God Blessing Bible Translations (White)

 I’ve mentioned James White’s helpful book on the King James only controversy here before.  I was recently thinking about Bible translations so I picked up this book again and found a helpful section on how God blesses translations of the Bible.  Thankfully in our day, we have many good translations and we don’t have to be “married” to one since all have some strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s how White put it when responding to a question that implied since the KJV has been blessed more than other translations we should use it alone:

God has indeed blessed the KJV, for which we can all be very thankful.  And I do not doubt for a second that he will continue to bless those who read it and obey it.  But God blessed the Septuagint too.  And the Vulgate.  And translations in dozens of different languages.  God has blessed the NASB, and the NIV, and many others.  God blesses those who seek his will and follow it.  Those who find his will in the NIV are just as blessed as those who find it in the KJV.  Limiting God’s blessing to a particular translation is historically untenable and spiritually dangerous.

Well said! I’m thankful for the KJV, but I’m likewise thankful for the NASB, the NLT, the [H]CSB, the NIV, the ESV, the Geneva Bible, and so forth.  I’m also thankful for the men and women who spent so much time and work to get good translations published.  I’ve been blessed by reading the NLT, by studying the NASB, by consulting the Geneva Bible, and by memorizing parts of the NIV.  I consider it a major blessing to have these helpful translations available!

The above quote is found on page 302 of The King James Only Controversy by James White.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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KJV and Orthodoxy

Unfortunately, some Christians view Bible translation preference and use as a test of orthodoxy.  Probably the most notable example is the KJV-Only view.  Years ago I met a person who doubted someone could “get saved” by using the NIV; this person also believed that the most conservative Bible-believing Christians used the KJV.  From Baptist churches to Reformed churches, some people sadly make Bible translation a major issue and refuse to budge an inch.

In light of this discussion, I appreciate James White’s The King James Only Controversy (which I’ve blogged on before here, here, and here).  White rightly notes that Bible translation preference and use is a matter of Christian liberty:

“The use of a particular English translation of the Bible should come from one’s study of the relevant issues and from one’s involvement in the local fellowship of believers.  Many factors can, and should, go into your decisions as you purchase translations.  Whether you like a more literal, formal translation or a more dynamic, free-flowing translation will impact your choices.  Study editions, companion volumes, concordances, even print style and size are all issues to take into consideration.  What translation is predominant in your local church is important as well, especially if you will be teaching or leading Bible studies.  But one thing that should never be a factor is intimidation.  You should never have to wonder if you are going to be accepted by others if you use an ESV rather than a KJV (or vice-versa).  Fellowship should never be based upon the English translation one carries and studies.”

“I firmly believe that if people wish to use the KJV, they should feel free to do so.  If they find its poetic form, its rhythmic beauty, to be preferable to ‘modern language,’ let no one be critical.  God made us all differently, for which we should be very grateful.  But while we are to be quick in granting this freedom to others, we cannot expect that it will be given by those who have joined the KJV Only movement.  For them this is not an issue of freedom but of doctrine, belief, and faith.  They often make the use of anything but the KJV an impediment to relationship with others.  That sharing in the gospel of Christ can be disrupted by such an issue should cause anyone a moment’s reflection, and more than passing concern.”

James White, The King James Only Controversy, p. 28-9.

shane lems

Circular Reasoning and KJV Only-ism

  (This is a slightly edited repost from February, 2013.)

One reason I do not buy into the KJV Only logic is because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis his; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

I highly recommend White’s book for those of you who are “KJV Only” and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

shane lems

Inconsistencies in KJV Only Reasoning

Baptist theologian James White’s book, The King James Only Controversy, is a great resource for those who want to study this topic.  I’ve referred to White’s book on this blog more than once, showing how the militant KJV only logic is neither historically nor logically sound.  Here are two more examples of this.

First, White notes that many militant KJV only advocates are opposed to textual footnotes and alternate readings in the non-KJV translations.  However, this position is unhistorical, since the 1611 KJV had a total of 8,422 marginal notes.

The 1611 KJV Old Testament marginal note breakdown is as follows: 4,111 notes express the more literal reading, 2,156 give alternate translations, and the rest give other notes.  The New Testament breakdown is as follows: 112 marginal notes express a more literal reading, 582 give alternate translations, the rest give other textual notes.  Here’s how White summarizes: “KJV Only works are filled with attacks upon the modern translations for noting that certain verses are not found in ancient manuscripts or that some manuscripts read differently, yet you will search these works in vain for the same denunciation of the KJV’s textual notes.  The inconsistency speaks volumes” (p. 123).

Second, another argument given by White is to ask the KJV only crowd this question: “Which KJV?” (p. 124-125).

“The KJV carried by the average KJV Only advocate today looks very different than the edition that came of Robert Barker’s press in 1611.  Not only do many printings of today’s KJV lack the marginal notes and references, but the form and the wording of the text has undergone change over time.  Editions with textual changes came out as soon as 1612 and again in 1613, followed by editions in 1616, 1629, and 1638.”

“Does the modern edition of the KJV differ significantly from the 1611?  That depends upon how one defines significantly.  For the general audience seeking merely to understand the KVJ’s textual tradition, no – most revisions have dealt with small matters of spelling, punctuation, etc.  But for those who assert the KJV’s absolute inerrancy, the question looms large: which KJV?  Note some of the changes that have taken place over the years as indicated by Scrivener: ‘The LORD’ to ‘the LORD thy God’ at Deuteronomy 26:1; ‘Manasseh’ to ‘the children of Manasseh’ at Joshua 13:29; ‘seek good’ to ‘seek God’ at Psalm 69:32; ‘inherit God’ to ‘inherit Gad’ at Jeremiah 49:1; ‘Thou art Christ’ to ‘Thou art the Christ’ at Matthew 16:16; ‘there is no man good, but one’ to ‘there is none good but one’ at Mark 10:18; ‘approved unto death’ to ‘appointed unto death’ at 1 Corinthians 4:9; and ‘hath not the Son’ to ‘hath not the Son of God’ at 1 John 5:12.”

“Are these changes important?  Surely they present a sticky problem for the radical KJV Only proponent.  How are textual changes like this to be handled? How can one determine the ‘right’ reading, when the KJV is made the absolute standard?  Of course, the non-KJV Only believer has recourse to Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  But once a person has invested the English translation with inspiration itself, that route is no longer a consistent option.”

White makes other solid arguments against the KJV only position in this book.  I realize that probably not all of our readers are interested in this topic, but if you’ve wrestled with this or discussed this with somebody, I highly recommend it: The King James Only Controversy.

shane lems
hammond, wi

KJV-Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty

One major desire of many KJV-Only groups is the desire for absolute certainty when it comes to Bible translation.  James White calls it “the argument for certainty” and says that it is “the glue that holds…KJV-Onlyism together.”  Many KJV-Only groups say that we must have absolute certainty in Bible translation; the KJV is the perfect translation, therefore we are absolutely certain it (and no other translation) is inspired and infallible.  “It is argued that unless we embrace the KJV as our final authority, we have no final authority at all and, hence, all is subjectivity and uncertainty.  People to not want subjectivity but desire certainty and clarity, and so we must hold to the traditional text” (White, 132).

White gives a helpful critique of the desire for absolute certainty.

“This argument is extremely powerful and should not be underestimated.  Many people fulfill their longing for certainty in religious matters by swearing allegiance to a particular leader or system.  For example, many Roman Catholics find the idea of an infallible pope very comforting, for when things get confusing they always can turn to a source of absolute authority.   In a similar way many Mormons look to their Prophet and Apostles in Salt Lake City, and Jehovah’s Witnesses look to the Governing Body at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn.  Others find a TV preacher or evangelist and, without stating it in so many words, invest him or her with some level of infallible religious authority.  The fact that groups offering this kind of trust-us-and-we-will-give-you-absolute-certainty-in-all-religious-matters system continue to attract followers and should tell us that the lure of complete certainty is strong indeed.”

“Protestants, however, should be quick to question any such notion. … As imperfect human beings we will make mistakes.  Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a glass darkly in this life.  There are things that are unclear, that are simply not as plain as they someday will be.  The KJV translators themselves said in their preface…, ‘As it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.’  Those who offer certainty beyond all questions, the translators would rightly say, are being presumptuous with God’s truth.”

“If we say that we can have no certainty regarding the biblical text unless we embrace the KJV (or the TR), we are only moving the questions one step back and hoping no one notices.  How can we be certain of the textual choices of Desiderius Erasmus, or Stephanus, or Theodore Beza?  How can we be certain that the Anglican churchmen who chose amongst the variant readings of those three men were themselves inspired?  Are we not in reality saying, ‘I must have certainty, therefore, without any factual or even scriptural reason for doing so, I will invest the KJV translators with ultimate authority’?  This truly is what KJV Only advocates are doing when they close their eyes to the historical realities regarding the biblical text (p. 133-134).

In the words of Scott Clark, this is the QIRC (the quest for illegitimate religious certainty): “…to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (Recovering the Reformed Confession, 39).  KJV-Only groups view the KJV as the “standard by which orthodoxy is measured” (ibid.).  This is a fundamentalist mindset rather than a Reformed one, since neither Scriptures nor the confessions clearly tell us which Bible translation to use.  Bible translation is a matter of wisdom, prayer, and Christian liberty, not standard-of-orthodoxy-absolute-certainty matter.  If you think about it, it isn’t hard to see how legalism and the QIRC go hand in hand.

The above quotes by James White are from King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

KJV Only-ism and Circular Reasoning

  At the outset of this post, I want to be clear: I’m not against the KJV.  However, for various reasons I am against the KJV Only mindset.  Here’s one reason: because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis mine; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

Later I’ll come back to White’s book, The King James Only Controversy.  For now, let me say I highly recommend it for those of you who are KJV Only people and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

Erasmus, the Greek NT, and the KJV

Front Cover One of the big names in the history of the Greek New Testament’s transmission is Desiderius Erasmus (d. 1536).  Our readers might know him as the man whom Luther debated in his excellent Bondage of the Will.   Something not quite as well-known is the fact that the NT in the KJV stands largely on Erasmus’ edition of the Greek NT.  The story goes like this (which is a summary of Bruce Metzger’s discussion on pages 100-103 of The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed.).

For the benefit of the church, Erasmus essentially wanted to publish a Greek New Testament along with his own Latin translation of it.  This, however, was more difficult that he thought it would be since he had a hard time finding proper manuscripts of the Greek NT.

Because Erasmus couldn’t find a single Greek NT manuscript, he used several.  The primary manuscripts he used were from (roughly) the twelfth century.  In fact, since he couldn’t find manuscripts for some parts of Revelation, he translated the old Latin Vulgate back into Greek.  These Latin-to-Greek translations, of course, have not been found in any old Greek manuscript; however, they still appear in many (all?) editions of the KJV and NKJV (i.e. certain words Rev 17:4, 22:16—21.  See also Acts 9:6).

When his work was finished – or nearly finished – someone pointed out to Erasmus that his Greek text didn’t contain the Trinitarian statement in 1 John (5:7-8 – ‘The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth.’).  Here’s how Bruce Metzger discusses this fact.

“Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text.  In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the ‘Comma Johanneum’,’ as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage.”

“At length such a copy was found – or was made to order!  As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Fransiscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate.  Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him” (p. 101).

“…Thus the text of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament rests upon a half-dozen miniscule manuscripts.  The oldest and best of these manuscripts (codex I, a miniscule of the tenth century, which agrees often with the earlier uncial text) he used least, because he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text!  …Subsequent editors, though making an umber of alterations in Erasmus’ text, essentially reproduced this debased form of the Greek Testament.  Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholarly efforts to displace it in favour of an earlier and more accurate text” (p. 103).

To read the rest of this fascinating story of the Greek NT’s transmission, you’ll have to get Metzger’s book.  Be aware that it is not light and easy reading; it is a seminary level resource (and even dry in some places).  However, if you want to be knowledgeable in this area, The Text of the New Testament is one book you’ll have to get.  It is worth the effort.  (Note: I saw there is a fourth revised edition of Metzger’s book.  I’m not referring to that one here – I’m referring to the third edition.)

shane lems