Are There Critical Text Readings in the NKJV after All? A Nerdy and Detailed Response to a Set of Fair Questions.

by Aug 18, 2019KJV20 comments

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?

Here is what I will not do: I will not debate textual criticism with Kent, or with anyone else who insists on the exclusive use of the King James Version.

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, 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:

1611 KJV at Isaiah 9:3

On balance, I don’t think I’ll alter what I’ve written in the past in my book or in articles. But I’ll be ready with this asterisk (and will likely add this footnote to my book if I get the chance): “In Isaiah 9:3, the NKJV match the KJV’s marginal reading rather than its text.”


The NKJV translators said they used “the traditional text” for the New Testament. In several places Kent mentioned—especially two of them, in my view—it is possible but not certain that they used a critical text (CT) instead. There are three options I see for explaining all this:

  1. Option 1: The NKJV translators lied. They secretly incorporated random, insignificant variants from the CT into the NKJV, for reasons of spite (?) or humor (?) or something perhaps nefarious. This is the conclusion of the KJV-Only movement.
  2. Option 2: The NKJV translators made mistakes. They accidentally picked up the wrong GNT at a few random places. Or they remembered CT readings and didn’t realize they were using them.
  3. Option 3: The NKJV translators told the truth, and their apparent deviations from the TR are due to the exigencies of translation—style, euphony, clarity—and not text.

Why do I adopt the third explanation? First, because I looked at the passages myself and believe I’m right.

Second, because I am skeptical of conspiracy theories. It is the nature of conspiracy theories to see significant, malign motivation behind actions that are better described as minor, or coincidental, or thoughtless. To the conspiracy theorist, enemies loom larger than real life; they have insidious plans and secret powers. If I may edit Chesterton (and please bear with the long quote—it’s been so valuable to me over the years!):

The [conspiracy theorist]…generally sees too much cause in everything. [He] would read a conspiratorial significance into…empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass [by a man walking with a cane] was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels [by that same stranger across the street] was a signal to an accomplice. If the [conspiracy theorist] could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of [a conspiracy theory], knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a [conspiracy theorist], it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections…. The [conspiracy theorist] is not the man who has lost his reason. [He] is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (Orthodoxy)

Okay, so in a number of random places, none of which seems to have any doctrinal significance—or mean anything different from what the KJV means—the NKJV translators are supposed to have meddled with the true text of Scripture? “Our salvation” vs. “the salvation”? “A certain Tyrannus” vs. “Tyrannus”? Why bother sneaking in such meaningless variations—if it was done for textual critical reasons at all? A little good humor—and, most important of all, a little charity—could change the whole picture for TR defenders in an instant. They could see, I think, that when the evidence could point either way, it’s best to show charity toward one’s opponents and believe that they are telling the truth. They would see that the NKJV translators had nothing to gain by following the CT in obscure places.

And if, somewhere, Kent can find an example that simply cannot be explained as a translation decision, then it is more charitable to resort to the explanation of finiteness than to fallenness. Only inspired people make no mistakes. As the KJV translators themselves said,

Whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand? (xxviii)

The KJV translators did not believe their work was perfect. Maybe the NKJV can still be useful even if it doesn’t reach perfection either.


Quite obviously, I wouldn’t have taken the time to respond to Kent if I didn’t believe this discussion mattered. I took his list very seriously, and I’m glad I did. I learned a few interesting things about the NKJV and KJV. I also wouldn’t have taken this time if I didn’t value my ability to urge KJV-Only brothers toward the NKJV.

So let me urge them again: my brothers in Christ who insist on the exclusive use of the King James Version, pick up the NKJV. Write in a “not” in Isaiah 9:3 if you must; add “one” before “Tyrannus” in Acts 19:9. [Update: change “gone out into the world” to “entered into the world” in 2 John 1:7.] But 1 Corinthians 14 tells us that edification requires intelligibility, and the NKJV is noticeably more intelligible than the KJV. This is not due to any fault in the KJV or its translators; nor is it due to any fault in modern readers. It is due solely the dead words and “false friends” produced by language change. If you’d like to learn more about this, here’s a short book to read, and here’s an infotainment documentary to watch.

It is not true to call the NKJV a “critical text Bible,” as many KJV-Only leaders have done. Doing so poisons the well for a simple Christian who has no capacity to evaluate their claim. If someone’s conscience (or official doctrinal statement) limits him to using the Hebrew and Greek texts underlying the KJV, then the NKJV is still the best choice I know of for private and pulpit use.

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  1. Kent Brandenburg


    That was a lot of work. I have no problem adjusting my list where I think you were right, because I don’t have skin in this game, which would mean there is no conspiracy. I don’t have a problem with an updated KJV, which I’ve said before. I didn’t spend a lot of time compiling my list, and based on some of your exposure, I could have done a better job. What I will do though is remove what I see as questionable ones from my list, and then look for others. Maybe I won’t find any, but I think I will. It might be a good thing to give a kind of disclaimer to your piece. I think in a little time I’ll have five or ten more. We’ll see.

    I just skimmed your article. I’ll come back and look at it in more depth in not too many days henceforth.

  2. Kent Brandenburg

    I’ve never thought or called the NKJV a critical text Bible. I don’t know who those people are. If I’m elsewhere and the church uses the NKJV I’m generally happy, because I’m thinking it’s from the same text as the KJV. However, I thought that the “no deviation from the TR” was not true despite the claim. I still think it deviates, and I don’t think you and the other two men prove it above. This is not because I think it is a “conspiracy theory.” I wonder about these types of charges, what they mean to the overall discussion. I just sat down to think about this again.

    • Mark Ward

      Kent, I accept the truth of what you say. To be clear, I am still speaking to my original audience and the original issue I raised—in addition to addressing the questions you raise. Many KJV-Only leaders have not been as careful as you on this point. And what I would call a very large majority of KJV-Only doctrinal statements (this is a point I now realize I should have made in the original post) imply that the KJV is the only Bible translation that uses the TR, because I have seen literally hundreds that mention the church’s (or school’s or mission board’s) belief in the Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text, all of which then go on to mention the KJV—and precisely zero of which ever mention the NKJV. Here’s one example, picked by Google, that makes the connection explicit; most leave it implicit:

      “We believe that every word of the Holy Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God. We affirm that holy men of God were moved by the Spirit of God to choose and record the exact words in the original writings commonly referred to by the early churches as the Textus Receptus (TR) or the Received Text, and that God through His omnipotent care has preserved His Word to all generations forever (Psalm 12:6-7). In that God has promised to preserve His Word to all generations forever; and in that the King James Version of the Bible is the only English translation from the preserved Textus Receptus, in the public ministry and services of this local church we are committed to the use and perpetuation of the King James Version of the Bible, and believe it to be the preserved Word of God for English speaking people.”

  3. Kent Brandenburg

    I wrote another blog post, but here is the appropriate content and more.

    *Asterick meaning that I don’t accept the argument.

    1. In Matthew 22:10—Don’t mind giving this one, although a pattern starts to emerge where the text is different and the translation favors the critical text, but it is said to be a translational decision by those who might hope to cover for the “no deviation” claim.

    *2. In Luke 1:35—The translators followed the critical text, but said they were making a translation decision, not following the critical text.

    *3. In Luke 5:7—Matthew 6:5 is a different usage of “tois,” which is used as a relative pronoun in Luke 5:7. That relative pronoun isn’t in the CT or the NKJV.

    *4. Luke 6:9—The issue here is that the TR uses the plural for “Sabbath days” and the CT doesn’t, which is why the KJV translates the plural “Sabbath days.” The NKJV deviates here. I could follow the argument about other places of the plural translated like a singular except there is a deviation here, making this obvious.

    5. John 10:12—This is not a good example by me, so I defer here.

    6. John 19:10—This is not a good example by me, so I defer here.

    7. Acts 15:23—I defer here.

    8. Acts 17:14—I defer here.

    *9. Acts 19:9—The NKJV translation matches the CT and deviates. This reads as obvious.

    *10. Acts 19:39—The NKJV uses only “other” as “further,” which is following the CT, as opposed to the clear translation of “concerning other matters,” which one can plainly read is the TR.

    *11. Romans 14:9—What is very interesting about this refutation is that there is a double “kai” later in the same verse translated as both-and in the NKJV, so Ward and his group has this one wrong. If they really were relying on contemporary English, they would have done it both times. It could not have been grammatical.

    *12. Colossians 3:17—This one stands.

    *13. Jude 1:3—This one stands.

    *14. Jude 1:19—Both the ESV and NKJV have the same translation because they both follow the CT, and you won’t see “themselves” (eautou), as in the KJV. It also changes the meaning as some of these others do.

    *15. Isaiah 9:3—the King James translators did not rely on the Qere reading, so it’s different. I had to tell the truth.

    Here are five more. I stopped with the five. I’m not saying there are only five more, just like I wasn’t saying there were only fifteen before.

    1. 2 Corinthians 3:14—the NKJV departs from the TR to the CT with the TR (ho) and the CT (hoti), so the NKJV translates the conjuction, “because,” and the KJV translates the relative pronoun, “which.”

    2. Philippians 2:9—the CT has the article (to) before “name,” “the name,” and the TR has no article, “a name,” and the NKJV reflects this deviation.

    3. Revelation 6:11—the KJV follows the TR and the NKJV follows the critical text in the plural “robes” in the KJV and the singular “robe” in the NKJV. The Greek word in the TR is plural and in the CT it is singular.

    4. 2 Corinthians 4:14—the NKJV says “with Jesus” following the CT (sun) and the KJV says “by Jesus” following the TR (dia).

    5. 2 John 1:7—the NKJV says “have gone out into the world” following the CT (exelthon) instead of “are entered into the world” (eiselthon) in the TR and KJV.

  4. Andy Efting

    One of the issues here, in both the OT and the NT is that both the Masoretic text and the TR are not free from variation. The Hebrew text contains several Qere/Kethiv readings and there are several manuscripts that make up the TR. So it is possible to follow the TR and the Masoretic text and still deviate from the precise textual critical selections of the KJV translators. For sure that is what is going on in Isaiah 9:3 (where I believe the context confirms that the NKJV definitely gets it right) and perhaps in some of the NT examples (cf., Luke 1:35, where Stephanus differs from Scrivener). It is also fair to say that the translation process is often flexible enough to account for these other minor apparent deviations, as I originally thought, and you have demonstrated.

  5. Brian Collins

    I’m having trouble understanding things that seem to be stated or implied in the post and in the comments interaction.
    1. With Luke 1:35, why is alignment with Stephanus’s TR a problem? Is Scrivener’s TR the only “right” TR?
    2. With regard to Isaiah 9:3, did the KJV ever adopt a Qere reading anywhere in its translation? (I don’t know.) If someone is going to do a modern English translation of the MT/TR, do they have to follow the KJV translators’ decisions on which reading to follow, Qere or Kethib? Can translators ever adopt in primary text readings that the KJV translators put in their margins? Can preachers ever adopt in preaching a KJV marginal reading?
    3. With Romans 14:9 Scrivener reads γὰρ Χριστὸς καὶ ἀπέθανε καὶ ἀνέστη καὶ ἀνέζησεν while NA27 reads γὰρ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἔζησεν. If the NKJV was following the NA text, it wouldn’t have “died and rose and lived again.” It would just read “died and lived again.” It doesn’t really makes sense, to me at least, to say that the NJKJV is following the critical text because of an untranslated και given the clear adherence to the TR in the substance of the verse. I think it dropped the preceding και, which the KJV translates as “both,” because there are three items following rather than two. In English (at least at present) “both” indicates two items, not three.
    This leads me to a final bit of confusion: Are people really insisting on reading a translation that is at points very difficult to read for contemporary readers because the main alternative that translates their preferred text-type has done things like dropped a “both” in order to make the meaning of the original clear in English? I don’t understand.

  6. Aaron

    Mark, thanks for doing sleeves-up, knuckles-greasy work on this. The Chesterton quote is so apt, and–in my experience–gets to the real core of the way many look at the issue. (And why facts and reasoning continue to be unpersuasive to many.)

  7. Thomas Overmiller

    Mark (and Matt and Duncan), *thank you* for taking the time to work this through. As a busy pastor and family man who is unable to dive this deeply into these details at the present, I am grateful.

  8. Andrew P Efting

    Brian asked, “did the KJV ever adopt a Qere reading anywhere in its translation?”

    Yes, in a pretty familiar verse:

    Job 13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (KJV, qere)

    Job 13:15 Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face. (RSV, kethib)


  9. Mark Ward

    I haven’t had the time to track it down—this stuff gets awfully detailed—but I did stupidly and belatedly realize that I have The New King James Version in the Great Tradition, and when I looked at it last night it made the comment that the KJV translators regularly/frequently (I’m at work now and don’t have it handy, but it’s one of those two) went with Qere readings.

    So a big point of my argument above is that the things the NKJV translators did were regularly done by the KJV translators. Only if you start with the presupposition that there must be one, perfect Word of God in every given language (a presupposition the KJV translators certainly did not hold, according to their preface) is it wrong for the NKJV translators to do just the kind of things the KJV translators did.

    Kent has listed a few more passages, and I’m looking through them. He makes some good points; I will indeed have to add a footnote to the statement, “The NKJV uses precisely the same Greek New Testament as the KJV.” That footnote could be summed up this way: “Like all translations, it’s complicated.”

  10. Darrell POst

    In the first article, I posted a comment on the example of “and the beast” versus “on the beast” in Revelation 17:16. Had there been any desire or effort at all on the part of the NKJV translators to deviate from the TR, this variation would have been near the top of that list. “On the beast” was almost certainly a printing error in the TR; therefore, had the NKJV editors abandoned it for “and the beast,” they would have actually rendered what was in the very manuscript Erasmus handed off to his printer. So it matters very little whether or not any possible examples of departure from the TR are found in the NKJV. If there are any, they most certainly were accidental departures, of less consequence than the accidents made by Erasmus’ printer. What is abundantly clear is that the NKJV translators intended to stick with the TR.

    Any KJV/TR advocate who objects to NKJV usage because the final product of the NKJV doesn’t follow the TR as closely as desired in a few passages would still be far further ahead to commend the use of an amended NKJV than continue the promotion of exclusive KJV usage.

  11. Kent Brandenburg

    I don’t know why the NKJV translators deviated from the text behind the KJV. If I were an investigator or a prosecuting attorney, and were looking for motive, it would seem obvious that they were not TR men doing the translation, that is, they didn’t care as much about the KJV as an actual KJV supporter would. However, I really don’t know, because I haven’t read anywhere why. I really am just wanting the truth about this particular claim. What I can see with my own eyes is that they did deviate. It’s not major deviation, but it is deviation so that the no deviation charge doesn’t work. It remains a legitimate criticism. I actually would respect the ability of the translators. They know what they are doing, so they wouldn’t be so careless as to follow a different reading, unless they knew they were doing it. Then ironically, I think there is a Clintonesque understanding of deviation. Someone who isn’t sure about individual words anyway doesn’t count small numbers of deviation as deviation.

    At my blog, we’ve (Thomas Ross) written in the past about the Qere readings. . I’m not making any point except that the NKJV did not rely on the same reading as the KJV did. I really didn’t go into the Old Testament with the same vigor, because I thought the point was the New Testament textual basis of the NKJV.

    Our book, Thou Shalt Keep Them, which is a biblical theology of the perfect preservation of scripture, the subject matter it addresses, what the Bible teaches about its own preservation, is what interests me the most on this subject. I’m not into getting in the weeds like I went ahead and did here because I believed (and still do) that the NKJV does deviate and no one was stepping up to that, despite what Mark was saying.

    There is epistemology and even apologetics (presuppositionalism versus evidentialism) that comes into play here. How do we know what we know? Can we say that every word was preserved and every word is available based on scripture alone, or do we have to go outside of scripture to know that? Can we even know? This relates to the authority of scripture. Then, scripture is the source of pure knowledge, not our lying eyes, so it provides the defense, not evidence of what to believe about scripture itself. Much more could be said.

  12. Kent Brandenburg


    When someone commits to every word preservation, based on biblical presuppositions, changes in words do matter. The readibility issue takes back seat to that doctrine. If these are the words established, then changing them is a big deal, but you treat changing them as superior. It represents a different way of thinking. It would be nice if people could at least admit where people are coming from on this issue

    You actually made a charge that NKJV translators didn’t deviate, because if they didn’t in Revelation 17:16, then they wouldn’t anywhere else. That point is/was wrong. Admission of error would seem to be appropriate for you. No one is going to hold it against you.

  13. Kent Brandenburg


    I’m into facts. Producing a list is someone into facts.

  14. Darrell Post

    Kent, what I am saying is that had the NKJV translators set out with the intent to deviate, Revelation 17:16 would have been the kind of verse they would have deviated on, due to the fact that they could have aligned their translation to be what was shown on the actual manuscript Erasmus handed to his printer to print.

    If you are in to facts, then the facts are that there is not a single hand-copied manuscript prior to the printed edition of Erasmus that reads epi, ‘upon the beast.’ They all read kai, ‘and the beast’ including the very manuscript used by Erasmus’ printer. Given these facts, do you believe English translations should read ‘and the beast’ or ‘on the beast?’

  15. Darrell Post

    “If these are the words established, then changing them is a big deal”

    Kent, this is exactly what I am saying about Erasmus’ printer. He changed the word, introducing the reading ‘upon the beast.’ Do you agree that he shouldn’t have changed that word?

  16. Robert Apps

    Thanks for your work in this area. Our church uses the NKJV and I mentioned this week in the morning service that every time we use the NKJV we are STILL using the KJV in many ways. It still has the thought flow and overall verse structure of the KJV but with helpful updating of the English language. I realise those comments would go over like a lead balloon in many places:)

  17. ajmacdonaldjr

    The language of the KJV was last updated by Blayney in 1789. That was 250 years ago, not 400.

  18. Kent Brandenburg

    First, KJV men lie about deviations. No list. Thank you, kudos all around. Second, list provided. Nothing retracting that they in fact weren’t lying. Quite a bit of a silence for a period. Third, list doesn’t count and the real issue was intent. The translators didn’t intend to lie about that. That’s not the issue. The issue is the KJV men lying. No one was talking about intention not to deviate, but whether they in fact did deviate. Example after example of deviation, explained away, new ones added. Fourth, new standard, it’s just all so complicated. Just a complicated issue.

    This reminds me of Russian collusion, Russian collusion. We meant obstruction, it’s about obstruction. You begin to see that it never was about getting the original point right.

    The whole point was lying about deviations. It wasn’t a lie. You’re not still right when a list is provided that shows deviations. There’s a list. It shows deviations. I’m not here to throw confetti. It’s just a matter of the original point being wrong.

    • Mark Ward

      I would like to try to wrap up the discussion that has gone on my blog in recent days about the NKJV. I will close comments here, because I have come to 1) one significant concession to my interlocutor, Kent, that will require me altering a word in Authorized, and to 2) one more settled conclusion about what KJV-Onlyism boils down to.

      The Concession

      First the concession: I am compelled to acknowledge that the NKJV does not use “*precisely* the same Greek New Testament” text as the one underlying the KJV NT. There are six places in the NT—Luke 1:35; Col 3:17; Jude 3; and now 2 Cor 13:14; 4:14; 2 John 1:7—that Kent has brought to my attention, places in which I cannot square the rendering in front of me with the generally literal approach of the NKJV translators and with Scrivener’s text at the same time. It is certainly not impossible that more such places exist, though the post above shows, I’m not yet ready to accept an explanation which has the NKJV translators secretly following the critical text in random, insignificant places.

      I diligently sought such lists of KJV “deviations” from the TR in the past, and I repeatedly came up empty. I believe, 1) because I repeatedly came up empty over the course of years; 2) and because even the most careful of the KJV-Only leaders, such as Charles Surrett, who wrote a book about the NKJV (that I read), explicitly said that they had no such list, that the KJV-Only leaders who have called the NKJV a critical text Bible were speaking untruths. They were not lying, as I said in my first post. They were sincere. But they did not have a basis for their words. They were and are culpable for repeating an untruth.

      Kent is the first I’ve seen to give any evidence in (again) all these years that the NKJV deviates from Scrivener. And yet, because Kent’s challenges have pushed me further into what the NKJV is, I have come to realize yet another possible explanation for some of the departures from Scrivener Kent found in the NKJV: the NKJV translators never promised to use Scrivener and only Scrivener. I took “traditional text” in the NKJV preface to refer to Scrivener’s 1881/1894 GNT. But as I dug further, I finally found the book by Art Farstad, The New King James Version in the Great Tradition. In it I found this statement, which is a slight expansion on the statement in the NKJV preface:

      The text of the New King James Version New Testament itself is the traditional one used by Luther and Calvin, as well as by such Catholic scholars as Erasmus, who produced it. Later (1633) it was called the Textus Receptus. (111)

      The NKJV translators named (I take it) Erasmus’ several TR editions and the Elzevirs’ several editions as possible sources. And they imply that all TR editions—Stephanus, Beza, Complutense, Scrivener, etc.—are fair game.

      So when I come to the subsequent list of passages Kent gave in a comment, it’s even easier for me to acknowledge a few more that don’t appear to come from Scrivener’s text—which, let’s remember, is simply a record of the textual critical decisions of the KJV translators.

      1. 2 Cor 3:14 – This does appear to me to be a place where the NKJV didn’t follow Scrivener; I can’t honestly say that the NKJV gives a possible translation of Scrivener here. But it isn’t clear that the NKJV followed the CT, because at least one other TR (Complutense) has the reading.

      2. Phil 2:9 – I think it is possible to translate Scrivener this way. The MEV translates it the same way.

      3. Rev 6:11 – I think it is possible to explain this as producing natural English. “Each” can’t be plural in English like it can in Greek. Once they went with “each” they had to make the “robe” and the “giving” singular. As often in translation, one worthy goal, the goal in this case of lexical concordance (εκαστος [ekastos] = each), must sometimes produce compromises in other worthy goals, in this case the goal of matching number.

      4. 2 Cor 4:14 – This does appear to me to be a place where the NKJV didn’t follow Scrivener; I can’t honestly say that the NKJV gives a possible translation of Scrivener here. But it isn’t clear that the NKJV followed the CT, because at least one other TR (one of the Elzevirs’ editions) has the reading.

      And yet, here’s Kent’s coup de grâce so far…

      5. 2 John 1:7 – I checked all the editions of the TR that I had access to: Eramus 1516, Erasmus 1519, Complutense 15-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, Elzevir 1624, Stephanus 1550, Beza 1598. I hold out a little hope that the reading occurs in a TR I don’t have access to, or that someone with greater Greek knowledge than my own could explain how the NKJV is a possible rendering of Scrivener. But I can’t honestly say that I can see it. All the TRs I have say, “Many deceivers have entered into the world,” while the NKJV (and the CT) say, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.”

      What I’m not willing to say—and what I don’t think Kent has shown—is that the NKJV ever opts purposefully to follow the CT. I still think that finiteness (all-too-human mistakes) and not fallenness (a sneaky decision to use the CT in a few random places!) is a better explanation for the six places (so far) in which I acknowledge that it’s difficult to see how the NKJV translators were following Scrivener’s TR. And in half of those places (Luke 1:35; 2 Cor 3:14; 2 Cor 4:14), I’ve found different TR editions which have the given reading used by the NKJV. The KJV translators themselves (may I repeat) used multiple TR editions. They did textual criticism among TR editions, as Scrivener himself showed in great detail. It cannot be wrong for the NKJV translators to do the same.

      So I do have to take out that pesky word “precisely,” but I still feel comfortable saying, “The NKJV uses the same texts the KJV did.” And I appeal to the KJV translators themselves, who said,

      Things are to take their denomination of the greater part…. A man may be counted a virtuous man though he have made many slips in his life (else there were none virtuous, for, ‘in many things we offend all’), also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars. No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand? (xxviii)

      A few “warts”—a few places where I can’t square what the NKJV translators did with what they said—do not make it impossible for me to say that the NKJV is a TR-based translation. If we got up to 25 or 30 examples, even, of places where they undeniably followed the CT, I’d have to change even that tune. But given the quality of the evidence provided so far, I doubt it will happen.

      What KJV-Onlyism Is

      I have purposed in my heart not to debate textual criticism with anyone who insists on the exclusive use of the King James Version. So the comment thread ends here—because I don’t see how I can avoid saying something about the topic.

      Through this epic discussion (and other reading I’ve been doing for an upcoming lecture at Reformed Baptist Seminary on Confessional Bibliology), I have come to see even a bit more clearly what KJV-Onlyism is. It is—wait for it—KJV-Onlyism. It is not, as so many KJV-Only leaders have insisted, a defense of the TR.

      I plumbed recently to the depths of E.F. Hills’ work, and Theodore Letis’ work, and I re-read the bibliology statement by Thomas Ross that Kent once affirmed to me, and I find the same thing: the ultimate standard for the NT, the perfect-in-every-jot-and-tittle text, is Scrivener’s 1881 text.

      And what is Scrivener? It’s the KJV. It’s a record, made by one of the translators of the first Westcott-Hort-based New Testament (the ERV), of the textual critical choices made by the KJV translators. Scrivener’s work was meant to be a scholarly tool, not the One Text to Rule Them All.

      But Ross believes (and Kent at least once affirmed) that the KJV translators, who were not perfect, committed no translation errors of which Ross was aware. Likewise, Ross affirms that they committed no errors in textual critical judgment. When they chose to follow Beza and include εκ σου in Luke 1:35 rather than following Stephanus, they were providentially (not miraculously) guided into being free from error. When, in dozens of places, they made similar decisions, they were free from textual critical error. This is precisely what Hills taught, with great clarity and explicitness (see especially Believing Bible Study).

      And I reject it. The KJV translators were no more providentially preserved from error in their textual criticism than they were in their translation. In both, they were very, very good—but they were also what they said they were: fallible human beings who were only trying to make a good thing better.

      Whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand? (xxviii)

      Conclusion: back to my central point

      Kent has won a significant concession from me: I’ve got to remove the word “precisely” from my book. I’m glad: I want to speak truth. But in the end here, I just sigh. Oh, Kent. Oh, Thomas Ross. Oh, KJV-Onlyism and Confessional Bibliology in all their forms… I just want you to have the Bible in your own language, and for your kids to have it in their language. And for the bus kids. And the new converts. And the mature believers. If I can’t point you to the NKJV because of your views on preservation, and if you won’t (as I assume) accept the MEV, then make a translation of whatever texts you prefer into contemporary English. I will help you, particularly if you can put together a big enough coalition to make it worth everyone’s time.

      I know you care which GNT I use; you may continue to pillory me for using the critical text. But I don’t care what Greek New Testament you prefer as long as you read and use—and give and commend to others—a translation that uses intelligible speech, as 1 Cor 14 demands. The King James Version contains many dead words, words we know we don’t know like besom, chambering, emerod. Make a translation that says broom, immorality, and tumor instead. The King James Version also contains many “false friends,” words we don’t know we don’t know like halt, commendeth, prevent. Make a translation that says limp, demonstrates and comes before instead. I’ve become something of an expert on false friends; I’d be happy to help you revise the KJV—if you can get that coalition together, like I said.

      What I’ve been doing for several years is this: trying to release my brothers from a doctrinal trap by which their consciences have been snared. I have expected them to snap at me; that’s what trapped consciences do. Mine did it when I was 17. So I have looked for the gentlest and most directly scriptural ways to appeal to my KJV-Only brothers. The NKJV was one of those ways: it’s what a Bible translation is supposed to be. It’s careful and readable. And it happens not to violate a single Textus-Receptus-Only doctrinal statement I have ever seen. Despite a few passages I cannot explain (let’s write to Thomas Nelson with the full list! I’ll help!), the NKJV NT *is* based on the Textus Receptus. It is not a critical text Bible, as many KJV-Only brothers have claimed.


  1. An Evaluation of the Work of Charles Surrett on Preservation – By Faith We Understand - […] readings?” That is a fair question that necessarily involves some discussion of text, and I’ve sought to answer it.…
  2. Why Do Our TR-Only Brothers Reject the NKJV with Such Passion? The Trinitarian Bible Society’s “Examination of the New King James Version” By Faith We Understand - […] to engage is Hembd’s charge that the NKJV translators allegedly used critical text readings. See my discussion of such…