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A Study on the KJV (Part 1) - History

On Wednesday I began teaching a four-part series at our home church on the King James Version (KJV). I will share a couple thoughts from each of the four lessons on this blog over the next few weeks as I teach the series. There is a lot of information that has been published both in print as well as on the internet about this subject so I do not wish to write a treatise to exhaust the topic or enter a debate.

The Importance of the Bible Issue

When I worked as an engineer I shared an office with a brother in Christ who was in partial retirement. He witnessed to coworkers and business associates, ministered at the county jail as well as a food mission in downtown Dayton, and he was a Gideon concerned with getting the Bible into the hands of whoever would take it. He was also convinced that the New International Version (NIV) was the right Bible for him.

I know a pastor of a southern Baptist church who is passionate about the gospel and sincerely desires to see God move in his life as well as those he ministers to. He preaches from the English Standard Version. By his conversation and life it appears he loves the Lord more than some folks I know who hold fast to the King James Version.

Given that there are many people like the two individuals above who love the Lord and desire to serve Him one might ask why is there a controversy over which Bible people read and use? Why is this an important issue?

1. The Bible issue is important because it is important to God.

In Psalm 138:2, David connects worship with the truth of God’s word when he writes, “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” The Lord Jesus Christ also connected worship with truth in John 4:24 and then later defines what truth is by saying, “thy word is truth” in John 17:17. So which version of the Bible is the word of God in truth, and should be the basis for our worship (not the object of our worship), since there are significant doctrinal differences between the KJV and Bible versions published in the last 120 years?

We also see in Psalm 138:2 God has highly exalted His word. The name of God is “exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh. 9:5) and yet the second half of verse 2 in Psalm 138 tells us that God magnifies that which He has committed to writing, His word, above His own name. [The Bible uses a capital “W” for the incarnate Word (Lord Jesus Christ) not the spoken or written word of God, as found here with a lowercase “w”]. God Himself is compelled by His nature, that which His very name declares, to fulfill what He has sworn to do – He is obligated to fulfill that which is found written in His word. That is why Peter wrote that the scriptures are “more sure” than God speaking from heaven because verbal statements are not binding, they cannot be proven like written words (see 2 Peter 1:16-21 in the KJV).

The Bible issue isn’t a matter of which version you prefer – it’s a matter of finding which Bible God prefers, or magnifies, and the one He considers to be His pure words that He promised to preserve.

“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” Psalm 12:6,7

2. The Bible issue is important because scripture is a revelation of God.

God reveals Himself in other ways, like nature, but in the scriptures alone God’s revelation of Himself is found unobscured. The Lord Jesus said in John 5:39, “Search the scriptures… they are they which testify of me.” That the Sovereign God of creation has revealed Himself in the Bible is acknowledged by many earnest Christians but the question remains – which Bible? My coworker said the various versions used different words to describe the same truth but I would counter that things different are not the same. For instance, there is a difference between the words “son of the morning” (KJV) and “morning star” or “Day Star” (NIV, NASB, ESV) in Isaiah 14:12. The context of this passage is Satan’s fall from heaven. The KJV rightly describes Lucifer to be the “son of the morning.” The other versions make Jesus Christ, who is called the “morning star” in Revelation 22:16 and “day star” in 2 Peter 1:19, fall from heaven in Isaiah 14.

3. The Bible issue is important because we are to live by every word of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 4:4, “That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” We are to live by every word of God – not thoughts, not ideas, not concepts – every word. Every single word, tense, and phrase is structured to convey precise meaning. Lawyers draw up contracts with precise words; legislatures draft laws on the same principles; diplomats convey their nation’s positions with concisely worded documents that effectively communicate across language and culture differences. The use of a particular word, which conveys particular nuance of meaning, can speak volumes; therefore words are parsed closely for subtly of meaning. Would God be less precise and less careful with the words of life than man is with legal documents, laws, and treaties?

The New International Version has over 60,000 less words than the King James Bible – that is for every 11 words in the KJV there is one word missing in the NIV. How can a person that reads an NIV live by every word of God when so many of those precious words are missing in that version?

4. The Bible issue is important because the Bible is to be our final authority.

Peter wrote in the fourth chapter of his first epistle, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” The “oracles of God,” Paul tells us in Romans, are the scriptures. When a Christian speaks, in order to minister to someone, he should speak what the scriptures say about a matter. How is a man to “speak as the oracles of God” when he has over 120 conflicting versions of what the scriptures say?

Modern versions are founded on a naturalistic New Testament textual criticism which ignores or denies the special, providential preservation of the holy scriptures. Hence if you use these modern versions, you never can be sure that you have the true New Testament text. Even worse, you cannot be sure that the original New Testament scriptures were infallibly inspired. For if God has not preserved these scriptures down through the ages by His special providence, why would He have infallibly inspired them in the first place? How can you be sure that you have the true New Testament text?

Since those that use modern versions do not have a final authority and every word that God wants them to have, their preachers usually provide devotional sermonettes. They reveal the “authority” of their opinion when they say things like, “a better translation would be…”, “it’s unfortunate the King James translates it as…”, “the ‘original’ Greek says…” How can a minister preach with conviction “thus saith the Lord,” when the very ‘bible’ he uses keeps reminding him that he cannot be sure God said it. After all, who really wants a preacher to preach with authority (Matt. 7:29; Mk. 1:22)?

When it becomes apparent to the Christian that his modern ‘bible’ is often the product of opinion, he must naturally conclude that he is entitled to his own opinion. Who says he cannot have “his religion” his way. Should we be surprised then to see such rife disregard for Biblical standards in churches today?

I have the scriptures in English; they are called “the Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments translated out of the original tongues… the Authorized King James Version.” I have the authority of the One who taught “having authority” and who was given His authority by God the Father; He is the “author and finisher of our faith” and He has placed His stamp of authority on the King James Version in a way that He has not placed it on any other book in history.

5. The Bible issue is important because Satan aims at corrupting the word of God.

Satan is a counterfeiter that desires to be worshipped as god (Lk. 4:6,7). He has his own apostles (2 Cor. 11:13-15), his own prophets (2 Pet. 2:1), his own Messiah (the Antichrist), and his own bride (Rev. 17). It is naive to believe that he would leave the Bible alone. Satan attempted to corrupt the word of God as it was being written. Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God.” His attacks on the word of God did not die out with the apostles.

To counterfeit something means to imitate or copy closely especially with the intent to deceive. Where are Satan’s counterfeit “bibles” to be found? The Bible issue isn’t really about updating the “archaic” language of the KJV. It’s about purity verses corruption of scripture.

Older But Not Better

As the New Testament scriptures were written and received copies were made to be distributed to other believers. The original autographs from the pens of the apostles are no longer in existence but a stream of copies has passed through each generation carrying with them the inspiration of God (see 2 Timothy 3:15,16 in the KJV – the scriptures Paul said Timothy had read “from a child” were copies, not the original autographs from the pens of Moses and David, and those copies Paul considered to have the “breathe of God,” His inspiration, on them). God allowed the original autographs to pass off the scene because their only value was their words, which He preserved through copies.

As early congregations grew in the four distinctly Christian areas of the Roman Empire their copies of scripture (manuscripts) began to reflect the unique style and peculiar readings of their location, this is known as text-type. Just as children bear the genetic and physical characteristics of their parents, so did these manuscripts continue their own distinctive stylistic markings. These difference enable one to categorize specific manuscripts according to their text-type, i.e. Antiochan (Syrian) and Alexandrian (Egyptian). The other two families of manuscripts from Italy and Palestine (Western and Caesarean) are really offshoots of Alexandrian manuscripts.

95% of all existing Greek manuscripts belong to the Antiochan (or Byzantine) family. They were faithfully preserved by the Bible believers of the Byzantine region, which included Antioch, Syria. These manuscripts agree closely with each other and are the basis of what is known as the Textus Receptus or Received Text, the Greek text underlying the King James Version. Most of the New Testament was either written or received in this part of the world and the believers took a literal approach to scripture – the Bible means what it says and says what it means and there is no reason to change it. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD Eastern Greek scholars flooded Europe taking along their Greek manuscripts with them. This God honored line of Greek majority manuscripts, along with various early translations from missionary outreach, were used by the King James translators to publish the Authorized Version (KJV) in English in 1611.

Only 5% of all existing Greek manuscripts belong to the Alexandrian family. They not only disagree significantly with the Antiochan manuscripts but also with each other. They form the basis for all Roman Catholic “bibles” as well as the versions translated in the last 120 years, i.e. NIV, NASB, ESV, etc. The scholars in Alexandria took an allegorical approach to scripture – the Bible is subservient to “scholarship” and can be corrected. The theological school in Alexandria, brought into prominence by Origen Adamantius (185-284 AD), elevated Greek philosophy and was influenced by gnosticism.

Gnosticism was a heretical belief system that had begun to develop in the last half of the first century. It attempted to mix previously failed philosophies with the new religion of Christianity. Gnostics believed that all matter was inherently evil; which naturally left them confused how a good God could manifest himself in human flesh. As early Christians began to explore the Gnostic heresy, the clear revelation of Jesus Christ given to them in scripture became so confused that the apostles themselves were forced to address the whole business in writing (see 1 John 2:18,19; 4:1-3 in the KJV). When the apostles died, the Gnostics (along with other heretical factions) began making their most serious moves to destroy the faith by corrupting scripture. Polycarp’s disciple Irenaeus denounced the gnostic beliefs of one Marcion the Heretic by writing that Marcion “mutilates the gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most clearly confessing the Maker of this universe is His Father.” It was this perversion of scripture that was continued by Origen in Alexandria as he deliberately changed the word of God to suit his own confused philosophies. Again, these corrupt Greek manuscripts are the basis for the “bibles” translated in the last 120 years, i.e. NIV, ESV, NASB, etc. One can see the gnostic attacks on the deity of Christ in verses such as 1 Timothy 3:16, Philippians 2:6 and even subtly in Matthew 24:36 where the personal possessive “my father” (KJV) is changed to just “the father” (NIV, NASB, ESV) and in Ephesians 3:14 where “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (KJV) is changed to just “the Father” (NIV, NASB, ESV), to name just a few.

In 1481 a very old Greek manuscript (Vaticanus) was discovered lying dormant on a shelf of the Vatican library – before the 19th century no scholar was allowed to study it. In 1844, another Greek manuscript (Sinaiticus) was discovered in a wastebasket in St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Both of these manuscripts are connected to Origen’s corrupt manuscripts. In the late 1880’s the intellectual community of England was startled by the discovery of these two 4th century Greek manuscripts. They received immediate preeminence as a result of their being several hundred years closer to the original autographs than the oldest manuscripts available to the King James translators. Two scholars named Westcott and Hort prepared a Greek text based on Vaticanus and Sinaiticus which was put into the hands of liberal theologians who made great allusions to it as “the best Greek text” and “the earliest and best manuscripts.” They were anything but “the best.” Dean Burgon noted about Vaticanus and Sinaiticus that they were preserved “solely to their ascertained evil character.” They published the Revised Version in 1881 and so began a flood of “bible” versions to the tune of over 120 since 1901.

Although Alexandrian manuscripts are older than Antiochan, they are not better; there are several reasons why extant Alexandrian manuscripts have survived longer than their Antiochan counterparts…

  • The Egyptian climate was more conducive to manuscript preservation than the Syrian

  • Persecution of Antiochan Christians was more protracted and intense. The pagan Roman emperor Diocletian persecuted the churches in Asia Minor; any manuscripts that were found in churches were publicly burned. The number of manuscript witnesses are weaker prior to the 5th century but once the persecution was lifted the text rebounded dramatically

  • Antiochan manuscripts were an early form of paper; these manuscripts were therefore more fragile than the Alexandrian which were written on antelope skin

  • The Antiochan manuscripts were used more than Alexandrian – the adage, “Bibles that are falling apart are usually read by people who aren’t” would apply to the Antiochan line.

The “oldest is best” advocates resort to the analogy of a flowing stream, assuming that the closer one gets to the stream’s source, the purer the water must be. This is normally true, no doubt, but what if a sewer pipe empties in to the stream a few yards below the spring? Then the process is reversed – as the water is exposed to the purifying action of the sun and ground, the farther it runs the purer it becomes. That is what happened to the stream of the New Testament transmission. Very near to the source, by 100 AD at least, the pollution started gushing into the pure stream. These corrupt manuscripts culminated in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which disagree with each other over 3,000 times in the gospels alone. Whereas, with the Antiochan stream of manuscripts, no one has yet to explain how a long, slow process spread out over many centuries, spread out over a wide geographical area, involving a multitude of copyists, who often know nothing of the state of the text outside of their own monasteries or scriptoria, achieved the widespread uniformity of the Antioch line of text. The Received Text, upon which the King James Version is based, has in reality the strongest claim possible to be regarded as an authentic representation of the original text.

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