Why you shouldn't care what Daniel Wallace thinks about the King James Bible
Copyright 2004, Brandon Staggs.
Daniel B. Wallace has written an essay he titled "Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today." Dr. Wallace is the senior editor of the NET Bible, an also-ran modern English Bible version, so it's interesting to see how he defines his dismissal of the KJV. Interesting, because his essay brings forth quite a few false charges against the underlying text of the King James Bible, the Textus Receptus. The same old allegations are trotted out as if they haven't already been answered before.
UPDATE: It appears that Dr. Wallace as made some significant modifications to his essay since this response was written. Since I do not intend to monitor his essay and continually update mine to reflect his changes, some of the quotes in this article are out of date.
In stark contrast to the KJV which has been the driving force of evangelization for the past 400 years, the NET Bible exists with footnotes aplenty to cast enough doubt on the veracity of the Bible that even Jehudi's trusty penknife would have trouble keeping up with all the shredding. In an age where publishers keep shoveling new translations of the Bible with no point conceivable other than to see how many Bible versions it takes to snap a bookshelf, one wonders why Wallace would go through the trouble of writing an essay designed to dismantle someone's faith in the KJV, if not merely to try to open new markets. Well, anyway, let's move on and see what Dr. Wallace thinks about the KJV, the book God used to convert millions of sinners to believers for the last four centuries, and the underlying text of the New Testament, which martyrs like Tyndale relied upon in their work to bring God's word to the masses before they were burned at the stake by the "real" scholars of their time who knew better.
We start off with the obligatory 'despite what I teach, I do believe the Bible is God's word:'
"First, I want to affirm with all evangelical Christians that the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant, inspired, and our final authority for faith and life."
Dr. Wallace opens with an utterly meaningless statement. He is trying to convince you that he believes that the Bible is inerrant and inspired, and yet his entire career is based on the active work of reconstructing the Bible -- a document he believes to be full of mistakes and in need of his research to correct, presumably indefinitely. He makes this statement without the full qualification: that the "inerrant" Bible disappeared shortly after it was inspired. It is left to scholars like himself to do their best to reconstruct as much of it as possible, and we will never know for sure if we have it right. (Keeps them in business, I suppose.)
"However, no where in the Bible am I told that only one translation of it is the correct one."
Dr. Wallace proceeds by implying that KJV defenders argue that the Bible itself says there can be only one "version" of it. This is a straw man. How many correct translations can exist is irrelevant, the questions is how many correct translations do exist.
Next, Dr. Wallace shows that teaching Biblical Greek for nearly 30 years is no guarantee that one will know what's in the Bible:
"There is no verse that tells me how God will preserve his word."
The difficulty is that what is a "verse" is probably open to debate for Dr. Wallace. His self-appointed position of judge of Scripture means that he can ignore verses at his will. The reality for us simpler folk is that the Bible does tell us, many times, how God will preserve his word. One simple verse from the antiquated KJV should be enough:
Psalms 100:5 "For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations."
The Bible plainly tells us that his truth will endure to all generations. Just in case one is unsure about "truth," the Bible also says:
John 17:17 "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
So, God's word is truth, and it will endure to all generations. This means that today, somewhere, is God's word, preserved. And, lest there be any doubt about how "well" it will be preserved, the Bible tells us:
Psalms 12:6-7 "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."
So they will be preserved pure, and it will be the words that are preserved, not merely the "thoughts" or "meanings," nebulous as those tend to be.
The real shocker here is that Dr. Wallace, the senior editor of a Bible translation, is stating flatly that he doesn't know how God preserves the Bible. This would be like a plumber telling you he doesn't know how pipes work, or a pilot telling you he doesn't know what keeps a plane from plummeting into the ground.
Now that we've straightened out Dr. Wallace on this basic issue of preservation, let's examine a few of his objections to the KJV and the Greek text that underlies the KJV New Testament.
"The man who edited the text was a humanist named Erasmus."
The first thing to note about this charge is that today, a humanist is a God-rejecting hippie that worships humanity. In Erasmus' day, a humanist was one who didn't want to burn you at the stake if you disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church's dogma. Dr. Wallace here hides the truth in a lie and attempts to get you to lump Erasmus into the same heap of detritus that believers put Darwinism into. It's ironic that Wallace later complains of the KJV's antiquated words that can confuse the reader who is applying modern definitions to them -- here Wallace intentionally confuses the issue the same way. The bottom line is that Erasmus was a humanist when being a humanist meant something altogether different than what it means today. Unlike the other "religious leaders" of his time, Erasmus preferred to study rather than to kiss the Pope's ring or roast people at the stake. It's also odd that Wallace seems to be arguing against Erasmus from an entirely different angle than other scholars have -- the charge used to be that Erasmis was a bootlicking papist. I suppose since that argument was lost long ago, Wallace figured he'd try the other extreme for a label.
After making some unsubstantiated claims about the quality of Erasmus' editing, Wallace says:
"his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature!"
Okay, if that's the standard, let's dismiss Wallace's work right here: The NET is the worst translation ever made. Now since it's been said, it must be true, right? Wallace makes some statements about the motives of Erasmus that make him out to be nothing but a hack, trying to get his book published before the competition, therefore making the substance of the work unimportant. These are nothing more than assertions.
As an example, Wallace pulls out the old "six verses in Revelation" standby:
"In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript."
This argument is commonly used to show that the Textus Receptus (the Greek text Erasmus edited and eventually became the basis of the KJV NT) is unreliable because it wasn't entirely based on Greek. He says that Erasmus "guessed" at what the text should have been and that he "back translated" it from Latin. There are two problems with this argument.
1. It ignores the fact that the Bible never says that the word will only be preserved in Greek. For all of Wallace's complaints that he can't find the verses in his Bible that tell how the Bible is preserved, he is now making an argument that assumes that the Bible will only be preserved in Greek. Therefor, if you believe Wallace's claim that Erasmus used the Latin Vulgate to "fill in the blanks," Erasmus' text couldn't have been God's word because it wasn't edited entirely from Greek. Besides the sheer chutzpah Wallace exhibits in assuming how God will preserve his word, at the same time saying that we can not know how God preserves his word, Wallace is further deceiving his readers by making the unsubstantiated assumption that Erasmus did not have the verses in question in a Greek manuscript.
2. Wallace is lying anyway. The text and variants in question are not only found in various Greek manuscripts today, they were available in Erasmus' time. It is Wallace's assumption that Erasmus did not have access to these texts. Interesting, then, that Erasmus' text matches the available Greek manuscripts so well in these verses. For more detail see this excerpt from Dr. Holland's book, Crowned With Glory.
Next, Wallace trots out the old, unproven-to-this-day, argument that the complete text of 1st John 5:6-7 was only included because of a challenge Erasmus made, and that the manuscript evidence was fabricated for his benefit. Here Wallace resorts to repeating a story that is now known to be entirely fabricated. Even Dr. Bruce Metzger, a renowned Critical Text supporter and despiser of the Textus Receptus, now admits that there is no truth to this tale. Either Wallace is out of the loop with his scholarly buddies, or he doesn't care; either way, his assertions are false.
Further, we can see the entirely deceptive nature of Wallace's evidence. Wallace implies that no Greek manuscript dated before the sixteenth century contains the text of 1Jo 5:6,7 as it appears in the KJV. This is another lie (or possibly just another example of the extent of Wallace's research): Greek manuscripts 629, 221 (in the margin), 635, 88, 429, and 636 all predate the sixteenth century and contain the full reading of the verse as it appears in the KJV. Wallace gives himself some wiggle-room here by saying none of them are "demonstrably" earlier than the sixteenth century. That is just as meaningful as saying none of them are "demonstrably" later than the sixteenth century. The reality is that several Greek manuscripts have been dated before the sixteenth century that contain the reading in question.
But that's not all. Again we see how Wallace doesn't know, and yet somehow at the same time, does know that the preservation of Scripture is only in Greek. Despite having said earlier that we can not know how God preserves the Bible, Wallace dictates that evidence must be Greek. I bring this up because Wallace's research undoubtedly (if his research is indeed worthy of his tenure as a Greek scholar of thirty years) must have brought his attention to the numerous witnesses to the full text of 1Jo 5:6,7 that exist before even the sixth century. The verses are quoted by so-called "church fathers" long before it was supposedly manufactured. But such evidence is unworthy of Wallace's attention, because he knows (yet doesn't know) how God preserves his word, and all evidence is preserved in Greek or it's not evidence at all.
Wallace goes on to use these examples to assert that "the problem is that the King James Bible is filled with readings which have been 'created' by overly zealous scribes!" We have seen what evidence Wallace uses to support his statement that these are created readings, and it is shoddy at best. If these two examples (six verses in Revelation and 1 John 5:6,7) are Wallace's best examples of "created" text in the Bible, then we can safely discard his assertion that the KJV is "filled" with spurious readings. As a reason to "not think that the KJV is the best translation available," it's pretty bad reasoning.
Wallace continues with one of the most logic-deficient arguments still used by supporters of the Critical Text to this day:
"...most textual critics just happen to embrace the reasonable proposition that the most ancient MSS tend to be more reliable since they stand closer to the date of the autographs."
Whether or not "most" critics support this proposition is irrelevant. This is an attempt by Wallace to slip in an argument of authority -- a 'people who know better than KJV believers have already decided otherwise' kind of thing. What is relevant is the logic (or lack of logic) behind the assertion that "older is better."
There are several problems with this reasoning. I will mention just a few.
1. First understand that even when Paul was penning inspired Scripture, there were already people corrupting God's word. 2 Corinthians 2:17 "For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God:" Further, even Critical Text supporters acknowledge that the vast majority of variant readings existed early on in the life of the New Testament: corruption of the text is not a recent thing. What does this mean? It means that older manuscripts are only closer to original corruption. This is a very important point. The older a manuscript is, the closer it is to corruption of the text. The next thing that must be understood is that Christians zealously copied God's word. The manuscripts regarded as reliable were worn out by constant use! Notice now that Wallace appeals to manuscripts that were preserved well because of a lack of use. He conveniently dismisses the overall majority of manuscripts because we have found older manuscripts. The logic is full of error! Wallace wants you to trust manuscripts that Christians at the time did not trust enough to use! That being said, the whole argument becomes moot when "older" texts supporting the KJV readings are found, texts that Wallace ignore because they do not support his Critical Text and his NET Bible translation.
2. The "older is better" argument leaves God's words hidden from view for the majority of the last 2000 years. Understand that what Wallace is really saying is the most accurate copies of God's word went missing almost right after they were written, and have only recently been found. Now it's up to scholars like him to reconstruct the Bible, because us poor average Christians have been reading and copying the wrong texts for over 15 centuries. Now that Wallace and his scholarly friends have brought us well over one hundred "new and improved" English Bibles in the last century, we should really be making some headway in the world. But while the Textus Receptus and the KJV gave us the Reformation, what have modern Bibles given us? "Jesus is my Homeboy" T-shirts and other such gems. Progress!
Reading on, we run into the typical claims that no doctrines are affected by the differences between the KJV and popular modern versions. This argument should be immediately dispensed with. Whether or not Wallace thinks changing "God was manifest in the flesh" (KJV) to "He was revealed in the flesh" (NET) diminishes the deity of Jesus Christ (I believe it certainly does), that doesn't mean that we can be cavalier about the constant erosion of Christ's deity from the Bible. Wallace makes a tacit admission that the KJV has more text supporting the deity of Christ than versions based on the Critical Greek Text, but insists that this doesn't matter as long as the needle is somewhere in the haystack. This is disbelief in the preservation and purity of Scripture at its finest. I wonder if Wallace would mind if I stole some of the money from his savings accounts. As long as I leave some of it there, he still has his savings, right?
Also along these lines, Wallace says:
"But when the textual evidence shows me both that scribes had a strong tendency to add, rather than subtract..."
First, the 'evidence' that scribes tended to add is merely that Wallace and his friends assume that their texts are more accurate, so texts with longer readings are therefor embellished. That's the evidence in a nutshell. Second, one must wonder at the logic of someone who assumes that a scribe would add text to verses that convict them of sin. One example will suffice.
In Romans 13:9 in the KJV, among other commandments, appears "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Wallace shows he believes this to be a spurious addition because in his Bible translation (along with the NIV and others) this commandment is left out of the verse. It is Wallace's contention that a scribe added text that directly and immediately accused the same scribe of the sin of bearing false witness, rather than a scribe removing the verse that incriminated him. Which do you think is more reasonable?
Moving right along, we have some more standard "stumpers" thrown out against KJV believers. The old "which KJV is inspired" straw man is there for good measure, showing either a complete lack of understanding of preservation or a willingness to intentionally misrepresent his opponents.
Wallace goes on to say that "300 words found in the KJV no longer bear the same meaning." While this is generally accurate, it is dishonest of Wallace to use this as a point of debate when his desire is to replace the KJV with a text based on entirely different manuscripts, not just to update the language. Even the so-called New King James Version discards readings from the KJV and replaces them with different readings where no language updates are "needed." The "need" for an update is debatable, but is a different debate. So far, no suitable updates exist, because all of them change meanings of the text while claiming to merely update the words. Rather than tampering with the text, as no modern scholar seems able to do anything without changing the text, we'd be better off improving the vocabulary of Bible readers by a mere 300 words instead of shoveling them dozens of conflicting Bible versions and creating doubt in the process.
Wallace gives an example of a "definite error" in the KJV and also has the gall to claim "even KJV supporters" admit it is an error. Where Wallace gets off making such a false witness is anybody's guess. Wallace's inability to understand the English of the KJV drives him to cry error. In complaining about the KJV rendering "strain at a gnat," Wallace does exactly what the Pharisees did, and swallows whole camels with entire verses being removed from the Bible in his own version.
Next, Wallace engages in a bit of mind reading and claims that many KJV supporters retain the KJV out of pride in being able to understand it when others don't. If anyone like that is out there, I haven't met them. The fact is that the KJV just isn't that hard to understand. Take it from a kid who never excelled in English class and was diagnosed with dyslexia. It doesn't take a college degree to read the KJV, it just takes a willingness to learn something new for a short while. Wallace says that the KJV was originally accused of being too easy to read. If that is true, then it is a testimony to the degradation of our language, and nobody who values education should embrace the dilution of literature.
Wallace begins to conclude his essay with the following:
"One can get saved reading the KJV and one can get saved reading the NIV, NASB, etc."
To this I say: praise God. But in response to the argument, I ask: so what? Does finding the Gospel written in a fiction novel elevate that novel to Biblical status? Or does removing everything from the Bible except the Gospel leave it still a Bible? Here Wallace engages in complete appeal to emotion. Wallace certainly knows (he must?) that the Bible is not only about salvation, and that the Bible exists to teach more than the Gospel.
And so Wallace ends his essay with the following:
"We often cling to things out of emotion, rather than out of true piety. And as such we do a great disservice to a dying world which is desperately in need of a clear, strong voice proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Wallace dismisses out of hand support for the KJV as mere "clinging" out of emotion. Of course, Wallace's lifetime devotion to the Critical Text and his own Bible translation couldn't possibly cloud his objectivity, could it?
The act of weakening Christians' faith in the authority of Scripture by giving them over one hundred separate authorities (and that's just English) to choose from, and filling a Bible translation with mounds of footnotes casting doubt on the reliability of the text of the Bible has done a far greater disservice to this "dying world" than proclaiming the KJV ever will.