The King James Controversy Revisited – Program 4

By: Dr. Kenneth Barker, Dr. Don Wilkins, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Dr. James White, Dr. Samuel Gipp, Dr. Thomas Strouse, Dr. Joseph Chambers; ©2002
Biblical scholars claim that we can know with certainty what God intended to tell us through the Bible. But given the lack of original manuscripts, how has His message been protected and passed on all these years?

How Did God Preserve His Word?


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. The question we’re going to examine today is, “How did God preserve His Word down through the years after it was first written?” The King James Only advocates assume that God did this by either preserving the Textus Receptus, that is, the Greek text from which the King James Version was translated, or by inspiring the translators as they wrote the 1611 English King James Version itself. They then believe that those who do not agree with their view do not believe in the preservation of the Scriptures. But that is not true.
The King James Only folks ignore any idea that suggests God could have preserved the biblical text in a different way than by inspiring the 1611 King James translators. What other way is there? It is this: When the original writers of the New Testament wrote their letters and books, they were copied by other Christians and taken to the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in a relatively short time. When those copies arrived in the different geographical areas, they were copied again. In a very short time, the text of the New Testament exploded across the Roman world.
Because the New Testament books were written at different times, quickly copied, and widely distributed as soon as they were written, there was never a time when any one man or any group of men could gather up all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in them. Nobody could have cut out the words concerning the deity of Christ or inserted some foreign doctrine or concept into the text. By the time anyone did obtain great ecclesiastical power in the name of Christianity, entire texts of the New Testament were already being read in different parts of the Empire and some were already buried in the sands of Egypt, out of the reach of anyone trying to alter them.
How do we know no one altered the New Testament text? It’s because we can compare Greek copies buried in Egypt in the year 200 with other Greek copies that originated in another geographical area a thousand years later. Examining them now, we can see they are nearly identical.
Today, there are more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts that have been recovered. They indicate we have 100% of the biblical text that was written. Scholars only debate about 1.5-2% of the entire biblical text. Further, concerning this 2% that is debated, scholars on all sides assure us that no variation in the words, punctuation or spelling alter or change any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Since that is what the evidence shows, I believe God has preserved His Word by giving us multitudes of copies which allow us to compare the texts and realize they have not been tampered with.
Now, with this as background, let’s go to the debate with the general editors of the NIV, the New King James, and the New American Standard Bible and listen as they describe how they believe God preserved the transmission of His Word:


Ankerberg: Let’s talk about the preservation. James, I think you had some good ideas in your book in terms of preservation coming down. Why didn’t God just let the Ten Commandments on stone continue? Why don’t we have it today? I mean, that would be great proof right there. He didn’t. Why? Because what did they do in the Old Testament?
White: They would try to worship it.
Chambers: They would worship it.
Ankerberg: They would worship it. Now, I think that that’s a pretty strong argument for not having these originals in somebody’s hands, because we would either worship them or somebody could distort those.
White: That is what I believe is one of the most beautiful aspects of God’s graciousness in preserving the Scriptures for us. You see, we keep saying it’s not a matter of one side believing the preservation of Scripture and the other side not, it’s an issue of how the mechanics of that happening. I believe God has preserved Scripture, but it is “how”? Did He do so by, for example, having one religious group in one religious area grab hold of the text and hold the originals, or something like that? Well, if they did, then we wouldn’t know whether at some point in time in history those individuals decided to change things, to delete doctrines, add doctrines. That would not give us any certainty at that point because our certainty would then be attached to the fidelity of those people who have always been in control of it.
Instead, what I believe God did, as I said, as soon as the New Testament was written, people believed everyone needs to hear about Jesus. And therefore the manuscripts go everywhere. And it’s not limited to, “Well, how good in your handwriting?” No, if you want a copy of our letter that came to us here at the church at Ephesus, you go ahead and make that copy and take it with you to Alexandria—since everybody traveled through Alexandria, it was as very busy port—you take it to Italy; you take it to Greece; you take it everywhere you want to take it. That’s fine.
Now, that means that we have manuscripts going everywhere. And very quickly, many of them are buried in the sands. They are out of reach of anyone grabbing them and changing things and deleting the deity of Christ or deleting the resurrection or whatever else. And they’re locked away. And if someone does try—no one ever had the opportunity—but if someone did try in the Medieval period: “Let’s gather up all the New Testament texts and let’s take justification by faith out of the Bible,” they never had the opportunity to do it. It was not within the capacity of man to corrupt the Scriptures in that way.
Now, what is the byproduct of that means of getting the Scriptures out to everyone? Textual variation. That is the byproduct. But the Scriptures have been preserved; the doctrines have been preserved; it is there for us. And I honestly think that if we sit down and we use the tremendous tools and skills that God has given to us, then we are able to very, very clearly understand that.
Ankerberg: Let me give you an illustration that I think will help the people. Let’s say that I go into a classroom that has 100 teenagers. And I give them the Gettysburg Address, alright? The Gettysburg Address is airtight. That’s your original. And I say, “I want you all to go into 100 different rooms and I want you all to copy it. Then I want you to give me the original,” and I throw all those away. Now, I take those 100 copies from those 100 kids and the fact is, they’re all different. I got my “A” students, my “B” students, my “C” students and then my friends, see? Some of them will misspell words. Every teacher knows. Some of them won’t put the punctuation in the same spot. They’re copying it and they don’t copy it correctly. Some will skip a line. They’ll do all the things that have happened in ancient history.
Now, the question is, with 100 different ones—knowing who the “A” students are, the “B” students and my friends are—the fact is, can we come back to the original Gettysburg Address? Or how close can we come? Some people would say, “You don’t have the originals ,so you don’t know what Lincoln said.” Well, I’m saying with 100, and comparing them, they’re not all going to make the same mistake in the same spot.
White: Exactly.
Ankerberg: Okay? And the “A” students are going to start tipping me off how you spell the words and put the punctuation in. Run with that a little bit.
Wallace: John, I’d like to run with that if I could. I’ve done that very thing with my students approximately 35 times. We do a little project called “The Gospel According to Snoopy,” and I take it from an ancient apocryphal work. I won’t even mention what it is. It’s something that is distasteful to them and each of them has different instructions. Some of them are told, “Change this for theological reasons.” Others, “You’re a slob; you’re in a hurry; skip a few words.” And then we throw the early generations of manuscripts away, we end up with 17 manuscripts that are several generations removed. None of them at all look like each other. And these students say, “There’s no way we’re going to get back to the original.” The nice thing is, I have the original. And so when they work on this whole process, through the normal means of textual criticism—I’ve done this, as I said, 35 times—they have come back to that original wording every single time within one word. And that one word that is missing is either “also” or “too.” Now, that shows you something about actually doing this, that we’ve talked about theoretically. I’ve done that many, many times.

Ankerberg: Next, let’s talk a little bit about the Greek copies of the New Testament that have come down to us. During our debate, you have heard the King James Only scholars argue that the copies of the New Testament that were found around Byzantium, or the Constantinople area, are the best, most accurate copies: these were the ones that were preserved by God. King James Only folks do not like copies of the New Testament discovered around Alexandria, Egypt. Why? They point out that there are more Byzantine copies than Alexandrian copies, or even copies that originated in the western part of the Roman Empire or any other geographical area. Further, they argue that from this large number of Greek manuscripts from Byzantium—called “The Majority Text” because they were the most numerous—came the Textus Receptus from which the English 1611 King James New Testament was translated. So King James Only people believe that the Byzantine texts must be the best, most accurate, most preserved texts.
But, here’s the problem with their thinking. Look at this chart. The width of the bar indicates the number of Greek manuscripts that existed during each of the first nine centuries. Notice in the second century that the number of manuscripts that existed around Alexandria, Egypt, were a lot more in number than those existing in the western Roman Empire, and there were no Byzantine texts at all. In the third century, the Alexandrian texts were still in the vast majority, and there were only a couple of western texts, but still no Byzantine texts at all. In the fourth century, the Greek copies of the New Testament from Alexandria are still the most numerous, and therefore the majority text of the New Testament at that time. Only in the fifth century do we have the first manuscripts appearing from the Byzantium area. And it is not until you reach the ninth century that you find more copies of the Byzantine texts in existence than those from Alexandria. So, it is a fact that the Alexandrian text was the majority text, the one most people used all the way up to the ninth century. [[Image:]]
Now, why is that important? In general, it is because scholars have noticed that the Alexandrian copies of the New Testament are more concise than the Byzantine text. If you read the Byzantine text, you’ll notice they are fuller, that is, they have more words in certain places. Why is that significant? It’s because most scholars see the Alexandrian copies of the New Testament as representing an earlier and therefore a more accurate form of the biblical copies than the later Byzantine copies. Yes, there are a larger number of Byzantine copies that exist today, but they date from the latter part of the ninth century all the way to the fifteenth century.
Why is it that so many Greek copies of the New Testament originated from Byzantium during those years? First, within a few centuries after the writing of the Greek New Testament, remember that Latin superseded Greek as the language of the people across most of the Roman Empire. Bible copies that had been translated into Greek so people could read them were now being translated into Latin for the same reason. As a result, there were fewer Greek copies made.
Second, the rise of Islam had an impact on the number of Greek copies being made and where they were being made. As Muslims invaded Palestine, then North Africa, and finally, all the way into Spain and southern France, this stopped the copying of any Bibles in many of these areas. The only geographical area that was left which continued to speak and write Greek was the area under the control of Constantinople, also known as Byzantium. These people struggled and withstood the Muslim attacks all the way up to the fifteenth century. It was Christians in Byzantium who continued to write and use Greek all through these years. That’s why there are so many Greek copies from Byzantium that came into existence during the ninth to the fifteenth century.
Now, the question is this: If the King James Version is based on only six Greek Byzantine manuscripts which were copied around the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, whereas the NIV and the NASB are based on Greek copies that were made back about 200 AD in the Alexandria, Egypt, area, which Greek copies do you think are going to be the most accurate? Which family of manuscripts would you base your English translation on today?
Well, this is the question that our scholars will address next. The King James scholars, as you will hear, will argue for the many copies from the latter times when Byzantium copies came into existence. They are called the Majority Text because there are so many of them; whereas, the new translations base their text on some of the earlier copies of the New Testament discovered down in Alexandria, Egypt, and other areas.


Ankerberg: I’d like to go back to this thing of, how did God preserve the text. If we admit that there were certain guys that were scribes that got some of those copies and they were professionals so they did a good job, but there were other guys that were slaves and just people that were ordinary people that copied it just for their own use, and those, too, have come down, but they weren’t copied as accurately, alright? So now we have these things that we’ve collected, okay? We’ve got these tons of manuscripts that are there. And we have come and we have said, “We are going to go back and find the Word of God,” if you want. Now, in one of the programs you said that even if we take all of this material, how much are we disagreeing on?
Barker: In the New Testament, less than 2%.
Ankerberg: Let’s talk about the preservation. Sam, you and Joe, and, Tom, you can jump in. You differ a little bit. The fact is, you have picked out in this line coming down from the original autographs, all of a sudden you’ve pulled out of all of these documents that went across the Roman Empire, the fact is, you pulled out this tray right here and said, “Voila! These are the ones we’re going to look at,”okay? Are you saying that God didn’t preserve the ones that went to Ethiopia; that went up to other parts of the Roman Empire? And just this strain, and these guys up until that point didn’t have accurate information?
Gipp: I am saying that the Lord preserved the Word of God in the King James Bible for the work of taking the Gospel around the world. I think it is undeniable that during the reign of the King James Bible… I say “reign,” I would say up till about the 20th century because it’s really been since 1901. I know the 1884. But since 1901 has been the real… and it has been an attack on the King James. It’s not been innocent. Every new Bible that comes out is just about always, you know, compared or saying it’s better than the King James. I think we’ve seen during that period of time missions go around the world. I think we’ve seen the greatest mission movement of the world.
Ankerberg: You’re not answering my question, though, Sam. The fact is, before the 1611, between Jesus and the apostles and 1600 years later, you not only had the Byzantine family, but you had the Western family, you had Egypt, you had Antioch. The fact is, all of these different areas had documents. And Latin was the one that was translated by Jerome first.
Gipp: John, this will set these guys on fire, but I reject Alexandria because the Bible rejects Alexandria. Again, using the Bible as a final authority, Egypt is never presented in a positive light. The word Alexandria appears four times in Scripture: The first time is Acts 6—it’s Alexandrians that helped kill Stephen; the second time is Acts 18—it is associated with heretical doctrine; Acts 27 and 28, in those two places it’s just a ship that takes Paul up to Rome….
Ankerberg: But didn’t Athanasius come out of there. And didn’t we get some of the greatest….
Gipp: Adding to this, in Acts 11, it is very evident that the New Testament Church moved its headquarters to Antioch, to Syria, starting with Acts 11:19. Up to that point it says they preached in Jerusalem.
Ankerberg: Does that mean that God couldn’t preserve documents to go into that dark part of the world and that the information that was preached to the people in Egypt was still good stuff?
Gipp: John, you asked me what I thought.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Gipp: I believe it went to Syria. I believe the New Testament Church moved its headquarters to Syria. I believe that is where you’re going to find the pure text. When I write off Alexandria, I write off the Alexandrian-based Scriptures….
Wallace: Frankly, this is a bait and switch technique, as well. Kurt Aland has pointed out that even though some of these manuscripts ended up in Egypt, we don’t know where they started.
Gipp: We didn’t know where they came from.
Wallace: We happen to have these papyri that are in the sands of Egypt just because the climate is dry enough we still have them. We don’t know where they started from.
Gipp: Dan, that’s the bait and switch. You’ve just moved…
Wallace: No.
Gipp: Yes.
Wallace: Let me explain how it’s not. We have at least three papyri that belong to the Western text type, but they’re found in Egypt. But they don’t start there. We have another one that is proto-Caesarean, P-45. It ends up in Egypt, but it doesn’t start there. We do not know where Alexandrian [family] came from. We do not know where Vaticanus came from. We do not know where Sinaiticus came from.
Gipp: What’s their text?
Wallace: It happens to be Alexandrian, largely. That’s a name we’ve given it.
Gipp: Okay.
Wilkins: That’s only called Alexandrian to identify where it happened to be located now.
Gipp: I understand.
Wallace: We have Church Fathers that we know did not live in Egypt that used what we call the Alexandrian text.
Chambers: Since there were no Alexandrian, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in the hands of the Church until approximately 1800, or at least not used in the translation of the Greek,….
White: Even Erasmus desired to use Vaticanus.
Chambers: You have at least from 200 until 1881 that the Church in its Received Text made no allowance for your Alexandrian text.
White: That’s not true. That’s not true.
Chambers: Well, actually 1600 years, they did not have the real text.
White: Untrue. Totally untrue.
Ankerberg: James, let….
White: Dr. Wallace has an example of why it’s untrue.
Wallace: Once again, as I’ve said over and over again, an ounce of evidence is better than a pound of presumption. When you talked about the Alexandrian text and “nobody’s had it for centuries,” here’s the actually data of the extant manuscripts that we know exist of Greek in the first nine centuries. [See previous chart.] The width of this bar indicates how many manuscripts we had. In the second century, by golly, the Alexandrian are in the majority because there are no Byzantine. In the third century, they’re in the vast majority. We have a couple of Western. You get to the fourth century, now we still have a majority of Alexandrian, a couple of Western, no Byzantine. Only in the fifth century do we have any Byzantine manuscripts at all in existence today. It’s not until you get to the ninth century where the Byzantine texts that we have become in the majority. Now you tell me, is this going to tell the same story that you just said: that the Alexandrian text was never in the majority? It was in the majority for the first nine centuries.
Chambers: That’s not the question I asked. If it disappeared, if the Alexandrian manuscript disappeared, out of circulation, out of the received text, didn’t affect the Reformation, didn’t affect John Wesley, didn’t affect all of those great men, and only in 1881 when Westcott and Hort brought it back, put it back in the text, you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of years that the world didn’t have the true text. And yet it was the greatest years of Reformation and revival there’s ever been.
White: You hold to the TR [Textus Receptus]. You do believe that the Greek language texts are important, that they are the basis upon which the King James is translated. And, in fact, the locus of preservation would be in the TR in the original languages and not in the English translation. In light of that, please tell me, when you have a reading in the TR—Dr. Wallace has identified 1838 differences, as I recall, between the TR and the Majority Text—when you have a reading in the TR, like Luke 2:22, like Revelation 16:5, that has either no or almost no manuscript support whatsoever, when you’re up against the entire Byzantine Text of families, how can you maintain that that is the superior text, if you do?
Strouse: Well, I don’t have a specific answer to that, but I do know that millions of Christians for 400 years have accepted the reading. And we can’t say that these are dolts and the textual critics.
Wallace: And again, that’s like saying 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. Where is it written that preservation means the majority must have it right? I think the way God normally works is to work through the remnant, doesn’t He, not through the majority.
White: Dr. Strouse, up until the time of Luther, everyone’s Bible said, paenitentiam agite, do penance. Luther looked at the Greek and he looked at metanoiata and he went, “Boy, to repent is different than to do penance. The argument you just used for 400 years millions of Christians had thought paenitentiam agite was a great thing. Doesn’t that mean that Luther was wrong to point out that repentance means something other than doing penance? No, obviously not.

Ankerberg: Next week we’re going to continue with this debate, but let me close with this. Many times you will hear proponents of the King James Version say that the Textus Receptus, the Greek text upon which the 1611 King James Version was based, was the text of the Reformation and the Reformers like Luther and Calvin. But we must point out that this is not a matter of the Reformers rejecting other text types such as the Alexandrian or Western manuscripts; rather, it is a simple fact that many of these early texts had not yet been discovered. The Reformers did not have the option to research, study and compare other texts, because they didn’t have them.
But if they had been given that opportunity, there is ample evidence they would have used the same modern textual techniques current-day scholars use. For example, in 18 different places John Calvin rejected the reading of the Textus Receptus in favor of other manuscript readings that he had compared. Further, when we learn that the Greek word for “repentance” had been mistranslated in the Latin Vulgate to “penance,” and Luther went back to the Greek text to change this, it shows us it is the right thing to compare texts and correct words where the evidence indicates God originally had the authors write something else.
Again, please keep in mind that we have one Bible. And whether scholars of the New King James Version go back and use the Textus Receptus as their basis, or the NIV and NASB use the eclectic approach in going back to the earlier Alexandrian and western texts, whichever way they do it, we come out with 100% of the biblical text. Ninety-eight percent of the text is accepted by all. The other 2% affects no essential doctrines or teachings. If the text is basically decided, then the real issue is conveying the message of the Greek and Hebrew into the English we use today. Next week, the editors of the new translations will tell you how they went about doing that. I hope that you’ll join me.

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