I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. This coming Wednesday, Objection 5: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons.
4. The New King James Version uses critical text readings.
Nearly every critic of my work on the KJV has insisted that I was sidestepping the real debate, the debate over textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. It must be said that I gave two pages of argument as to why I shouldn’t have to engage this debate, and to date, none of my critical reviewers has mentioned this fact or answered the arguments I made there.
So I won’t repeat them, nor will I discuss textual criticism. It is an entirely separate issue from the one I wished to discuss in the book, namely the scriptural and linguistic case for vernacular translation. Authorized is officially neutral on the question of textual criticism. Someone who prefers the Greek and Hebrew textual bases of the KJV can agree with my point 100%, and I think maybe a tiny few do.
But there is one common objection to my viewpoint that relates to textual criticism that I do feel I need to clear away. It’s a big reason there aren’t more people who prefer the Textus Receptus or Majority Text New Testament and yet use a vernacular translation of those texts. And it’s something I hate to bring up. Indeed, it is time for me to do something I avoided doing in the book. I am going to charge my theological opponents with sin—though a sin of omission rather than of commission. But I can’t avoid it: the KJV-Only movement as a whole, and many individuals within it, are not telling the truth, and the leaders at least should know better.
Here’s what I mean: repeatedly I have seen KJV-Only leaders say that 1) all the modern versions use a different textual basis than the KJV. The significant minority who know that the NKJV claims to use the same textual basis as the KJV have repeatedly said 2) that the NKJV actually incorporates a number of readings from the critical text.
Here is the NKJV editors’ claim:
Because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document [the KJV] translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.
But here’s a Greek professor at Ambassador Baptist College teaching on the topic:
My biggest personal gripe with the New King James, other than some of the changes we’re gonna show you, is that they went beyond the stated purpose. The stated purpose was, we’re going to keep everything from the traditional King James and we’re just going to try to modernize some of the words. The truth is out of these thousands and thousands of changes, there are thousands of times where the changes that they made actually match the Westcott-Hort/UBS/critical text Bibles. So they made changes that reflect a different textual view.(4:45)
Here’s another quote from the same lecture:
There are people that have gone through and compiled lists of places where changes to the NKJV New Testament actually reflect the Westcott-Hort.(18:10)
I have diligently sought for these lists, and the cupboard was bare.
Even the most gracious and careful KJV-Only brothers, such as Charles Surrett (also of Ambassador), have repeated the charge that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the text. Surrett, to his credit, then acknowledged that he hadn’t personally looked into that charge and couldn’t verify it. But he is still raising the possibility that the NKJV committee are liars without giving any evidence that they are. (He also, in his Certainty of the Words, casts doubt on the NKJV because there was only one Independent Baptist involved in its production, and that one, Surrett says, “is definitely not a TR advocate.” It isn’t enough that the NKJV use the TR; its progenitors have to believe in its perfection, or the NKJV can’t be trusted. One wonders, then, how it is that Surrett can trust the work of Scrivener himself [the scholar who put together the edition of the TR that Surrett defends], given that Scrivener was on the committee that revised the KJV to reflect the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament.)
Indeed, I have never once seen my KJV-Only brothers produce an example of a critical text reading in the NKJV. They are, as a group, calling the NKJV translators liars.
Now let me say immediately that I will not return the favor: I will not call my KJV-Only brothers “liars.” I do not believe that any individual KJV-Only brother has self-consciously told an untruth about the NKJV. A “lie” is something the liar knows to be false; I think my KJV-Only brothers sincerely believe what they’re saying. (And a few writers, such as David Cloud, have clearly told the truth about the textual basis of the NKJV.) But they have still, together, told a big untruth: friends who graduated from KJV-Only Bible colleges confirm that they were told that the NKJV was a critical text Bible (or were never told that it wasn’t). KJV-Only leaders in particular ought to know better, and that’s a moral ought.
After years trying to figure out what basis the KJV-Only apologists had for saying that the NKJV “includes critical text readings,” I think I have figured out what’s going on. It’s an understandable confusion. It starts with someone saying what is undoubtedly true, that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the margins. It does. Repeatedly. The preface says so, and they are evident everywhere in the New Testament. (Note: the KJV has textual critical notes, too.)
But then someone else hears that the NKJV “includes critical text readings” and fails to realize that they are not in the text—and an unkillable, untrue rumor is born.
Also, the NKJV may at times choose the same English rendering as some other contemporary translation using the critical text—but that’s surely bound to happen given that the critical text and the TR are so overwhelmingly similar. Such renderings do not constitute evidence that the NKJV is secretly using the critical text.
The KJV-Only brothers and sisters who shaped me in high school cared deeply about truth. It’s time KJV-Only leaders publicly pushed back against the inadvertent untruth many of them, even and especially the leaders, have been repeating for a long time. Someone in authority—Bible college professors especially, I think—ought to have checked. The NKJV does not include any critical text readings.