A More Sure Word: Which Bible Can You Trust?
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
A Sincere Thanks
I believe R.B. Ouellette made a sincere effort to write with a gracious spirit; and from what I can tell about the publisher and editors of this book (West Coast Baptist College and Paul Chappell), that gracious spirit shouldn’t be a surprise. Ouellette writes,
I want to have charity and grace enough to state that someone who disagrees with the position of this book could still be a biblical fundamentalist. Godly men may disagree and yet still be greatly used of the Lord.
I accept these words as a gift from brother to Christian brother; they are much appreciated. I will attempt to write this review with similar grace.
A Roundabout Critique
Indeed, I want to be very careful, because I happily agree that there are “King James Only” men and women whose godly zeal and growth in grace are very admirable. And I owe much to some of them, particular ones who taught me. But I still came away from this book deeply grieved.
I could give a thorough review of Ouellette’s book, and I have. It’s in the extensive notes I made on the Kindle version, which was kindly given to me by a West Coast Baptist College administrator and teacher. Out of Christian love for that brother I read every page patiently and with careful attention, and I ended up, Kindle tells me, with 107 highlighted passages and 99 notes. Frankly, however, I don’t think any of those notes is likely to help anyone who agrees with Ouellette.
And I’ll tell a story to illustrate why I think so. My sophomore year of college, I went on a “date” with a girl to a formal outing in which we all participated in a murder mystery. We were supposed to write down the clues that were provided to us and vote at the end of the night on whodunnit. It was fun, sort of an Agatha Christie feel. But my date and I were the only couple, I think, who couldn’t come up with a unified answer when it was time to turn in our cards guessing who the murderer was. She had faithfully scribbled down all the clues and was fairly certain she had nailed the perpetrator. I, however, smelled a rat. There were just too many details—the footman was in the library and heard a scream, the duchess claimed she was fixing her hair in the powder room at the time of the murder, the car was red, the cat was a Manx, the carpet stain formed a ring, the perfume was Chanel No. 5—on and on and on. There was just no coherent way to put it all together given all the other gaps in my knowledge about the case. So I threw my hands up and said the butler did it. (And for once in my life, I won something!)
I get the same feeling—follow me here—when I read Ouellette and other literature defending exclusive use of the KJV and the superiority of the Textus Receptus. I feel like I’m being snowed under with countless details about the Lucianic Recension, scribal practices, translation theories, ancient versions and lectionaries, and scattered examples from modern Bible translations. It’s all quite complicated and detailed, and I’m just a little incredulous that people without specialized training in these areas can really follow it all (more on this in a moment). In the end I really feel like I’m being asked to take Ouellette’s word for it that his interpretation of all those details is correct. (That’s especially true since I frequently wrote “Footnote?” in my notes—a good number of his assertions are not footnoted, and those that are typically point to pro-KJV literature.) There must be people who scribble down all the clues Ouellette provides and then feel confident that they’ve nailed the right answer (and nailed the perpetrators who deny it). But I smell, if not a rat, then a snow job.
If I were to supply all my notes, or organize them into a detailed review, for most readers it would probably boil down to my word against Ouellette’s. That’s because, despite Ouellette’s insistence that “it doesn’t take a scholar to understand the big picture of the Bible discussion,” I don’t see any way around a simple fact: if you can’t read Greek, you’re simply going to have to take someone’s word for that big picture. Because the big picture can only be formed by extensive understanding of the details. And those details are—both sides agree this far—written in Greek.
Greek and the Layperson
Listen to what I’m not saying: I’m not saying laypeople are unintelligent or incapable of forming good opinions on the matter of the Bible’s text and translation. I am only saying that I leave it to my mechanic to fix my car. I leave it to doctors to diagnose my illnesses. On many important issues that affect my life, I do what homework I can but leave the issue, ultimately, to trustworthy authorities.
Ouellette tries to argue that any “distinction…between the ‘learned’ and the ‘laity’” is “Nicolaitanism” (Rev. 2:6, 15). Even though the Bible never defines this term, Ouellette informs us (with no footnote) that it “carr[ies] the idea of lording over the people or the laity.” What he fails to mention is that the only way someone could possibly know the meaning of that word is if they read Greek—or if they trust someone who does. (Nikao means “conquering” in Greek, and laos means “people”—but the Bible doesn’t actually say that’s what the Nicolaitans were doing.)
I don’t think it should be controversial for most Christians to admit that they don’t read Greek. So I think the real question about the New Testament text for most Bible-believing Christians is “Whom do I trust?” On the complicated and difficult issues of Greek lexicography and textual critical canons and manuscript families you’re going to have to trust someone. Should it be Ouellette?
I say trust your pastor. Trust your God-given spiritual authorities (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17). Yes, do your own reading. Yes, do your own thinking. Ask questions. Don’t follow blindly. Don’t cede all your spiritual responsibilities to your church leaders, but just humbly admit it: you don’t read Greek, and you’re going to have to take someone’s word for it on matters relating to the Greek text of the New Testament. And that’s okay. Not every member of the body of Christ is gifted to be a Bible translator or Greek scholar.
English and You
I’d like to focus my critique of this book instead on something you are an expert in: contemporary English. Perhaps you don’t think you’re an expert. Perhaps your grades in English class suggest otherwise. But when it comes to spoken English, think how many Chinese students would gladly give up all their worldly possessions to speak English like you do. You began mastering English very early on. By age 3, or even earlier, certain ways of saying things sounded “funny” to you—you just knew they weren’t right. You would never have made the errors of some of those Chinese students: “I mother love very well you.” You might say something like, “I maked this finger painting, Daddy!” But even that “error” is actually just a logical extension of the rules you were mastering (namely that adding “-ed” to the end of a verb puts it in past tense). You just hadn’t learned the exceptions. By age 10 at the absolute latest, you had.
When you hear a foreigner speaking English, you pick it up instantly. She doesn’t talk like I do. You can even distinguish global and regional English accents; you know British English (“Cheerio!”) from Australian English (“G’day, mate!”), and you know Southern English (“y’all”) from Minnesota English (“dooncha knoow”). Sure, you still make grammar errors even as an adult (mainly in writing and not so much in speech), but you almost literally never say anything that other English speakers can’t understand, unless you do it on purpose! You are a master of spoken English. (My three-year-old son insists for some reason, “I don’t speak English!” but his very assertion disproves his argument.)
So you know—you know, without having to trust some other authority—that the King James does not speak your language. It certainly fits, broadly speaking, in the same era as the English you speak, the one called by linguists “Modern English.” It is not totally unintelligible, and it’s definitely pretty. But it’s foreign, not so much because it comes from Britain, but because it comes from 400 years ago. Nobody in America—and nobody in Britain—speaks or writes like that anymore.
So I was shocked—just astonished, bamboozled, dumbfounded, stunned—when Ouellette made this little (unfootnoted) assertion, even though I’ve seen it countless times before (always without a footnote) in KJVO literature:
Recent evaluation shows the reading level of the King James Bible to be fifth grade, as a whole—many individual passages would be lower. The modern Bibles are shown to be between sixth and ninth grade levels as a whole. The modern versions claim to increase readability when in reality, they often make readability more difficult.
You probably don’t know Greek. If the Greek of Hebrews is more difficult than the Greek of Revelation, you will just have to take someone else’s word for it. But you do know English. You know Ouellette is wrong. Don’t let “recent evaluation” (by whom? by what method?) or computer grading scales deny what you can’t not know: the KJV is unnecessarily hard to read. I simply can’t fathom how Ouellette can say this with a straight face:
The modern versions increase the reading difficulty of the English Bible.
Have you ever read a modern Bible translation? Has he? Ouellette’s unfounded assertion about readability is the one statement that grieved me most in a book which constantly had me shaking my head. I preach weekly in an evangelistic bus ministry, and I preach to black and white adults who are on the lower rungs of American society. Few of them have good education. Now, they’re not dummies! They have capacities I could never hope to have. But reading is not one of them. They cannot read the KJV, and I feel very defensive for them whenever an R.B. Ouellette comes along and tells them they must. Can a 62-year-old woman with an eighth grade education be expected to learn a 400-year-old form of English before she can read her Bible?
Ouellette says, “The English language reached its literary peak in the early 1600s. While the English language has changed, it has primarily deteriorated since that time.” So why doesn’t he speak in Jacobean-era English at home, or in his sermons, or in this book? Why does he use punctuation the KJV translators didn’t use, like quotation marks? Ouellette is taking God’s words away from the weakest people by encasing them in a language even he doesn’t speak. Does the Bible tell us that languages have “literary peaks”? Should missionaries translate Bibles into historical literary forms of Indonesian or Filipino instead of the forms people actually speak in Indonesia and the Philippines today?
Listen to how often KJV preachers have to give synonyms for KJV words. That’s an implicit recognition that it’s time to update the KJV. If the real problem with modern translations is their failure to use the Textus Receptus, then why not make a translation of the TR into modern English?
But Ouellette simply dismisses the idea of making a new translation of the TR:
Sometimes people ask the question, “Couldn’t we update the Word of God and use two for the word twain?” Would we be changing the Word of God? It is possible to update God’s Word without changing what God said. If it’s not possible now, it would not have been possible in 1611. To change twain into two would not be changing what God said. In this case, we are not dealing with concepts, we are dealing with synonymous words. Yet, there is a more pressing question that must be answered first: Do we need a new translation? I do not believe so. Friend, we have an accurate, literal translation (formal equivalency) of the Word of God from the right text in English.
An Appeal to My KJVO Brothers
Dear KJVO brothers, go ahead and take your pastor’s word for it when he says that the TR is the best Greek text. We’ll never get anywhere arguing about it, because neither of us is an expert. But dear brothers, demand that your KJVO leaders get together and make a translation of the TR into English you can read. They don’t like the NKJV, which is already a translation of the TR? Fine. Make another one. The KJV is indeed an excellent translation, but a translation into a form of English that no one will ever speak again, and that no one can read with full understanding today, even with the help of a dictionary.
If I say, “Ouellette demonstrated to me over and over again that he had no real understanding of the complicated Greek issues he was talking about,” those on Ouellette’s side will just dismiss me. They’ll trust him instead of me. And that’s to be expected; I don’t blame them. But please, please don’t let him look you in the face and tell you that the KJV is easier to read than the ESV. I love you, my brothers in Christ, and I urge you to see that only an extreme partisan could ever claim that the KJV is easier to read than the ESV, NASB, NKJV, or HCSB.
You deserve—you need—a translation of the best Greek texts (whatever you think those are) into the language you actually speak. Not slang, not dumbed-down street talk, but standard American English—the kind you hear on the nightly news. I urge you with all my heart: read a modern translation all the way through. Rather than shaking your faith, it will strengthen it—because God will be speaking to you in your heart language. You’ll gain clarity on countless verses you didn’t know you were missing before. This has been my experience, and that of my wife and many others I know.
I love the KJV, and I’ll never lose it. But even Ouellette says that “The New Testament was written in what has been called ‘Koine’ Greek—the language of the common people.” He’s right. There was another form of Greek available, a higher and more literary, classic form. But God didn’t employ that. He used the language of the common people. Why can’t your Bible translation?
Five More Direct Critiques for My Blog Audience
I wrote the preceding for GoodReads, but I’m going to add a few thoughts for my blog audience:
- If the TR is (as Ouellette says repeatedly) “absolute” and “perfect”—then why does it come in a “line” or need to be “edited”? Ouellette actually admits that there are differences between versions of the TR (Erasmus, Elzevir, Beza, Scrivener):
In the 5,600 copies of Greek manuscripts that exist today, there is clear and overwhelming evidence as to the accurate words of God (99% consistency).
But what about that 1%? Perfect is perfect; jots and tittles pass from the law, or they don’t (if indeed Jesus was talking about preservation of perfect manuscript copies, which I do not grant).
If you were to compare the Critical Text versus the Received Text you would discover many doctrinal and defining differences—differences that profoundly impact the foundations of Christian faith. Yet if you were to compare the manuscripts and writings of the Traditional Text among themselves you would find minor reading variations but not doctrinal differences.
He’s open, then, in principle, to the existence of minor variations in the Greek manuscripts—variations which exist due to the vagaries of scribal error (I presume) and not a concerted effort to change the Bible. That’s just what I see when comparing the critical text and the TR.
- Ouellette offers very little discussion of the verses which supposedly teach the perfect preservation of Greek manuscript copies. He just rattles them off. And he never raises a simple question: even if those verses teach what he says they teach, where does the Bible tell us how to identify which manuscripts contain the perfectly preserved words and which don’t?
- A little note: Ouellette declined to use Psalm 12:6–7 as a proof text for preservation. He doesn’t mention the passage at all. That’s a good thing, because the passage very clearly has nothing to do with the KJVO debate.
- There is a major equivocation running through the entire book, including in the subtitle. He repeatedly calls the KJV a “Bible” and the NASB a “Bible” and the NIV a “Bible”—as if there are multiple, vastly differing Bibles out there vying for our allegiance. There aren’t. These are Bible translations. This is an equivocation that must be banished from all KJVO discussion. I don’t read a different Bible than my KJVO brothers; I read a different Bible translation.
- Throughout this book, Ouellette claims to know a great deal about the hidden motivations of a lot of people.
- Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were relegated to the Vatican library because the church knew they were bad. (And not for the reasons most books are put into libraries and forgotten: human finitude.)
- The ASV 1901 translators’ decision to offer a marginal reading in 2 Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture that is inspired by God is also profitable”) “demonstrates the mind-set of those who edited and translated this version.” (Somehow he knows their mindset without reading anything they’ve written about their views.)
- “The men behind the Critical Text were heavily biased and dishonest.” (In other words, they knew they were lying.)
- And again, Critical Text supporters use the “guise of scholarship” to “explain away” clear Bible passages. (In other words, they know what they’re doing; they’re purposefully deceiving us.)
- “In 1 Timothy 3:16, another attempt is made by some of the modern translations to weaken the deity of Christ.” (In other words, the motivation behind the use of this textual variant is not faithful submission to the evidence God has given us but is a purposeful attack on Christ’s deity.)
How could Ouellette possibly know these people’s inner heart reasons, especially when they run against their publicly stated reasons (when such are available)? KJVOism is, at heart, a conspiracy theory, like those which see the Illuminati running the world.
This book made precisely the same arguments made by every other pro-KJV book and article I have ever read, with the important exception that it clearly avoids the extremes of Ruckmanism (people have to get saved from the KJV, the KJV corrects the Greek, etc.), and it at least tries to be charitable. As charitable as you can be, anyway, when you’re saying your opponents are purposefully deceiving the whole Christian world with corrupt Bibles.
A thoughtful response, Mark.
I’ll share an observation I heard at Baylor’s anniversary conference on the KJV back in 2011. Robert Alter, one of the plenary speakers, noted that the KJV wasn’t actually written in the contemporary prose of the early seventeenth century. The translators, with the encouragement of the court of King James, wanted a dignified and royal translation that would stand in contrast to the plain-spoken Great Bible (and the incomplete Tyndale version it borrowed from) and the anti-monarchial footnotes of the Geneva Bible.
To that end, the translators used English vocabulary and syntax that would have sounded antiquated to early-17th century ears. They chose Elizabethean English for the same reason that presidential speech-writers choose antiquated language today: it sounds more formal, more majestic. “Thou shalt not” was as formal sounding to 17th century Brits as “Four score and seven years ago” was to Lincoln’s audience at Gettysburg. (On the antiquated nature of thees and thous: http://alt-usage-english.org/pronoun_paradigms.html ) It was a profoundly political decision, not primarily a textual one.
So, in short, the KJV was never intended to be a common bible for plain-spoken people. It was subtly designed to elevate the authority of the Anglican Church and the majesty of the British Crown. It wasn’t meant to be accessible.
Yes, I’ve heard this supposition before, and I’ve looked for an authority to make a pronouncement on it. Alter probably counts (he certainly understands language—I simply don’t know what his expertise in early 17th century English is).
I read a lot of David Norton’s companion volume to his Cambridge Paragraph Bible, an edition of the KJV which went back to the sources to clear away accumulated printers’ errors. I don’t remember seeing him discuss this issue, and I think I looked for it. In any case, the book is fascinating. Norton really did his homework.
Me thinks thou dost protest too much!
And thou doth not protest a sufficient amount! 😉
I agree with your argument from the English language. I believe that the KJVO position hinders the work of the gospel in evangelism and edification. As a seminary graduate with access to some of the best translation and interpretation resources available (i.e. resources like BibleWorks and Logos), I still find that one of my best resources for understanding scripture is a comparison of two or more “modern” English translations. People with less formal, theological education and access to resources would benefit even more from English translations in modern, standard English. Sadly, the people who could benefit the most from reading a modern translation are often the ones taken in by the KJVO arguments.
Cecil, I couldn’t agree more.
Mark, you may be interested to know that there is a brand new updated KJV based on the TR. You can find info about it at http://modernenglishversion.com/. As you peruse the info there, you will discover that this new translation is predominantly done by Assembly of God/Charismatic scholars. No doubt the KJV Only proponents well reject this one just as they did the NKJV for the simple reason that it tampers with the “perfect” English words of the KJV.
Thank you for an excellent critique of Pastor Ouellette’s book. I appreciate the observations as well as the spirit in which you wrote them.
Interesting, I hadn’t heard of Norton before.
Oh, I found the link to the sessions at the conference I mentioned. If you are so inclined, you would enjoy the Alter session (scroll down towards the bottom of the list). http://www.isreligion.org/tv/conferences.php
Yeah, Norton basically did textual criticism on the KJV itself, discovering what the original readings were and restoring them. Searching the Bodleian and everything. Really fascinating stuff—alternating with really tedious stuff. I haven’t seen any KJVO folks who have been interested in his work, but they should be.
Mark, have you ever done your own research into who Westcott and Hort were and what they believed? I have to believe you have. After doing my own research into them at the public library (not through KJVO proponents), I quickly came to the conclusion that they were not trustworthy people to be relying on for a Greek text of the New Testament. Nobody at BJU ever told me what I learned about them through historical documents.
Dan, to what historical documents are you referring? And they are not the only ones who were putting out a text, nor were they the first. I would assume that you have read their biographies, as well as all their commentaries and other writings done by them?
Bill: Westcott and Hort are the only ones whom I have personally researched. Their text is heavily relied upon for most of the modern translations. The ESV, for example, is based upon the Nestle-Aland Greek text, which is based primarily upon three critical texts: Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, and Weymouth. It’s been many years since I’ve done my research, so I cannot remember at which materials I was looking. It would have been reliable sources, like encyclopedias and historical books, which were simply presenting the facts. I was personally evaluating those facts. I certainly can look into it again and let you know what I find.
I can’t keep resisting this textual criticism question, despite my best efforts… I believe that discussion of Westcott and Hort’s theological views is basically irrelevant to the debate. Their work has been taken up by hundreds of conservative evangelical scholars since the 19th century. The whole argument attacking them is just a guilt-by-association non sequitur. Ouellette, too, leaves the matter very vague—as if merely to show that Westcott wasn’t orthodox is to prove that no one is allowed to look at Westcott’s evidence and conclude that 1 Timothy 3:16 starts with a pronoun instead of a proper noun. Ouellette doesn’t engage with Westcott’s evidence at all; Ouellette lets his theory connect the dots.
The whole point of Westcott and Hort’s work was to gather all the evidence of all the Greek manuscripts in the world and to publish it all clearly for everyone to evaluate. Yes, they weighed the evidence and offered theories by which others might evaluate it. Countless sound, conservative, Bible-believing Christians have looked at that evidence and those theories and have come to similar, though not identical, conclusions. I’m one of them. If their motivations were nefarious (and I highly doubt it after reading through their fairly dry work on the subject), it doesn’t matter, because I have adopted their basic viewpoint for fully orthodox reasons—as have many, many other orthodox believers.
The KJV Only movement shows an extremely ready willingness to believe the worst about Westcott, Hort, and every other textual critic up to contemporary evangelicals like Dan Wallace and Peter Williams. But they focus on Westcott and Hort, perhaps because it’s easier to impute motives to someone who is dead and can’t write a blog post saying, “Those aren’t my motives.” The King James Only movement sees purposeful intent to deceive everywhere in the textual critics’ work. It is, at least in this respect, a conspiracy theory. And like all conspiracy theories, it cannot be refuted. Every piece of evidence against it is only incorporated into the system. A case in point: I have often thought, as I compare the TR and the NA27-28/UBS 4, “Boy, these differences really don’t amount to much.” And I habitually look at both texts every single time I read the Greek New Testament. I have BibleWorks flag every difference for me automatically. My next thought is always, “What a strange conspiracy—to change such minor things that don’t even make any difference in English translation (like word order, spelling, etc.).” Ouellette sees the same thing but argues:
Do you see what he’s admitting? The differences are not dramatic. So why, elsewhere, does he say “The translation debate wrestles with significant doctrinal differences, not just minor changes between Bibles”? Evidence against the conspiracy theory gets twisted into evidence for it.
I care about this—and am spending time writing about it again during my sick day (bad cold) when I should be resting—not because I want to rehabilitate the reputations of long-dead textual critics but because the effect of the TR-only view is to take many individual words out of the hands of God’s people. That’s why I have books like this 400-pager from Thomas Nelson—The King James Bible Word Book—that try to put those words back in people’s hands. It is not a criticism of the KJV to say that it uses archaic language (and not just in words but in syntax); it is only a recognition that language changes.
Are you telling me that Westcott and Hort’s rejection of the authority and inspiration of Scripture, as well as their other unbelieving biases, had no impact on their motives and their work? Sure fundamental scholars can evaluate their work, but how do I know whom to trust, and why should I reject what has been regarded as God’s preserved Word for years for questionable work at best? Such wariness is not a conspiracy theory. We’re defending the precious Word of God. You must prove to me that their work is reliable, not vice versa! The burden of proof is upon those who would replace the Word of God as we have it. I’ll stick with the trustworthy Authorized Version until someone can prove to me that the work of the unbelieving textual critics was more reliable, thanks!
I’ll let you have the last word, Dan. Thanks for the interaction.
Dan, I thumbed through my copies of Westcott’s commentaries on Hebrews and Ephesians. In an extended note on the use of “Son” in Hebrews, Westcott defends the deity of Christ, His preexistence, etc. I don’t get the idea from these books that Westcott was an unbeliever. Further, I have read his biography, and again, I don’t get the impression he was an unbeliever. These are primary sources, to which I would direct your attention. That is, read what they wrote, not what others wrote about what they wrote. Apart from that, they also said (in another primary source) that they did not think that even those readings they rejected that there was any kind of doctrinal error. (see The New Testament in the original Greek, with Introduction and Appendix, p. 282, paragraph 369). I would also be careful accusing someone of deliberately twisting the words of God, when their own writings say otherwise. And one last point, read their writings in context. Don’t just look up some website that has snippets of what they said.
I’ll definitely be doing some more research on Westcott and Hort, now, at the library. I’ll take a look at their own writings, too, Bill, if I can find them. Thanks, Mark, for the spirited debate. Please understand I only mean to defend God’s Word. I know He’ll ultimately preserve it. However, it can be lost to groups of people. Hope you feel better.
Oh, Dan, and I am indeed feeling better! Back in the saddle at work. Thanks for your concern. I really appreciate your graciousness—I in my sick state probably wrote a little too passionately in my last big comment. I’m going to edit it a bit for feeling. =)
For those who are serious about doing more research on the views of Westcott and Hort, much of the work has already been done for you. Here are two excellent resources for your consideration:
The moderator of this site has read verbatim everything that Westcott and Hort wrote and has catalogued their writings into various doctrinal subjects to make further research easier. There is a wealth of unbiased information here. It will be readily seen that much of information circulated by KJV Only advocates is simply in error. This material goes a long way to correcting many misperceptions and misrepresentations about these theologians.
Thanks, Dan. Pop back in and let us know what you come up with.
Thanks for sharing those links, Gary. They look like they’ll prove to be very helpful and interesting.
Glad to hear you’re doing better, Mark. Being sick can totally throw my emotions out of line. I totally understand, although I don’t think you were too impassioned. I just disagreed strongly. Hope my response wasn’t too drastic. I do get intense about what I believe, at times.
A Greek teacher friend wrote me a little something after reading this post and the subsequent exchange:
Regarding Westcott and Hort, or for that matter Nestle and Aland, it occurs to me that the critics of these men have both the various editions of the eclectic text and copies of the Alexandrian texts available. If a supposed bias corrupted their work, scholars have had over a century to produce evidence that W-H and N-A are not representative of the oldest texts.
If we don’t have scholarly volumes about this, then, it doesn’t matter what we can say personally about these men. Their work passes the test, or at the very least, their critics have not done their homework.
Bill, Mark and Mark’s Greak teacher friend: I’m reading “Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott” right now. I don’t know how he ended up in his views yet, but he certainly was developing some “unorthodox” views of scripture during his undergraduate days at Cambridge. For example, in regard to the teaching of Dr. Renn Hampden he writes, “All stigmatise him as a ‘heretic,’ and apply all the vocabulary of theological abuse, which to the Church’s shame is an extensive one, to mark him and his adherents. I thought myself that he was grievously in error, but yesterday I read over the selections from his writings which his adversaries make, and in them I found systematically expressed the very strains of thought which I have been endeavoring to trace out for the last two or three years. If he be condemned, what will become of me? I believe he holds the truth…” What did Dr. Hampden write that his “adversaries” opposed? “Strictly to speak, in the Scripture itself there are no doctrines.” Really? I could enumerate a whole list of scriptures that say otherwise! Dr. Hampden discouraged any separation from other Christians (anyone who acknowledges “the great original facts of the Bible” and receives both the Old and New Testaments) based upon Bible doctrine. He advocated the acceptance of Unitarians and those who did not believe in a “real Atonement for sin, etc.” into the communion of Oxford. I encourage you to take a look at “Dr. Hampden’s Theological Statements: Elucidations” (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23336410M/Elucidations_of_Dr._Hampden's_theological_statements) and “Perilous Times: The Works of Dr. Hampden, Bishop Elect of Hereford, Proved Heretical” (https://archive.org/details/periloustimeswo00unkngoog) for more information.
Okay, Dan. Let’s grant you your point. Now show me why this is relevant to the debate over the texts and (particularly) translations of Scripture.
I have a feeling that if the non-KJVO side of the KJV debate found some real dirt on a KJV translator, dirt it was impossible to deny, 1) it would be denied anyway =), and 2) it would be dismissed as irrelevant. Can a sinful man, even a very sinful man, faithfully relay true information? Can an unregenerated man make an accurate translation of a Greek word or an accurate transcription of one?
I feel the same about KJVO attempts to smear the NIV by raising the specter of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Show me a single translation in the NIV that she altered for the worse. The NIV still condemns homosexuality in all the passages where God does. I have my own reasons for preferring the ESV over the NIV most of the time, but ad hominem arguments are, I say again, irrelevant.
Mark, I’m not an expert on other versions of the Bible, but I remember studying at BJU with Dr. Custer many passages from the NIV that had been “altered for the worse.” I could look them up in my notes, but have you ever talked to Stewart Custer about this issue or read his books on the topic (I’m sure he must have written some)? I believe he holds the same view as you about the texts, as I remember, but he saw definite problems with some of the modern translations, including the NIV, as I do.
I can find—and have found—passages in every major evangelical bible translation that I believe were infelicitously translated. I don’t like the word “altered,” because it implies that the NIV translators purposefully erred—they knew what the text “really said,” but they put in something they thought was better. That’s a very, very serious charge to make against a professing brother in Christ—especially one like Doug Moo, the current chairman of the committee in charge of the NIV, who has written excellent commentaries beloved by conservatives. It’s a conspiracy theory.
I wrote a post a few months ago titled “Comparing Bible Translations.” In it I argued that to compare Bible translations responsibly you need knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and English, as well as an ability to generalize from hundreds of examples. Those of us who don’t have those skills (I’m weakest in Hebrew) have to trust someone who does to help us make a good evaluation.
That’s why I wrote my review of Ouellette’s book the way I did. I focused on something American Christians do typically have some ability with: English. I can totally understand and support a faithful church member’s inclination to follow his pastor’s lead when it comes to which Greek and Hebrew texts are best. But I feel defensive for Christ’s sheep when one of their shepherds tells them to deny something they can see readily with their own two eyes, namely that the modern translations are written in a form of English more easily readable than Elizabethan English.
Now if you don’t know Greek and Hebrew and you can’t make your own first-hand judgment of the quality of the NIV, and your pastor says it’s not the best translation, go ahead and trust him. But then ask him which contemporary translation is in fact good. If he says it’s the KJV, ask him why you can’t read a faithful translation in your own language—or an update of the KJV from the same Greek and Hebrew texts, like the NKJV. I encourage people in KJVO churches to ask their church leadership graciously, without speaking to others about it and therefore causing division, for a Bible translation from the right texts in contemporary English. That’s what we give our money for Christians in other nations to have. We don’t expect our Bible translators to use 400-year-old literary forms of Tagalog or Urdu. We want them to make a translation the people can read. So why can’t we have one in English? Tyndale died to give us a gift a lot of us now refuse to receive. I find this odd and sad.
Please note, Mark, that I was quoting you when I used the word “altered.” I don’t have a copy of the NIV, but I recall that the translation totally changes the meaning of I Cor. 7:36-38 to one clearly contradictory to the teaching of Scripture elsewhere.
Ah, I see! Sorry—I lost the thread of the conversation because of the time gap. I wondered why you used quotation marks. =) I understand you now… Well, I didn’t need to go off on that then, did I? My apologies, Dan.
And I didn’t really answer your question specifically. I have not heard Stewart Custer talk directly about the NIV, though I got secondhand from a reliable source that he recommended the New International Reader’s Version for children’s use. He was retiring as I got into seminary, though I definitely heard him preach and respected him. I’m not at all surprised that Dr. Custer would disagree with some of the translation choices in the NIV. Conservative biblical scholars of all stripes disagree here and there with it, even commentators in commentary series based on the NIV text (NIVAC, EBC).
As for definite problems in the modern translations, there are several good, conservative translations that in the estimation of the entire conservative evangelical/fundamentalist world (outside KJVOism) have no more or less problems than the KJV itself. The ESV, NKJV, NASB, and HCSB fall into that category. But if the KJV-Only segment of Christianity can’t bring itself to use any of these translations, they should get their most gifted Greek and Hebrew scholars together and make a new translation, or an update of the KJV.
I think it good to point out here, as Thurman Wisdom did in “Light on the Bible Text Debate,” “that there are diverse sub-groups within the KJV position that often are not distinguished, particularly by opponents of the view.” Dr. Wisdom has classified them into three main groups: the English version groups, the Received Text group, and the Majority Text group.
The English version groups hold that the KJV as a translation “is an absolutely perfect translation.” Some groups even believe that the KJV corrects the original manuscripts. The Received Text position maintains that the Greek and Hebrew texts on which the KJV are based “contain no errors.” The Majority Text view considers the “extant Greek manuscripts, and/or those traditionally accepted by Christians,” to be the “true ones.” I suppose some KJV proponents might consider themselves to fall perfectly into none of these categories.
I do make distinctions, from Ruckmanism on the extreme to the Majority Text position fairly close to me. And I say to all the KJVO subgroups except the (heretical) Ruckmanite re-inspiration folks: make a readable translation in respectable contemporary English of whatever text you think is best. This is basically what the KJV translators did in their day, and it’s certainly what they called for in their enlightening preface. I have no wish to take people’s Bibles out of their hands. I won’t succeed anyway. What I do wish is for them to use a good translation in addition to the KJV, and for their children to be raised using good contemporary translations.
I would like to add that Dr. Wisdom states that “a number of qualified textual scholars” support the Majority Text view.
Now, more about the “orthodoxy” of Westcott and Hort: In corresponding with Hort while they were working on a commentary together in 1860 (Westcott would have been aged 35), Westcott writes to Hort, “I too must disclaim
setting forth infallibility in the front of my convictions. All I hold is, that the more I learn, the more I am convinced that fresh doubts come from my own ignorance, and that at present I find the presumption in favour of the absolute truth–I reject the word infallibility–of Holy Scripture overwhelming. Of course I feel difficulties which at present I
cannot solve, and which I never hope to solve” (Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, Arthur Westcott, MacMillan & Co. 1903).
Mark, to your statement that “if the KJV-Only segment of Christianity can’t bring itself to use any of these translations, they should get their most gifted Greek and Hebrew scholars together and make a new translation, or an update of the KJV” I say that probably the most gifted Greek and Hebrew scholars would tremble at such a task and feel inadequate to do the job, as well they should. However, if God desires such an undertaking, I’m sure that He will raise up men willing and enabled by Him to do the task.
I’m not sure who would be on such a committee (and I don’t mean that as a slight, just as a simple statement of fact—I don’t know any KJV-Only Greek/Hebrew scholars), but I don’t think they need to wait for a sign from heaven to get started. They already have a biblical mandate to make disciples of all nations, and gospel-loving Christians have almost always felt that Bible translation into the lingua franca was a necessary corollary to this mandate. How are people supposed to know what God says if, in many places, they can’t read it? At the very least, words like “succour” and “chambering”—which were excellent choices in 1611, I assume—need to be updated. But more than that, convoluted syntax—which was just fine in 1611, I assume—needs to be updated, too. And punctuation needs to be added in for the clarity of modern readers. The great majority of things I’d like to see updated in the KJV—98%?—were not “errors” committed by the KJV translators. I think they did a fantastic job! No, English has simply changed. Ouellette and others can bemoan that change; they can wish it away. But it’s too late. No one will ever speak that way again off of a Shakespearean stage.
Mark, you “don’t know any KJV-Only Greek/Hebrew scholars.” As I said before, Dr. Thurman Wisdom states that “a number of qualified textual scholars” supported the Majority Text view, which you have referred to as KJV-ONLY, when he wrote his pamphlet. (I personally would not call those who hold the Majority Text view KJV-only, but, rather, KJV proponents, as Dr. Wisdom did.)
Right—there’s an important distinction to make between Majority Text proponents and TR proponents. There are definitely scholars on the Majority Text side, like Maurice Robinson, but my impression is that they tend to understand that modern translations are necessary. They are, therefore, not typically “KJV-Only.” Among those who are KJV-Only I do not know of any Greek or Hebrew scholars, much less any who are capable of making a new English translation. I’m not saying they don’t exist; I just don’t know them. Having looked at the CV’s of teachers at numerous KJVO colleges, I can say that there are very few people with the kind of advanced academic training necessary to do translation work. But I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of the movement. Perhaps I’m missing some obvious names.
Mark, I’d like to jump in with a reminiscence of Dr. Custer. I think the World Congress of Fundamentalists passed a resolution condemning the NIV specifically at one of their meetings. (My memory is fuzzy here.) I happened to run into Dr. Custer outside the Dining Common one afternoon and asked him about it. I had thought that he might suggest that the resolution went too far. I don’t recall his exact words, but he pointed to 1 Cor 7.36 and strongly objected to the NIV view of the verse (which the ESV shares, by the way). My impression was that he was not at that time at all favorably disposed to the NIV. This would be in the early 80s, thereabouts.
I took every Dr. Custer course I could. I learned a lot from him.
I have a similar number of objections to every major English Bible translation I’ve worked with closely—NASB, ESV, NIV, KJV. The sum total of those objections has led me to this conclusion: Bible translations have legitimately different purposes and characters. Sometimes I turn to the NIV precisely because I’m having trouble understanding what the other translations are getting at. The dark suspicion that my Christian crowd has long had regarding the NIV (and this was true even when I was in an evangelical church as a kid) just doesn’t seem to me to be justified. It’s a good translation—considering its purpose. It’s not trying to pull one over on people. It’s trying to help people. If the NIV were all we had, we would have reason to be deeply grateful to God. When people versed in biblical studies warn laypeople darkly about the evils of a given Bible translation, they feel safe in ignoring it from henceforth and forevermore. Instead we should tell them, I think, “Here is the character of this translation. Pick it up when you need that. Make use of all conservative Bible translations in your study. The Internet makes it to easy. In the comparison of the translations you will get some valuable insights and raise some valuable questions.” Different translations should not be seen as a threat but as a rich resource—oddities like the New World Translation excepted, of course.
Brother Mark, I appreciated greatly your review and challenge for KJVO’s to update their translation into modern English. There have been some attempts, like the Modern KJV and the KJV2000. But it is the elephant in the room, to which you could have pointed more clearly, that keeps them from taking on that obvious challenge! They would all have a gut feeling that the 1769 KJV is final Word in English until the Second Coming. They really need to be challenged on how they would prove (as independent Baptists, which most are, save for a few Pentecostals) that God chose sacramental paedo-baptist Anglicans to make this “final” translation in English. Wouldn’t one need direct revelation to confirm such a view?
I teach Greek and Hebrew at a KJV use-only college. And I share with my students most of the same points you have made in your review. I do think Oullette has provided some sound reasoning for the priority of the Traditional Text, but then has turned a blind eye to the number of short comings of the KJV (including a number of obvious uses of dynamic equivalence and Anglican theological choices) that show its God’s Word only as it accurately reflects the Traditional Text that God has used for translation through the centuries.
I do think the UBS/NA texts and even the Majority Text are based on some faulty presuppositions used in textual criticism. And these have encouraged translations that cause questions against inspiration. If you would like to read an article I wrote concerning NT textual criticism and this issue – https://www.academia.edu/6357979/New_Testament_Criticism_Helps_And_Hurts
All translations are the Word of God, in that they, like a mirror, reflect the original inspired text. When I look in a mirror, I can say, “That is I,” (though I would probably say, “me”). Of course, it is only a reflection of me, but even if the mirror has warps and cracks, I can still say with confidence, “That is me.” This is what I believe about Scripture preservation. God has preserved His Word so that all copies and translations adequately reflect the originals for the saving faith and sanctifying grace that is needed.
What do you think of this statement, Mark? “Regarding the choice of the Textus Receptus for the Greek New Testament, we reject the Westcott-Hort theory of textual transmission, although we appreciate those editors honestly acknowledging their own uncertainty by the frequent usage of terms like “conjecture,” “probabilities,” “presumptions,” “ambiguity,” “suppositions,” etc., in their explanatory notes. We have chosen to accept, rather, that which has been available to the largest number of believers for the greatest period of time in church history, which is the stream of texts represented by the Textus Receptus.”
Mark, I just read Brian Wagner’s article on textual criticism and have come to the conclusion that he has addressed the issue of what impact Westcott and Hort’s “presuppositions and methodology” had on their textual work much better than I could. What a helpful article!
Dan, it depends on who’s asking:
1) If it’s someone who has read the introduction to the GNT written by Westcott and Hort, which I have personally read, and who reads Greek, I’d say Ouellette’s statements are misleading. And we’d talk about it. The main thing I’d say is that manuscripts should be weighed, not merely counted. And I don’t think that idea should be controversial.
2) If it’s someone who reads no Greek and has no facility with the concepts of textual criticism, or if it’s a firmly convinced TR-only advocate, I’d say, “Fine. You win. Now let’s talk about English. When will the TR-only folks provide a readable Bible translation of the TR in respectable, contemporary English for their followers? And why won’t they use the one that’s already available, the New King James?”
Mark, are you saying that the statement I quoted is misleading? (I wasn’t quoting Ouellette.) If so, how is it misleading?
Also, would you agree with Brian Wagner, in his article about New Testament criticism, that Tischendorf assumed that older manuscripts were better and that “Westcott and Hort relied heavily on Tischendorf’s Sinaiticus manuscript and the only other complete third century manuscript of the New Testament, called the Codex Vaticanus.” Do you agree with Wagner that, although “Westcott and Hort pointed to the geographical spread of the ‘support from Versions’ as significant,…their ‘earlier is better’ among Greek manuscripts mentality has undermined the presupposition behind looking at the manuscript tradition among the versions in other languages?”
Also, do you not see that their failure to presuppose the inerrancy (or “infallibility”) of Scripture had an impact on their textual work?
Sorry for the incorrect assumption, Dan—I knew I had read that wording recently, so I assumed it was in Ouellette’s. book. Google tells me I saw it at Ambassador’s website.
I still call it highly misleading, but I would regard Charles Surrett (who presumably wrote or vetted that text?) as a worthy discussion partner on the issue. I still don’t want to talk about textual criticism. It’s a red herring. But okay, you’ve been gracious enough that I’ll bite just a little (again!): it’s misleading because the TR-Only side tends to promise a textual-critical certainty which they cannot deliver. If God preserved His words perfectly in a particular line of manuscript copies, then those copies had better be exactly alike, no variants. If they have some variants, as they do, even within the TR tradition (as Ouellette, at least, acknowledges with his “99% consistency” line), then those variants will need to be resolved by some kind of textual criticism. The TR side makes it sound as if they can provide rock-solid certainty with no human intervention, but they cannot. A fallen, finite human being has to decide which variant goes into the text. (Plus, Psalm 12:6–7 simply does not promise that God will preserve His words in a perfect line of manuscript copies. That’s a very clear misreading.)
I also regard Brian Wagner as a worthy discussion participant (we’ve had a nice e-mail discussion), and I think I’d need to read his whole article to represent him accurately. But if I interpret your quotation correctly, I don’t see why widespread geographical provenance and earlier-is-better can’t be complementary principles.
The character and theology of Westcott and Hort, as I have already said, is so irrelevant that I don’t want to repeat myself on that question. Please see above.
I’ve answered you, Dan. You have to answer me now! =) Why can’t I have an English Bible translation done in contemporary, respectable English from the TR? I want to have a Bible translation in my own language. Is that a sinful desire?
I’m not opposed to a reliable, scholarly update of the KJV based on the Textus Receptus. Amazingly, I personally find the 1611 version to be much easier to read and understand than some much more recent writings (those of Westcott himself, for example). To me, the difficulties of understanding the KJV are being somewhat exaggerated. It is written in my language, just a little outdated sometimes. However, the English language, particularly the use of many words, certainly has changed a great deal over time and the true meaning of passages can be obscured unnecessarily. For example, let meant hinder, prevent meant precede, etc. An update that employs words which convey the original meaning without losing any of the import and that updates the grammar, punctuation and syntax would certainly be very helpful and good. (The literary quality might be hard to match, but we can keep our 1611 version and most likely it will continue to sell and be published.) So if you can put together a team of reliable, qualified Greek and Hebrew scholars, you have my permission! 🙂
I’m glad to hear you say this, Dan. And yet I am persuaded that you and all exclusive KJV readers (I’m not assuming you are an exclusive KJV reader) are missing more than you know. I know that because I was an exclusive KJV reader for a long time and still, over a decade after I began reading other translations, I come across passages I always misunderstood in the KJV (I’ve collected a lot of examples here). Frequently, that misunderstanding is no criticism of the KJV. I regularly conclude that what the KJV translators were doing was excellent in 1611 but that English has changed. Sometimes I conclude that the KJV translators made an error, but not usually.
Over at av1611.org, a very pro-KJV site, I happened across this little comment:
Now wait a minute: if all these people are saying the KJV is hard to understand—if that’s the number one reason they put it aside in favor of the New King James, the ESV, etc.—then why don’t TR-only leaders help these folks by producing a new translation? I don’t need a new one. I’m fine with the many great translations I use every day. But the TR-only folks are stuck. They’ve got the KJV and the NKJV, and none of them trust the latter (for reasons that I, frankly, think are straw-grasping). So they’re left with a Bible translation that’s hard to read and no alternative. Why not make a new translation?
Here’s my question: what do you say to the (apparently very) large group of people who find the KJV too hard to read?
To be fair, it states that “they all CLAIM that…” meaning, I assume the publishers or translators of each modern version, Mark.
Whether the publishers say it or not, it sounds feasible to me. So what do you say to the (apparently very) large group of people who find the KJV too hard to read?
Get a Bible dictionary like Strong’s Concordance and study the meanings of words. Its one of the best ways to study your Bible anyway. Get a study Bible that has marginal notes about the meanings of words, too. Sit under the ministry of a sound pastor/teacher. The meanings of words can be determined from the context, as well.
1. Strong’s dictionary is linguistically out of date and hard to use: how do people know which sense of a word is meant in a given case?
2. Study Bible idea is good.
3. Sound pastor/teacher is the best thing!
4. The meaning of words may be determined from context sometimes. But other times, context may mislead contemporary readers in funny ways.
5. I still don’t understand the point of reading a translation which requires you to look up words all educated people would otherwise know if modern equivalents were used. Can emerod be updated to tumor? Can chambering be updated to sexual immorality? Isn’t the whole point of a translation to put a base text into the target language of readers?
6. And beyond that, archaic syntax sounds convoluted to us. It provides a poor guide to the meaning of words that otherwise might indeed be figured out from context.
There’s no question that everyone needs a faithful translation of the Word of God in a language they can readily understand. Translators should be working to that end. “Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (I Cor. 14:9). What about all the people who don’t yet have ONE translation of the Bible in a language they can even begin to understand?
Amen and amen. I’ve got some highly respected friends who work for Bibles International.
We get it: you don’t like the KJV.
I’d also posit that you failed to achieve your goal of graciousness (comparing proponents of KJV-onlyism to those who obsess over the Illuminati, for instance). Statements like that win no converts.
Also the motives of those behind the critical text (Westcott and Hort) are not something we have to guess at. It’s well documented. They hated the KJV. They hated the TR. They had their own alternate Greek text they wanted to push. They had a clear and deceptive agenda. I’m not home right now, so I can’t pull up my notes, but the Revision Committee stayed up front clearly that there was to be no new Greek text used. There was not even to be a new, from-scratch translation. Just minor update in as few words changed as possible. The Revision Committee had zero animosity towards the KJV.
Of course Westcott and Hort, who were on that committee ignored these guidelines and began passing around their Greek text. And soon a new translation, not a minor revision, was made.
That coupled with the very likelihood that Westcott and Hort were apostates, holding to several unorthodox positions, it’s hard to trust a manuscript devised by such men with such clear motives.
I feel like this is an important point that never gets seriously discussed by those who favor the Westcott Hort text over the TR. They just parrot the phrase “oldest and best manuscripts” without giving any evidence of that being true and without addressing the men behind the compilation of those manuscripts.
Stephen, I cannot discuss textual criticism with you, I’m afraid. I’d encourage you to interact with me on the ground I’ve chosen: English readability. If the text is the issue, and if there are English translations of the text you prefer, then this ought to be possible. We shouldn’t have to talk about textual criticism when you can use the NKJV or MEV and satisfy the standard of 1 Cor 14, edification requires intelligibility.
FWIW, in rereading this today as I plan to turn it into a YouTube script, I noticed that I was a little more tart than I have tried to be in recent years. I do plan to moderate a few statements. I also had a short correspondence with Ouellette in which he was, once again, gracious. And that motivates me even more to do the same.
But let me say categorically that I *do* like the KJV! I rather think I like it more than defenders of its exclusive use do, because I’ve taken the time to really understand what the KJV translators meant. I’ve also worked very hard to understand—and propagate—their views as recorded in their preface, Translators to the Reader. A shortly forthcoming YouTube video will give more detail. That preface of theirs is absolutely fantastic, full of wisdom and truth.
QUESTION for the experts: I either heard or read somewhere that the many different Greek text, that are used in various Bible Colleges, are mostly ‘back translations’ of the English Bible since the availability of copies of the originals are no longer available. So, from what I understand, there are only pieces or scraps of copies of the originals, but when there were no copies for a particular chapter or verse of the Bible, then the Greek experts resorted to ‘back translating’ from English into Greek? Can one of you expound on this for me?