I’ve been so busy with the launch of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, I failed to announce the soft launch of KJVParallelBible.org to either of my blog readers! The launch is “soft” because it’s a strong proof-of-concept, not a full New Testament. But a lot of the work is done; I just have to get a few more volunteers and a bit more time for me to process the completed work of other volunteers and put it up on the site.
The project is supposed to show intuitively that the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text (CT) are so minor—and the similarities so overwhelming—that the TR-Only (who are almost always also KJV-Only) would be forced to acknowledge, “Boy, this is what we’ve been fighting over?”
So I was disappointed, though not surprised, when the first email I got through the contact form looked like it came from an ardent KJV-Only partisan who was finding a conspiracy to advance the perpetual virginity of Mary in Matt 1:25 (which would mean he looked at the very first page on the site, but possibly no others…).
Nonetheless, I followed up with the guy, and it turns out I misjudged him. He seems to me to be a genuine searcher, not a partisan. And he isn’t KJV-Only. I ended up writing the following in our exchange, an exchange I found instructive and edifying. I was glad to have read him wrong initially, and glad he had the grace to explain himself.
* * *
Yes, the TR, by calling Jesus Mary’s “firstborn,” makes it difficult to hold to Mary’s perpetual virginity. And yes, the Critical Text (CT) leaves that possibility open by calling Jesus only “a son” of Mary.
But I think you’re reading the motivation of a person or persons that are very, very remote from you. I also think that to read intention into one difference commits you to finding a pattern: you have to look at hundreds of differences and discern unified theological purposes behind them. I think you’ll find that rather difficult…
I also think, to be fair, you need to try to come up with an alternate story for every difference. Indeed, why wouldn’t it work the other way? The indefinite article—”a son”—doesn’t require the perpetual virginity view, it just leaves it open. So what’s to stop a zealous, orthodox scribe from “clarifying” that Jesus was only her firstborn? Why not say that the TR “added” to the New Testament rather than that the CT “removed” text or “changed” it?
It’s a lot easier to view the differences as something far less exciting than a conspiracy to alter God’s word.
But… If you aren’t insisting on exclusive use of the KJV, then my disagreement with you over textual criticism matters comparatively little. I care about vernacular translation far above right textual critical views.
I prefer the CT, yes. But since the point of my KJVParallelBible.org project is to highlight the similarities between the CT and TR and show how minor are the differences, I just don’t find a lot of energy in my heart to push me to disabuse you of textual critical notions I disagree with. I’m not saying, “You’re not worth my time”; not at all. I’m saying that as long as you accept the need for a vernacular Bible, I’m completely happy if you still prefer the TR.
I suppose, if I had to read between the lines in your response and offer one response of my own, it would be that every attempt to “throw out” the “bad” manuscripts seems to find itself attached to a narrative about who allegedly tampered with them. I look at the TR vs. the CT—the historical heirs of each supposed major line of manuscripts (Byzantine and Alexandrian)—and I just have a hard time building such a narrative. There are so, so many outliers for any story you could tell. And so many differences for which I just can’t find a story to tell in the first place. Is it that the star “came to rest” over baby Jesus or “came and stood” over him? What doctrinal motivation, what narrative, can you build to explain that difference?
I think one of the things that this project has done for me is shown me the sheer number of non-doctrinal statements there are in the New Testament. Don’t get me wrong, it all adds up to sound doctrine. And I want to incorporate every word. But I’m hard-pressed to find a doctrinal difference between…
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in purity.
And that’s actually one of the more substantive differences out there. (I got this one from 1 Tim 4, a passage I picked at random.)
Most differences seem to me to be even less significant than that one. Like this:
Requiting one’s parents is “good and acceptable before God” or it’s merely “acceptable before God.” (This is from 1 Tim 5.)
What’s the difference here? I don’t see one. (If there’s a problem for understanding the verse, it’s not in the inclusion or non-inclusion of the word “good.” It’s in the “false friend” in the KJV, the word “acceptable” is a “false friend.” In 1611 [or perhaps in British English? I’m a bit unclear on this one] it had a more positive ring that isn’t available to us now. For them it meant “pleasing”—four out of five stars. For us it means two stars: “The performances varied from excellent to acceptable” [see Merriam-Webster].)
And in both 1 Tim 4 and 1 Tim 5, the two texts are nearly identical. Any manuscript tossed out as “bad” is likely to agree 99% with the “good” ones—so why call them “bad”? I want people to use this site and conclude, “Why are we fighting about this!?”
I often feel like the TR side wants to tell stories that could easily be countered with different stories that would work just as well. The fact is we don’t know what was motivating long-dead scribes. I think they’d laugh uproariously at some of our guesses. And then I think the TR side wants to find one plausible story and run with it around the globe—without being willing to come up with a story that actually includes all the evidence.
I take that back, sort of. They do have a story that includes all the evidence: the meaningless variants were placed there to throw us off the scent, I’ve heard them say. They’re supposed to fool us into accepting the meaningful ones. That sounds like classic conspiracy-theory thinking to me, especially when you consider what it takes to change a text that exists in multiple locales in a world without planes.
So when the TR view tells contestable stories about meaningful variants, when it resorts to conspiracy theories to explain the non-meaningful ones, and when the TR position in my experience is used to support the KJV 99% of the time (am I wrong?), I find it hard to accept. If they all move to the NKJV or MEV, I’ll take note. Then we’ll talk.
Because I can still respect someone who takes a TR position (or a Majority Text position)—as long as they support vernacular translation. Give me a contemporary, intelligible translation of a “bad” Greek New Testament any day over an archaic, sometimes unintelligible translation (unintelligible because of language change, not because of bad translating) of a “good” Greek New Testament.