Vessel of Honour has responded to my comments against the textual tradition that served as the basis of the King James Version (in my review of Bible translations). This is my somewhat lengthy response to what I consider to be a long list of false impressions, misunderstandings, and bad responses to what I said.
First of all, his title is a little odd. He says it's about how hate influences those who argue against the KJV. I didn't see much about hate in the post. There were some offhand, unsubstantiated remarks that might have tended toward this, but the title suggests that the post is simply about how hate shapes the discussion, and that isn't at all what it's about.
He says I make "several unsubstantiated statements about textual criticism that we're evidently supposed to accept at face value". Well, I wasn't giving a scholarly defense of my position. I was summarizing it for the purpose of reviewing Bible translations. I also wasn't telling people to accept it at face value. I linked to a scholarly defense of the position by Daniel Wallace, a Greek language scholar. His one argument against Wallace is an ad hominem attack on his character and not his scholarship.
To show that extremism goes both ways, Nicene and Parablemania both laughably link to an article by Daniel Wallace, a man who once wrote that KJV-Only believers were "fundamentalist pamphleteers waging a holy war," as if we were Al Qaeda terrorists in the making, only we're wielding KJV Bibles instead of the Koran.
I don't know what Nicene intended, but I didn't link to Wallace to show that extremism goes both ways. The grammar of the sentence requires that interpretation. Besides the fact the statement Wallace wrote is a largely true generalization in the same way that pretribulational rapturists are Left-Behind and Hal Lindsey consumers (even though not all are, and the best examples of them will tend not to be), using it to undermine his scholarship is nothing but an ad hominem attack on his ability to do good work in textual reconstruction simply because, in his own opinion, Wallace isn't a careful and understated social commentator on Christian movements. His sociological skills or character traits in reporting on his sociological conclusions in negative language don't say anything about his ability to do textual criticism or to explain the scholarly opinion and the reasons for it in readable language, which he's done admirably in the piece I linked. Wallace, I should note, doesn't associate the holy war notion within American fundamentalism with anything related to Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. That's an innovation of Mac's own. The holy war notion in American fundamentalism is metaphorical but real, as evidenced by those who talk of waging a holy war against liberalism. None of this is even in the thing I linked anyway.
Mac's main argument is one my dad often gives to me.
As an example, despite the fact that the Greek Old Testament known as the Septuagint has a spurious history based on falsehoods, many consider it to be more reliable than the newer Hebrew Masoretic texts simply because it's older. This absurd reasoning becomes understandable when you realise that it's the ONLY defense anti-KJV scholars have in countering some of the more pointed concerns that are raised largely by the KJV-Only crowd. If you can show that "older" does not always mean "more accurate," the whole argument falls flat on its face. While some may argue over the complexities of translations, it will always come down to the same worn out premise: that older is better.
The vast majority of biblical scholars, text critics and otherwise, take the oldest manuscripts to be the best. My dad always wonders why we should go with the oldest rather than the ones that have more copies but are much, much more recent (by many hundreds of years). Mac acts as if it's begging the question to assume that older manuscripts are better, because the other position won't grant that position. That would be so if it were a mere assumption, but it's not. It's the conclusion of an argument. The argument is given in Carson and White's books on the subject and in the Wallace essay I linked in my original post.
Mac seems to think the argument is merely:
1. Older is better.
2. The modern translations (besides the NKJV) use older texts.
3. Therefore, the modern translations are better.
This misunderstands what's going on in too many ways to count, but the main two problems with reconstructing the argument this way is that there's no assumption that older is better, and there's no conclusion that the modern translations are better in every way. I listed a number of ways that I think the KJV did a better job for its time than the modern translations tend to do. I happen to think its faulty textual basis is important enough to prefer a newer translation that takes into account the wider textual tradition. Also, the modern translations don't just go with the oldest manuscripts. They have a number of criteria for figuring out which reading was the original text. The antiquity of the text is one of them. They also look for the hardest reading (since easier ones are more likely to be someone's altering of the text to sound easier). They look for confirmation of a reading in multiple textual traditions, one of which is the Majority Text tradition used for the KJV.
Just as with Old Testament textual criticism (as I explained in my review, by the way, though Mac said I was doing the opposite of what I was actually doing), the Septuagint is used sometimes to try to reconstruct the original text, since it's older than the oldest complete Hebrew text we have, but that doesn't mean we should just go with the oldest text we have. One difference with the Septuagint is that it's a translation, whereas the Massoretic Hebrew text is in the original language. One thing in common to both issues is that many factors will determine which textual tradition to use.
The Septuagint is not my usual preferred text, though many scholars do find it superior, and I happen to have a brother agrees with them. I do think the Septuagint and other translations, e.g. the Syriac, will have the right readings sometimes when the Hebrew doesn't. For instance, the Hebrew says Saul reigned for ____ years. If we take the Hebrew textual tradition as absolute, the Bible never said how long Saul reigned even though it made an effort to try to. We have to turn to other versions for that. It's similar with New Testament textual traditions. If a reading is preserved across a number of textual traditions in different locations, then it's more likely to be right. If a reading is confined to the Western tradition (and only the text types that survived into the Latin high Roman period), that raises doubts about it.
Additions are far more likely than subtractions, and the textual tradition the KJV was based on is so riddled with bits that aren't in the other text types. No doctrine is based on such things, but KJV-onlies insist that modern translations are removing parts of the Bible, which of course begs the question against those who believe that the textual tradition the KVJ was based on had added stuff to the Bible.
I'll state this point again a little more clearly. Mac says, "they presume that just because the text is older, it automatically means it's closer to the originals". That's exactly what I'm not doing. It's not just because it's older. There are lots of text types, and some of the older ones are better than others.
Some of the older ones are better than the later ones. Some of the older ones also happen to be worse than later ones. The closeness is not just closeness in time, though that's part of it with some of these texts. It's primarily closeness in readings, and that point is argued for based on multiple features and not just assumed because of age. As far as I can tell, Mac is reading what he wants me to be saying into my words, because he thinks that's an easy thesis to refute. Then he says exactly what modern textual critics believe, "The truth is there is a whole host of factors that are (or should be) taken into consideration to determine authenticity, and the age of the text is simply one of these factors." If he believes that, then why is he disagreeing with modern textual critics' use of those criteria to say that often the older texts are better?
Here is another common KJV-only argument that shows that the position is really the bibliolatry that classic inerrantism is often confused with:
They're basically saying that segments of the word of God have gone AWOL for CENTURIES, before it finally turned up again in recent discoveries. Are they prepared to accept that that God failed to preserve parts of his word for lengthy periods of time before it somehow turned up again in modern times?
The bibliolatry charge is often unfairly leveled against inerrantists. Those who want to say that God couldn't speak through human beings and still have the actual words he wanted conveyed come out at the end of the process say that believing that the Bible really is God's word is bibliolatry. But it's not the words themselves that we worship. If that were true, we'd have the same view Muslims have, that holy scripture from God shouldn't be translated. We don't believe that. If it's still God's word when it's translated, then what is God's word here? It's not a linguistic entity but a matter of what God was communicating, which relies on the philosophical distinction between sentence meaning and speaker meaning.
A sentence could be interpreted in a number of ways, but there was only one intended meaning. Now with inspired scripture God may or may not have indended something that the human author wasn't aware of, but it first and foremost means what God inspired the human author to intend it to mean. Nothing crucial for doctrine or practice is affected by translation, especially when each part of scripture is read in light of the rest of it. It's the word of God, not the words we have on the page that ultimately go back to God, that we consider inerrant or infallible.
So what would be the case if it turned out that one original word was not preserved in the manuscripts we now have? For example, what if the other versions all have the wrong length for Saul's reign? A New Testament example would be the proper end of Mark. After the first 8 verses of chapter 16, scholars disagree about what, if any, ending is original. Some, a minority, think the one in the KVJ is original.
Others think it ended with verse 8. Others think the ending was lost. What if that last option is true? Does that mean we no longer have part of God's word? I don't think that follows. If everything expressed in that portion of Mark was also included in other gospels (most likely Matthew and Luke, since they include more of what's in Mark than John doeS), then we haven't lost it after all. If it turns out that this last view is correct, I don't think it should affect my faith, because I'm not a bibliolater. I worship the God who gave the Bible and the word that he gave through the multiple manifestations of the Bible that we have, none of which is itself inerrant or infallible. If you want to have a text type with no errors, as KJV-onlyists who give this particular argument need to have, then you need to move to another possible world, because I think that view is just demonstrably false (as the case of Saul's reign shows). This is a case where the evidence should refute someone's faith, if that's the view. That's not the view most Protestants hold, however, so it doesn't refute our faith as it should those who give this argument.
Let's remember what we do and don't have promised to us about God's word. There's no promise that somehow God's word will always be available to every human being on the planet. There's no promise that every part of it will be known absolutely by anyone. If short parts are missing that don't affect doctrine or practice, then I think we could still trust God that we have what we need.
Now that's all against the extreme version of this argument. Mac doesn't hold such a strong view. He says:
Note, my personal view of preservation does not mean the text would be void of copyist errors. Rather it means the text was spared from malicious corruption, a fact modern scholars seem to have trouble conceding, perhaps because to do so would put them in agreement with those KJV-O whackos they so utterly despise, or because they're too busy chanting the mantra, "Older is better, older is better, older is better...."
I don't see how malicious corruption is needed for most of the points I've made. The ending of Mark could have been deleted by an error. John 7:53-8:11 could have been inserted by error. The removal of the length of Saul's reign could have been deleted by error. There are lots of copyist errors, mostly of totally insignificant details and some of more substantial significance (though most of those are the kind where the correct details show up in a parallel account in another book). Even so, I don't know how this could be right. There are places where the Bible is quoted wrongly to lead to deliberate misinterpretation. Is Mac saying that God would never allow anyone ever to do such a thing? We know it happens. Is he saying that no one one would ever print a whole Bible with such corruptions? Thomas Jefferson did exactly that, as did Marcion many centuries earlier, each keeping exactly the parts he liked and removing the parts he didn't. If the assumption is that there is one real text type and only that type is immune to this kind of corruption, then it begs the question. If that's not the idea (which it can't be, given what he later says as he wraps it up), then I don't know how it will even make sense without being empirically false.
I won't bother to address his comments about Isaiah 7 except to say that the position he's attacking is neither what he says it is nor one that I even hold. I think more can be said for the view than its detractors allow, and more can be said for it than I said for it in the comments. John Oswalt and Alec Motyer discuss these options in their own commentaries and (I believe) both opt for a more traditional rendering, but it's not as simple as Mac makes it sound, as if any fool should see that it can only refer to a virgin, as if a sign has to be something the whole world will recognize as miraculous. That assumes only one kind of prophetic fulfillment (and disallows typology), and it skirts the linguistic issues (not that I addressed them either).
His comments about conspiracy theories miss the point that KCV-only conspiracy theorists really do think most evangelical biblical scholars hate the Bible and are trying to undermine it. Just meeting almost any of these people should show that such a claim is ridiculous. He also acts as if those defending the position of most scholars will always go to the most extreme cases and ignore the more reputable defenses of the Majority Text. That's simply not true. I've read Carson's book on the topic, one of the two most popular response to KJV-onlyism. Carson doesn't deal with the more popular arguments. He spends time on the scholars. Zayne Hodges and more recent defenders of the KJV textual base are his primary focus. The same is true of the short piece by Daniel Wallace that I linked.
At the end of his post, Mac says a lot of things that I largely agree with, though his emphasis at a few points seems to me to convey something that's just not true. There had been a decreasing reverence for God's word among biblical scholars for many years. I think that's reversing quite rapidly as evangelical scholars are taking much more prominence. Some Bible translations have scholars involved who have less reverence for God's word, and these people may be decreasing in their reverence for the word. Yet other translations, including most of the ones I recommended, seem to be coming almost entirely out of more conservative circles. The NRSV is the only one I discussed that had a majority of scholars less concerned with reverence for God's word, with Bruce Metzger as the lone voice of reason on a couple views (most notably resisting gender-neutral terminology even about God, which would have masked some of the points the biblical writers were making, especially in Paul). The ESV and the NIV are not subject to this criticism, but Mac makes it sound as if all the modern translations are like this. He also gives some subjective conclusions about the quality of the KJV, which in my experience looking at the Greek of passages I've taught just doesn't seem to fit with the evidence. Many, many places in the KJV have rightly been updated in modern translations to make the point more clear, to correct a bad translation, or to reflect a change in language. I could probably name several off the top of my head, but a quick look through a good commentary with a KVJ in front of me could lead to a long list for virtually any of the longer New Testament books.
He also makes this linguistically insensitive comment: The KJV Translators knew what they were doing though, and intentionally reached back to a purer form of English subservient to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, one that could be more faithful and accurate. Today we do just the opposite, attempting to fit the word of God into the corrupted languages of today, with no desire or yearning to go back to a time where English was used more purely, more lucidly, and more poetically. n away [sic], the modern Bibles present the modern churches, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. English has changed in many ways. Some of those ways make it harder to capture Hebrew or Greek. Some of them make it easier. There's no purer form of any language. Language change is natural. This really does make me think of bibliolaters, except that it's not even the text of the Bible that's being near-worshiped but the language it was written in. There's some special power in the text of the KJV that isn't in modern Bibles? How did the KJV translation get this magical ability? It was written in a language that has such a magical ability, of course.
I can't bear to quote his words that follow, since they reflect his ongoing ambivalence toward God's gathered ones (the church). For those unfamiliar with Mac's blog, he's involved with the "worship God but abandon God's people (the church)" movement recommending that Christians be unchurched, and I couldn't help but notice that he slips some of this into his conclusion. I couldn't write a response to his criticism of my review without at least mentioning how much such comments hurt God's people.
Finally, he describes the modern translations as a sword become a butterknife, diluted of power and stagnant. I would say the reverse. Instead of capturing everything in a language no one speaks, it puts the truths of God's word into the language people actually speak, thereby continuing its power rather than allowing it to remain stagnant. For the same reasons that the Bible was originally translated into new languages, we constantly need to rethink whether the best translations we have are the best we can achieve.