Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The King James Only Controversy, Part 3

May 7, 2018

In this third of a four-part article I look further at issues of textual criticism, translation theory, pros and cons about manuscript types and translations, and so on.

Objections raised against the Alexandrian texts and translators

Some critics claim that the Cambridge textual scholars Westcott and Hort were not even Christians and had non-Christian, even satanic, agendas they were pushing. One spurious and rather nasty claim is that Westcott was deeply involved in the occult and witchcraft etc. This is one of the most bizarre and bogus claims. It is pushed in Riplinger’s book for example, which has been widely discredited and denounced as a work laden with shoddy conspiracy theory nonsense, and filled with mistakes, inaccuracies, and outright distortions and falsehoods.

The truth is this: often folks confuse B. F. Westcott with W. W. Westcott, who was in fact a spiritualist. The former did briefly do a serious investigation of spiritualism and found that “such investigations led to no good” as his son put it. Indeed, just months before he died Westcott said this:

Many years ago I had occasion to investigate “spiritualistic” phenomena with some care, and I came to a clear conclusion, which I feel bound to express in answer to your circular. It appears to me that in this, as in all spiritual questions, Holy Scripture is our supreme guide. I observe, then, that while spiritual ministries (aka the occult) are constantly recorded in the Bible, there is not the faintest encouragement to seek them. The case, indeed, is far otherwise. I cannot, therefore, but regard every voluntary approach to beings such as those who are supposed to hold communication with men through mediums as unlawful and perilous. I find in the fact of the Incarnation (of Christ) all that man (so far as I can see) requires for life and hope.

Then there are the regular and rather juvenile charges made about modern versions omitting verses – or adding them. One popular meme making the rounds on the social media lists 16 different New Testament passages, and shows how the KJV has them all, while five newer translations (the NIV, the NASV, the NCV, the NRSV, and the RSV) do not. Yes, folks who really know very little about such matters are happy to run with all sorts of silly and quite misleading memes such as this.

The intended implication of such memes is clearly this: “Oh look, the KJV is the only true Bible (or in this case, New Testament), and all the others are satanic, evil translations which we should all fully reject.” That is exactly how they “reason”. They actually think there is only one version that we should run with, and a 400-year-old one at that.

They are of course making the wrong point and asking the wrong question. If we find a number of newer translations “omitting” certain passages, the question NOT to ask is “Why are these evil people destroying our Bible?” The proper question to ask is this: “Given how these versions have not run with some verses (and added others as well), why is this?”

And the answer is pretty straightforward: the best manuscript evidence we so far have (that is the oldest, most reliable manuscripts) do not feature some of these verses. Thus the wise thing was to not include them. And it is not just about “missing” verses but “added” verses as well. When there is good, solid evidence from some of the older, more reliable manuscript families such as the Alexandrian to add some words that are not found in the Majority Text, then it is wise to do so.

This has nothing to do with tampering with the Word of God as the KJVO critics foolishly and disingenuously claim. And if they are going to recklessly hurl passages like Revelation 22:18-19 around, such texts could just as easily be tossed back at them, since their preferred manuscripts also “add” or “subtract” verses, when compared to other groups of manuscripts.

And of course anyone owning a Greek New Testament will see an almost verse by verse discussion of the various manuscripts, how many or how few have a particular verse, what are the preferred readings, and so on. Thus there are no deep dark secrets here, no conspiracies, no nefarious Satanists out to destroy our Bibles.

All this is not to say of course that some translations are not better than others. First of all, there are different sorts of translations, ranging from strict word-for-word translations to quite loose paraphrases. I have discussed all that in some detail elsewhere. See this two-part article:

Make no mistake, having the best translations possible is very important, and it is true that some translations can be preferable to others. But it is also quite true that actually living and obeying the Word of God is so very important as well. Some folks will fight to the death over certain translations while living like the devil!

We must realise that every single translation in the world – English or otherwise – is “man-made”. Only the original manuscripts are inerrant, not any later translation. And verses are not “removed”. They are all assessed according to the best manuscript evidence available, and then they are used or passed over. More questionable ones that are not used will be noted in the margins of a good translation.

So when these folks complain about “missing Bible verses” one simply has to reply, “But compared to what?” There are no missing verses as such. There are only various translations based on the various manuscripts we thus far have available. Some have the verse in question, some don’t. Some verses have good manuscript support for them, some don’t.

And when a well-known passage is not supported by the best manuscript evidence (eg., John 7:53-8:11), then most newer translations will at least tell you that in a marginal note, and many will feature it anyway.

The NIV, recent versions, and various objections

The KJVO crowd dislike all new versions, and they will often single out the NIV as being especially inaccurate at best, and devilish at worst. As is often the case, they usually know very little about the actual facts. Just as many of them are not even aware of all the different versions of the KJV, they are also not aware of the various versions of the NIV.

My point here is not to defend to the death the NIV (it is not perfect, just as no man-made translation is perfect), and some of the NIV versions are less useful than others. But I do want to deal with a few objections often heard concerning the NIV, such as supposed homosexual influence, secular publishing arms, an attack on the deity of Christ, and so on.

First, as to the issue of the ownership of Christian book and Bible publishers, just about every Christian publisher today is owned by some bigger non-Christian outfit, so the charge of “secular ownership” really means nothing.

And of course there are various versions of the NIV now. The first edition appeared in 1978. It underwent a minor revision in 1984. In 1997 a new version was published in the UK as the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition, but was not published in the U.S. because of opposition from conservative evangelical groups there to inclusive language.

A revised English edition titled Today’s New International Version (TNIV) released a New Testament in March 2002, with the complete Bible published February 2005. In 2011, an updated version of the NIV was released. So we have more than one NIV to deal with.

Sure, many of us had some real problems with the 2011 NIV, mainly over the gender-neutral issue. And it was a mixed bag actually, with some other aspects actually strengthened. But as I say, I have no interest in mounting a full defence of the NIV. Aside from that unhelpful gender-neutral edition, if the others are not to your liking, don’t use them.

One claim made by the KJV Only crowd is that new versions in general, and the NIV in particular, actually seek to deny the deity of Christ. They claim the KJV preserves this. But this is simply not the case. We only need to compare some key passages here to understand why.

And the issue extends beyond the NIV to other versions as well, with some of those appearing to be stronger on Christ’s deity than the KJV. In 2 Peter 1:1 for example we find “the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” in the KJV. The NASB has “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” and the NIV has “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”.

One could argue that the two modern versions give us a somewhat stronger affirmation of Christ’s deity than the KJV. Consider also Titus 2:13. The NIV renders part of this verse as follows “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”. The KJV however has “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”. Again, one could argue that the former is somewhat stronger since it does not seem to separate the two, but in fact all these translations are basically making the same point.

And a verse like John 1:18 could be said to “deny” the deity of Christ in the KJV if we compare it with say the NASB. The latter speaks of “the only begotten God” while the KJV just says “the only begotten son”. The NIV puts it this way: “the one and only Son”. Conspiracy theorists should be attacking the KJV just as much as the NIV here, while praising the NASB!

Other verses include Philippians 2:6-7. The KJV renders it this way: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation”. Now see how the NIV runs with this: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing”.

The NASB has it this way: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself”. And the ESV says this: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself”. The last three of course are based on the Alexandrian text, while the KJV is based on the Byzantine text. They are certainly as strong on the deity of Christ, if not a bit more so, than the KJV.

Also, consider a verse like Jude 25. The KJV, based as it is on the Byzantine text, omits the phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages” which the NIV has. Thus one could maliciously and foolishly claim the Byzantine copyists were deliberately corrupting the text and deleting vital words to undermine the deity of Christ!

Lastly, look at 1 Peter 3:15. The KJV says “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”. The NIV says, “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord,” while the ESV says “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”. Hmm, once again the Alexandrian text based translations seem to give Christ a much more clear run when it comes to his deity. Will the KJVO crowd acknowledge this? I doubt it.

Another issue dragged up by the critics is that somehow the NIV was overrun by homosexuals and it favoured a pro-homosexual translation. Many will mention the issue of homosexuality as being a reason not to read the NIV. But here are a few facts to consider:

The lesbian activist Virginia Mollenkott is often mentioned in this regard by the critics. But she was NOT on the NIV translation committee. She was only one of a number of literary style consultants, and only worked for them briefly during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Furthermore, she never revealed her lesbianism to the NIV committee during this time.

And as to the actual scripture, “Sodomite” is only used once in the KJV (Deuteronomy 23:17) and the term “homosexual” is never used in the KJV. And other passages can come off second best in the KJV. For example, the NIV gives us a quite clear “men who have sex with men” in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

And the ESV translates it, “men who practice homosexuality”. But the KJV only says “effeminate”. Consider the ESV which does the same with 1 Timothy 1:10. The NIV has “for those practicing homosexuality”. The ESV has, again, “men who practice homosexuality”. But the KJV has “them that defile themselves with mankind”.

So were those behind the KJV being pro-homosexual? Sure, the word “homosexual” is a relatively recent word, one not used 400 years ago. And yes the NKJV does use the word, but recall that some of the hard-core KJVO folks even reject the NKJV!

Finally, there are a number of pieces of evidence pointing to the fact that King James himself may well have been a homosexual. Since the KJVO folks routinely cast aspersions on the character of their foes, they perhaps should also do the same with the one behind the KJV. But if we rightly say that his behaviour had nothing to do with the KJV and its value, then we must also say the behaviour of Mollenkott had nothing to do with the NIV and its value.

In sum, where is all the obvious watering down here in the newer versions, be it with the issue of homosexuality, or the deity of Christ, and so on? As I keep saying, every translation seeks to make use of the best manuscripts available, and that will result in some different renderings of various texts.

Part 4 of this article offers various conclusions and summations, plus an extensive reading list:

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4 Responses to The King James Only Controversy, Part 3

  • Thankyou for some much needed sane examination of all these issues.

  • Hi Bill, your statement of “sodomite” only appearing once in the KJV didn’t ring true to me. I looked and found that singularly it did only appear once, but “sodomites” appears a further 4 times:
    1Ki14:24, 15:12, 22:46 and 2Ki23:7

  • Hi Bill

    Good articles… thanks.

    You said above in No3:

    ‘And the answer is pretty straightforward: the best manuscript evidence we so far have (that is the oldest, most reliable manuscripts) do not feature some of these verses. Thus the wise thing was to not include them. And it is not just about “missing” verses but “added” verses as well. When there is good, solid evidence from some of the older, more reliable manuscript families such as the Alexandrian to add some words that are not found in the Majority Text, then it is wise to do so.’

    Can I just note that the two terms ‘oldest’, and ‘most reliable’, (and ‘older’, and ‘more reliable’), are not necessarily equivalent or synonyms. I see no reason why an older manuscript may be less reliable than a younger one.

    In the life time of the apostles there were quite a number of heresies being promoted, and no doubt followers of the same, would want a text to support their views. Arius apparently did. Paul mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:15 (NIV) ‘You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.’ I presume they had deserted Paul because, for one reason or another, they disagreed with his theology…in fact many of Paul’s letters were written to correct false teaching, it was so pervasive. Even today I know someone who believes Paul was wrong, and the Judaizers were right. I told him if that was the case he should cut Paul’s letters out of the Bible…and blow me down if he didn’t do just that, along with Luke and Acts, because Luke was a close associate of Paul! This mentality I take it was widespread in the 1st century and could well have produced similar results…corrupted texts…very early on…1st Century!

    So it is not the ‘oldest/older’ manuscripts we should be appealing to, but the ‘most reliable’.

    How ‘the most reliable’ are determined is not, it seems to me, done by appealing to their age…old or young.

  • Thanks Renton. Throughout my entire article I usually offered some sort of qualification when I mentioned the ‘old = better’ idea. I never said this was absolutely and always the case, but I did try to explain that all things considered, often the less time we have between an original and a copy (and also, the fewer copies that we have over a period of time), the more likely the chance of having less copyist mistakes, errors, variants, etc. That is still true, whether we are talking about textual criticism or playing Chinese Whispers, as I discussed in my article.

    Thus I was not trying to say that ‘older’, and ‘more reliable’ are ‘necessarily equivalent or synonyms’. What I did say in the article is that we need to be aware of the various ways one can assess how reliable a manuscript might be, and an eclectic approach may often be the best way to proceed here.

    And yes, early on heresies did begin to develop in the early church, with the earliest disciples having to deal with various false teachers and false teachings. Of course heretics like Arius did not appear until the 3rd and 4th centuries. But thanks for your thoughts.

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