A Reply to Dr. Daniel Wallace's Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today
Twenty Points of Criticism Answered
Dr. Jack A. Moorman
October 5, 2005
Dr. Wallace is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and has written frequently concerning the textual debate. Some ten or so articles listed on his website oppose the AV/TR position.
The views Dr. Wallace expresses in Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today are incorrect for the following reasons:
1. The points raised against the AV/TR are the usual ones. They have been raised and answered repeatedly and fully. Substantial rebuttal is available in print and on the web. Dr. Wallace should have, in fairness, made some acknowledgement of this. For a thorough review of many of these and other points, see the three recent books by Dr. D. A. Waite: Fundamentalist Deception on Bible Preservation, Fundamentalist Mis-information on Bible Versions, Fundamentalist Distortions on Bible Versions. It should be noted that Dr. Wallace is not a fundamentalist.
2. After disparaging the AV (and TR), Wallace does not tell us which is the best available translation! He does not identify a preferred replacement. This is not untypical today. In the recent From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man book, no clear direction is given as to what we should put in the place of the AV. This is a tacit acknowledgement that nothing in any permanent sense has taken the place of the AV. They find themselves in a limbo!
3. An attempt is made to put the first editor of the printed Received Text in an unjustly negative light. "The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus." Material is available today that gives a much fairer perspective to Erasmus and his work. Edward Hills, The Kings James Version Defended, is still one of the best sources. (See also the sources in The Bible Version Question/Answer Database by David Cloud). Erasmus (1466-1536) was of course Catholic as was nearly everyone else at that time. But, at his monastery, he was far more of a continual student with a voracious appetite for knowledge than a priest in the normal sense. It is in this respect rather than in the modern atheistic sense that he was a humanist. Many of his writings were scathing against the Catholic Church. He died among his Protestant friends and was buried in a Protestant cemetery. He had embraced much of the teaching of the Reformation, but had not come out openly in its support by formally leaving the Catholic Church.
Erasmus was acclaimed the greatest intellect of Europe, and became the man of the hour to initiate the transfer of the Traditional Text from manuscript to printed form. His Greek editions provided the base for the great Reformation Bibles, and lit the fire for the Reformation itself. Wallace and others would like us to concentrate instead on his deficiencies, and have us jump from Erasmus and his 1516 edition directly to the AV of 1611. By this they seek to attach any deficiency in the man and his work to the AV itself. Wallace will of course not acknowledge that the AV was the product of nearly a century of prayerful textual and linguistic refinement.
4. Wallace would also have us make much of the publisher Froben's haste in printing Erasmus' first edition (1516) before the Spanish Cardinal Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglot Bible went to press. He makes no mention that in the following year the Reformation was to break out in Wittenberg, in which this first printing of the Greek NT was to become a (in fact, the) major impetus. This is a powerful demonstration of God's providence in the timing of the publication. (See Hills, and also S.P. Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text, p. 20).
5. Erasmus "only used half a dozen, very late manuscripts for the whole New Testament". Wallace ignores that Erasmus was conversant with many manuscripts in his searches across Europe. Those which he had before him at Basel for his 1516 edition can be demonstrated to have been good representatives (See Hills, p.198). David Cloud in his The Bible Version Question/Answer Database has gathered a number of important citations on this question, including the following:
6. Erasmus' manuscript of Revelation is said to have been lacking in the last six verses (22:16-21), and was supplied by referring to the Latin Vulgate. Herman Hoskier in his massive, and I must add, difficult to use, Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse, has shown that Erasmus may have had Greek manuscript 2049 (Hoskiers's 141) covering these verses (I 474-77; II 454, 635). But whatever the case, Dr. Wallace should have told the rest of the story; that is, if indeed Erasmus used the Vulgate, in his later editions it was corrected by direct reference to the Greek.
One notable exception is claimed to be 22:19 where the AV/TR reads: ...shall take away his part out of the book of life. This has fairly substantial support in other sources, but is found in only three Greek manuscripts (296 2049 2067mg.). The variant reading, though supported by the Greek, can hardly be said to make sense: ...shall take away his part out of the tree of life. In When the KJV Departs from the "Majority" Text, and using Hoskier, I have listed support from the manuscripts, versions, and fathers for eight passages in Revelation 22:15-21.
7. Dr. Wallace repeats the familiar arguments against I John 5:7, and the circumstances of Erasmus "placing it in the text if someone could show him a Greek manuscript containing the passage, to which a manuscript was hastily prepared for that purpose". A letter from the Erasmian scholar H. J. de Jonge to Michael Maynard in 1995 puts the matter in a different light. Quoting Erasmus in his dispute with Edward Lee, de Jonge says:
Jeffrey Khoo points out:
Yale professor Roland Bainton.... agrees with de Jonge, furnishing proof from Erasmus' own writing that Erasmus' inclusion of I John 5:7f was not due to a so-called promise' but the fact that he believed the verse was in the Vulgate and must therefore have been in the Greek text used by Jerome'. (Kept Pure in all Ages, p.88; cited from D.W. Cloud, The Bible Version Question/Answer Database, p.343). See also And These Three are One by Jesse Boyd, Wake Forest, 1999.
Michael Maynard's monumental work on the disputed passage will, I think, demonstrate to many that this has not been a debate over "thin air". His book chronicles the fact that defence of the faith and defence of this passage frequently went hand in hand. Beginning from the days of Cyprian of Carthage (died 258), there is indeed substantial evidence for the passage. Cyprian said:
Critics have argued that Cyprian was merely giving a Trinitarian interpretation to verse 8. The spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
The answer to this is obvious; the figures of verse 8 cannot naturally be interpreted as the Persons of the Holy Trinity. (See Hills).
Though missing in most Greek manuscripts, it nevertheless leaves in them its footprint with the mismatched genders that result when the disputed words are removed. The loose ends do not match up grammatically! Native Greek speakers find this "glaring". Here in London, the printed Apostolos (the lectionary text used in Greek Orthodox services) contains the passage.
8. Wallace says of the AV translators: "These scholars, who admitted that their work was provisional and not final (as can be seen by their preface and by their more than 8000 marginal notes indicating alternate renderings), would wholeheartedly welcome the great finds in MSS that have occurred in the past one hundred and fifty years."
In neither The Dedication to the King, nor The Translators to the Reader do I find an inference where the AV translators "admitted that their work was provisional". To the King they declare: "out of the Original Sacred Tongues...there should be one more exact translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue". And, to the Reader they write: "Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one...but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principle good one, not justly to be accepted against." (pp. xv,xvi). Wallace calls their work provisional; the AV translators say it is one principle good one.
9. Regarding marginal readings, these provided a kind of miniature commentary. In the comparatively few places where we find them, those translators who trusted in Him that hath the key of David (Translators to the Reader, p. xvi), showed by inclusion in the text what their decision had been, while at the same time giving insight into what the Original was capable of expressing. In some cases they show a strictly literal rendering which to translate directly into English would have been awkward.
In only 104 instances (Scrivener) is a variant reading from different manuscripts given. Here they show their awareness, but not to the point of distracting the reader, and certainly not to the point of Wallace's claim that the AV translators would have "welcomed the great finds in MSS that have occurred in the last 150 years". Erasmus knowledge of variant readings in Codex B is well documented. In an attempt to persuade Erasmus of the superiority of B, 365 variant readings were sent to him in early November 1533 from Rome by the Spaniard Sepulveda (Maynard, pp. 87,88). Erasmus rejected these for his 1535 edition. They were rejected by succeeding editors of the Received Text, and by the great Reformation Bibles both in English and other languages. The men of the AV knew where the dangers lurked in the manuscript record. For example, Codex D, and the Clementine Vulgate (a much more corrupt 1592 replacement for the Sixtine edition), were at their disposal. They had the spiritual discernment to reject the corrupt variants that these and other sources presented.
10. Wallace speaks of a "100,000 changes" being made to the AV over the centuries. Nearly all of the changes were updated punctuation and spelling, along with correction of some printing errors. Dr. D. A. Waite's thorough research into this question has shown that very little difference can be detected when reading a 1611 edition and the AV of today. Among the 791,328 words in the AV only 421 showed a change in sound. Of these there were only 136 changes of substance, such as an added "of" or "and". (See Defending the King James Bible, pp. 3-5, and B.F.T. 1294). When writers speak of many thousands of changes, and especially Wallace with his 100,000 (!), we wonder if they mean to be taken seriously. It is completely false.
11. In attempting to explain why the TR is fuller than the Aleph-B text, ("The KJV is filled with readings that have been created by overly zealous scribes"), Wallace repeats one of the Westcott and Hort canons when he says: "textual evidence shows me that scribes had a strong tendency to add rather than subtract". It is in fact the opposite! Where there is deliberate alteration, it is far easier to remove words than to add them. Given that there are nearly 2900 additional words in the TR (including the bracketed portions), let him explain how such could have taken place without a mention in textual history of the wholesale editing venture necessary to bring this about.
In view of the huge majority of manuscripts containing this fuller text, with countless scribes involved, spanning many centuries, covering a wide geographic area, Dr. Wallace must also explain how it could have been done so consistently. How could this vast majority of manuscripts show the same so-called "additions"? How is it that he fails to see or admit that it is far easier to take away from the few than to add to the many? Wallace is at variance with other critical editors on this point:
The few manuscripts after being tampered with were generally ignored by copyists. Nothing approaching an extended direct copy or exemplar of either Aleph or B has been found! The search has been "fruitless", (See T.C. Skeat, "The Codex Sinaiticus, The Codex Vaticanus and Constantine," Journal of Theological Studies, 50, pp. 619,20.). In fact Skeat goes on to say that Aleph remained "a pile of loose leaves" for some considerable time, (perhaps as much as two centuries!), before being bound up (p. 609). Dr. Wallace must be pressed to explain how such a thing could have befallen these few which he says are the "best manuscripts".
12. Wallace claims that "very few of the distinctive King James readings are demonstrably ancient". In our book Early Manuscripts, Church Fathers, and the Authorized Version, there is a thorough manuscript-by-manuscript evaluation of this question. The entire range of Greek manuscripts, early versions, and fathers before 400 AD are asked to vote on 356 distinctive and doctrinal AV passages. Overall they vote strongly in favor of the AV. Regarding the Egyptian papyri, all but six are fragments, and many of the doctrinal passages are indeed missing. However, Harry Sturz in his The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism has shown that there is considerable support for the other distinctive AV readings in the papyri. The "Five Old Uncials", Aleph, A, B, C, D, have long been claimed as the sole domain of the Critical Text. There is in fact among them considerable support for the distinctive AV doctrinal passages. In Early Manuscripts, Church Fathers, and the Authorized Version, an investigation of five categories of Greek manuscripts, eighteen categories of early versions, Tatian's Diatessaron, and the fathers before 400 AD, show a decisive preponderance of evidence for the AV/TR.
13. Again, Wallace says: "There are over 400,000 textual variants among the N.T. manuscripts. But the differences between the Textus Receptus and the texts based on the best Greek witnesses number about 5000." He should have explained how he arrived at 400,000. Had he gone to the trouble, he would have tacitly revealed a very uncomfortable fact for his position. A hugely disproportionate amount of the variation is to be found among the relatively few manuscripts supporting the Aleph-B text. The critical editors, Barbara Aland and Klaus Wachtel admit this:
If these few cannot agree among themselves, then how can Wallace call them the "best Greek witnesses"? As so little of an Aleph-B kind of manuscript is available, clearly early scribes did not think them best. Nor did the scribes of the 8th/9th Centuries think them best when they transferred the text from uncial to minuscule script. Further, the manuscripts that were widely copied are known to be strongly cohesive, with narrow variation margins. Their variation is usually just enough to let us know that they are independent productions with long transmissional lines.
14. Though admitting 5000 differences between the AV and modern version text, Wallace seeks to downplay the extent of difference. He says, "the two are remarkably similar" and "agree 98% of the time" and "that the vast majority of variations are so trivial as to not even be translatable, (the most common is the moveable nu...)".
He is wrong on the number of differences. In our book 8000 Differences, a total of 8,032 variation units are listed. Not one of these is a moveable nu. A variation unit may involve the spelling of a word, substitution of different words, changing the order of the same words, frequently the removal of words, and at times the addition of words. A variation unit may comprise anything from one word to many verses.
He is wrong to say that the two texts agree "98% of the time". If there are a total of 140,521 words in the Received Text, with 8000+ variation units of difference between it and the revised text, and with many of these variation units containing multiple words, clauses, sentences, and even verses, then simple arithmetic will show that a substantial part of the New Testament has been affected.
In order to check further the list of variation units in my book 8000 Differences, a friend prepared a computer-generated printout in which the two texts were combined. In this, the unaffected portions of text are shown along with the variations. Here, side-by-side the TR reading (Scrivener) is underlined, and the Nestle-Aland is crossed out. Vertical markings beside the text show further where a line of Scripture is affected. This gives a remarkable visual demonstration of the extent to which the lines of New Testament text are affected.
He is wrong in saying, "that the vast majority of variations are so trivial as to not even be translatable". Where, for example, it is "only" the spelling of a word, it will still affect the sound of the word and frequently the inflection and structure of the Greek sentence. When we believe that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (II Tim. 3:16), and that "every word of God is pure" (Prov. 30:5), questions will not be raised as to which differences are "trivial", and which are not. If this is how God breathed out His Word, then this is how it must stand!
The variation will often affect the English translation. Where the variation is not translatable, a search of the list will show that the underlying text is frequently weakened or lessened in some way. This I suppose would be like having green grass even though the root structure beneath has been weakened.
15. Wallace tells us "most textual critics for the past 250 years would say that no doctrine is affected by these changes". Yes, that is what they and he say, and it is false. Many of God's faithful servants have over the years compiled long lists of these alterations and omissions. They have set out clearly the extent to which the great doctrines have been weakened and undermined. It can only be due to peer pressure, scholarly pride and wilful blindness that this statement is made. My own list of 356 passages gives a clear demonstration. He cannot merely brush this aside by saying: "Those who vilify the modern translations and the Greek texts behind them have evidently never really investigated the data. Their appeals are based largely on emotion, not evidence." Yes, we are filled with emotion when we see our Bible treated in this way, and we have also investigated the data.
16. The AV English is said to be "difficult to understand". Indeed, it is different. It is not like your morning newspaper, but its English is not difficult, as a section-by-section comparison with other translations will show. For a computer generated analysis of this question see The Reading Ease of the King James Bible by D. A. Waite Jr. Here using four readability formulas, (Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch Grade Level, Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog Index), Mr. Waite's research shows the AV to be rated as "fairly easy". Though nearly 400 years old, on the question of readability alone (i.e. to understand what was written), the AV achieved approximately the same scores as five recent versions. He also shows that AV words are frequently shorter in syllables and letters.
In other respects, there is no comparison. A section-by-section comparison will show that while the AV is a formal equivalence translation (word for word from the original) rather than the so-called dynamic equivalence, its English has depths, fountains, and is living and rhythmic. In contrast, modern version English have been said to be "Formica flat", tepid, wooden. Recent authors, often secular, have stressed this point. The AV can be read aloud, memorized, and quoted with authority and reverence. It has rhythm. It flows. Whereas, in public reading, the cadence and timing of the NIV, NASV and NKJV is flawed, with halts and breaks.
Meditation, memorization and earnest study are all greatly diminished with the modern Bibles. They are not held dear as the AV was. Perhaps the following quotation from Psalm 23:1 of the Contemporary English Version gives a classic example of the reason why.
The AV displays the full flowering of the English language, and in fact shaped that language. It is not archaic or Elizabethan, as comparison with that era will show. It was never contemporary, but always a step apart from the common. In this sense it is somewhat more refined than Tyndale's Version. It has maintained a timeless reverence and grandeur that draws the heart upward to God.
17. Wallace points to "Suffer little children", and "Study to show thyself approved", as two examples of AV words "which no longer bear the same meaning". I think he considerably overstates the case. Yes, we could replace these with permit and give diligence, but the impact would be lessened. We could change noised about to reported, but the former gives a better picture of what was actually taking place in Luke 1:65 and Mark 2:1. We could attempt to replace the eth verb endings in the AV with a present tense or perhaps a past, but would find that the eth (historical present) is not adequately translated by either. (See, The New King James Bible, G. W. and D. E. Anderson, Trinitarian Bible Society, pp. 12,13). We could replace the thees and thous with "you", but would then remove the means of distinguishing between singular pronouns (thee, thou), and plural pronouns (you). With their removal we would also be removing a more reverent form of address to God.
Given the age of the AV it is remarkable that so little is archaic. Again, much more has been made of this than the case warrants. Among the words generally termed archaic, I would estimate from a list I have seen that not many over 35 or 40 would perhaps need a dictionary. Often, the context indicates the meaning. A study of these so-called archaic words will show that they frequently have a greater depth of meaning than their modern replacements.
18. Wallace tells us that "as the Greek has strain out a gnat"; the AV's strain at a gnat (Matt. 23:24) is "one very definite error in translation". Wycliffe (1395) had clensinge a gnatte, but the four Reformation Bibles before the AV (Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishops) read strayne out a gnat. As subsequent refinements to the AV text allowed this reading to remain, it is highly unlikely, as some have suggested, that this was a printer's error.
The AV translators made a decision to go against their predecessors, and this likely for the following reasons:
(1) The word strain (diulizontes) is found only here in the N.T. It is a present participle (rather than an aorist) and means to strain or filter. The present participle indicates that an ongoing rather than completed action is taking place. It points to the effort involved, rather than that they actually succeeded and got the gnat out. In 1729, Daniel Mace made a translation of the N.T., and rendered the words, strain for a gnat, which conveys the same meaning as the AV.
(2) Only one gnat is involved. At first discovery of this tiny, lone, solitary creature all else stopped. Rather than remove it with a spoon, the entire contents must be filtered, suitable cloths were brought, and with much show and ritual the filtering process began. Thus they strain at a gnat. That is, at the first sight of only one gnat the filtering ceremony begins.
(3) When "out" is used in the N.T., we expect to see an underlying Greek preposition, usually ek or apo. There is none here.
Commentators as Poole, Henry, and Gill (non revised) do not take issue with the AV reading. See also www.geocities.com/brandplucked/strain.html
There is no proven gnat here for Dr. Wallace to strain at.
19. The second translation error alleged is Hebrews 4:8: For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. Wallace says: "This sounds as though Jesus could not provide the eternal rest that we all long for! However the Greek word for Jesus is the same as the word for Joshua. And in the context of Heb. 4, Joshua is obviously meant. There is no textual problem here; it is rather simply a mistake on the part of the translators, perpetuated for the last 400 years in all editions of the KJV."
Indeed the passage is not textual or for that matter translational; this is exactly what the Greek says. It has though been an interpretational issue. Translators are to translate, rather than interpret. The men of the AV translated the Hebrew O.T. names as they appeared in Greek. See for example, the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Notice that they gave the same translation in Acts 7:45: Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers. By reading "Jesus" in Heb. 4:8, the AV followed most of the English Bibles which came before: Wycliffe, the Great, Tavener's, Matthew's, Bishop's and the Geneva; whereas Tyndale and Coverdale read "Joshua". Wallace wrongly gives the impression that this began with the AV.
Joshua was a pre-eminent Old Testament type of Christ. There is agreement in their names. There is agreement in their work, both led and lead into rest. By translating (actually transliterating) rather than interpreting the Greek, this parallel between type and antitype is clearly shown in the New Testament. And to repeat, by this we are put on notice that both have the same name.
It is also to be pondered (Josh.5:13-15), that on the eve before Joshua led Israel across Jordan, he was on his face before Jesus! Thus it was Jesus Himself who provided their way across Jordan and into the Promise Land. But, the rest He then gave was not the final rest. Type and Antitype are very close here.
The four examples Wallace gives of so-called archaic English and incorrect translation have simply not made their point.
20. Dr. Wallace concludes: "I trust this brief survey of reasons I have for thinking that the King James Bible is not the best available translation will not be discarded quickly". In fact both for his own good and those who follow him, his "reasons" should be "discarded quickly". It is a downward course. After announcing that he no longer accepts passages as John 3:13, John 7:53- 8:11, I Timothy 3:16, he says, "I find it difficult to accept intellectually the very passages which I have always embraced emotionally". And, matters will and do slide further. The following is from a 9/12/94 article in Christianity Today where Wallace praises Karl Barth and bemoans bibliolatry.
In The Synoptic Problem, which is available on his website, he supports the redaction approach to the Gospels. This theory teaches that the Gospels were given, not by direct inspiration, but rather by copying from each other, and from a common secondary source. (See O Timothy, vol. 15-7, 98).
When verbal preservation is abandoned, a denial or weakening of verbal inspiration will generally follow. In fact upon examination one cannot really hold to the one without the other.
We can do no better in closing than to contrast the kind of scholarship which characterizes support for today's versions with that of the men who translated the AV.
J. A. Moorman 5 October 2005