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FOUNDATIONAL ISSUES 2: Textual Issues

January 15, 2010

By Dr. Gary S. Day

The Inerrancy of the Bible

The Bible is true in everything it teaches, implicit or explicit.  Diminishing the authority of the Bible has very definite negative consequences upon man, and in the dishonoring of God.  This is done when an errant view of Scripture is believed.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy means God, by His Spirit guided the writing of His Word so thoroughly through the individuals, using their personalities, that they recorded in their original documents what was God’s intended meaning and content without error.

When this doctrine is attacked by questioning the integrity of God’s Word, significant structures of faith are also attacked:

1) The character of the originator of the Word, the Father

2) The reliability of Jesus’ affirmation of the Word

3) The honesty of the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word

4) The foundation of the Church which is built on the Word

So, what does the Bible say about the inerrancy of Scripture and the related thoughts and beliefs concerning inerrancy?

1) God cannot lie, act deceitfully in any way, or deny Himself because He is Truth

Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2; John 1:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:13; 1 Peter 2:22

If Jesus were capable of error, His atonement would be nullified (Hebrews 4:14-16).

2) The Bible claims to be the Word of God with Authority

John 10:34-35; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 3:2; 9:6; Acts 7:38; Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; John 10:35; Matthew 5:17-18; 1 Peter 1:20-21; Romans 9:17 w/Gen 3:8 & Exodus 9:16   Both Testaments are included as God’s Word (Psalm 119:160; John 10:34-36) and is verified when the NT quotes the OT.  So, if God cannot lie and if the Bible is the Word of God, then the Bible cannot contain error in the original manuscripts.

3.  God’s Word is Truth

Since lying is a product of man, not God (Romans 3:4) His Word must be true.  God is omniscient (all knowing) and to err in knowledge is not possible (Job 28:20-28, Psalm 139:2-4, 17-18; 147:4-5; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 11:33; 1 John 1:5).  Besides, Jesus specifically states that God’s Word is true (John 17:17).

The truthfulness of the Bible extends to the very words themselves, for there is a necessary link between the words and the concepts.  For instance: Jesus argued for His deity on the basis of the word “Lord” from psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:41-46, and vindicated Himself from blasphemy charges with a single word used in Psalm 82:6, as is recorded in John 10:34.  Plus, the Lord noted the tense of a word in Matthew 22:32, and Paul argued from a point in grammar in Galatians 3:16; and the smallest stroke on a letter written in the Word of God is Scripture (Matthew 5:18).  These examples show that the authority and inspiration of God’s Word is without error even to the very stroke of a letter!

The matter of inerrancy is important for when you impugn the inerrancy of the Word of God, you do so to God also.

The King James Version

The King James Version of the English language Bible translation was completed in 1611 from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the inerrant Scripture Texts were written.  Some today believe that this English language translation is the God inspired version.  This would mean that God inspired the translators in the same manner as He did the writers of the inerrant Word from the Greek and Hebrew languages.   These are two separate things.  Translations copy from one language to another only.  The translators hear no new revelation from God. 

To insist that the KJV is the only inspired Word of God is not only incorrect, it is arrogant.  Must Hindu or Thai or Bolivian peoples all speak and read King James English?  It seems amazing, but some have actually translated the KJV rather than the original Biblical languages into other languages!  Also, the KJV has many editions with as many as 24,000 differences in the text and punctuation; so, which is not the corrupt edition.  Some, I know, insist on the 1611 version because of this factor, but it too is a translation of the original languages.  In fact, the translators of the KJV actually advocated the use of other translations in the preface of their work:

“For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be not less that presumption.  Therefore, as St. Augustine saith, that variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.”

Not only did the translators adjure referring to other translations, but the translators of the KJV also included variant readings in the margins, indicating their uncertainty concerning the correct reading. The original 1611 edition had 4,223 marginal notes giving a more literal translation and another 2,738 alternative readings.  These readings, in the opinion of the translators, were “not very less probable than those in the text.” Concerning variant reading the translators also said in the preface, “They that are wise, had rather have their judgments at liberty in differences of reading, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.”

Besides the above, the translators of the KJV considered it wise to improve upon translations, also mentioned in the preface.  And finally, they included the Apocrypha in the original KJV.  Few KJV advocates today are aware of this fact, and fewer would include the Apocrypha books as inspired by God.

Nevertheless, the KJV served the English speaking Church world for centuries, and was a fine work in light of their limited resources.  But two major changes occurred that produced popular modern English translations such as The New American Standard Version, the New King James Version and the New International Version.  The two changes were: 1) the finding of thousands of manuscripts that were not available to the translators of the King James Version; and 2) the change of the English language that has occurred since 1611.

Not only has the style of English writing changed since 1611, some words used have lost or changed their meaning over time (e.g. suffer, quick, allege, let, conversation).  Even the KJV translators wanted the Word to be understood by the common people of that time.

The case for the KJV being the only true Bible is argued from what was called the Textus Receptus (TR), under the theory that God must have preserved the original Greek text completely in tact.  The TR that formed the basis of the New Testament of the KJV, developed from a Greek text first compiled by Erasmus (1516), then edited by Stephanus and then by Theodore Beza.  This Greek NT text was based primarily upon six Greek manuscripts, hand written copies of part or of all of the Greek NT.  Each made several updates; the KJV translators made the greatest use of Beza’s 1588-89 and 1598 editions.

However, the designation of Textus Receptus (“received text”) was first used by the Greek text produced by the Elzevir brothers in 1633, twenty-two years after the KJV was first published.  But their Greek text wasn’t identical to other Greek texts.  Stephanus’ 1550 edition of his Greek text has also been called TR.  Today the term TR normally refers to the Greek text that reflect those textual choices made by the translators, rather than any one particular Greek text.  The bottom line is that the KJV translators didn’t use a TR, but rather different Greek texts, though they did use the same translation methods that are employed by most modern translators.  They worked by a committee and drew from all the available Greek and Hebrew sources available, rather than one text; then they made decisions on which text had the best reading and how best to translate the reading into understandable English.

Erasmus’ work, upon which other would build, was compiled from several Greek manuscripts, but none completely covered the NT; and the earliest one was from the tenth century AD which Erasmus considered to be least reliable.  Today, over 5,300 handwritten manuscripts of all or parts of the Greek NT have been discovered, and hundreds are older than what was available to Erasmus and the KJV translators.

Clearly Erasmus and the writers of the KJV were limited, though they did a superb job considering their available resources.  For instance, Erasmus had only one manuscript for the book of Revelation, which lacked the last six verses, so he relied on the Vulgate (a Latin translation by Jerome).  This is why Revelation 22:19 in the KJV reads “the book of life,” while every Greek manuscript reads “the tree of life.”  This alone proves that the KJV is not inerrant.  In similar manner also, Acts 9:6 became part of the KJV TR despite the fact that the sentence is absent from over 5,300 hundred Greek manuscripts; it has apparently been transferred from the parallel account in Acts 22:10.

Besides this, why must the Textus Receptus be from the English translation, and not say, from Martin Luther’s German translation from Erasmus’ 1519 Greek edition?  Or, even the Greek text behind the Latin Vulgate, which has been used for 1,500 years, which defeats the longevity of use argument for the Greek text underlying the KJV as being the TR.

Instead of working from the available Greek text to construct a translation determined to be the Textus Receptus, those who support the KJV as God inspired would work backwards from the translation to construct the Greek text from it.  And though the resultant “Textus Receptus” is not identical to any published Greek text or hand written manuscript available at the time of the publication of the KJV in 1611, it is considered to be God’s providentially preserved text.

While no doctrinal issues were affected by the limitations of the KJV, the translators of the KJV understood that their work could be improved upon.  So, even if the KJV is preferred, it is wrong to condemn all modern versions as corrupt because they deviate from the KJV, and to judge those who use them.  Though not all modern translations and translators are good, the matter is simply how faithful a translation to the original text.  Know also that modern translations fall somewhere between the ranges of an idiomatic translation of the original languages and strict literal rendering of them.  Regardless of what translation is used, it is now our responsibility to apply the preserved Word of God to our lives.

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