Sometimes it takes people with the skeptical eye provided by a minority viewpoint to see things the majority cannot, comfortable as it is in its unquestioned worldview. Who questions what all “sane” people believe? We actually need a few conspiracy theories out there, and a few Cassandras. (Actually, a lot of Cassandras, I think.)
My recent post charging KJV defenders with sin because they 1) repeated the claim that the NKJV includes critical text readings and yet 2) never produced any evidence for that claim—that post has been answered by someone holding a minority viewpoint. It was KJV-Only leader Kent Brandenburg, someone who is (shall I say) skeptical of the mainstream views of textual criticism and Bible translation. My spam filter caught his comment, but it was later brought to my attention, and I’ve now approved it. He has presented me with a list of apparent critical text readings in the NKJV. He says (and I certainly believe him—he also said this years earlier) that he himself initially accepted the NKJV preface’s claim in their preface, “The editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament.” But, he says, he has since discovered evidence to the contrary.
What shall I do?
And here is what I will do: I will speak truth. I have to explore publicly whether what I said in that previous post is the truth, now that I have been presented with Kent’s counter-evidence. He presents a list of fifteen deviations from the TR, which amount to fourteen fair questions from the NT and one from the OT. Wisdom that is from above is open to reason (James 3:17).
When I first got that list, I assumed I was in trouble. After I had seen the list, but before I went through it, I wrote the following, and I was prepared to post it:
Let me acknowledge forthrightly: the discovery of critical text readings in the New King James Version—which, according to my own diligent researches, no KJV defenders had yet produced—has successfully shot down that recent post of mine. I have in fact taken it down, with hopes that I can revise it in time to come. My opponents, the KJV/TR defenders, win on this point. And, like dominoes, a not-insignificant element (though not the central point) of my argument in Authorized, goes down with it. I cannot now say, without an asterisk, that the NKJV “uses precisely the same Greek New Testament text as the KJV” (117).
Now, even if my supporting point about the NKJV goes down, my central case stands: the KJV is no longer fully intelligible, because English has changed over 400+ years in such a way that modern readers not merely don’t but actually can’t fully understand the KJV. KJV defenders should obey 1 Corinthians 14 and either make or use a vernacular translation of the Bible based on whatever Hebrew and Greek texts they prefer.
But the availability of the NKJV provides two important, practical supporting points for me: 1) The fact that my KJV-Only brothers have rejected it for almost 40 years tends to suggest that what they’re really trying to preserve (whether they realize it or not) is the KJV, not the TR—and therefore I can safely ignore the issue of textual criticism and focus on English translation. 2) And it matters to me that I can encourage brothers and sisters in Christ whose consciences are bound to the TR, “Feel free to use the TR: just go to your local Christian bookstore and get an NKJV [or MEV] so you can understand it all.” I think this is the first step KJV-Only institutions should take when they start to realize that retaining the KJV stands in tension with 1 Corinthians 14.
I am still right
But I have now gone through Kent’s list, and it is my belief that I do not have to retract anything—not my blog post, and not my above-quoted statement from Authorized. I am currently enjoying that delicious internet feeling of I am still right, with only a tiny dash of he has a point. [Update: Kent made further comments which have made the dash more than tiny.] I will, as a result of this exchange, add a footnote to that line in my book because of that point [Update: and I will change one word!], one I will explain in due course. But I will not change the statement. The NKJV New Testament still, to my knowledge, does not use any critical text readings [Update: I stand by this statement.].
Sadly, I don’t think my discussion below will persuade Kent, or any other KJV/TR defenders. Some interpretation of the evidence is required, and some belief in the good will of people of whom they are suspicious. But for my nerdy friends who look to me for help in this arcane area, I do have answers. (Indeed, I got help from some nerdy friends—Matt Postiff and Duncan Johnson—in working through the passages. Them I thank.)
It is my belief that all of the New Testament examples below are translation issues and not textual ones. The Old Testament example is sort of a textual issue, depending on how you look at it—but it’s complicated. See the discussion below.
Let’s go right through Kent’s list (which I edited slightly for clarity).
1. In Matthew 22:10, the CT has “ους” (“whom”) and the TR has οσους (“as many as”) and the NKJV follows the CT with “whom.”
The KJV itself translates οσος (osos) with the relative pronoun “who” in Hebrews 2:15. “All as many as” is awkward English; the NKJV translators chose a gloss for οσος (osos) that made for better English. One might disagree with their choice, but this passage does not show that the NKJV translators were following the CT rather than Scrivener’s TR.
2. In Luke 1:35, the NKJV follows the CT in leaving out “εκ σου” (“of you”) unlike the KJV.
Update (this stuff gets so nerdily complicated): in my original post, I mistook a note in my BibleWorks copy of the NKJV as one provided by the NKJV translators; it appeared to acknowledge that the English text omitted εκ σου—but not that it followed the CT. I now believe that the NKJV translators either 1) omitted to translate the phrase because it is redundant and unnatural (though certainly not impossible) in English or 2) followed Stephanus’ 1550 TR instead of Scrivener for reasons they do not give.
3. In Luke 5:7, the TR has “τοις” (“which”) and the CT doesn’t have that word; the NKJV follows the CT, while the KJV does not.
The NKJV once again went with natural English, not with the CT. “Their partners, the ones in the other boat,” is not natural. The KJV itself sometimes omits to render τοις when English does not require it—such as in Matthew 6:5, “They love to pray…that they may be seen of men [lit., “the men].”
4. Luke 6:9, the TR has a plural “σαββασιν” and the CT has a singular “σαββατω”; the KJV is plural, “Sabbath days,” and the NKJV is singular, “the Sabbath.”
The NKJV, like the KJV often does with this very word, went with natural English. The KJV itself renders plural forms of σαββατον with a singular in 11 out of 19 opportunities. In Matthew 12 alone the KJV renders the plural (“Sabbaths”) with singulars twice and with plurals three times.
5. John 10:12, the CT leaves out the last word, “προβατα,” sheep, and the NKJV follows that, while the KJV follows the TR, which has that word, “προβατα,” sheep.
The NKJV uses natural English word order—producing an anaphoric rather than a cataphoric pronominal reference, because the former is easier to follow—rather than what a woodenly literal English translation might require. If the NKJV followed the CT, it would not have “sheep” anywhere in the last clause (see NASB, ESV, NIV).
6. John 19:10, the CT leaves out a second “εχω” (“have”) and the NKJV follows that, not the TR, differing than the KJV.
This example is simply wrong; the CT has two instances of εχω, just like Scrivener’s TR. In fact, the NKJV follows Scrivener’s word order with “crucify” and then “release,” rather than the CT’s order with “release” and then “crucify.”
7. Acts 15:23, the NKJV follows the CT in omitting “ταδε (tade),” or “after this manner.”
The NKJV did not omit ταδε; they simply rendered it with “this” instead of “after this manner.”
8. Acts 17:14, the NKJV omits “as it were” (ως) and thus once again follows the CT.
“Ως” is not missing in the CT; rather “ε” is present—thus “εως,” meaning “until” or “as far as.” The NKJV clearly does not render εως here; it simply omits to represent ως with one English lexeme. It opts for more natural English, just like the KJV does in John 19:33, when for the sake of smooth English they omit to render ως and instead “add” an “and” that isn’t in the Greek text (one they do not italicize).
9. Acts 19:9, the NKJV follows the CT in omitting “τινος.”
This is a matter of English style and not of text; we no longer say “one Tyrannus,” or “a certain Tyrannus” except in highly formalized situations. If this decision happens to match the CT (and it does), this is no proof that the NKJV used the CT.
10. Acts 19:39, the NKJV follows the CT in “περαιτερω” instead of “περι ετερων.”
I believe this example is simply incorrect. The NKJV seems to me to be consistent with KJV here. If the NKJV were translating the CT, one would expect some idea of “further” or of information “beyond” their original inquiry—as CT-based translations such as the NIV and ESV do.
11. Romans 14:9, the CT leaves out the first “και,” which is translated “both” in the KJV and left out in the NKJV, following the CT.
To use “both” here would be ungrammatical in contemporary English; “both” is now limited to introducing lists of two items (I confirmed this in Chicago and in M-W). The NKJV omitted to render και not for reasons of text but in order to produce grammatical English.
12. Colossians 3:17, the CT does not include “και,” as does the NKJV.
This is the strongest objection in the list of fourteen New Testament examples. I believe it is possible to view the NKJV’s rendering as a translation decision, not a textual one (and my friend Michael Aubrey, the proprietor of Koine-Greek.com, agrees)—because in the TR this is a textbook example of the Granville-Sharp construction: article + singular substantive + και + singular substantive. But to translate it the way such a construction is normally translated sounds awkward: “giving thanks to the God and Father by [Jesus].” So if a Granville-Sharp construction communicates the “unity” and even the “identity” of the two substantives (see Wallace), perhaps the NKJV translators felt that natural English communicating this identity would omit “and.” Now we have the normal “God the Father” instead of the apparent possibility of two different beings, “God and the Father.” Even the KJV doesn’t opt for a fully literal rendering: they move the article: “giving thanks to God and the Father by [Jesus].” But that, to my mind, is awkward, too. (And note: the Majority text actually omits και here.)
I must acknowledge that it is at least equally possible that, for a reason they do not share, the NKJV translators decided to follow the CT here. Later I’ll explain why I lean against this view.
13. Jude 1:3, the NKJV includes “our” (“ημων”), following the CT.
The KJV itself sometimes translates articles as pronouns when it doesn’t have to: “She is loosed from the law of her husband [του ανδρος]” in Romans 7:2 could be “She is loosed from the law of the husband.” The KJV translators removed the article and replaced it with what is more natural in English.
However, this passage appears to me to be the second strongest example in the list. It is at least equally possible that, for a reason they do not share, the NKJV translators decided to follow the CT. Later I’ll explain why I lean against this view.
14. Jude 1:19, the CT omits εαυτου (“themselves”), as does the NKJV.
This is certainly a translation choice and not a textual one. The NKJV translators rendered “the ones who separate themselves” as “[those] who cause divisions.” One may disagree with their philosophy and insist on a more literal rendering, but they did not purposefully “omit” a word.
15. Isaiah 9:3, the NKJV changes the Hebrew text behind the KJV by leaving out the “not” (“לא”) with OT textual criticism, the difference being that joy is increased instead of not being increased.
The NKJV has a footnote here explaining that they followed the Qere reading. I am not an expert in Old Testament textual criticism, and at first it seemed to me that Kent might have a point here. The NKJV translators don’t claim in their preface to follow the exact text behind the KJV in the Old Testament, so maybe here they didn’t follow it. According to that preface, they followed the 1967/77 BHS. But James D. Price, former professor at Tennessee Temple and head editor of the NKJV Old Testament, very specifically says that he personally ensured that in the eight places in the entire Old Testament in which the BHS fails to match the Bomberg text used by the KJV translators, the NKJV went with Bomberg and not with BHS. Evidently, Price does not consider this choice in Isaiah 9 to be a textual-critical one. Indeed, to call a reading supplied (or suggested—we simply don’t know) by the medieval Masoretes, long before the advent of critical scholarship, the result of “textual criticism” seems like a confusion of categories. And the KJV translators themselves have what is essentially a textual note here in the margin. All the NKJV did was swap the two: