Saturday, July 3, 2010

#168-King James Version-Part 2

Note: This post is one of my longest to date. I apologize. Know that below is a history of the biblical translation process up to the KJV. I do think it is important that we have a historical context of how we got our Bible, and so I encourage a reading of what is presented here, and further research on your own. We must realize the Bible did not fall out of the sky at any point in history. There is a context with everything, and so it is with the KJV Bible. If you do not have the patience to read the entire post, just be sure to read the two paragraphs in bold towards the end of this post.

Earlier this week I briefly got into my hypothesis that the Apostolic infatuation with the KJV is not necessarily an affinity of the King James Version itself, but rather the Apostolic crush on the KJV is more wrought out of a desire for certainty in having a specific translation represent the Word of God, and thus concern over the use of this word or that word in the Bible can be thrown out the window, if indeed an entire version of the Bible is inspired. Today I go into a brief history of the KJV, and hopefully demonstrate further how problematic it is to hold up this translation above that of others.

"We learn from history that we do not learn from history." -Hegel

Basically, as Greek culture (Hellenism) became less and less prominent in the centuries after Jesus' death, Greek stopped becoming the lingua franca of civilization. The popularity of Greek during the New Testament times (all of the New Testament books with possibly the exception of Matthew were written in Greek), gave way to the vulgar tongue of Latin. Latin being the language of the common man.

So what were people to do with the loss of the use of Greek language concerning the Greek New Testament? Surely Greek was the inspired language of God since that was the language the Bible was written in. Surely then, to translate the Bible in any language other than Greek would be blasphemous. The Word of God was written in Greek, and if it is to stay inspired, keep the Bible in the Greek and if people want to understand the Word of God as it's meant to be read, ask the one who hungers after the Word to pray for a divine "unveiling" wherein the Spirit makes the Greek understandable to the foreigner. Further, why not have the minister study to understand the Greek, since the Bible was not intended to be written or read in Latin?

Of course this point was raised, but thankfully people didn't listen.

Rather, people started translating the Bible into Latin, except no one knew what in good heavens they were doing in those early centuries A.D., since no one was exactly sure what the Bible consisted of entirely. Basically, people started translating the Bible into "old Latin" however they wanted, and manuscripts (ancient handwritten copies all over the Bible) were flying all over the place. Some of the copiers and editors of these manuscripts were bound by a philosophy to keep the text sacred. Others felt it was necessary to change some details to rid the Bible of contradictions. Some added notes in the margins of the manuscripts that found their way in later copies of that manuscripts. Some of the copiers were extremely well educated on properly copying manuscripts, but certainly not all.

Further, ALL of the people translating the Bible at this point were using the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as their base for the Latin versions of the Bible. They thought the Septuagint inspired, and thus stayed away from the Masoretic text, which was basically the Old Testament in its original Hebrew. Lastly these versions of the "old Latin Bible" started translating themselves. Instead of going to early Greek copies of the Bible to translate, people just started making copies of those already flawed Latin translations which just exacerbated the problem.

And the newly formed Roman Catholic Church was all like confused about all this Bible confusion. When people said "Bible" everyone was like, "which one?" because there were so many versions in Latin.

So the Pope was like, "Yo, Christians, we gots to get a good Latin Bible up in the hizzy that we can all stand behind...."

And he found this guy named Jerome who told him, "Enough with this foolishness. I'm about to peace all this inconsistent junk out, and bring a real good Latin translation up in here."

And the Pope was all about that and he gave Jerome money.

So Jerome started making his own Latin translation which relied heavily on the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew Old Testament) instead of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament)...although the Septuagint was consulted from time to time as Jerome was not fluent in Hebrew. And then he got as many reliable Greek manuscripts he could find and translated the New Testament.

When the Bible was done, the Catholic Church was like "That's mine!"

And so it was. And the Bible became known as the Latin Vulgate (meaning the Common Latin Version).

And basically from for 1100 years, the Latin Vulgate was The Bible (400-1530 A.D.). Literally, it was the only thing quoted from by ministers. The Catholic Church considered it perfect, and since it was the only authorized version of the Bible, you couldn't contest its accuracy with "lesser" versions of the Bible. The Latin Vulgate was more authoritative than the early Greek Manuscripts.

If you were a foreign minister, whose native tongue was not Latin, you were still required to learn Latin to be able to read the Bible, since somehow, Latin became associated with this divine language, and thus instead of making the Bible available to the common man, the Catholics made the common man conform to the language of the Bible. Prayers were not supposed to be offered up in a native tongue, but rather in Latin (and thus short confessional prayers became the norm).

Do you see what is going on here? Let's rewind....The Bible was originally translated into Latin in order to reach the common man so he could understand the Word of God. And then the Catholic Church took what was originally a good thing and ripped the Bible from the hands of the common man and made the Latin Vulgate beyond touchable. Most importantly, the Bible was not allowed to be translated into any other language. If you spoke English, but did not have resources to learn Latin, then you had no way of ever reading the Bible.

So some dude, who has one of the sweetest names ever: Desiderius Erasmus was like "Aw man, somethings not right! The Bible wasn't even written in Latin, it was written in Greek....So how in the World is the Vatican abouts to make the Latin Version of the Bible more Holy than the original language of the New Testament (aka "How in the world are English ministers going to make the King James Version of the Bible more important than the original language of the New Testament, and not dare try to learn that original language?")

So Erasmus and a bunch of other sweet people were like, "yo, ad fontes" which meant "back to the sources." So Erasmus and these other sweet people (known as Humanists) started paying attention to Greek culture of old again, and the philosophers of that time (e.g. Plato, Socrates, etc...). So, Erasmus started comparing the Latin Vulgate with the seven Greek manuscripts he had available (although these Greek manuscripts were relatively late), and saw many, many problems between the two, and was like, "Yo if we gonna use the Bible any more it mine as well be the Greek, because this Latin Vulgate gots some messiness to it."

So Erasmus set out to do what would become one of the most monumental acts in Christian history, and which also served as one of the driving forces to starting up the reformation....He write a New Testament Translation into Greek which was a no no. Since he did not have one single complete New Testament manuscript in Greek, he used 7-8 of those partial Greek manuscripts of the New Testament to rewrite the N.T. in its original language (mind you that these 7-8 were each flawed in their own way). He really got into trouble in the book of Revelation, where at parts he did not have any access to Greek versions of the book (since it was hotly contested whether Revelation should be included in the Bible or not, this was not a surprise.) So Erasmus, when he had no Greek counterpart in the manuscripts for the verses in Revelation, he went to the flawed manuscript which he went to overthrow: The Latin Vulgate.....

So Erasmus, who did a very laudable thing by translating the Bible back into Greek, by no means had the best resources available (according to today's standards) to translate the Bible into Greek. He made do with what he had in terms of Greek Manuscripts, but the bottom line is there were parts definitely found wanting in his translation. Ultimately, the Greek translation Erasmus made and the subsequent edits of that Greek translation became known as the Textus Receptus (from here on referred to TR).

Why is the TR important? Because it opened the floodgates. Martin Luther was like, "Yo we need to make a Bible into German" (which was still a no no). William Tyndale was like "Yo we need to make a Bible into English" (which was still a no no).

So all these dudes were saying the Bible should not be left in the hands of the religious elite, but with the addition of the printing press (which for the first time allowed copying of literature without the need for handwriting), these dudes were like "the Bible should be for everyone." Thus the beauty of what happened was that the Bible was no longer something that needed to be approached as it stood in its formal state as the Latin Vulgate. Rather it was now being brought low to be able to be accessed by the common man in his own native tongue (assuming you could read as illiteracy was still a very severe problem back then).

Is this not the Cross incarnated? For the story of Christ was Him being brought low in order that all may freely approach Him no matter or race, ethnicity, or economic status. And so too, the Bible was now being translated to the point where anyone could access it freely without regard to whether or not they were a part of the religious elite.

For the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Christianity is not meant to be the religion of the elite. It is the religion which descends to the lowest depths of society and makes new men out of sinners. We must not forget this. We must not be a movement that finds the only people who have access to Christianity are those Christian elites themselves, who in their own anointing ascend to the heights of institutionalized Christianity and come down to the lay person to tell them what Christianity really is. If this is the case, then we have gone way of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sorry about that rant, I got sidetracked. Let's pick up the story where it left off: Eventually, King James wanted his own version of the Bible because he was paranoid that the most popular English version of the Bible, the Geneva Bible encouraged rebellion against Kings. And thus King James commissioned The King James Version which was based off this same textus receptus that Erasmus wrote as well as the existing English translations of the Bible. Its intentions were still for the English to be able to access it, but it was not without an agenda. Eventually in the 1700's, the KJV took over the Bishop's Bible and the Geneva Bible as the most popular English translation.

However, as alluded to in the last post, the KJV was not done being edited when it came out in 1611. It went through several edits along the way (and by several, I mean many). But it was not until the 1930's or so that the KJV gained its steam in reputation. Despite its popularity before this time, few argued its superiority over other English translations. But running parallel to modernism (which praised the advancement of man in his quest in science and industry), fundamentalism grew as well as it said what we have in the Bible is sufficient and perfect (it dually worked against the Pentecostalism of the day which emphasized Spirit over knowledge) and thus anything outside the Bible was not to be believed. And thus like the Roman Catholics did with the Latin Vulgate, fundamentalists sought for a proper, singular translation of the Bible to exalt above the rest to put all their faith in. And the KJV was ripe for the job.

So what's the problem about all of this? Why not the KJV? Well as mentioned above, the Textus Receptus which the KJV was based on, was derived from 7-8 relatively late Greek manuscripts. It was good for Erasmus then, but what about now? Well now we have found thousands of Greek manuscripts of the Bible, many of which predate the Greek manuscripts that Erasmus used by several centuries. We also have the Dead Sea Scrolls which give us very early insight into the Hebrew Bible that was around the time of Jesus. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are either from the century before Jesus or at the same time of Jesus, the next earliest versions of the Hebrew Bible were some 800 to 900 years later! What does this mean? With these new manuscript findings from the past two centuries, we can get closer and closer to the original inspired version of the Bible (since the manuscripts are more numerous now and many of which were written earlier than the manuscripts of Erasmus) and relieve ourselves of much of the pain of copying errors of scribes through the centuries.

Most of the modern translations that come out now zero in on the new information revealed in these manuscripts in order to arrive at a more accurate translation of the Bible. This is why some people will point to the deletion of certain terms, phrases and verses in the new translations compared to the KJV as evidence that the new translations water down the Bible and purposefully rid themselves of problematic verses. But there are reasons for these omissions of terms, phrases, and verses in the Bible: We don't find them in the earlier manuscripts, meaning what we see in the KJV and not in the other translations were most likely added by scribes later on in the Bible copying process! Of course there is always the possibility that we may find the early manuscripts that do indeed possess the words that are in the KJV, but we have yet to find those, so we must make Bible translations based off the manuscripts we do have. We cannot follow certain KJV terms/phrases objectively from an argument of silence saying in faith that we may end up finding those manuscripts that possess those terms/phrases in the Bible later on. We must go on the information we do have available.

In closing, consider in this overly simplified history of the KJV, where do we get a whiff of its superiority over against other English translations of the Bible?

This article will be completed on Tuesday or Wednesday which analyzes the logic of the KJVites, and looks to it's accuracy in comparison with those "heretical" translations.


  1. Thanks Joel. You may have posted this before, but I am now curious... which translation do you prefer?

  2. Jeff, I don't have a preferred version of the bible. It's a terrible quality to have I suppose, but it depends on what I am studying. For a more literal understanding, I use the NASB. I admire the NRSV and ESV greatly as well. I read the MEssage at times for devotional purposes. The KJV for various books in the Old Testament. Most of my friends love the NLT, although I am more of an NIV guy myself (NLT is a little more "free" than the NIV).

    But there are two things I can say I have found that I like doing:

    1) I make sure to at least have one bible that is not broken down by verse, but rather by paragraph (there were no verse breaks when the bible was written). When broken down by verse, the bible becomes too fragmented to me. When broken by paragraph, I find it easer to read the bigger message of whatever is being discussed in the bible.

    2) I endorse a method over a single translation. And if I remember correctly is called the triangle method. In short, to figure out a meaning of a verse/chapter. Have three versions: One conservative (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB). One moderate (NIV, NCV, NLT), and then one paraphrase (the Message). This kind of gives the whole range of meaning for a text and thus we can get a fuller grasp of it. I will go over what I mean by conservative and moderate on the next post.

    I hope all that made sense.

  3. I was once told by a pastor that the NKJV was translated by Oneness people and all other versions were translated by trinitarians, so the NKJV was the best version. This was the same guy who said don't read anything that wasn't written by a oneness pentecostal author.

    Made me think of this:

  4. Excellent post. Informative and fun!

  5. Great article! Honestly, I tend to favor the King James, but only because of its language and also because it italicizes added words...But I have found errors in its translation.