Scores of web articles and books have been written on this hot subject. I felt though I needed to offer my own perspective as you will notice very quickly that I quote often from the NIV on this site. That sort of gives my position away on this issue.
But what I want to do is explain how I arrived at the position I have today and clarify where I stand on this very important issue.
The original languages of the Bible
The Bible was originally written three languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language of the Jewish people. Some parts of Daniel, Ezra and Jeremiah were written in Aramaic. The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek (as opposed to classical Greek).
Verbal Plenary Inspiration
Most conservative Bible believing Christians believe in the “verbal plenary” inspiration of the Bible.
“Verbal” means that the exact words of the Bible in their original languages as written down by their various authors were inspired by God – or God breathed. This does not deny that God used the personalities and distinctive writing styles of each author, but affirms that the words they record and stated were the Word of God, are in fact the very Word of God.
“Plenary” means the whole Bible, all 39 books of the Old Testament and all 27 books of the New Testament – the Bible as a unit is the Word of God. While parts of it may be more a less important to doctrinal or daily issues, every word of every book in it its original form is the very Word of God.
Preservation of the Bible
This is where conservative Christians begin to part ways. How exactly was the Bible preserved? If we believe every word of the original was the very word of God, then do we believe that God has preserved his word exactly this way?
King James preference
This group does not make any technical arguments about the King James – they simply prefer it to other translations and want to stick with this traditional text.
King James Only
There are some conservative Christians today who believe God did just that. They believe the King James translation of the Bible in English, every English word of it is the Word of God. Others will take a slightly modified position to this and say all the words that are not in italics are the preserved Word of God. The italics words in the King James are connector words that the King James translators added to make some sentences make more sense.
This group is only slightly different than the King James Only group in that they feel that the Greek text that underlies the King James Version is what is perfect and infallible. The Greek text underlying the King James Bible came to be called the Textus Receptus. Textus Receptus literally means “the received text”. (The TR is not to be confused with the Majority (or Traditional) text as it truly is a reversed engineered version of the King James Bible back to Greek. Only Greek readings that agree with the King James (even variants among Majority texts) are included in the TR. Also anything the King James translators took from the Latin Vulgate as opposed to Majority Texts they turned back into Greek in the TR).
Majority Texters (sometimes called Traditional Text)
A second group of conservative Christians today do not believe any one translation – including the King James translation, is the perfect preserved Word of God. They believe it is a good translation, but that there are still some flaws in how it translates the original writings of the Bible. This group believes a certain set or family of Greek copies of the Bible are the perfect Word of God. This set is called the Byzantine or Majority text type. The reason it is often referred to as the Majority text is just that – the majority of Greek manuscripts are of this type.
Oldest Texters (or Minority Texters)
A third group of conservative Christians today agree with the second group that no translation is perfect. But they disagree with the second group as to which is better set of Greek manuscripts to use. This group prefers the older Alexandrian manuscripts to the later Byzantine Greek manuscripts.
How I came to my position on the King James only issue
Up until my early 20’s all the Baptist Churches I attended used the King James Version. At that time I attended a Baptist church that used the NIV. It was my first experience with it. I bought a NIV while I was attending that church and began reading it comparing old familiar passages in the King James Version to how they were translated in the NIV.
At that point I knew nothing of the textual debates. I knew the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek but that was it. I was over at a friend’s house (who happened to be a Baptist preacher) and I brought my NIV. He had another friend there as well. They noted that I was using the NIV for Bible study we were having.
His friend told me about how the NIV I was using changed God’s Word and was missing parts of verses, whole verses and even whole sections of verses! This was a shock to me. I told him I was disturbed by that and wanted to research the issue further.
I began getting books on the subject and reading many articles on line. At first it looked the KJV only crowd was going to win me over. Then I came across these pieces of evidence that convinced me the KJV Only position was wrong.
I discovered Edward F Hills Book – The King James Version Defended – you can see the entire text online at http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/kjvdefen.htm
There were a few places where he said things that now I truly understood the KJV Only position and why it was in fact wrong – ironically I got this from one of its greatest defender’s writings. Listen to what Edward Hills says about readings from the Latin Vulgate coming into the Textus Receptus:
“There are, however, a few places in which the Textus Receptus differs from the Traditional text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. The most important of these differences are due to the fact that Erasmus, influenced by the usage of the Latin-speaking Church in which he was reared, sometimes followed the Latin Vulgate rather than the Traditional Greek text.
Are the readings which Erasmus thus introduced into the Textus Receptus necessarily erroneous’? By no means ought we to infer this. For it is inconceivable that the divine providence which had preserved the New Testament text during the long ages of the manuscript period should blunder when at last this text was committed to the printing press. According to the analogy of faith, then, we conclude that the Textus Receptus was a further step in God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text and that these few Latin Vulgate readings which were incorporated into the Textus Receptus were genuine readings which had been preserved in the usage of the Latin-speaking Church. Erasmus, we may well believe, was guided providentially by the common faith to include these readings in his printed Greek New Testament text. In the Textus Receptus God corrected the few mistakes of any consequence which yet remained in the Traditional New Testament text of the majority of the Greek manuscripts….
Sometimes the King James translators forsook the printed Greek text and united with the earlier English versions in following the Latin Vulgate. One well known passage in which they did this was Luke 23:42 the prayer of the dying thief. Here the Greek New Testaments of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza have, Lord, remember me when Thou comest IN Thy kingdom, with the majority of the Greek manuscripts. But all the English Bibles of that period (Tyndale, Great, Geneva, Bishops’ Rheims, King James) have, Lord, remember me when Thou comest INTO Thy kingdom, with the Latin Vulgate and also with Papyrus 75 and B.”.
Without getting into great detail, Erasmus was famous Greek scholar who assembled the first modern compilation of Greek manuscripts. He gathered manuscripts from various sources and made a standard text. Other scholars built upon his work and edited it.
What Hills revealed here as great defender of the King James Bible, for me blew the entire argument out of the water. Basically he was admitting that both the King James Bible itself, as well as the Textus Receptus (Greek source) both had readings that could not be found in any Greek manuscript on the planet. Erasmus picked and chose different readings he would pull directly from the Latin Vulgate and somehow he was providentially inspired to do this? What Angel came down from heaven and told us that? What Prophet came and told us that?
Why not just translate the whole Latin Vulgate into Greek and call it the Greek texts? No I could not accept this and I believed if there are any arguments that can be legitimately made they are all in the Greek manuscripts. If you can’t find it in the Greek, it does not belong – period.
So basically he admitted (and I found other authors later who admitted the same) there are readings in the King James Version that have no Greek manuscript support in any family anywhere in the world.
On the translation front I came across this evidence from the original King James Version – “The Translator to the Reader” – this is not included in modern versions of the King James Bible.
But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? as it is written, “Except I know the power of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh, a Barbarian, and he that speaketh, shall be a Barbarian to me.” [1 Cor 14] The Apostle excepteth no tongue; not Hebrew the ancientest, not Greek the most copious, not Latin the finest. Nature taught a natural man to confess, that all of us in those tongues which we do not understand, are plainly deaf; we may turn the deaf ear unto them. The Scythian counted the Athenian, whom he did not understand, barbarous; [Clem. Alex. 1 Strom.] so the Roman did the Syrian, and the Jew (even S. Jerome himself called the Hebrew tongue barbarous, belike because it was strange to so many) [S. Jerome. Damaso.] so the Emperor of Constantinople [Michael, Theophili fil.] calleth the Latin tongue, barbarous, though Pope Nicolas do storm at it: [2::Tom. Concil. ex edit. Petri Crab] so the Jews long before Christ called all other nations, Lognazim, which is little better than barbarous. Therefore as one complaineth, that always in the Senate of Rome, there was one or other that called for an inter- preter: [Cicero 5::de finibus.] so lest the Church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Transla- tion it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen 29:10]. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, “Read this, I pray thee,” he was fain to make this answer, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”
So the King James translators talk about why it is important to translate into the common speech of any people at different times. In other places not mentioned here they fully acknowledge their translation is one of many and never claim perfection for their work.
After reading Hills work and the King James Translator to the Reader – I was fully convinced the KJV Only position is flat wrong. This is what you have to believe to be a KJV Only person consistently:
The 7th edition of the 9th translation of the Bible in English is the preserved Word of God. All other English translations, as well as foreign language translations, Greek and Hebrew manuscripts readings are only valid if they match with King James Version reading of any particular passage.
This position defies all logic, and most importantly has no Biblical support. The last time I checked there was not verse in the Bible that said God would have a special version of his Bible made about 1600 years after Jesus died on the cross and that would be his final preserved Word for all time.
Let me just clarify here – I don’t have any problem with people who just have a preference to use the King James Version – but if you are KJV Only – I definitely believe both logically and Biblically your position is incorrect.
So what is my position on the textual differences?
Honestly on the textual issue (which Greek text to use) I think I fall somewhere in the middle of Majority Texters and Minority Texters. I think it’s possible that the Alexandrian copies may have lost some pieces and the Majority texts may have added some pieces. Either way after looking at this subject for years I do not believe any major doctrine of Scriptures is affected by the differences.
I think Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the late 19th century summed how I feel on the issue of textual differences well when he spoke these words:
“Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and Authorised (KJV) Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text, and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner . . . By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found we desire that the common version (KJV) may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, or addition of human ignorance, or human knowledge, so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand.” – From his Sermon “Heart Disease Curable”
“Greek is the sacred tongue, and Greek is the Baptist’s tongue; we may be beaten in our own version ( KJV), sometimes; but in Greek, never” (from his Autobiography, vol. 2, p. 327).
I don’t agree with all the translations in the NIV, but for better or worse, it has become the most popular Bible in English in the United States. So most of the Bible quotations on my site will be from the NIV. I still use the King James because it is used in my church, and I also like to compare it to other translations.
With all that being said…from most of the scholars I have read on this – 96% of the Bible is agreed upon and the differences come down to 3 to 4 percent. Even in these 3 to 4% areas, no doctrine of Scripture is lost or changed in any of these differences.
The beauty and genius of the Bible is that it is very repetitive. So what is said by one author in one place is repeated by another. The same goes for doctrines and Biblical concepts, all the important doctrines and teachings of scripture are repeated. So even if you do find as Spurgeon alluded to, that some readings were inserted by a scribe or even a translator, and it is then removed – often times that same item will be found in another place in the Bible.
In some other posts I will get into some more specifics on translation differences…but I think this paper clarifies my on the King James Only issue.