Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
-Psalm 138:2, KJV

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Which Version is the Bible?, ©1996 Floyd Nolen Jones, Twelfth edition. All Rights Reserved.  "This book may be freely reproduced in any form as long as it is not distributed for any material gain or profit; however, this book may not be published without written permission."

The entire book can be purchased here.

WHY THEN ARE NEW TRANSLATIONS THOUGHT NECESSARY?

The question should be asked, "Why in 1881 (and even today) did we need a new Bible?"  There are at least five reasons for this rational:

1. The many archaic words, the "eth's" as in doeth, knoweth, heareth etc., and the "thee's" and "thou's";

2. The existence of the many variant (different) readings in the extant Greek manuscripts;

3. The finding of a significant number of ancient Greek manuscripts of the Bible in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries older than those used by Erasmus and believed, by many scholars, to be closer to the text of the apostles' autographs;

4. Itching ears - winds of doctrine; and

5. Greed for Money.

We shall address each of these five, the first three being the so-called "justification" for the "need" to modernize and revise the King James Bible.

(1)  Archaic Words

There are only several hundred obsolete or archaic words remaining within the 1611 King James Bible - words such as "incontinent" (lack of self control, I Cor. 7:5) and "concupisence" (unholy desires, Rom. 7:8).  These few could and should be brought up to date.  The "eth" endings could also easily be changed ("doeth" to "do") although care must be taken as to its rendering else many times the actual meaning may be lost.  This is due to Greek verb tenses which do not exist in English.  For example, often the Greek word rendered "doeth" reflects continuous action.  In such cases, a simple changing to "do" would not represent a faithful translation from the Greek.  The "eth" ending which allows for such meanings thus has served a vital function in the King James Bible.

With regard to "ye" (plural), "thee" (singular) and "thou" (singular) which we find dispersed throughout the 1611 Bible, it is shocking to discover the great value that these 2nd person pronouns serve.  O.T. Allis informs us that these were not contemporary words even in 1611!

"It is incorrect to claim that the 'thou' represents the usage of the 1611 period when the AV was prepared and that that usage is out of date and should be rejected for that very reason.  Such a claim misrepresents the facts.  The AV usage is not Jacobean or 17th century English.  It is biblical English.  The Greek of the New Testament like the Hebrew of the Old Testament distinguishes between the singular and the plural forms of the second person.  The AV makes this distinction simply because NT Greek does so, and because that is the only way to translate the Bible correctly." [1]   (author's emphasis)

The second person in English is rendered "you" in both the singular and the plural.  Thus, when "you" is employed in a modern translation, one does not know if it is to be understood as singular or plural.  However, "you", "ye", and "your" are always plural in the King James Bible whereas "thy", "thou", "thee" and "thine" always denote the singular - how easy.

In Luke 22:31-32, for example, the King James Bible reads:

22:31  And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you [plural! all of the apostles] ... 32 But I have prayed for thee [singular - Peter] ...

Other translations if desiring to indicate such would have to supply a footnote to convey this, and the reader might well not notice it.  Another example is in Acts 13:47.

Tyndale knew of such subtleties, and he deliberately revived words that had already passed from common usage to handle faithfully the translating into English.  In doing so, he actually created a special variety of English - a Bible English - for the purpose of clearly conveying the precise meaning.  Tyndale thereby elevated the English usage by Scripture rather than accommodating Scripture to the English vernacular. [2]

(2)  Variant Readings

It was Luther's translation of Erasmus' Greek text into German that was the main weapon which the Holy Spirit used in bringing about the Reformation. [3]   The impact of the written Word was devastating to the teachings and traditions of the Roman Church.  The 16th century Reformers placed their faith in the precious truths contained in these Living Words and the battle cry "Sola Scriptura" (Scriptures alone) became, as it were, their creed and rallying point upon which they rested for final authority.  God had breathed these Scriptures.  Now each man could read them, and account to God for himself without the dogma and rituals of Rome.  In matters of conduct and faith the Word of God was the final court of appeal - not the priest or Pope.  Indeed, as McClure rightly reminds us:

"The printing of the English bible has proved to be by far the mightest barrier ever reared to repel the advance of Popery, and to damage all the resouraces of the Papacy." [4]

This aggressive, vigorous move by the Protestants placed Roman Catholicism on the defensive resulting in its having to rethink many issues and regroup. [5]   It was forced to define itself at the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D.

Eventually, as the Greek manuscripts came under close scrutiny by its Catholic opponents, it became clear that they differed somewhat in text and that variant readings existed.  This gave the Roman Church the impetus it needed to launch a counter offensive to recapture the minds and allegiance of its own as well as those who had departed - "there are variants in your Sola Scriptura - therefore return to Sola Pope."  Placed on the defensive by this assault, the 17th century Protestant church was forced into defining itself.  This resulted in the doctrine of Providential Preservation of the text based upon God's many promises to preserve His Word.  That which emerged from this point-counterpoint scenario was a clarification delineating the antithesis between the two positions.  The defining process forced both sides to their logical conclusions.

Initially, all of the various Protestant Confessional statements (such as the Westminster, the Philadelphia etc.) containing statements concerning the preservation of Scripture were written in response to text critical problems and challenges. [6]   These creeds descriptively appealed to the consensus of history for determining the boundaries of the texts of Scripture.  Two examples are the Helveticus Consensus and the Philadelphia Confession, as follows:

THE HELVETICUS CONSENSUS (1675 A.D.)

"God, the supreme Judge, not only took care to have his word, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, committed to writing by Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care ever since it was written up to the present time, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man."

THE PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION (Baptist - 1742 A.D.)

"The Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them" (taken from the 1646 Westminster Confession, I, 8 - author's emphasis)

The texts these confessions had in view as "authentical" were the Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament.

It is important that the Christian understand that the previously mentioned struggle continues behind the scenes in textual criticism today.  At the same time we must keep in mind that the battle over final authority began with Lucifer's rebellion (Isaiah 14, Ezek. 28) followed by his attack on God's Word in the Garden of Eden.

Yet one may inquire, "just what is the nature of this providence, and how did it actually operate in manuscript transmission?"  Some of the more important and vital canons included in the "doctrine of preservation" are: [7]

(a)  As God promised many times to preserve His Words, by faith in God's Character we trust that He has kept His word.

(b)  As God used the priesthood to preserve His Word in the Old Testament, He has done likewise in New Testament times through the priesthood of born again believers.

(c)   By multiplying copies to such a large number it would be impossible for anyone to corrupt them all, willfully or by negligence.

(d)  The familiarity with Scripture by people from all walks of life assured that any alterations in wording would have been detected.

(e)            Students (especially of Hebrew) were conscious of every letter of the texts.

(f)            Unanimity exists of Old Testament readings in the Mishna, Gemara and the Talmud with the Masoretic text.

(g)  Jesus accused the Jews of His day of many sins, but not once did He charge them with corrupting their copies - rather, He attested to their purity (Mat.5:17-19).

(h)  The checks and balances that the Jews and Christians afforded each other would prevent corruptions.

Basically, God's method of preservation may be summed up in that there are many common readings which must and should be accepted as correct because they exist in hundreds and even in several thousand copies.  This occurrence of common readings is found because God has providentially intervened in the scribal copying of Scripture, unlike the copying of non-Biblical literature.

(3)  Ancient Greek Manuscripts

It is true that several thousand mss have been discovered since 1611.  This is the major factor that has been used to justify to the church at large the need for a major revision of the King James.  It seems logical that if a vast amount of data not available to the King James translators has been brought to life - these new materials must be considered.  This especially seems reasonable as some of these mss were dated between 350-380 A.D. whereas Erasmus' five mss were from the 10th to 15th centuries.  Admittedly this rhetoric seems very compelling.  However, of the several thousand manuscripts discovered since 1611, the great majority (90-95%) agree with the Greek text of those five mss which Erasmus used.  Nevertheless, the new translations are rife with footnotes informing the reader that "the oldest, the best manuscripts read such and such" as opposed to the King James.  But is it not devastating to realize that what has been kept from the church at large is the fact that the vast majority (c.90-95%) of these more recent finds read the same as the Traditional Text which underlies the Reformers Bibles and the King James translation?

The Alexandrian manuscript ("A") arrived in London in 1627.  Consequently, we often hear how unfortunate that was for the King James translators as it arrived sixteen years too late for their use. [8]   Being untrue, this serves as an example of the unreliable manner in which most of the history  concerning the Authorized Version is reported.  In the first place, Vaticanus B and Sinaiticus Aleph [9] were well known not only to translators of the King James but to Erasmus.  The Old Testament portion of Vaticanus was printed in 1587 so the King James translators in 1604 knew all about Vaticanus insofar as the Old Testament was concerned.

Thus the men working on the 1611 publication of the King James Bible knew the variant readings in Vaticanus B and since they knew about B, they already knew about Sinaiticus and its variant readings even though the first portion of it was not discovered until 1844 (the remainder in 1859) as the two of them read so similarly.  In fact, the translators of 1611 had available all the variant readings of those vaunted manuscripts - and they rejected them!  They also knew the readings of the codices of Alexandrinus A, B, C and D (the "old uncials"), where they differed from the Received Text and they denounced them all.  How can this be so?  The readings of those much boasted manuscripts recently made available are essentially the same as Jerome's Latin Vulgate [10] which finds its foundation in the works of Origen.  The Reformers knew all about the variant readings of the Vulgate and they rejected them which is the same thing as rejecting Origen.  In rejecting Origen, they rejected Codex Vaticanus as it was copied from his work.  Thus, the Reformers had all the material necessary for the task at their disposal. [11]

As to the oft heard claim that since much of the newly discovered material was older than that used by Erasmus and subsequently the Reformers, they were more reliable, the reader is reminded that the mighty Apostle Paul testified to the corruption of the Word in his day.  Hence "oldest" is not necessarily the best.  This point will be more thoroughly dealt with later in our exposé (pp. 1 ff.).

Furthermore, Erasmus was in regular correspondence with Professor Paulus Bombasius, the Papal librarian, who sent him any variant readings which he desired. [12]   In fact, in 1533, a correspondent of Erasmus (a Catholic priest named Juan Sepulveda) sent Erasmus 365 selected readings from Vaticanus B as proof of its superiority to the Textus Receptus. [13]   He offered to make the entire document available to Erasmus for use in his latest edition of the TR.  However, Erasmus rejected the readings of the Vatican manuscript because he considered from the massive evidence of his day that the Textus Receptus data was correct.  Thus Erasmus knew about Vaticanus nearly one hundred years before the King James Bible ever saw the light of day!

(4)  Winds of Doctrine

A fourth reason Christendom is drawn to the new translations is that of its having "itching ears". Sadly, man does not want to believe the Bible - he wants a "bible" that he can believe - and he will keep searching until he finds one.  The Spirit of God has warned:

1  This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  2  For men shall be lovers of their own selves ... 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8  so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. ... 13  But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived (II Tim. 3). ... For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; ... (II Tim. 4:3).

Letis [14] reminds us that Bible publishers are always advertising that the Reformers wished to put the Bible in the "language of the people" ... in a "tongue they could readily understand".  However, the Reformers did not mean that the Bible should be in "conversational dialect" or in the language of the street; rather they meant that the Bible should be available in the spoken languages of the European nations and not merely in the Liturgical Latin of the Roman Catholic Church.

The King James translators make this very clear in their dedicatory to King James, where they intended for "God's holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people," whom the Roman Catholic Church desired "still to keep in ignorance and darkness."  These men [15] desired the Bible be accessible in German for the Germans, in French for the French, in Dutch for the Dutch etc. - not just restricted to Latin, as it was no longer "the language of the people."  Those with vested interest in promoting "plainer and more relevant" (and more fleeting) translations always present this out of context to justify the latest, easier-to-read (and to forget) translation.

Relevant to the duties, techniques, and responsibilities of the translator, the following excerpts extracted from an article by Dr. F.R. Steele, himself trained by "one of America's outstanding scholars in the field of Assyriology" and an experienced translator of Babylonian and Sumerian documents, are instructive sober truths worthy of reflection:

"A translation should convey as much of the original text in as few words as possible, yet preserve the original atmosphere and emphasis.  The translator should strive for the nearest approximation in words, concepts, and cadence.  He should scrupulously avoid adding words or ideas not demanded by the text.  His job is not to expand or to explain, but to translate and preserve the spirit and force of the original - even, if need be, at the expense of modern colloquialisms - so long as the resultant translation is intelligible. ... there is a vast difference between translating a Sanscrit poem and the Bible into English.  In the former case we are dealing primarily with ideas, cast in an alien mold, which may best be conveyed in English by a rather free translation.  In the latter case we are dealing with a document whose language and vocabulary were specially chosen by the Holy Spirit for the communication of particular truths.  No translator - least of all an evangelical Christian who holds to the inspiration of the Scriptures - dare ignore that fact.  Not just ideas, but words are important; so also is the emphasis indicated by word order in the sentence.

"... when translating the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text into English, we are not faced with serious problems of cultural extremes.  The physical and social background of the ancient Near East is much closer to our general European society and economy than to either a tropical culture of Central Africa or the arctic culture of the Esquimaux (i.e., Eskimo, author). ... By and large, the pastoral of urban society of Bible times can be transferred directly and in its own terms into intelligible English.  Moreover, the past four centuries of acquaintance with the Bible have introduced into our common speech many words and ideas originating in the society of Bible lands (such as 'crucifixion,' animal sacrifices, and so on) which though initially strange to the European scene, are now quite familiar.  This makes the task of translating the Bible into English simpler than into the language of a people with an opposite or primitive culture.  It is therefore easier to achieve a nearly word for word transfer which the nature of the inspired text deserves." [16]   (author's italics)

For many of us who have been contrarily "informed" over the years, Dr. Steele's words take on a near "too good to be true" character.  They capture our attention and fire the soul.  He continues with the following which depicts one of the outstanding features rendered by the King James translators but lacking in the modern versions:

"Anyone familiar with word studies in the original languages can testify to the amazing consistency of employment of particular terms throughout the Bible. ... men violate a basic principle of translation when they choose to substitute for individual words or short phrases long 'homiletic' passages of private interpretation. ... Frequently the full weight of meaning conveyed by repetition of the same Greek root word is lost in translation, since different English words are used where one word consistently used could have preserved the original force intact." [17]

To illustrate this point, Professor Steele gives an example from II Corinthians 2:16-3:6 in which over this seven verse span four Greek words are encountered which are all similar forms and are derived from one root of the same word (hikanos, iJkano").  The King James Bible rendered the English of these four as "sufficient", "sufficient", "sufficiency", and "sufficient" thereby allowing the reader to pick up on the similarity between their relationship as well as the continuity of thought in the original language.  Other translations, however, do not exhibit this constancy.  Instead, they choose several different words (usually adding others for which there is absolutely no textual evidence) and thus lose both the force and connection which the repetition would have preserved.  The result is often misleading to one who "seeks the words of the Author."  Dr. Steele continues:

"... it is impossible to make a perfect transfer from one language to another ... the translator must make choice of those words in the second language which he thinks best convey the thought of the original.  But frequently the translator appears to forget that the original words were chosen purposefully, and ... cast the sentences into new molds which convey the idea in a significantly different spirit or emphasis.  He thus unnecessarily robs the text of at least some of its original import.  This practice may be justified in some fields of literature, but it is inadmissible when one is dealing with the inspired Word of God. [18]

"Certainly many words and even passages in ... the Bible will benefit from a more extended treatment.  But such treatment belongs in a commentary, not in a translation." [19]

To these last two observations by Dr. Steele, this author adds a resounding "amen".  The final citation is given to provide - from one who is eminently qualified to so warn - a grave caution to us all.

"Moreover, it is doubtful if all the new translations provide the correctives they profess.  Not infrequently they simply substitute their own confusion for that which they claim to have dispelled.  This is especially true in their claim to the title 'Translation'.  Few recent works have any right whatever to that title." [20]   (author's emphasis)

How often we hear from the pulpit or from the Sunday School teacher, "I like the way the xxxxxxx translation says it".  But who cares what man prefers.  We do not gather together to hear the personal opinions and whims of men.  The only question is - What saith the Lord?  What saith the Holy Scriptures?

The new Bible translations appeal, not because they are faithful to the original text, but because they have placed the ability to communicate over and above fidelity to the actual Words of God.  The obvious reason for this being foisted upon the public is ...

(5)  Greed for Money

The majority of modern Bible publishers (not to be confused with Bible Societies) are neither religious organizations nor missionary societies deserving our unqualified trust. [21]   Operating in the cold hard world of business, they care not whether their product is a faithful rendering of the true text.  Their interest lies along the lines of profit.  They are not after the souls of men unto salvation or edification; rather it is their purchasing power which attracts these companies.  Tragically, the same is true concerning most owners of "Christian" book stores who sell not only any translation but paperbacks and commentaries espousing nearly every wind of doctrine.  The reason this continues year after year at a more maddening pace takes us back to reason number four - itching ears for winds of doctrine.  The circle is ever widening and vicious.


[1]    Oswald T. Allis, The New English Bible, The New Testament of 1961, A Comparative Study. (n.p., 1963), p. 69.  Dr. E.F. Hills concurs (The King James Version Defended, op. cit., p. 218).

[2]    Jacob Van Bruggen, The Future of the Bible, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1978), pp. 48-49.  Also see: T.P. Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate, (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1987), pp. 84-104.

[3]    Theodore P. Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate, (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1987), pp. 145-190.  This author is indebted to Dr. Letis' fine research for the material under this subtitle.

[4]    McClure, The Translators Revived, op. cit., p. 71.

[5]    Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate, op cit., p. 147 ff.

[6]    Ibid., p. 173 ff.

[7]    John Owen, "Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture", The Works of John Owen, Vol. XVI, ed. by William H. Goold, (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth, 1968; rpt. of 1850-53 ed.), pp. 356-358.

[8]    Benjamin C. Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, (Washington, DC: n.p., 1930), pp. 78-83.

[9]    A 4th century uncial MSS closely akin to Vaticanus (see p. 1 ).

[10]    Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, op. cit., pp. 81-83; completed around A.D. 405, Jerome's Vulgate contains a revision of the Latin New Testament.

[11]    Ibid., pp. 83-85; also Hills, The King James Version Defended, op. cit., pp. 198-199.

[12]    Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament with Remarks on Its Revision upon Critical Principal Together with a Collation of Critical Texts, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1854), p. 22.

[13]    Marvin R. Vincent, A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, (New York: MacMillian, 1899), p. 53; F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th ed., ed. Edward Miller, 2 Vols., (London: George Bell and Sons, 1894), Vol I, p. 109.

[14]    Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate, op. cit., pp. 76-77.

[15]    McClure, The Translators Revived, op. cit., pp. 63-64. Writing in 1858 regarding the capability of the 1611 translators, McClure notes that the work was undertaken at a most auspicious period of history.  Not only had the English language ripened to its full glory, the study of Greek, Oriental tongues, and of rabbinical lore had crested to a greater extent in England than ever before or since.  By the good Providence of God, the study in these disciplines has never been so highly cultivated among English speaking scholars as it was in that day.  These studies had captured the imagination of that generation's young schoolmen much as that of the computer among today's youth.  As a result, their level of acumen was such that, despite the proud boasting in this day, all the colleges of Great Britain and America combined could not bring together "the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety" for such an undertaking.

[16]    Francis R. Steele, Translation or Paraphrase, (St. Louis, MO: Bible Memory Association International, 1960), pp. 2-4.  Among the various positions in which Dr. Steele has functioned are those of Assistant Professor of Assyriology at the University off Pennsylvania from 1947-53 and Assistant Curator of the Babylonian Section of the University Museum.  Twice he was annual professor of the Baghdad School of American Schools of Oriental Research and for many years since he has served as the Home Secretary of the North Africa Mission.  This article was first carried in the September 26, 1960 issue of the magazine Christianity Today.

[17]    Ibid., p. 6.

[18]    Steele, Translation or Paraphrase, op. cit., p 7.

[19]    Ibid., p. 7-8.

[20]    Ibid., p. 4.

[21]    Tindale's Triumph, John Rogers' Monument, The New Testament of the Matthew's Bible 1537 A.D., John Wesley Sawyer, ed., (Milford, OH: John the Baptist Printing Ministry, 1989), p. iv; from the forward written by Dr. Theodore P. Letis.

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