Lecture 26: Greek Manuscripts behind the KJV | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 26: Greek Manuscripts behind the KJV

Course: Why We Trust Our Bible

Lecture: Greek Manuscripts behind the KJV


I. Why is the KJV different from all the modern translations?

The King James Bible was essentially based on Desiderius Erasmus Greek New Testament which was published in 1516. Erasmus was in a rush to get this published as there were Catholics in Spain who were trying to get one published also. The printing press had already been invented in 1454 and the New Testament had not yet been printed. He worked in Basal, Switzerland to get this done while examining eight different manuscripts only. This is all he had access to and of those eight, he really only used three. He only consulted the others a little. He produced this Greek New Testament on March 1st, 1516 nearly five hundred years ago. It was a very important event because this was the material basis for the reformation. That is what Luther used to start the reformation. But that text was so rushed that a later scholar said that it was the most erroneous published text he had ever seen. It had more mistakes in it than any other printed text he had seen. And that is the basis behind the King James; that was his first edition; he went through a second edition and then the third edition came out in 1522.

II. Give us a History of Textual Receptus

In the meantime, there was a great uproar by a number of people who said, ‘you don’t have the Trinitarian formula in 1st John 5:7, ‘the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, these three are one.’ He didn’t have any manuscripts that said that nor did he make a promise to put it in but he justified why he didn’t. It just so happened in 1520, a scribe by the name of Roy working in English wrote out the entire Greek New Testament and then took from a Latin manuscript those words and put it into 1st John 5:7. Erasmus found out about this and so he was getting a lot of pressure from the Catholic Church; he was a Roman Catholic priest himself. So, he put it into his third, fourth and fifth edition and that is what ended up in the King James Bible.

Altogether, we have found nine manuscripts that either have that wording in the text or in the margin; none of them, earlier than the 11th century. So the earliest manuscript to have this in the text is from the 14th century. It doesn’t go back to the original Greek New Testament. There is no scholar that believes that this is what the original Greek New Testament says. So this was added to the King James and that has been the biggest uproar about modern translations. You are taking out the trinity, they say. Well, what scholars are doing is simply trying to follow what the evidence actually says. We are not taking out the trinity, but instead, an explicit statement about the trinity. But the early church didn’t have that explicit statement. How could they ever have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity unless they had this verse? Well, they did. There is a kind of a myth; people think that if scribes copy a manuscript, they then destroyed them and so on. That didn’t happen nor has it ever happened, that is not what the scribes did. Others have said that the Bible has been translated and retranslated so many times that we can’t possibly tell what the original says. That presupposes that when you translate it, you throw away the original language and then you work with the second language, etc. It doesn’t take but a few seconds of thinking to realize that this is stupid. That is not what happens; the King James Bible, we still have those manuscripts today that the King James New Testament was based on. The oldest is from the 11th century. Eight manuscripts were essentially used.

Today, we have over five thousand and eight hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand manuscripts in other languages; so we have more than a thousand times as many manuscripts, almost in Greek alone than what the King James translators relied on. And our earliest manuscripts don’t go back to the 11th century; they go back to the 2nd century. Almost a thousand times as many manuscripts, almost a thousand years earlier; so modern New Testaments are not based on later data, but the longer we go and as time goes on, we are getting closer and closer to the original text.

III. What is the Difference between Majority Text, Received Text, and TR?

TR, Textual Receptus was an advertising burb in the 1633 Elsevier Text that an uncle and nephew put together. This is the text received by all. The TR is just an abbreviation of that. So the Received Text and TR are synonymous. The ‘majority text’ means that text is based on the majority of manuscripts which in almost every place, there are several places where we have no majority; but in almost every place, it is the Byzantine text. When Erasmus was using eight manuscripts for his translation, since the Byzantine text is eighty to ninety percent of our Greek manuscripts; you would expect him to use them even though there was one manuscript that wasn’t Byzantine. What he did, there was a text that virtually duplicates the Byzantine text or the majority text, except in nearly two thousand places, it differs from the majority text. But the majority text is based on the majority of manuscripts and it wasn’t even published until the 1980s; it was the first time we had a printed text based on the Byzantine manuscripts. Even though it was in the majority of manuscripts, it hasn’t been in the majority of people’s understanding in what those manuscripts actually said. It is especially the King James only people who are adamant and vehement about this issue.

IV. Why do Modern Translations Unanimously Follow the Alexandrian Text Type?

I have actually met people in different parts of the states who have said things like, ‘if the King James Bible is good enough for Paul, it is good enough for me.’ One person wrote to me, emailed me one time, arguing against me and I said that we probably need to deal with the larger issue of why you are Roman Catholic. He wasn’t a Catholic but he was elevating tradition above the text and especially with the KJV which isn’t easily understandable and you are calling this the inspired text, you are assuming there is inspiration that is taking place fifteen hundred years after the original. That is Catholic theology and methodology. The Vulgate was considered the inspired text, the Latin text; that was the only one that was inspired until the 20th century until the Catholic Church in Vatican II said that you can translate from Greek and Hebrew now. Finally, they could do that. It paralleled the methodology of what Catholicism was all about until Vatican II. These people think they fit into Protestantism and are the only upholders of Protestantism when their method is much more Catholic because of this idea of tradition. Erasmus had no basis for some of his readings and there are several places where he had no basis at all; some say that he wrote under inspiration. This is not the Protestant doctrine of inspiration; it is just the apostles and their associates who were inspired.

V. Practical Suggestions for how we Should Respond to Others in this Debate?

There are two ways to approach such people; first you have to show love; you have to be charitable, but secondly, you show them evidence and the kind of evidence that you show them is evidence that causes them to have to choose one of two positions. And like I just said their methodology is that of a Catholic. A lot of them have come out of this realizing the history of the Textual Receptus and the King James and the original preface to the King James where these translators said that it wasn’t the final word on the Word. This is our best effort and we think that it is a good effort. When they understand a little bit more about the history of the King James and the Greek text behind it, and then they come out of this darkness. It is not rational to think that you must be able to read the King James Version of the Bible to even be saved as some think. And I think that one of the problems that I strongly have with those who consider only the King James Version is that it is put above Jesus Christ. The Bible is an infallible pointer to Christ, but the Bible did not die on the Cross in our place. It was not raised from the dead. The Bible is what directs us to him so that we can worship him.