A Brief Introduction to the Bible Version Controversy
©1995 Brandon Staggs
By Every Word
Jesus said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4, KJV) I don't think most Christians today really stop and consider this verse. It is very specific, leaving no room for doubt. We are to live on every word out of the mouth of God!
How are we supposed to obey this commandment? "That's easy," someone says. "Read the Bible!" But, which one? Which "version" is every word of God, out of His mouth? KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV? "They all are." No, they are not. They say different things.1 "Well, yes." Does God contradict Himself?2 "Of course not." Then how can they all be God's words? "Well, the point is, you can find all of the doctrines in each one. They all have the gospel in them. They all teach the same ideas." But, read the commandment again: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Every word. Not just doctrine, not just ideas and basic truths. Not just the Gospel. Every word.
What shall we say now? From this, we must believe one of the following:
- Only the original manuscripts in original languages contain the words of God. No translation or copy can carry over God's words perfectly.
- The original manuscripts are lost and gone forever. We cannot know exactly what the words were.
- We must find where God's words are, so that we can obey this commandment!
This statement is shown to be false in scripture. Many times throughout the New Testament, an Old Testament verse is quoted in Greek. (Meaning Paul quotes from an Hebrew Old Testament verse and writes it in Greek, all under the inspirataion of God.)3 No one would say that these translations are not perfect! After all, these translations themselves are scripture. We also see Paul call copies of Old Testament Hebrew texts "Holy Scripture."
"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" -2 Timothy 3:15,16
Paul is writing to Timothy, and states plainly that the scripture Timothy was reading as a child was holy scripture. Timothy was reading copies of texts, not originals. Paul goes on to call this scripture inspired.
A common argument says that a translation of one language to another always loses some of the meaning. Besides the Biblical proof that this is not a problem for God, I find it strange that people will believe that God can call into existence the entire universe but not see His words translated from Greek to English perfectly! "Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:" (Jeremiah 32:17)
"The original manuscripts are lost and gone forever. We cannot know exactly what the words were."
The first statement is absolutely true. There are no originals of either Old Testament manuscripts or New Testament manuscripts left. But the second statement is false for many reasons.
God has promised us he would preserve His words: "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." (Psalm 12:6,7 KJV) God's words would not wither away in lost and destroyed manuscripts: "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:24,25)
To believe that God would inspire scripture, and have it written down by sinful men, but believe that God would not preserve scripture with men is nonsensical, as well as ignorant of God's promises. Further, if this were true, Jesus made a commandment that the people even at that time could not obey! The texts in use at the time were merely copies of the originals, not the originals themselves. Besides, why would God go through the trouble of inspiring scripture, only to have a few read it, and then be lost forever?
"We must find where God's words are, so that we can obey this commandment!"
If we believe what Jesus said, if we believe the promises of Psalm 12:6,7 and 1 Peter 1:24,25, it is absolutely necessary for us to find God's words!
A few more scriptures quoted here should help enforce the fact that God's words matter, and this is not just a "side issue."
Psalm 33:4 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.So, where are they?
Psalm 50:16,17 But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and casteth my words behind thee. Psalm 107:10,11 Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Psalm 119:57 Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. Psalm 119:139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words. Psalm 119:140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. Psalm 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
Prov 5:7 Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth.
Let's start by seeing where they are not. An in depth study of text families and textual criticism is well beyond the scope of this essay, but the following should serve as a brief introduction.
Virtually all modern Bibles published since the late 1800s are translated from Alexandrian texts. Bibles translated since 1898 use the Nestle's Greek New Testament, collation of Alexandrian texts. This includes the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Living Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, the New World Translation, the New Century Version, etc. Up until the late 1800s, the Alexandrian texts were utterly rejected by orthodox Christians.4
The words of God have been mutilated in the Alexandrian texts by many different Egyptian, Greek philosophy, and Humanistic "scholars." Perhaps one of the worst of these was Origen. Among other things, Origen said that Christ was a "created" God.5 Origen also said, "The scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written."6 Two men, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, are probably the most responsible for introducing Alexandrian texts into modern Christianity. Their text of 1881 laid the foundation for modern "Christian" textual scholarship,7 and also was collated into Nestle's Greek New Testament.
Since modern Bible versions, Greek New Testaments, and textual scholarship is founded upon the teachings and fruits of these two men, it would be beneficial to know what these men thought on spiritual matters. After all, the Bible is a spiritual book!
On the authority of the Bible: "I agree with them in condemning many leading specific doctrines of popular theology... especially the authority of the Bible."8We can see from these quotes that Westcott and Hort were far from "Fundamental." One should wonder why "Christian" scholarship regards these two men in such high esteem!
On Creation/Evolution: "...Have you read Darwin? How I should like to talk to you [Westcott] about it! In spite of difficulties, I am inclined to think it unanswerable. In any case it is a treat to read such a book." "But the book which has most engaged me is Darwin... My feeling is strong that it is unanswerable."9
On Satan: "Now if there be a devil, he cannot merely bear a corrupted and marred image of God; he must be wholly evil, his every energy and act evil. Would it not be a violation of the divine attributes for the Word to be actively the support of such a nature as that?"10
On Jesus' atonement: "The fact is, I do not see how God's justice can be satisfied without every man's suffering in his own person the full penalty for his sins."11
On Miracles: "I never read an account of a miracle, but I seem instinctively to feel its improbability..."12
Does it make sense to trust Egypt for God's words, Origen for God's words, and Westcott and Hort for God's words? Indeed it is undeniable that modern scholarship relies on the fruits of these men. ".Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." (Matthew 7:16-17) After examining the beliefs of Origen, Westcott, and Hort, you should seriously consider whether or not they could bring forth good fruit! But we have only scratched the surface. The Alexandrian texts which modern versions are all based on have a very disturbing history of corruption by Greek philosophy and humanism.
The King James Bible, on the other hand, is translated from the Textus Receptus (received text), also known as the Traditional Text, Majority Text, Universal Text, Byzantine Text, and other names. The Textus Receptus is made up of Antiocian texts, which have avoided the corruption of Alexandrian scholars. The Antiocian texts have passed down through time copied by people who fear God-and believe the ultimate authority of His word.13 History shows that the Textus Receptus has the strongest claim of being the authentic representation of the original manuscripts.14
This brief essay is not meant to convince anyone that the King James Bible is the perfect word of God without error. Rather, it is intended to introduce the necessity of study on the Bible version issue, and can only scratch the surface of the issue. The issue is rarely raised among Christians today, despite the fact that we claim the Bible to be our authority. The author hopes that you have gained an interest on the subject, and will seek the truth.
Recommended Introductory Reading
- An Understandable History of the Bible, by Samuel C. Gipp, Th.D. (1987). Bible Believers Baptist Bookstore, 1252 East Aurora Road, Macedonia, Ohio, 44056.
- The King James Version Defended, by Edward F. Hills, Th.D. (1956). The Christian Research Press, PO Box 2013, Des Moines, Iowa 50310.
- Which Bible?, edited by Dr. David Otis Fuller. (Third Edition, 1972). Grand Rapids International Publications, PO Box 2607, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49501, ISBN# 0-8254-2612-X.
1 Two examples: Hosea 11:12 reads in the KJV: "...But Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints." The NASB reads: "...Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful." John 9:4 reads in the KJV: "I must work the works of him that sent me." The NASB reads "We must work the works of Him who sent Me."