An example of a real problem with the New King James is 2 Timothy 3:3, which says that “in the latter days men will be without natural affection.” The Greek is “without natural affection;” the King James Bible is “without natural affection.” “Without natural affection” is homosexuality. “Without natural affection” is child abuse. And “without natural affection” is a mother that can drive her children into a river, a lake and then get up and cry. “Without natural affection” is the animal rights crowd that is more worried about animals or trees than they are about unborn babies. NIV takes that and says, “Unloving” and the New King James says, “Without love,” or it may be switched—maybe “without love” and “unloving.” Well, “unloving” is not “without natural affection.”
Farstad: But it is the meaning of the Greek word.
Gipp: But it says, hey, mine says….
Farstad: Astorgos. Isn’t that right, Dan?
Gipp: Well, my Greek authority says, “Without natural affection.” Now, we have two….
Wallace: It refers to family love, familial love that members of a family would naturally have for each other.
Gipp: But you see…
Wallace: What is your Greek authority?
Gipp: The Greek authority I have….
Wilkins: Not to jump in and interrupt, but that’s what’s driving me nuts with the guys on the other side of the table here. They criticize—Riplinger among others—criticizes every lexicon out there as being “liberal” or “biased” or whatever. Yeah, I’d like to know what lexicons you use. If you criticize all of them, where do you get the words?
Gipp: Well, if you want to know the truth, I don’t go to a lexicon to change anything in the King James.
Wallace: So what is your Greek authority?
Gipp: Well, when I say Greek authority, I’m talking about for that, this is the Greek English New Testament Interlinear King James.
Wallace: That’s not a lexicon.
Gipp: No. And it says when I turn to that verse, right under there, “without natural affection.”
Ankerberg: But that means that somebody who wrote the Interlinear wrote the definition in there. What they’re asking is, where did that guy get his information? They’re saying, the way you get the lexicons is you look at the papyri, you look at all the books, you look at the ostraca, everything that was written at that time, and you catalog how the words were used by Jesus and the apostles. That becomes your dictionary. Just like Webster’s, okay? Now, if that’s how they used it, that’s your starting point. They’re saying, “Okay, that’s what the word means.” Now, the next thing, how do you get that over? If it has changed in terms of our culture, how do you say that same meaning in our cultural setting?

Ankerberg: Next, I want you to listen as we discuss, “How did God preserve Scripture?” Did He inspire the original New Testament writers? Of course. But why do people say that the King James translators in 1611 were inspired? How do they know this? If special inspiration is claimed for the King James Version translators in 1611, how about the translators of the New King James Version today, or even the translators of the NIV or NASB? This is a very interesting part of the debate. I’d like you to listen:

[excerpt]

Gipp: Alright, one of the things Jim said was that the King James reading, as it is, is in a very small minority, correct?
White: Extremely small, very late manuscripts. Yes.
Gipp: That is why I don’t stake my hope on the Textus Receptus. I can give you an example. Luke 14:5 says, “If a man have an ass or an ox and they fall into a ditch on the sabbath, would he not straightaway pull it out?” NIV, New American Standard, both say, “If a man have a son or an ox and they fall in a ditch.” And the “son,” that reading is TR. The King James in that point follows, I believe it’s Aland. What I’m saying is, I believe that when the King James translators sat in that room—not inspiration, because inspiration would have been starting with a blank sheet of paper—but I believe God led them to put in this book exactly what He wanted. And if He did that by letting them do it by one reading of one manuscript, I have no problem with it.
Wallace: That was a blank.
Ankerberg: Why would you say that, Dan?
Wallace: That was a blank. It may not be a blank sheet of paper, but it’s blank space in the text. So you may have micro-inspiration.
Gipp: No it’s not a blank sheet in the text. If you have two texts that read both ways and you make a choice, that’s not blank space.
Wilkins: What does that do to the King James preservation idea? Excuse me, but….
Gipp: That’s exactly what preservation is.
Wilkins: Well, you’ve been arguing for preservation of the Textus Receptus.
Gipp: No, no, no. I never said that. No, I said King James is the preserved we’ve got. I never said the Textus Receptus….
Wilkins: Well, so the Textus Receptus isn’t important, it’s just the King James?
Gipp: I believe the Textus Receptus is a better Greek text than the Alexandrian or the Nestle’s or the UBS.
Wilkins: Let me ask you, have you ever read the introduction or the preface to the original 1611 text?
Gipp: Oh, yes.
Wilkins: Everything that I’ve heard you and Joe say, basically, has been contrary to what the King James translators themselves say in their introduction.
Gipp: What you’re saying is, they didn’t claim inspiration, basically. Right?
Wilkins: They didn’t even talk about inspiration, they didn’t claim to be doing the perfect translation.
Gipp: Okay…
Wilkins: They said our translation is not perfect, and they anticipated criticism from other people before them who would say, “Why are you changing things? Why don’t you just go with the English translations we already have?”
Gipp: Right. Well, one of the things that they did say was that their translation would be maligned on two sides: one by popish persons—of course, that was talking about the Roman Catholic Church; or by self-conceited brethren that give liking to nothing but that which is hammered on their own anvil.
Wilkins: Like the people who did other English translations before them.
Gipp: Well, that’s a pretty good application, alright? The King James translators didn’t have to say, “What I’m giving you is inspired.” Caiaphas at one point in John prophesied that it was better for Jesus Christ to die for the nation than that the nation die. He did not say, “God told me.” It even says in the Bible, he didn’t know he was prophesying. So there’s a man that was being used of God to say something he had no idea he was doing.
Wilkins: So you know a lot more about whether it was inspired and perfect than the King James translators did. Is that right?
Wallace: That’s a pretty bad argument from silence. Good grief, the Geneva Bible translators didn’t say that—maybe they’re inspired; the NIV translators didn’t say it—but maybe they’re inspired.
Gipp: John 1, they came to John the Baptist. They asked him: “Are you the Christ?” “No.” “Are you a prophet?” “No.” “Are you Elijah?” “No.” That is an absolute “No.” He said, “I am not Elijah.” [John 1:20-21] You go to Matthew 11, Jesus Christ says of John the Baptist: “If you will accept it, this is Elijah which was foretold.” [Matt. 11:14] John said, “I am not Elijah,” Jesus Christ he was. He was not “reincarnated” Elijah, he was in the spirit and power of Elijah. Had they accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah in Matthew 11, that’s how the forthcoming of Elijah would have been fulfilled—through John the Baptist. John the Baptist was Elijah in spirit and power, but did not know it. He claimed, pointblank, “I am not.” Say what you want, that’s…
Wilkins: I’m saying what they said. And if we could raise them back from the dead right now, they’d be astonished to hear you say that. They’d probably “tar and feather” you.
Gipp: I imagine John the Baptist would have been astonished if someone walked up to him and said, “You are Elijah.”
White: But, Dr. Gipp, all of this is extremely circular. And I think we need to in fairness point out the fact that what you’re saying is not what Dr. Strouse has said in regards to preservation of the text. Dr. Strouse has said earlier on that Christians en masse have always believed this traditional text, and that’s where the basis of it lies.
But the problem is, there are a number of places in the King James text, Luke 2:22 to give you an example; you just said that those men who gathered in that room and were involved in the translation of the King James Version, that God somehow was doing something there. They didn’t say that; their contemporaries didn’t say that. This is something that has come along a lot later, and I think it’s very circular to just get into that argument. But to Dr. Strouse, what about places where those King James translators followed conjectural emendations?
Theodore Beza, for example, in Revelation 16:5 looked at the Greek text and all the Greek texts say the same thing, but he didn’t like the way it went. And so he changed the word “holy” to the future form of the verb “to be,” sort of, to make it nice and poetic and rhythmic. And your King James this day reads that way, even though there’s not a question about it on anyone’s part as to what that passage actually reads. Why should I take Theodore Beza’s conjectural emendation where he decides a reading on the basis of what he likes and say that the mass of Christians believe this when nobody before Theodore Beza ever had the idea that Revelation 16:5 read that way? Why should I believe that?

Ankerberg: Next week we’re going to continue this debate. Let me close by saying this. The 1611 King James Version is an accurate translation, especially for those who speak British English that was used in 1611. It is archaic for most of us today. And whether translators base their translation on the Textus Receptus or the earlier texts from Alexandria, Egypt, or of the western part of the Roman Empire, the scholars realize we have all of the biblical text and agree on 98% of it. There is only 1.5-2% which has variables that they disagree about. But none of them affect any essential Christian doctrine. You can trust your Bible. Now, next week you’ll hear the men debate the question: How was the Word of God preserved from the time of Jesus and the apostles down through history to us? I hope you’ll join me.

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