KJV-onlyism

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(Note: I have not had much exposure to the KJV-only camp, and as such am not terribly familiar with their arguments. I am assuming that most of the KJV-only camp falls into Darren's second classification: The KJV is the only valid English translation. (The first classification I have no problem with, but doesn't seem to fit the name KJV-only, as it seems to more accurately be KJV-preferred, or KJV-lover. The third classification is pretty radical and I can't imagine that it has a huge following.) In particular, I am assuming that KJV-only advocates believe that the KJV is the best possible English translation, and that KJV-Oers believe that the original Greek and Hebrew is superior to everything, including the KJV.)

In the discussion about KJV-onlyism, Mac makes the argument that God would not let any portion of His Word go unpreserved for any serious length of time. Here is what he has to say on the topic

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?
This particular argument bothers me quite a bit. Rebecca and Jeremy see it as an a priori commitment to one particular notion of how God will preserve His Word and I am inclined to agree. But what really bothers me is not that there is an a priori commitment to a principle, but that the KJV-only camp applies this a priori principle selectively.

The KJV-O logic (or at least Mac's argument at any rate) is a proof by contradiction and goes something like this:
(1) Assume that there exists today an English version of the Bible that is better than the KJV. Call such a version the BV (Better Version)
(2) Then, by definition of "better", people did not have the best possible version of the God's Word between 1611 (the completion of the KJV) and the date of the completion of the BV.
(3) God would not allow His people to be without the best possible version of His Word or any significant length of time.
(4) Therefore, (1) must be false.

The argument hinges on two premises: (1) and (3). The KJV-O camp feels that (3) is significantly more compelling than (1), and thus (1) is deemed false. As such, (4) should more accurately be written as:

(4') Therefore either (1) or (3) must be false (or possibly both).

What drives me crazy is that while (1) may or may not be false, (3) is demonstrably false, especially by KJV-O standards. Consider the following:

(5) The KJV was the best English translation of the Bible in the year 1611.
(6) By definition of "best", the KJV was better than all of the English translations which preceded it.
(7) Thus, prior to 1611, God's people (well, the ones who spoke/read English at any rate) were without the best possible version of His Word.
(8) However, God would never allow such a thing. See (3).
(9) Therefore, either (3) or (5) must be false (or possibly both).

Mac will certainly not give up on (5). Thus he is forced to give up (3). But if he gives up (3) then he really shouldn't use it as a hammer against other versions.

[Before Mac goes and accuses me of being anti-KJV, let me state for the record that I like the KJV quite a bit. I do believe that the KJV was by quite a large margin the best English translation of the Bible in its time and that the translators did an incredible job.

I will not go so far as to say that the KJV is the best possible English translation because I do not think there is such a thing. Every translation is imperfect and fails in some way (usually in multiple ways) to capture the full meaning and context of the original. Each translation chooses to emphasize some aspects of the original over others by necessity. Inasmuch as they are successful in doing so, that translation succeeds in being the "best" in respect to those aspects. The KJV is the "best" for poetic style and for memory work, but is not the "best" when it comes to current language usage. That is by no means meant to be a disparaging remark against the KJV, but simply a recognition that all translations are imperfect, and the KJV is no exception.

All that being said, I think that the argument between Jeremy and Mac is primarily about the use of the Majority Text vs. the Critical Text as the basis for translation, and that the argument of Mac's which I refute is a minor one and not critical to his point. I am no expert on textual criticism and have little to say on the matter of "which one is better", but I do know that contra Mac's assertions that the Critical Text advocates only care about the age of manuscripts, the Critical Text was assembled with far more criteria than just the age of manuscripts in mind (though the age of manuscripts was an important criterion).

With that in mind, my question to Mac is "What about other translations which use the Majority Text as their foundation? Might these possibly be better than the KJV? If not, why not? And if so, are you really a KJV-Only advocate, or just KJV-preferred?]

19 Comments

I think Mac's view is that the Majority Text is God's word, with the other texts corruptions. There's nothing particular to the KJV except that it's the best English translation of the MT. (I don't even think that's true. I think the NKJV is the best English translation of the MT. There are some things KJV-only people don't like about the NKJV, but I don't remember what those all are.)

Given that, your argument doesn't seem to dismiss his view but just the more extreme KJV-only view. Actually, that assumes that the readings in the MT were there all along, which begs the question against the standard view that MT involves additions and subtractions (though more of the first). Thus Mac's view applies the criteria inconsistently with what I believe to be the facts, but it doesn't apply them inconsistently with what it takes to be the facts.

That's a lot of hand wringing there, but you didn't represent #3 fairly. I didn't say that we would always have the best translation of his Word, but that we WOULD have his word. The idea that some inspired manuscripts would not just be simply relegated to obscurity but be essentially buried and thus unknown to the entire world until today is something that doesn't sit well with me. Translation is one thing. But not having something to translate to begin with is entirely another. The only conclusions that could be drawn from that is A) these new manuscripts were not inspired, B) they were inspired but were not deemed by God to be important, until now at least, or perhaps C) they exist simply to confirm the accuracy of the translations today.

I think the Dead Sea Scrolls were a good example of this, because their existence seemed to strengthen the authenticity of the Masoretic Texts, but not only that, it refuted a widely held belief by scholars that Hebrew was a little used language by the time Christ entered the scene.

BTW, I think the Millennium Bible and perhaps even Webster's Bible are legitimate alternatives to the KJV. The NKJV might be a more updated English translation, but it draws from manuscripts the KJV scholars either never used or rejected.

Normally I'd be prone to accepting translations based on the Majority Text, because the Majority Text is what was used to form the Textus Recepticus compiled by Erasmus. However, there appears to be an issue here that I hadn't realised before. The NKJV used the "Majority Text" but what this seems to mean is that it is using a hand-picked set of manuscripts grouped together by a man named Hermann von Soden, which represented only 8 percent of the 5000+ Greek manuscripts. So the term Majority Text is a misnomer here. It does not in fact refer to the Majority Texts, but only to Soden's handpicked "MT" manuscripts. That's misleading at the least and deceptive at most, and I have no patience for it when it comes to something as important as faithfully translating God's word.

I used to read the NKJV until I began to realise that some verses were taking wild departures from the KJV, to the extent that it seemed to be a paraphrase rather than a literal translation.

One thing to note, I think experiences with KJV-O folks will depend largely on what denominational background they hail from. The KJV-O movement seems to largely consist of Independent Baptists, and my limited experiences with them show that they tend to be too legalistic and lacking in grace at times. There's a lack of consistency as well: for example, one KJV-Onlyer I met did not believe in the Trinity.

Any bad experiences you might have with the KJV-O crowd may not be due in fact to their beliefs regarding the KJV so much as it has to do with their legalistic perspective of life, fostered largely by their conservative Baptist leanings. This peculiarly IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist is what I think influences such Christians to form entirely unreasonable views about the KJV and its Translators.

I'm not a Baptist, and that fact alone has had many KJV-O folks wrinkling their noses at me. Ah well. By trying to please everybody I please no one at all. :-)

I used to read the NKJV until I began to realise that some verses were taking wild departures from the KJV, to the extent that it seemed to be a paraphrase rather than a literal translation.

Okay, Mac, here's a statement that bothers me, and perhaps you just mispoke...or mistyped...or whatever. But here's my question: Why did it bother you that the NKJV took what you call "wild departures" from the KJV, unless you have some sort of assumption the the KJV is the re-inspired word of God? If you had said it took wild departures from the the TR (I think calling it the MT is a big misnomer--the TR that the KJV is tranlated from and what is the MT are different things), then I could have understood your position. But the NKJV is not an update of the KJV, but rather a new translation of the text underlying the KJV, and if you have a preference for a certain text, then whether it takes wild departures from that particular text ought to be the question, not whether it departs from the wording that the KJV translators used to translate that underlying text. Shouldn't it?

Are you thinking of the Massoretic Text? That's not the MT we're talking about here, which is the Majority Text. The Massoretic Text is Hebrew, and the Majority Text is Greek, so of course they're not identical.

As far as I know, the Majority Text is the Textus Receptus, which was called the Received Text out of a belief that this particular textual variant type is inspired (which is odd anyway, since it has disagreements within the tradition). Therefore, 'Textus Receptus' biases the discussion from the outset. That's why I prefer to call it the Majority Text, and I don't usually abbreviate it due to there being another textual tradition (of a different part of the Bible and in a different language) that's also abbreviated MT.

I don't believe that there is a "re-inspiration" with the KJV. What the KJV IS, is an excellent English "literal" translation derived from the TR and Hebrew Masoretic. Since it remains faithful to the TR, any pronounced departure from a KJV rendering should automatically presume a departure from the TR-Masoretic as well. You obviously didn't make this leap, but you should have realised that I did.

More importantly though, you're assuming that the NKJV being a new translation rather than an update is common knowledge. It isn't. Here's how one particular vendor describes it:

"Total update of King James Version that maintains the beauty of the original version while updating the English grammar to contemporary style and usage."

Another site analysing the KJV-TR quotes the NKJV as follows:

"The New King James Version [NKJV] should not be considered a modern translation. Its wording will always correspond exactly with the KJV, because it is only a modern-English rewording of the original KJV, minus the Apocrypha."

I don't know about you, but there seems to be a presumption that the NKJV WAS in fact an update of the KJV's archaic language, and nothing really much more than that. That's why I used it a few years ago, until I began noticing discrepancies. I would suspect that this was part of an old marketing effort to sell this particular version to a demographic that had an affinity for the KJV, so the widespread revelation that the NKJV never did use the same manuscripts as the KJV Translators would have cut into profits. I may be wrong but probably not, and I don't much care for the deceptive language being used in regards to the description of these translations.

No, I'm talking about the majority text. The TR that the KJV was tranlated from differs from any MT (and there are at least a couple of them) in a few places. Not many, but there are places where the TR that the KJV is based on took a minority reading.

I'll comment on Mac's response later--it's supper time here.

Regarding Soden, I'm referring to the Majority Text, or least what's supposed to be the Majority Text.

Normally the Majority Text would refer to the TR, but there appears to be a variant of the MT that was developed by Soden:

http://www.exorthodoxforchrist.com/von_soden.htm

It's apparent that it was Soden's edition that was used for the NKJV, not the TR as we know it.

...out of a belief that this particular textual variant type is inspired (which is odd anyway, since it has disagreements within the tradition

What I do know is that the TR is ultimately derived from about 5000 Greek manuscripts and fragments. In that, there have been roughly 250 discrepancies found within all 27 "books" of the New Testament. Am I the only one who finds this amasingly consistent?

I won't deny that you have evidently done a lot of study in this area, but consider that you are only a college student, and reading a lot of books and writing lots of papers will not automatically put you anywhere closer to the truth. Spouting off scholastic jargon and condescending to the laymen is a tradition of the Pharisees, and I would rather see you emulate Paul than Caiphas. But then again, that may just be wasted breath on my part.

The TR that the KJV was tranlated from differs from any MT

Are you referring to Farstad and Hodges? Their editions were based on Soden's work, who drew from only 10 percent of the 5000+ Greek manuscripts. Calling these editions the Majority Text is like saying Al Gore is a Republican.

You obviously didn't make this leap, but you should have realised that I did.

I don't think I should have. I was assuming you were making your very best argument, and judging the NKJV by what you consider to be the very best standards. If, as you say, you think it is the TR that is inspired, then that's the standard that it seems you would use for judging any other version. Wouldn't that seem most logical? No matter how true to the TR you think the KJV is, it's still just a translation of the inspired text and not the inspired text itself, so why would it be your standard? Unless, deep down underneath all the fillibustering you really do think that the KJV is an inspired text itself. You can't argue that its an exact equivalent of the inspired text, for translations are never the exact equivalent of the text they translated from, so the translation has to always be something less than the text it is translated from.

More importantly though, you're assuming that the NKJV being a new translation rather than an update is common knowledge. It isn't. Here's how one particular vendor describes it:

What matters is what the translators of the NKJV--honorable men, I believe--say they did. And they say they made a new translation of the TR, choosing to keep some of the word choices of the KJV when they thought it appropriate.

so the widespread revelation that the NKJV never did use the same manuscripts as the KJV Translators would have cut into profits.

There is no wide-spread revelation. There is a wide-spread false accusation among the KJVO folks. They used the same text to translate from as the KJV. They gave the variant readings from the MT and the CT in the margin, but they translated from the very same received text that the KJV is translated from. They say so themselves, and I don't think they are lying. Do you? Can you find me one or two places where they translate from a different text?

Also, you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth here! The NKJV is just an update of the KJV, but at the same time, it uses a different text to translate from. Which is it? Update of the KJV or translation from a different text?

(Just a side note: I hope I'm not offending you. I have a bit of a straight forward debating style. I try to tone it down, but I'm not always successful at that. Anyway, I'm really interested in your answers to these questions.

Are you referring to Farstad and Hodges? Their editions were based on Soden's work, who drew from only 10 percent of the 5000+ Greek manuscripts. Calling these editions the Majority Text is like saying Al Gore is a Republican.

What I am saying is there are places where the received text that the KJV is translated from takes a minority reading. A majority text (any one of them) is made by counting manuscripts and choosing the most common reading. The received text is very similar to any of the majority texts, but it differs from them in those places where it chooses a minority reading, mostly in Revelation, but in a few other places as well.

Unless, deep down underneath all the fillibustering you really do think that the KJV is an inspired text itself. You can't argue that its an exact equivalent of the inspired text for translations are never the exact equivalent of the text they translated from, so the translation has to always be something less than the text it is translated from.

Why would it be something less? It may be something different but not something less if it's a good translation. Are you saying that every single translation that can ever be made will ALWAYS be inferior to the original?

What matters is what the translators of the NKJV--honorable men, I believe--say they did. And they say they made a new translation of the TR, choosing to keep some of the word choices of the KJV when they thought it appropriate.

That's not what they said though. Even though they've been a bit coy about what manuscripts they used, it turns out that for the Old Testament they used a Vatican-published text, not the actual Masoretic Text, and for the NT, the TR was only one of the sources used. It wasn't used exclusively.

There is no wide-spread revelation. There is a wide-spread false accusation among the KJVO folks. They used the same text to translate from as the KJV.

No they didn't. Not all the time at least. The makeup of the translators reveals a few things though, because they were about equally divided on what Greek edition was superior: the TR or the Westcott-Hort edition. It makes sense then that the NKJV would reflect this division. But to say that the NKJV is a translation of the TR, without mentioning the fact that it certainly wasn't used exclusively is deceptive to say the least. And you want to talk about false accusations?

Also, you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth here! The NKJV is just an update of the KJV, but at the same time, it uses a different text to translate from. Which is it? Update of the KJV or translation from a different text?

Why do you have trouble understanding me? I didn't say it was an update, I was pointing out that that's how it was marketed, when in fact, as I later discovered it was indeed a different translation.

(Just a side note: I hope I'm not offending you. I have a bit of a straight forward debating style. I try to tone it down, but I'm not always successful at that.

I don't mind the blunt approach, but what irks me is that you don't seem to be understanding a word I'm saying. I don't know if that's because I'm not being clear enough or if you're just trying to get me riled up. :-P

But I guess that's it for this thread. I have too much on my plate lately to engage in long winding argumentative debates right now. :-X

Wow. I'm not really regretting not taking that textual criticism class. There is clearly quite a bit about the Majority Text that I have no idea about.

So...being far too ignorant about the appropriate matters to make any sort of worthwhile contribution, I'll just stay out of the rest of this discussion.

Mac: "I didn't say that we would always have the best translation of his Word, but that we WOULD have his word. The idea that some inspired manuscripts would not just be simply relegated to obscurity but be essentially buried and thus unknown to the entire world until today is something that doesn't sit well with me."

Mac, are you suggesting that contemporary translators are trying to convince us that they have biblical material that has been heretofor hidden? Which books or verses are they suggesting have been buried?

Normally the Majority Text would refer to the TR, but there appears to be a variant of the MT that was developed by Soden:

I was talking about either of the two majority texts--Robertson and whoever-it-was, along with the Farstad one. By definition a majority text is a statistical thing--and it never did refer properly to the TR, which was not compiled in that way. Calling it the Majority Text is a misnomer, a common misnomer, perhaps, but still a misnomer, because the TR doesn't fit the definition of the term.

Why would it be something less? It may be something different but not something less if it's a good translation.

It would always be something less, because what's inspired is the original in the original languages. A translation will never get 100% of the original meaning. It can get pretty stinkin' close, but just by the nature of translation from one language to another, it will never be 100%. And that means that it loses a little of the inspired meaning (or adds to it) and is thus always something less than the inspired original. Different, in the case of translation from inspired text, is always less. The only way you could maintain that different is not less is if you believe in the inspiriation of the translation, and you have said you don't.

Are you saying that every single translation that can ever be made will ALWAYS be inferior to the original?

That's exactly what I'm saying. Close, but inferior.

But to say that the NKJV is a translation of the TR, without mentioning the fact that it certainly wasn't used exclusively is deceptive to say the least.

You keep saying this, but you've yet to show any place where it occurred. Where did the translaters of the NKJV translate from a text other than the TR?

For anyone interested in the MT vs. the TR issue: What about the Majority Text? and The Majority Text collated against the Received Text. Also, see the preface (or perhaps its the forward) to the NKJV.

I won't deny that you have evidently done a lot of study in this area, but consider that you are only a college student

I'm not sure why you think so condescendingly of college students, but I graduated from college back in Clinton's first term, so I'm not one. I've been teaching college longer than I was in college in the first place.

reading a lot of books and writing lots of papers will not automatically put you anywhere closer to the truth.

Study doesn't assure you of getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but why assume that it's therefore worthless? Why even assume that it's not an important part of getting some of the truth? Reading the work of scholars who have devoted their lives to investigating these issues is the best way to know what those issues are, and I'm not sure you've done any different. Do you know about the subject in some other, perhaps mystical, manner?

Spouting off scholastic jargon and condescending to the laymen is a tradition of the Pharisees, and I would rather see you emulate Paul than Caiphas. But then again, that may just be wasted breath on my part.

Mac, I hate to break it to you, but a lot of your language both in your post responding to me and in these comment threads has been perceived by more than just me as condescending, rude, and insulting. This was the first reaction of some readers of my blog who didn't know anything about you until they read your response to me. One of these people isn't a Christian. My natural inclination is to respond to you sarcastically and to point out ways you've done the very things you so harshly accuse me of doing, but I'm refraining. Insults don't generally win arguments. Usually they're a way to concede defeat without admitting it. Anti-intellectual insults aren't any better than any other kind.

There are ways that my tendencies toward sin resemble some of those the Pharisees had, and I'm well aware of some of those. I'd like to think my response when those are brought up reveals a crucial difference between me and them. Still, I'm fairly sure that using technical terms to confuse people or sound better than anyone else is not something I'm guilty of. I use terms or refrain from using them depending on whether I think the discussion or the point I'm making will be clearer with or without them.

I most certainly am a layman in the field of biblical studies, though I've read far more than most. Why did you think I was not a layman in the area of biblical studies if you thought I was a college student?

Checking Our Pride, Devotional Readings and Private Worship

Let me start out by saying, I offer the following musings in a friendly tone. Discussion of the nature of the Bible (translation authority and text preservation) should be encouraged. Those who are not willing to discuss it perhaps don't know exactly what they are defending. I see the recent posting on Parablmania as a health examination of the topic.

There is a phrase used when someone is recommending a theological related work that is technical and difficult. The person will say something along the lines of, "This is not something you are going to use in your devotions".

Follow my link to get the rest...
http://pruittcommunications.blogspot.com

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