KJVParallelBible.org Needs Your Help


Training Video

I’m working on a textual critical project aimed at laypeople, and I need help from volunteers. I want to show English speakers, using English, the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland text.

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Differences between the TR(s) and the various critical texts are locked not only in Greek but in complicated textual apparatuses which don’t give anyone but the most attentive readers a good overall picture of the actual differences between the texts. I want to put those differences on display in an accessible way.

And in a neutral way. I believe my brothers in Christ within KJV-Onlyism are wrong in their preference for the TR and wrong in their insistence on the exclusive use of the KJV, but I believe in God’s power to sanctify their thinking on this issue. He can use authorities and arguments, and he does. But he can also use a simple presentation of the facts, without any arguments and interpretations.

That’s what I’ll provide (though the About page will carry some brief interpretations from me and from a TR advocate): in one column of KJVParallelBible.org will be the KJV as it stands in the 1760 Blayney edition most people use; in a parallel column will be the KJV as if someone had gone back in time and given the KJV translators an NA28. All differences between the two resulting texts will be bolded.

I am aiming the project at KJV-Only Christians, but the tool could be useful for teaching textual criticism to any layperson (or even as a cheatsheet for those of us who ought to be using our textual apparatuses). I have nothing to hide from them: a TR-Only school should most definitely be using my site to try to teach TR-Onlyism to their students. Let those students see how big and how significant the differences actually are. A critical text advocate should be able to use the site to show students how big and how significant they actually aren’t. I hope people will conclude that my side is right, but I won’t force them. The site is just the facts, ma’am.

If people who cannot read Greek look at the New Testament in an ESV and in a KJV, they have no way of knowing which differences between the two are due to textual variants and which are due to any number of other factors: changes in English, advances in Greek understanding, differences of translation philosophy or interpretation, variations in style. Into that huge gray area of totally understandable ignorance (why should nonspecialists know these things?) comes a totally understandable fear: are modern translations changing the Bible?

As long as the facts of textual criticism remain locked in Greek, everybody with an opinion on the matter is forced to trust someone else who can read Greek and has formed an opinion. However, most people in pews don’t have easy access to such a person. They have pastors, but my impression is that most pastors are stuck trusting authorities, too: namely their peers, their crowd, their Bible college professors, their favorite writers, etc. The problem is that everybody has to have some kind of opinion, even implicit, if they’re going to pick up a translation at all, because every translation has a base text. And basically, you’re going to use the TR (KJV, NKJV, MEV, KJ2000, etc.) or the critical text (ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, NET, etc.).

I am looking for people to help me complete the New Testament. I’ve done about ten chapters, and I have a new friend at a KJV-Only Bible college who is doing the book of John. That leaves over 200 chapters to be worked on. I have made a training video for you, and I will share with you a Dropbox folder with text files for whatever portion of the Bible you want; you just need Logos or BibleWorks and copies of NA27/28* and Scrivener’s 1881 or 1894 TR (which are textually identical). Your job is basically to indicate which differences show up in translation by bolding them.

I will also need checkers to look over the work of others. There is plenty of work to do.

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* I know the NA27 and NA28 texts are slightly different, but I know where they’re different and will run a check. I am using the NA27 as the base for a few practical reasons.

Something I Am Embarrassed to Say I Just Learned

I knew that English Bible translators have access to a computerized linguistic corpus—an unbelievably massive collection of English texts—to help them do their work.

What I didn’t know, what I just learned, is that I do, too.

What you’re about to learn, if you didn’t already know it, is so do you.

So I chose to get involved in some online discussion about the KJV, and I’m glad I did. I was talking to some intelligent guys who kept me on my toes. I pointed out to them, in a broader argument about the readability of the KJV, that “dropsy” (Luke 14:2) is an archaic word liable to cause today’s readers to draw a blank. The word is very old, first citation 1290—though, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s archaic (sack is also very old, but not archaic). But my sense was that “dropsy” just doesn’t get used today.

One of my interlocutors pointed out, and touché for him, that my beloved ESV uses the word, too, however! (He could have added that the NASB uses it as well.) I had not realized this, and I was initially surprised.

However, being a denizen of the Internet and therefore rarely being one to admit fault, I determined to do some poking around. Standard contemporary dictionaries weren’t enough help. Merriam-Webster told me only that “dropsy” means “edema.” American Heritage said the word is “no longer in scientific use,” but didn’t elaborate. Is it archaic? Should the ESV and NASB have used it? I didn’t know yet. Even if the word has dropsied right out of science, maybe it has landed in the speech of the common man.

So I checked Google’s NGram Viewer, and this is what I found:

Right after 1900, “edema” clearly changes places with “dropsy.” I’m not sure why there are massive spikes, and a big drop in the “edema” line starting sometime before the year 2000. I’m also not sure how much to trust Google NGram Viewer—I simply don’t know whether the corpus it’s searching (Google Books) is a truly representative sample. I’m not confident that I’m interpreting the graphs correctly. Perhaps the relative difference is huge, but the actual difference is not. Stats are tricky.

Then it hit me: I wonder if there’s an online English corpus available freely, designed for precisely my question, and focused on contemporary English—the kind of corpus I’ve heard Doug Moo talk about, which he used for the NIV. I searched for “english corpus,” and as they say in Telugu, voilà. I discovered BYU’s Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). It provides a massive, curated database balanced of different types of American speech and writing. It’s composed of roughly equal parts spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper, and academic English. Wow.

There are actually multiple English corpora at the site, and they “allow research on variation—historical, between dialects, and between genresin ways that are not possible with other corpora.”

So, COCA, what’s a more common word in contemporary English, “dropsy” or “edema”? There’s a very clear winner. But if I give you a fish you’ll only eat for today. Go see if you can figure it out yourself.

Lessons from a Back Porch in a Bad Neighborhood

Courtesy USA Streets Blog
USA Streets Blog

I once stood on the back porch of a run-down home in a neighborhood your realtor wouldn’t even take you to. (Trust me.) I was the leader of an evangelistic outreach ministry, and I was with a college freshman I was mentoring. I wonder now if we were talking to a middle-aged prostitute… After many years of trying to understand, I never did fully grasp the world of that neighborhood. I’m sure I got laughed at for missing obvious cues. Anyway, one obvious fact I didn’t miss was that this woman had substance abuse in her past—and probably her present.

Thankfully, the eighteen-year-old I was with knew just what to do to help her: he rattled off a bunch of KJV memory verses from the Romans Road at 100 mph.

For-the-wages-of-sin-is-death-but-the-gift-of-God-is-eternal-life-through-Jesus-Christ-our-Lord-but-God-commendeth-his-love-toward-us-in-that-while-we-were-yet-sinners-Christ-died-for-us-that-if-thou-shalt-confess-with-thy-mouth-and-believe-in-thine-heart-that-God-hath-raised-him-from-the-dead-thou-shalt-be-saved.

He made no effort to see if she knew what “commendeth” meant. He offered no illustration to explain “the wages of sin.” He started sentences with conjunctions (“But,” “For,” “Therefore”) that made no sense without the rest of their scriptural context. He never let the woman get a word in edgewise (not that she tried; she was intently studying the wood-grain patterns at her feet) or asked her a single question before the clincher, at speeds now reaching those of the Micro-Machines commercial guy: “If-you-died-today-where-would-you-go?”

Any one of these communication sins by itself would not be so bad, but taken together they managed to communicate the reverse of what he (should have) intended.

Now, he was nervous. He wasn’t experienced in giving the gospel to people. His inner AWANA from the 1990s was kicking in. He was just being human. That’s why he needed a mentor.

What does a mentor say in such a situation? I wouldn’t say, “Don’t quote Scripture to people,” of course. I think his chipmunk-speed-narration of the Elizabethan English was only one symptom of his deeper problem, namely that he failed to put himself in the woman’s dirty WalMart flip-flops. He didn’t love this woman enough to be concerned with her needs and her thoughts in that moment. All this young man could think of was himself. Human, remember? I’ve done it, too. Countless times. It’s a temptation all Christians have, no matter who they’re talking to and no matter what Bible translations they tend to quote from.

So here’s what I tell everyone who tries to communicate the Bible to others: Love your neighbor as yourself. Talk to people as if they really are people like you are. Ask them questions to show interest in them—have genuine interest in them as real people. Because they are. Real people. Made in God’s image.

I’m a conservative. I don’t like the idea of pandering to people, of watering down the gospel message or the biblical message in any way. But I’ve realized recently how deeply my many years of ministering to low-income people has affected my outlook on Bible teaching—and I don’t think working hard to help others understand is pandering. I think it’s what teachers of the Word are called to do.

Imaginatively placing myself in someone else’s situation doesn’t lead to me sounding like someone I’m not: I won’t claim to have had their experiences; I won’t pick up their particular accent; I won’t (necessarily) begin to wear clothing like theirs. But I will try to see through their eyes and listen through their ears. Everything I communicate in every way I will try, by God’s grace, to make as understandable as possible for them. I hope they will do the same for me when it’s their turn to talk! Differences between people can be trivial, and they can be great gulfs fixed. Less than a mile from my house in Greenville was this other world, between us that gulf. Successful bridges use engineers from both sides of a divide. At the very least, even if people won’t meet me in the middle, I’m going to send my bridge as far as I can toward them. That’s what love does. I refuse to stay on my safe cultural shore and shout across.

A Vow Regarding the KJV

800px-KJV_Genesis

An online interlocutor with genuine intellectual acumen engaged me graciously but firmly on a recent post I wrote promoting the use of multiple Bible translations. He’s essentially KJV-Only, though his professed allegiance is actually to Scrivener’s Textus Receptus. He linked me to a lengthy bibliology statement by one Thomas Ross which he affirmed.

To my knowledge, I have made two vows in my lifetime: 1) a vow to love my wife with the true love of delight (with all the attendant vows of a wedding), and 2) a vow never to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. After lengthy consideration, I’m adding a third in this post—to protect me from forgetting what’s really at stake in the KJV debate, such as it is.

Here’s my reply:

That bibliology statement has some oddities that I’ve never seen before, but I at least appreciated the way Ross distinguished his viewpoint from Ruckman and Riplinger. I look in vain for most KJV-Only churches (and I am all the time reading their bibliology statements) to understand that, if indeed there are scriptural promises of preservation, the KJV is not “the preserved Word of God for English-speaking peoples.” Rather, as Ross says, “the promises of preservation are specifically made for Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words, not English words.” What a relief to read this. And this: “no verses of the Bible promise a perfect English translation.” I also appreciated the acknowledgment that, in principle, the KJV might need to be replaced some day. I have never seen a KJV-Only bibliology statement offer that admission.

However, the principles by which one may discern whether or not the KJV needs to be replaced leave much to be desired:

In the unlikely event that the Lord were not to return for some hundreds of years into the future, and the English language changed in such a manner that the early modern or Elizabethan English of the Authorized Version were to have the comprehensibility of the Old English of Beowulf, it would certainly be right to update Biblical language.  However, I believe that the Holy Spirit would lead Biblical Baptist churches to have general agreement that such a revision of the English Bible is needed.  Without such clear Divine leadership, any revision would be inferior to the Authorized Version (as such versions as the NKJV most certainly are), and detrimental to the cause of Christ.

Leaving aside the irresponsible eschatology of the first lineBeowulf’s English is absolutely unintelligible (it opens with “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon“)—do we have to wait till the KJV reaches that stage before we can ask for a new translation into the vernacular? Presumably not. So when can we ask? When the English is 50% unintelligible? Presumably before that… How about 10%? 5%? No KJV defenders I’ve ever met seem in the least interested in this question.

The NKJV is dispatched in a line, and a (frankly) airy call for “clear Divine leadership” of “Biblical Baptist churches” (why not the CofE?) is made when that call has already come in the very word of God you seek to defend. Vernacular translation is arguably modeled by Ezra (Neh 8:8) and is most certainly modeled in the NT’s use of translations of countless OT passages. Even the little efforts throughout Scripture to “translate” not-so-very-old, or merely foreign, words and customs for the intended reading audience—these provide authoritative examples for us. (I have in mind the passage in which “today’s ‘prophet’ was formerly called a seer,” and others in which anything from Talitha cumi to Immanuel to Rabbi to Tabitha to Barnabas is translated for the reader.) Richard Muller dedicates a whole section to “Vernacular Translation” in his summary of the views of the Reformers. He summarizes the views of one German reformer:

In the first place, the prophets and apostles themselves spoke and wrote in the vernacular in order that their hearers might understand: translation thus enables the Scriptures to be read by all, as the prophets and apostles themselves intended. Second, the Scriptures are the “weapons of the faithful” for defense “against Satan and the heretics.” Even so, third, all believers are commanded to read and study the Scriptures (John 5:39; Deut. 31:11) as, indeed, the apostle praised the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Beyond this, the command to preach to all nations implies the need to translate Scripture, as does the great effort of the early church to produce translations in all of the languages of believers—such as the Syriac, the Chaldee paraphrase, the Septuagint, the many Latin versions, and even the Hexapla of Origen. (Muller, 425)

Every KJV defender I’ve met would profess allegiance to this Reformation value, vernacular translation. They excoriate medieval Catholics for their fear that putting the Bible in the hands of the people would lead to doctrinal novelty. They thrill to repeat the stirring words of Tyndale,

I defie the Pope and all his lawes. If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he doust.

But they all turn on the plough boy, whipping out their pikes and mattocks, as soon as he observes that he’s having trouble understanding the KJV.

No matter which text you prefer, or how you get to that preference, the practical upshot is the same: English speakers, including “the least of these” to whom I ministered in West Greenville for 15 years, will not get to have the Bible in their language. And I won’t get to have it in mine.

You’ve led me to a decision: henceforth and forevermore, God helping me, I will not discuss textual criticism with people who insist on the exclusive use of the KJV. I’m not saying I won’t listen to others; I’m saying I won’t engage them on that one issue. Textual criticism is a red herring. Vernacular translation is the only issue I’ll debate. Resolved: the KJV is not—or rather, is no longer—a vernacular translation. Let’s talk English.

The greatest and saddest irony of the KJV-Only movement has to be the list of words that modern versions have supposedly “taken out” of the Bible. In reality, my King James Bible Word Book details hundreds of words that the KJV, through no fault of its own, “takes out” of Scripture. Every besom, every emerod, every shambles—is a word the KJV-Only folks take out of the hands of God’s people. The vocabulary words can be looked up, yes, but in my experience people don’t do it. They don’t know how to do it—they don’t even always know when to do it (because the modern senses of some words still make sense in context; see halt and let). They have no idea what the Oxford English Dictionary is or why it is necessary for KJV readers. And it’s not just archaic words that take the KJV out of the “vernacular” category—this is so often missed; it’s phrases, and it’s syntax. Every “give place,” every “fetch a compass,” is a phrase taken out of people’s hands. Every “not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh,” every “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil” is a clause whose syntax keeps God’s words locked in obscurity. I know all the individual words in those sentences, but I still can’t understand them. Difficult syntax cannot be looked up in a dictionary. You get it or you don’t—or you take a graduate program in the different phases of English and do a great deal of reading in late 16th and early 17th century English literature. Needless to say, this is not an acceptable way forward.

Educated KJV defenders are putting a burden on people’s shoulders that they themselves are not willing to bear. I’m a professional theological writer and have been, more or less, for 14 years. I love words. I grew up on the KJV (and I won five spelling bees in a row in the 1980s and early 1990s, I’ll have you know). I can read Greek and Hebrew. I cannot understand many verses in the KJV, and I trip for at least a moment on countless others. I could be flattering myself, but I have reason to believe that others are faring less well than I—largely because I was them. I used to think I understood the KJV just fine. It took me many years of study in Greek, Hebrew, and English to figure out how much I was missing.

I don’t want to overstate my case; the KJV is still (early) modern English, and it is indeed deeply beautiful. Many individual words and sentences don’t need updating. But when I read the Bible I want to understand every word, and the KJV—through no fault of its own, but merely because of the passing of the years—won’t let me.

Until KJV defenders take more interest in what the Bible actually talks about, namely the importance of understanding, than what it doesn’t, namely the perfect preservation of ancient manuscript copies—until then I love the plough boy (and the bus kid and my own children) too much to waste time discussing the origin and provenance of scales on a red herring.

I have to ask again: why can’t we have the Bible in our own language?

A Question about the New King James Version

A friend wrote me (and I have his permission to post this):

I have a serious interest in using the NKJV as the ministry Bible of choice for our congregation. It corresponds to my textual preference for TR/MT/Byzantine tradition (though I appreciate good CT translations on a scale). And it provides a more relevant form of English expression, which motivates me greatly (which gains your empathy, I am sure!). Furthermore, the vast majority of our congregation would support such a change (a major plus).

He did, however, have a gracious objection from a member of his congregation who is not KJV-Only but who felt he had reason to consider the KJV the most accurate translation of the Hebrew. It doesn’t matter what his reason was; I believe he was sincere. Everyone who objects to moving away from the KJV will have a reason—of course they will. And a pastor is called to patiently instruct them.

This was my reply to my respected friend…

Part One

You have more than my empathy—you have my very great excitement! You’re the very first person I’ve ever met or heard of who has made this very good, very logical move. Let me trace that logic if I can:

  1. The TR is the best Greek text.
  2. The KJV and NKJV are the only believable contenders for the title of “well-known, respected, English translation based on the TR which has multiple editions available even in local bookstores.”
  3. Our Reformation heritage (and, more importantly, the Bible itself) makes vernacular translation an essential tool for the church’s work of growing people into maturity and stability (Eph 4).
  4. The KJV is difficult for people to read today because English has changed; it is no longer a vernacular translation.
  5. So let’s use the NKJV.

Can you tell me if you know anyone else who has not only followed this logic but carried through and done something about it? I would love to see tons of people doing this. The fact that no one but you is doing it is what has always led me to doubt that the TR defenders actually care about the TR rather than preserving the KJV. When I have asked leading TR defenders why they don’t use the NKJV, they typically shrug their shoulders and say, “I’ve never really looked into it.”* That means they’re denying points 3 and/or 4 above. And that’s why my upcoming book is focused on point 4; I fear that, like a much younger me, people have persuaded themselves that they can understand the KJV but don’t know how much they’re missing.

Part Two

This situation is delicate, and you’re the pastor—you know how to deal with people, and you know this brother whom I don’t know. But I’ve got three major thoughts:

1) The translators of the NKJV OT include a number of major OT scholars who have written significant exegetical commentaries on major OT books: Smith in the NAC on Isaiah, Hamilton in the NICOT on Genesis, Ross, Beitzel, Van Gemeren, Merrill. He needs to recognize that you are in the spot of either trusting his judgment or that of multiple respected people with similar gifts and specialized training.

It’s a question of epistemology: how do you achieve justified, true belief (i.e., knowledge) with regard to a question about the quality of a huge Bible translation encoding tens of thousands of individual decisions? I wrote a post about this: you have to know Greek/Hebrew, you have to know English, and you have to be able to generalize from those thousands of decisions.

Assuming someone knows (OT) Hebrew and English really well, the only way you can possibly adjudicate your different positions is to look at tons of examples together. So I wonder if the way forward is asking him to get together thirty examples from across the corpus, and asking him if you can then send that on to an expert. I’d be very happy to take a look, or you might try James Price, who worked on the NKJV and I believe is now retired.

I suspect that, in the end, about 10 of his examples will be persuasive, 10 will be contestable, and 10 will be wrong or misunderstandings. And give James Price the time and he’ll come up with his own list of 30 going the other direction.

And that’s just thirty examples on one side and thirty on the other. There are, again, thousands of relevant examples. I have not used the NKJV extensively, but my impression over time has been that it is not clearly better or worse than the KJV. It is extremely similar.

Even if you’re not confident in Hebrew, what you do know is English, and so the question becomes this: are the (contestable) “inaccuracies” in the NKJV OT really of sufficient weight to overcome the problem that the KJV is no longer a vernacular translation? Sure, the KJV may be more accurate (again, that’s contestable), but if so it’s an accurate translation into a language no one speaks anymore. If accuracy is the main thing you’re going for, the Hebrew is the most accurate; why don’t people just read that?

2) My understanding is that the NKJV was designed to be as little different from the KJV as possible. I checked the preface again, and this is what their stated goal was:

A special feature of the New King James Version is its conformity to the thought flow of the 1611 Bible. The reader discovers that the sequence and selection of words, phrases, and clauses of the new edition, while much clearer, are so close to the traditional that there is remarkable ease in listening to the reading of either edition while following with the other.

If anything, the criticism people (or people like me) tend to give of the NKJV today is that it wasn’t bold enough in straying from the KJV. One very gifted TR-only friend of mine, even though he uses the KJV, has told me that he finds criticisms of the NKJV from the KJV camp to be very weak, grasping at straws. I agree. When I read KJVO reviews of the NKJV I think, Nothing will ever please these people. Nothing.

3) There are other translations of the MT/TR: the MEV, the KJVer, and I’m sure some others that are more obscure (Darby is one I know of).

***

I am praying right now that the Lord would smooth your way with this man and with the congregation. Thanks for sending me this interesting question.

mlwj

*My friend told me he’s heard four objections to the NKJV:

  • I know some good men who have concerns about the NKJV, but I haven’t asked them for more information.
  • The footnotes refer to other manuscripts, which raises reader concern about manuscript reliability or undermines their faith. This could be harmful.
  • It’s a good translation, but it would be too hard to make a change. Good co-laborers would misunderstand.
  • It would be great if we could come up with a new translation that avoids the pitfalls of the NKJV (whatever they are), updates the KJV understandability, and we all (fundamental Baptists) could agree on!