The King James Controversy Revisited – Program 5

By: Dr. Kenneth Barker, Dr. Don Wilkins, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Dr. James White, Dr. Samuel Gipp, Dr. Thomas Strouse, Dr. Joseph Chambers; ©2002
Given all the choices we have today, how can we decide with translation of the Bible is the best one for us to use? Should we choose based on accuracy? Readability? Tradition? Convenience? Availability?

How Do You Decide Which Translation To Use?


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. Today, our debate will center around a very practical question. What if you were in a congregation where they all used different translations of the Bible? Is that okay? Or should you leave that church? Are the different translations of the Bible so different that it would be wrong to associate with people who use the NIV, or the NASB, or the New King James translation? These are the questions I posed to the general editors of the new translations of the Bible and to three men who represent the King James Only position. I started with Dr. Thomas Strouse, who believes Christians should only use the Revised King James Version of 1769.

Ankerberg: Do you think that because Christians have different translations, that in a common church, that that is grounds for breaking fellowship and for that church splitting, because they’re not all reading the 1611 King James Version?
Strouse: No, I don’t think it’s grounds for splitting. I do believe, however, that it is the pastor’s responsibility to teach the Word of God to his people, and in doing that he’ll study the issue and then teach his understanding of the issue. So, from the practical point of view you’re going to have congregational reading; you’re going to have memorization; and these are all very practical considerations where you just have one translation.
So I think in the process of time the church is going to go with one translation. But I think the pastor has the responsibility of teaching. And it’s the local church whose responsibility it is to teach the Word of God. That’s why I’m opposed to dynamic equivalence and paraphrase and so on, because that’s really given to the layperson to understand on his own rather than being under the teaching of a local church.
Ankerberg: Sam, do you think that if the church members are not all using KJV 1611 that they ought to split?
Gipp: No. I never teach people to split. In fact, I even tell people, I taught my students, if a man gets up and preaches out of another version or corrects the King James, don’t you dare go down and get in his face after he’s done preaching. I don’t think that’s very good. I said, “If you want to talk to him about it, take him out to lunch; talk to him like a Christian.” I don’t believe in splitting a church over that. Now, I think there’s going to have to be a time when you are—you know, if you believe the King James Bible is the Word of God and you’re in a church where they’re using the NIV or something different—you are going to part fellowship at some point. I don’t mean individual fellowship. You may say, “Look, let’s still remain friends,” but I don’t know that you can remain under that ministry.
Ankerberg: Let me turn it around.
Gipp: Alright.
Ankerberg: Let’s say you have a church that has 1611 King James Version in it and you call a pastor and he comes and, Voila! He’s using the NIV.
Gipp: Alright, that would only happen under deceit. And again, that’s no reflection on the NIV being mentioned, because if a church believes the King James Bible is the Word of God, when someone comes to candidate, they’re going to say, “Do you believe the King James Bible is the Word of God?” If he said he did and got there and changed, that would have been deceit on his part.
Ankerberg: Yes, but if he wasn’t even asked the question and just came….
Gipp: Wouldn’t happen. Honest, John, it would not happen. The churches that believe the King James Bible….
Ankerberg: Hypothetically. Hypothetically, if it did happen.
Gipp: I think that he should leave. I think he has done wrong.
Ankerberg: And if he didn’t?
Gipp: Well, then you’re going to have to leave the church. I don’t believe you should run him out of town.
Ankerberg: Okay. Ken, you have the different editors of the different Bibles sitting right next to you. They’re your buddies. But you still prefer NIV. Art still prefers New King James. Don still prefers NASB. Does that break up your fellowship?
Barker: Not at all. In fact, I think all of us should maintain Christian fellowship. As I said before we went on the air, we’re going to have to live together in heaven. We’re trusting in the same Christ. And so we need to treat each other like brothers in Christ. When it comes to splitting churches, no; I don’t think this is an important enough issue to divide a church over.
However, I do think the time has come, probably now more than ever, when every individual church needs to decide, make some kind of official decision, decide what translation it wants to use, adopt that, put it in the pews, and use it for preaching, teaching, Scripture memorization, public reading, pews, etc., just to avoid some of the confusion that I think we are experiencing.

Ankerberg: But if church congregations should choose one translation for continuity and avoidance of confusion in the congregation when reading, preaching, teaching, etc., how should Christians go about picking one translation of the Bible over another? What criteria should they use? Dr. Kenneth Barker answers this question.

Barker: Now, when it comes to what translation they should adopt, my counsel frankly would be this—and you may be surprised to hear this from someone who is so closely identified with the NIV—but my counsel would be this: if you are convinced that the Textus Receptus, the Greek text that lies behind the King James and the New Testament, is the correct Greek text, then adopt the King James Version for your church. Or, if you prefer it updated in the modern English and so forth, then adopt the New King James Version.
On the other hand, if you believe that the Majority Text is the correct text to use in the New Testament, then I think definitely you should go with the New King James simply because it’s the closest. There is no translation of what is called a Majority Text. It doesn’t exist. But the closest is the New King James. And so, if that’s the text you believe in, I would say use that.
If you believe in what I call a reasoned, eclectic approach when it comes to considering the Greek text of the New Testament, by which I mean you do take into account all of the Greek manuscripts and papyri that have been discovered since 1611 when the King James translators did their work. You take that into account and give weight where you think it’s necessary, following accepted principles of determining the original text where you believe that the earlier texts point to a different text, and you want to go with that,. Then if you believe in a more literal, word-for-word type of translation, adopt an NASB. On the other hand, if you believe in a more middle of the road, mediating, balanced translation, then adopt the NIV. That would be my counsel, and I think if you practice that, no churches will be split.
Ankerberg: Alright. A lot of that is on practicality, Art, okay? Take the two spots yourself. One is theological. Obviously, you’re general editor of New King James. Could you sit in a church where the guy had the NASB or the NIV, or would you have to break fellowship? That’s number one. Number two, other practical things you might want to say.
Farstad: I wouldn’t break fellowship. In my years of preaching, when we started Christ Congregation, which Ken addressed, to introduce the NASB, we all used the NASB. But then I started studying textual criticism, as it’s called, and came to the conclusion that the Majority Text, not the TR as such, but it is similar, was the better text. We actually went back to the King James. Even though it was archaic, we felt that the text was more important. And then when the New King James came out, we’ve been using that. I would be uncomfortable to be in a church where everything was geared to a version that was not. But I’m not an average person. In other words, the average person hasn’t spent all this time in footnotes and everything. But I do agree with Ken’s view, and I do think it is a very good view about unity. If you need to use one text for memory work and the pulpit and everything, otherwise you get people not knowing what is the Bible, and it’s chaotic. So I agree with that.
Ankerberg: Alright. Why is it, Don, that most of the seminaries have chosen to use New American Standard?
Wilkins: Well, I think the New American Standard continues to be recognized, as Ken was just mentioning, as a literal translation, very word for word. And I think now what we have with the New American Standard, we’ve done an update on it already, so we’ve eliminated a lot of archaic words that probably didn’t need to be there. And we could have kept the literal text anyway. We’re very conservative in terms of the way we deal with the Greek text. We’re not eclectic. We still expect the best words or the best readings to be in the best manuscripts, and we operate that way.
And we have some other things that I identify as the mark of conservatism. For one thing, we don’t subscribe to Mark in priority—the theory that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke borrowed Mark, or took it and corrected it and so forth. And that’s become a very popular doctrine even in a lot of conservative seminaries and so forth. We reject that.
We hold to an independent view of the Gospels, and I think things like that are the reasons that it’s not only used in seminaries but in churches where there’s a lot of emphasis on the original languages and on a proper reading of it. And, hopefully, with an update, we’re going to have something more readable, too.

Ankerberg: Next, you’ll hear from Greek scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace, who is the author of Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Listen as he describes how he and other New Testament scholars compare thousands of different copies of the Greek New Testament and how they decide which phrase, sentence or word most likely goes back to the original writings of the apostles.

Wallace: Unlike Art, I started from the opposite perspective. I felt that the King James was about the best translation, and I held to that view for about 17 years. And then I studied textual criticism, got into the manuscripts. I’ve examined many of the best uncial manuscripts in the world firsthand and I’ve had a chance to spend hundreds of hours in this field. And I have since switched my views to a more reasoned, eclectic view where I would agree with the text behind these modern translations.
The fundamental principle of modern textual criticism is this: choose the reading which best explains the rise of the others. Now, that involves at least two things. It involves looking at the external data. The external data, of course, includes the Greek manuscripts, the non-Greek manuscripts, the Latin, the Coptic, the Ethiopic, all the rest. And it also involves looking at Church Fathers, what these ancient commentators had to say about the Greek New Testament. That’s external evidence. By choosing the best reading on external evidence, the earlier manuscripts would be preferred over the later ones. Even Dean Burgon himself acknowledged that. And so we want to look at the earliest manuscripts because you’re going to have less time for copying between the time of the original until you get to those early copies. Where they agree, we have no collusion. It’s very difficult to prove collusion because they disagree so often, and that would suggest that it goes back to the original.
You also have geographical distribution—very important principle. If I have the same wording in manuscripts in Italy and in Carthage and in Antioch, all in the second century—one in a church writer, one in a version, one in a Greek manuscript—and they all agree on the wording, it’s very difficult for us to say, “Gee, somehow these guys got together and put this together by collusion.” More than likely it goes back to a more common ancestor, namely, the original text. And so you’ve got geographical distribution in the early centuries; that’s the key. So you’ve got the external evidence.
You’ve also got internal evidence, and this involves two elements: What is the scribe most likely to have done? Scribes do things unintentionally; scribes do things intentionally. And one of the things we need to understand about these manuscripts is this: these were not done off of a typesetter. They were not done off of a Xerox machine. They were not done with computers. All these manuscripts are handwritten. And, consequently, a scribe comes along and he sees a manuscript in front of him. Here’s a marginal note, and he looks at it and he says, “‘The angel of the Lord went down and stirred up the waters,’ John 5:4. Is this part of the original text, or was this a comment on it?” How does he know? He always takes the safest route and he includes it in the text the next time around. And that’s how John 5:4 got into the Bible, for example. And so the text has grown with time. But these scribes, we have to look at, what is the scribe most likely to do? They’re more likely to add than to omit. And there’s other reasons why they do that as well.
Finally, you look at authorial usage. What is the author likely to have done? What is his context, his style, this kind of thing? And you look at the text in light of that.

Ankerberg: Next, I asked Dr. Dan Wallace to tell us why our English translations sometimes differ. As you will hear, there are two basic reasons. The first difference arises because of the Greek text upon which each English translation is based. But, remember, the differences in Greek copies, whether early or late, is minuscule. Because of the thousands of copies of the New Testament that have come down to us, we know we have 100% of the biblical text, and scholars agree on 98% of it. Whichever Greek manuscript you choose to start from, the words are almost identical to the others. But second, translations will sometimes differ because of the philosophy of translation that was used. For example, did the translators choose to translate word-for-word as literally as possible, or have they used a combination of literal and dynamic translation in trying to get across the meaning in our own language today? Dr. Wallace describes the process each of the translations chose to use.

Wallace: Well, in terms of the textual basis, the textual basis, the difference between New American Standard and NIV is minuscule. They have a difference in translation philosophy, not in terms of textual basis. In terms of the translation philosophy between the New King James and the New American Standard, it’s not that great of a difference. Their difference is in terms of the text.
So you’ve got these two issues at play here: What is the text? And what is the translation philosophy? Dynamic equivalence—I think Ken stated it quite well when he said dynamic equivalence is trying to start with the intention of the human author and get to the intention for the reader so he understands exactly what that biblical author meant in the first place, whether it has the same words or not. Formal equivalence is if you’ve got 17 words in Greek, you’re going to have 17 words in English. Actually, the worse translation on the market is a strictly “formal equivalent” translation. It happens to be the New World Translation, where they’re formal equivalent all across the board, except when it comes to their pet doctrines, like non-deity of Christ. And they say, “Gee, we’re going to go to dynamic equivalence.”
Ankerberg: New World Translation is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation.
Wallace: Right. So it’s got the worst of both worlds, in other words.
Ankerberg: Would you guys agree with that kind of assessment?
Farstad: Well, the formal thing is not that close.
Wallace: No, I realize that.
Farstad: Even the King James has a lot of rearranging of words to make it beautiful English. It would never have lasted…
Wallace: That’s not where it’s formal.
Farstad: Well, but it’s considered. You take the Luther Bible and the King James and so forth, they’re basically formal. They’re called formal. I’m not sure that’s a great term. And the NASB and the New King James are in that camp.
Wallace: All translations have to get away from formal equivalency.
Farstad: But to say 17 words, that’s going much further.
Wallace: No, what I’m saying is, if you take it in its purest form, some translation could be totally formally equivalent, it would do that very kind of thing. We who know two or three or ten languages know that that’s an impossibility. Even the King James when it reads in Matthew 1, “Mary was having it in the belly,” is what it says in Greek. They’re not going to translate it that way. “Mary was with child.” And the NIV does something a little different, and the New American Standard….
Barker: Let me give you another example of dynamic equivalence in the King James. All translations use dynamic equivalence.
Ankerberg: That’s right.
Barker: There is no question about that. They all use it.
Ankerberg: Even the 1611 King James.
Barker: For example, Isaiah 40, the King James says, “Comfort ye my people.” Well, the literal there in the Hebrew says, “Speak to the heart of my people.” Not even the King James translators thought that that would adequately communicate meaning to say, “Speak to the heart of my people.” So they said, “Comfort ye my people.” That’s a dynamic equivalent. So where the difference is is in the matter of degrees.
Wallace: And consistency.
Barker: Yes, degrees and consistency. And that’s why I pointed out three types of translations. Those that are perhaps most consistent on the formal equivalent side; those that are most consistent on the dynamic equivalent side, such as the Good News Bible; and those that are the most consistent in trying to be a mediating balance translation falling in the middle, such as the NIV.

Ankerberg: Let’s summarize what we’ve heard today. Any of the translations, such as the King James, New King James, NIV, or NASB, should be considered to be the word of God. Why? To the extent they accurately convey the text of the original autographs of the Bible, they are the word of God. The newer translations have cleaned up most of the scribal copying mistakes and are a hair more accurate. Again, from the thousands of Greek copies we can compare, scholars know we have 100% of the biblical text. And scholars also agree on 98% of the words: their arrangement, spelling, and punctuation in the biblical text. So churches should not divide over this question, and fellowship between Christians should not be disrupted because they choose, or don’t choose, to use the King James translation.
Well, then, how do you choose a Bible translation? If you want a literal word-for-word translation, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is the most literal. But the NASB is also kind of wooden. It doesn’t flow well. It’s not easy to memorize. This is where the NIV has stepped in. It’s more literary, flows better, and it’s also accurate. Further, the NIV and the NASB are both based on some of the earlier Greek texts. The New King James version is based on the Textus Receptus, just like the 1611 KJV. But many of the archaic English words have been replaced. It’s a good translation, has good style and is an accurate translation. Bibles like Living Letters or The Message are not word-for-word translations, but paraphrases; trying to convert the tone, the rhythm, the ideas, into the very way we actually think and speak. These are great for devotions, or for feeling the impact of the biblical message in contemporary terms, but they should not be used for accurate, precise study of the Bible. Next week, have the new translations made certain doctrines clearer, or deleted and changed doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity and hell? I hope you’ll join me.

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