Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 4, The New King James Version Uses Critical Text Readings

by Aug 5, 2019ChurchLife, KJV11 comments

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.


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.


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.

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    Agreed. I watched a video where Dan Wallace (think it was from his text critical lectures from Credo House) said how frustrated he was when he worked on the NKJV, because Farstad wouldn’t let them deviate from same TR of the KJV.

  2. Kent Brandenburg

    Here are some examples:

    Jude 1:19, the critical text omits eautou (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.

    Acts 19:39, the the NKJV follows the critical text in “peraiterw” instead of “peri eterwn”, subtle but different.

    Acts 19:9, the NKJV follows the critical text in omitting “tinos”

    Acts 17:14, the NKJV omits “as it were” (“ws” in the Greek) and thus once again follows the critical text.

    Acts 15:23, the NKJV follows the critical text in omitting “tade”, or “after this manner”.

    Jude 1:3, the NKJV leaves out “our” (“hemon”) following the critical text.

    Isaiah 9:3, the NKJV changes the Hebrew text behind the KJV by leaving out the Hebrew “lo” (“not”) with OT textual criticism.

  3. Thomas

    Mark, *thank you* for providing this important and helpful explanation.

  4. Kent Brandenburg

    I don’t know. Maybe you’re not printing my comments, but I thought you would want to know. This is not all the examples one can find, but there are at least these in this list.

    Jude 1:19, the critical text omits eautou (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.

    Matthew 22:10, the critical has “hous” (“whom”) and the TR has hosous (“as many as”) and the NKJV follows the critical text with “whom”

    Luke 5:7, the TR has “tois” (“which”) and the critical text doesn’t have that word, and the NKJV follows the critical text, while the KJV does not.

    Luke 6:9, the TR has a plural “sabbasin” and the critical text has a singular “sabbato” and the KJV is plural, Sabbath days, and the NKJV is singular “the Sabbath.”

    John 10:12, the critical text leaves out the last word, “probata,” sheep, and the NKJV follows that, while the KJV follows the TR, which has that word, “probata,” sheep.

    Acts 19:39, the the NKJV follows the critical text in “peraiterw” instead of “peri eterwn”, subtle but different.

    Acts 19:9, the NKJV follows the critical text in omitting “tinos”

    Acts 17:14, the NKJV omits “as it were” (“ws” in the Greek) and thus once again follows the critical text.

    Acts 15:23, the NKJV follows the critical text in omitting “tade”, or “after this manner”.

    Jude 1:3, the NKJV leaves out “our” (“hemon”) following the critical text.

    Luke 1:35, the NKJV follows the critical text in leaving out “ek sou” (“of thee”) unlike the KJV.

    Isaiah 9:3, the NKJV changes the Hebrew text behind the KJV by leaving out the “not” (“lo”) with OT textual criticism.

  5. Darrell Post

    If it were true that the NKJV included readings that deviated from the textus receptus, then near the top of that list of deviations would be Revelation 17:16. There the NKJV would have read, “And the ten horns which you saw and the beast…” Instead, the NKJV reads the same as the KJV based on the textus receptus, “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast…”

    The only reason the KJV and NKJV read on (epi) instead of and (kai) is because the preposition epi is found in the printed TR. Why then does the TR read epi instead of kai? No one really knows. There is absolutely NO witness to the Greek NT (dated before Erasmus’ printed text) among all the hand copied manuscripts that read epi. And yes, I personally checked every available manuscript as I was preparing for an article I have yet to publish.

    My survey of cataloged Greek New Testament manuscripts revealed 272 that may include Revelation 17:16. Of these 272, remarkably, only ten were found to not have images available on the internet. Another manuscript, GA2344, could not be deciphered from the blurry image as 17:16 fell on a badly marred page. Then 22 damaged manuscripts known to include the Book of Revelation lacked the page that included 17:16.

    Of all these manuscripts, only six read epi and all the rest of them read kai. But what about these six?

    Among the six manuscripts reading epi one might expect to find the one Erasmus provided his printer in Basel, Switzerland in 1516 when he undertook to complete the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament. Not so. The manuscript used as the source for Revelation in the TR is GA2814, and it reads kai not epi. Furthermore, all six of the manuscripts reading epi were hand-copied after Erasmus’ popular printed edition entered circulation. These include GA296 (16th century), GA1775 (1847), GA1776 (1791), GA2049 (16th Century), GA2066 (1574), and GA2072 (1798). Scholars who have examined these manuscripts have commented that at least some of them were simply hand-made copies of Erasmus’ printed text. But none of them were created prior to the printed text.

    But what about other ancient sources? Sometimes there is a reading in early Latin manuscripts that doesn’t show up in the Greek until centuries later, but I found no relief for the KJV reading there either as the Latin also reads kai, and not epi.
    The simple fact is the very FIRST time epi is found anywhere is the printed textus receptus edited by Erasmus and printed in Basel.

    So if there was any likely passage where the NKJV editors would have understandably abandoned the reading of the TR, it would have been Revelation 17:16. But they didn’t. They stuck with epi against ALL manuscripts copied prior to Erasmus. They could have made a very easy case for the change to which many KJV Only adherents would have had to give assent.

    1) It is not a doctrinally loaded variation.
    2) There were absolutely zero witnesses to the reading prior to Erasmus.
    3) The very manuscript Erasmus intended to print also read kai. This means the change from epi to kai for the NKJV would have actually aligned more with what Erasmus likely intended, as epi was most likely a mistake involving the worker who set the type for Erasmus.

    But the NKJV editors refused to make the change. They stuck with the reading of the KJV, based on the flaw in the textus receptus.

    • Mark Ward

      Excellent. Helpful.

  6. Andy Efting

    For what it is worth, Kent Brandenburg on his blog lists these departures from the TR in the NKJV. I haven’t investigated these but I wonder if these are really just translation differences and not actual departures from the TR.

    Jude 1:19, the LV/C text omits eautou (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.

    Acts 19:39, the the NKJV follows the LV/C text in “peraiterw” instead of “peri eterwn”, subtle but different.

    Acts 19:9, the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “tinos”

    Acts 17:14, the NKJV omits “as it were” (“ws” in the Greek) and thus once again follows the LV/C text.

    Acts 15:23, the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “tade”, or “after this manner”.

    Acts 10:7 the NKJV follows the LV/C text in omitting “unto Cornelius” in the first clause.

    • Mark Ward

      Andy, it looks like I have a tiny bit more homework to do. Thanks for sending this.

  7. Mark Ward

    For the record, my spam filter caught Kent’s comments. I take them seriously and am planning a response. If I am wrong, I will either pull down or modify this post.

  8. Kent Brandenburg


    I’ll probably take down my posts too on this with the exception of leaving the list up for a reference related to the KJV with a brief explanation. I could add to the list, I believe. I was fine believing that the NKJV didn’t deviate from the underlying text of the KJV, but I found it did deviate. They should just say they deviated. Maybe someone is saying that, but I’ve only read places where they say, same text. It isn’t, and that’s obvious to me.

    Thank you, Mark.


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