From:  Theology’s Impact on Translation:  KJV to NRSV            Return to Home         

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2013

 

 

 

 

[Page 166]

 

 

 

Chapter 12:

Selected Issues in Bible Translation

 

 

Subjects Covered:

1.     Consistency in Wording Rendering

2.     Following the Greek Word Order in Translation

3.     The Use of Italics

4.     Alternate Translations and Marginal Notes

5.     Tenses

6.     Use of Articles:  “A” or “The”?

7.     The Underlying Greek Text Used for Translation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Consistency in Word Rendering

 

 

           

            Many conservative critics have been disturbed by the willingness of modern translations to render the identical Greek word in different ways in different passages.  Once again we find that this is an objection that can not consistently be limited to the more recent translations, but which actually goes all the way back to the King James.

            In the second quarter of the nineteenth century James Scholefield published his Hints for Some Improvements in the Authorised Version of the New Testament.  He indicates extreme aggravation with the KJV on this score (N. 1):

 

There is one point which would seem important to attend to, which indeed it may appear surprising that our Translators attended to so little--uniformity; the [Page 167]  uniform rendering of the same Greek word, as far as might be, by the same English word.  The want of this is in a measure to be accounted for by different parts being executed by different Translators; but this will not account for it in the same book and the same chapter.

 

            We can certainly sympathize with these reservations.  There can be no question that the KJV does indeed render the same Greek word with different English ones.  An obvious example is Matthew 25:46, where we read of “everlasting” punishment but “eternal” life, even though the Greek word indicating duration is identical.  Lewis points to other examples of the same phenomena (N. 2):

 

Numbers 35:11 has “slayer,” verse 12 has “manslayer,” and verse 16 has “murderer”—all for one word.  In Romans 5:2, 3, 11 we read “rejoice,” “glory” and “joy” for one word.  James 2:2, 3 has “apparel,” “raiment,” and “clothing”; Matthew 20:20 has “children” and “sons”; Matthew 18:33 has “compassion” and “pity”; and 1 Corinthians 12:4, 5 have “diversities” and “differences.”  In 1 Corinthians 13:8, 10 we have “fail,” “vanish away,” and “done away” for one word.

 

            At the other “extreme,” the KJV also renders different Greek words with the same English one.  Lewis (N. 3) presents a number of such cases, most of which are rather trivial in significance.  For example in 1 Corinthians 14:20 we find “children” for two words, one meaning “children” and the other referring to very young children, “babies.”  Of undeniable importance, however, is the KJV blunder in obscuring the New Testament teaching concerning the afterlife:  It translates both Hades and Gehenna by the single word “Hell.

            The American Standard Version (1901) made a conscious effort to produce a greater uniformity in translating the same Greek word with the same English one.  However, repeated lapses can be pointed to.  Teleios is ‘fullgrown man’ (Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 2:6) or ‘man’ (1 Corinthians 14:20), but elsewhere (Philippians 3:15; Colossians 1:28; 4:12; Hebrews 5:14; James 3:2) is ‘perfect,’ a word which may convey a misconception to the reader” (N. 3a).  The ASV also follows the KJV custom of translating different Greek terms with the same English one.  For example, two different words are rendered “burden” in Galatians 6:2 and 5.  (The ASV does provide a footnote, alternative translation on verse 5, however:  “load.”)

            We can grasp the appeal of the logic that would require as near-absolute consistency as practical.  However, there are additional facts that need to be carefully considered lest we became overzealous in insisting upon it.

            First of all, even if carried out with the absolute consistency theoretically desired, the English reader would still not know whether the same Greek word is utilized in each place.  This is because it is common for several Greek terms to be translated by the same English word, as a quick glance through Vine’s Expository Dictionary will quickly illustrate. 

Hence even absolute consistency in rendering the Greek would still leave us in doubt as to which of several Greek words is being translated.  The only way to avoid this dilemma would be to assign each Greek word one exclusive English term by which to [Page 168]  render it.  But such a linguistic straightjacket would also tempt the English reader to believe that there are clearer distinctions than may really exist between synonymous Greek expressions.

Furthermore, words rarely have just one, precise meaning that is applicable in all contexts.  Take baptize, which we referred to in an earlier chapter in a different context.  It means to submerge, bury, immerse and is used of what one person does to another person.  Yet it is also used of the ceremonial washing of hands (Luke 11:37-38):  Would translitering it “baptism” or translating it “immerse” be enlightening or confusing to the typical reader?  And what of the related word baptismos, which is applied to the washing of (presumably wood) furniture in Mark 7:4.  How would “baptize” or “immerse” sound in that context?  It would be literal, but would it make sense?

Likewise in our speech of today:  we encounter quite a few words that vary in significance according to the context in which they appear.  “Principal,” for example, means one thing when we are talking about the educational system and something quite different when we are discussing a bank loan.  Wouldn’t an accurate translation out of English into a foreign language have to use a word that best fits the context even if absolute consistency were abandoned in the process?  Can it be any different when translating into English from Hebrew and Greek?

Jack P. Lewis sums up my own feelings in one concise sentence:  “One has to recognize that words do have varieties of meaning, and the only question is whether or not the variety used is excessive” (N. 3b).  That hits the nail on the head.

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Following the Greek Word Order

in English Translation

 

           

            A question that has concerned some through the years has been the degree to which a translator should follow the word order found in the Greek New Testament.  The more professedly “conservative” a translation claimed to be in the twentieth century, the more likely it was to imitate the Greek word order even when it did not produce the most natural sounding language in English.  (The American Standard Version is a prime example.)

             Yet even the most fervent advocate of this approach concedes that hundred percent word-for-word “literalism” is simply impossible if coherency is to be retained.  Dennett (N. 3c) provides this illustration from 1 Peter 3:21:  “Which and us figure now saves baptism not to flesh putting-away of filthy but conscience of good answer toward God.”

            Oswald T. Allis concisely sums up the pros and cons of the question (N. 4):

 

[Page 169]

It must be admitted that too close adherence to the Greek order may result in a somewhat unnatural and stilted construction in English.  But the countercharge which we would bring against the RSV is that it has frequently departed from the Greek order where such departure is quite unnecessary and sometimes where a closer adherence to that order brings out the meaning of the Greek must clearly than what they apparently have regarded as the natural order in English.

 

            We could ramble on for a half-dozen more pages and still not say much more than that.  Good translation is a matter of balance:  Trying for maximum accuracy while retaining maximum readability.  Accuracy purchased at the price of readability results in a translation that no one reads; readability produced at the price of accuracy results in a translation that no one can trust.

            When we speak of the desirability of “literal” Bible translations we refer to those that attempt to strike such a balance:  translations that do all that is possible to alter neither the thought, the point, nor the wording of the original while presenting it in coherent language that is readable to the contemporary student in his or her native tongue. 

            E. M. Geldart sums up well this “balance in translation” scenario while discussing his own approach to translating from German into English.  He writes of a frame of mind that is applicable to Bible translation as well, however (N. 5):

 

I have endeavoured . . . to reproduce, as far as my mastery of idiom would allow, both the letter and the spirit of his writing.  I have seldom considered myself at liberty to suppress a particle, or to recast a sentence.  I have endeavoured to give the swing and rhythm of his language, and have not even shrunk from imitating his mannerisms, and the jingle of words in which he occasionally indulges.

 

           

 

 

 

 

  1.  The Use of Italics

 

           

            Upon occasion in our life, each of us must confess to an instance of embarrassing ignorance.  This will count as one of mine.  When I was a teenager, the italicized print in the KJV intrigued me.  In school I had learned that words were underlined (italicized in print form) in order to emphasize or stress a point.  But how in the world could there possibly be a reason to stress some of the words the KJV had selected to italicize?  It just didn’t make sense.

            Now those italics were present for a purpose, but no one had bothered to inform me what it was.  They just assumed I knew.  These italics were to distinguish the translators’ interpretive additions from the actual wording found in the Greek and [Page 170]  Hebrew original.  These were not intended to “add” anything to the text but to provide what was necessary in English to “complete” the language--an addition that would not have been necessary in the original language, but was in ours.  The more openly avowed “conservative” translations predominantly followed this practice in the twentieth century. 

            However there is a very real problem in doing so:  If it is essential for comprehension, is it not inherent in the Greek’s intent (if not language)?  Why then are the italics needed at all?  If one is doing so because it is a judgement call as to the exact

intent or shading required, then one can see the usefulness of the italics.  Call it “erring on the safe side,” perhaps.  (It also avoids argument as to whether it is as essential to the Greek’s intent as you believe.)

            It is, therefore, easy to see that what one translation regards as falling on the essential side of the borderline between certainty and a more modest probability in a specific verse, it will provide the rendering without italics while a differing translation will make a different judgement and include the italicization.  This is true even in cases with translators of identical (or near identical) theological conceptions and with the same views on the need for italicization. 

            The American Standard was often regarded as the bedrock of reliability in the decades early after its appearance.  Yet even it is not always consistent in its italicization, anymore than was the KJV (N. 6):

 

There are numerous cases where words supplied to complete the meaning are not italicized; for example, “may” (Ruth 1:11), “aught” (Ruth 1:17), “fast” (Ruth 2:8), “his child” (Matthew 10:21), and “our redemption” (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).

The ASV followed the KJV in rendering pneumatikos as “spiritual gift” in Romans 1:11 (without italics, RW) but as “spiritual gift” (with gift italicized, RW) in 1 Corinthians 12:1).

“Could” is inserted by versions (Judges 1:19) without italics to supply what seems a defect in the Masoretic Text.    

 

            The New American Standard Bible uses italicization even more freely that its predecessor, the ASV:  Over 2,000 words or phrases are placed in italics (N. 7).  However, the NASB also feels free to include wording without italics even though it can not be found in the Greek or Hebrew text.  These are some examples (N. 8):

 

“Own” in the phrase “his own sons” (Deuteronomy 33:9), “in” in the phrase “in your ways” (Deuteronomy 28:29); “may” (Ruth 1:11), “influences” (Isaiah 2:6), “same” (Amos 2:7), “am” (Amos 7:14), “in the light of” (Acts 7:20), “day” (Mark 16:2, 9; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 6:2, and “actually” (Acts 22:28) are all supplied.

“False” is not italicized in the phrase “false circumcision” (katatome, Philippians 3:2) though “true” in the phrase “true circumcision (peritome, Philippians 3:3) is. . . .  “Prove” in the phrase “prove to be My disciples” (John 13:8), “still” in “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) . . . are not italicized. . . .  The definite article is supplied without italics in many instances, beginning with the first words of Genesis:  “In the beginning.”

 

[Page 171]

            There is always the danger that italicization will be abused, of course; it could be used as a tool for changing the meaning of the text in the interest of some doctrine or practice.  The mainstream translations (such as the KJV and ASV) successfully avoided most such pitfalls.  However Lewis points to at least one case where the temptation was apparently too strong to resist (N. 9):

 

Both the KJV and the ASV were reluctant to have Stephen pray to Jesus.  The KJV had “calling upon God and saying, “lord Jesus”; the ASV had “calling upon the Lord and saying, Lord Jesus”; but the RSV and NIV correctly drop the unjustified addition and read, “He prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

 

            In actual practice there is a strong tendency for the reader to mentally blot out the existence of the italics.  I was discussing the matter of italicization with one individual during the writing of this volume many years ago.  His response was a surprising:  What italics?”  He simply wasn’t in the habit of paying that much attention to them.

            Neither are most people.  On the other hand, one might contend with considerable justice that the italics aren’t for most people or for most occasions.  They are there for that minority of specially serious students and for those special occasions when they are researching some particular subject in detail.

            The competing approach to italicization contends that if a rendering is reasonably required to adequately convey the Greek that that removes the need for the use of italics at all.  If the reading is so “iffy” that italics would be required, then that simply proves that a different rendering should be adopted.  This approach is embraced by the Revised Standard and New International Versions.

            The great weakness in this scenario is that there are indisputably gray areas where such absolute preciseness is implausible if not outright impossible.  To be completely faithful to this alternative approach would require the ruthless removal of everything but the most absolutely certain inferential additions.  This, if consistently carried out, might come close to crippling the translation’s effort to communicate.  It could easily become little more than a word for word translation, technically accurate but bordering on the unreadable. 

The further one wishes to get away from this danger, the greater the appeal for a methodology to visibly distinguish between certainty and probability.  The use of italics does this.  It allows a combination of literalism and supplementation of wording where the text seems to need or absolutely require it.  The translators’ additions are also made visible and obvious for those cases of doctrinal or interpretative controversy when the reader needs to be aware of it.

The Presbyterian conservative Oswald T. Allis wrote at a time when the immediate subject of concern was the absence of italics in the Revised Standard.  He recognizes that there is a very narrow line between completing the necessary or probable sense of a text and inserting an interpretive comment that takes one beyond such.  His [Page 172]  argument is that inevitably in those passages where “the meaning is at all obscure or uncertain, the translator becomes an interpreter” and the reader should be alerted to those occasions when this occurs (N. 10).  Italicization serves exactly that function.

Allis lists a number of textually unrequired insertions that are found in the RSV.  The listing places heavy stress on those cases where the apparently intended proper name is substituted for a Greek pronoun.  Allis then comments (N. 11):

 

Some of the insertions listed above and others like them might be regarded as permissible and helpful and might be justified by an appeal to the usage of AV (Authorized Version) and RV (Revised Version), if they were clearly indicated as insertions by means of italics or by a footnote.  But it is quite a different matter when they appear as an integral part of the text without explanation of any kind.  How the distinction is to be made is not nearly so important as that it be made.

 

Allis adds another thought provoker (N. 12):  He contends that italicization is often opposed—and he’s speaking of the RSV in particular—because such a policy of using italics assumes a very “literal,” “word-for-word” translation policy or its equivalent.  The translators clearly reveal what they have added because their intention is to stick strictly to the text and to warn the reader when that purpose has been skirted.

On the other hand, if translators do not intend to adhere closely to the original, italicization would expose just how far they’ve drifted from the “real” text.  Hence the omission of italics is sometimes an indication of the translators’ conviction as to the nature of Biblical inspiration--whether it so infuses the text that what it actually says must be carefully adhered to or whether its “inspiration” comes in quotation marks and is of such a vague and indefinite nature that a free reworking is quite justified              

All we have examined constitutes a powerful case for retaining italics—one that I accept.  This does not, however, solve the practical problem of how common it should be.  As documented earlier, even those translations favoring the usage have great difficulty in being completely consistent.

Although we have placed our own view on record, we can understand the appeal of the opposing approach, even to a substantial number of evangelicals who believe in the full and complete inspiration of the scriptures.  For one thing, the ancient versions did not use this tool.  Of course in handwritten form, it had to be presented in a form that would make easiest the accurate copying of the text.  It is hard to see how underlying or special markings would be preserved in many copies for that would, seemingly, be an inevitable distraction from their main concern which was the text itself.

With printing the situation was changed.  The use of italics—or its equivalent, such as the small capital letters found in the original printings of the KJV—represented a decided innovation in translation practice.  This was a desirable one, in our judgement, but an innovation nonetheless.  The omission of them would, hence, not be without precedent and would actually represent a return to the ancient translation transmission approach.

Another “conservative” argument against italicization is that it can breed needless doubt as to the reliability of the translation itself.  How sure are they that that should be there?  

[Page 173]                   There is also the related problem of excessive use of italics.  In our generation and beyond, this danger is far more theoretical than real, unlike in the past.  However it may be of more than passing interest to examine how these inter-related objections bothered the conscience of religious conservatives a century and three-quarters ago. 

In 1832 an investigation was carried out by “some of the most eminent Dissenting Ministers resident in London and its environs, ‘for the Restoration and Protection of the Authorised Version of the Bible’ ” (N. 13).  A subcommittee was appointed to study feared possible intentional changes between the 1611 text and the one then being used in the early 1830s. 

They unsuccessfully attempted to keep the controversy strictly private, a goal of discreteness that they apparently had embraced in the hope that this would encourage Oxford University Press to be more receptive to their effort.  Making a public controversy might well, to use our modern phrase, “cause them to dig in their heels,” while a more restrained approach might get them to carry out the goal of restoring the original 1611 text.  (This is my reading-between-the-line analysis of their fourth conclusion.)

The subcommittee’s first resolution stressed that they were dealing not with a petty ante problem that could be discretely overlooked, but with a very serious one indeed (N. 14):

 

Resolved 1.  That this Committee are perfectly satisfied that an extensive alteration has been introduced into the text of our Authorised Version, by changing into Italics innumerable words and phrases, which are not thus expressed in the original editions of King James Bible, printed in 1611.

             

Turton, who reports this endeavor to us, did his own research and it indicated that “the greater number of the italics, which are in addition to those of 1611, made their appearance in the earlier part of the seventeenth century.  In fact the edition of 1611 seems never to have possessed much authority, with regard to Italics” (N. 15).  “So far as my information extends, none have been introduced since the year 1769” (N. 16).  Hence, prior to that time—for one reason or another—the text was fair game for adding in italics.

Turton was so indignant over this matter that at least twice he spoke in terms of opposing even the original 1611 edition (N. 17), a conclusion that he ultimately backs off from (N. 18).

The group’s second resolution charged that needless additional italics—inserted since 1611--introduced doubt where there was no reasonable grounds on which to have any (N. 19):

 

. . .  It must at once be obvious to every person who is competent to judge on the question, that what has been supplied in these instances was absolutely necessary in order to give the full force of the Hebrew and Greek idioms; and consequently, should have been printed in the same characters as the rest of the text.    

 

[Page 174]                   The third resolution argues from the consequences of not keeping italicization to a minimum (N. 20):                        

 

That those who have made these alterations, have discovered a great want to critical taste, unnecessarily exposed the sacred text to the scoffs of infidels, and thrown such stumbling-blocks in the way of the unlearned, as are greatly calculated to perplex their minds, and unsettle their confidence in the text of Scripture.

 

In their day their day these critics would have been considered “extreme conservatives” yet they were against “needless” italicization and even toyed with a virtual blanket rejection!  We would be well advised to remember this nineteenth century critique.  It shows that merely to be “conservative” in one’s approach to the scriptures is no guarantee that one’s conclusions on the matter of italicization will necessarily be those that others anticipate.

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Alternate Translations and

Marginal Notes

 

           

            Sometimes the original language of a verse permits two or more different translations into English.  The one judged the most probable is placed in the text; those judged less likely are placed in the margin or footnote.  In other cases supplemental information is provided to explain a word or phrase. 

            The original edition of the KJV had few such instances.  A nineteenth century critic found these alternative renderings useful yet—paradoxically—as not coming from the translators (N. 21)!

 

With regard to the Marginal Readings of our Bible—a most important kind of commentary, when no other is within reach—the Reader is to be reminded, that they are not all inserted by the Translators, but many are of a much more recent date, and consequently do not possess the same authority:  few of them, however, can be considered other than useful.            

 

            So far as modest explanatory comments are concerned—such as translating distances and size into modern day equivalents or indicating how much work was required to earn the amount of coinage mentioned in a text—such comments can be highly useful.  Likewise when the intent is to indicate a widely recognized alternative reading:  For example, the ASV text of Matthew 3:11 reads, “I indeed baptize you in water;” the marginal note adds, “or, with (i.e., water).”

[Page 175]                   However marginal notes and translations can also be easily abused.  These are some of the ways:

 

            1.  They can be used to include a more “literal” or “traditional” translation, thereby allowing the translators to inject a more conjectural reading in the main text.

            Even more alarmingly, the conjecture may be inserted in the text without the reader being provided any footnote warning as to what has occurred.  The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible has done it both ways:  footnoting some alterations and letting other significant changes fly by unnoted (N. 22).

            The Revised Standard Version also engages in what Lewis calls “conjectural emendation” in such passages as Psalms 2:11 and Amos 6:12 (N. 23).  “Footnotes ordinarily indicate cases of departure from the (Old Testament) Masoretic text” but he concedes that the policy is not uniformly carried out (N. 24):  For example, “Edom” replaces “Syria” in 2 Samuel 8:12 without any notation being provided.

            As of its publication (N. 25),.

 

The New English Bible represent(ed) the freest handling of the text of the Old Testament of any major English version yet to appear.  The passages judged by the translators to need conjectural emendations are usually, but not always, cited in the footnotes and are considerably more numerous than those in the RSV.

 

            The New Testament section of the New RSV adopts at least two textual readings that make the text self-contradictory:

            In John 7:39 we read of the promise of the Holy Spirit to the apostles:  “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”  In a footnote, the New RSV concedes that “other ancient authorities” provide the reading we have emphasized.  Note, however, the replacement they select to put in its place in the text was:  “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

            If words are to be taken literally, this is an assertion that the Holy Spirit did not yet exist.  Does anyone really believe that this was John’s idea or that of the earliest church?  Was it not the Spirit who is identified as responsible for the conception of Jesus?  The translators had manuscript evidence that caused the problem of the Spirit’s supposed non-existence to disappear, but consciously set it aside for a reading that omitted it.   

            One does not even have to believe in John’s inspiration to believe that he would not have made this big of a writing blunder!  This sounds much more like a case of either discrediting John’s inspiration—or, even worse, his rationality.  (Since other passages make plain the Spirit already existed.)

            In Jude, verse 5, the Old Testament people of God are held up as a warning that God refuses to accept the rejection of His law regardless of the source it comes from:  “Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

            Admitting in a footnote the fact that “other ancient authorities” contain the text of the first half of this verse as given above, they prefer to substitute for it in the body of the [Page 176]  text, “Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” 

If “he once for all saved” them, how in the world—in the same verse yet!—could be have “destroyed those who did not believe”?  Was Jude so uninspired as to have made a verbal blunder such as that?  Ah, what mischief is accomplished when one transfers “once for all” from being a description of first century Christians to those envolved in the Exodus from Egypt!

            This may be “the most difficult textual reading” and “preferable” allegedly on that ground, but is this a legitimate criteria when it makes the writer sound like—to be blunt—an obvious idiot?  We are not talking about whether he was inspired or not, but a far lower standard of judgement--whether he had any sense or not.  Why prefer a reading—when there is a legitimate alternative—that makes him sound like he lacked it?   

           

            2.  Sometimes marginal notes are seemingly used to get potential critics off the back of the translators, thereby making the translation potentially acceptable to a wider audience.

            Lewis rightly notes that, “The rendering ‘sinful nature’ for sarx drew fire from critics of the New International Version; now it regularly carries the alternate ‘Or flesh’. . . “ (N. 26).  Of course cynics easily come to the conclusion that the Calvinism preferred by the translators is still found in the text as the preferred reading.  A more convincing evidence that Calvinism was not being conscious advocated would be if “sinful nature” had been routinely footnoted instead of “flesh.”

            When one scans the surprisingly long list of what Lewis terms “conciliatory alternate renderings” (N. 27) that have been added to later editions, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the translators have acted more to quiet the critics than an effort at scholarly impartiality.  For them to have accepted some alterations or marginal notes was only to be expected; to so blatantly capitulate right and left—but off of the battlefield of the text itself and in the footnotes where many (most?) will not pay much attention—forces one to believe that other factors were likely dominant.

           

            3.  Alternate, marginal translations are sometimes used as a means of giving unjustified statue to readings that possess a minimal likelihood of being correct.

            To approach this objection from a different angle:  minimally attested or inherently improbable readings lower the stature of the main text.  It creates needless doubts about the reliability of the main reading unless the reader is unusually well informed in such matters.  If translators insist upon including such alternate readings, one could reasonably deduce a reckless enthusiasm to undermine confidence in the fundamental integrity of the Biblical text.  This, in turn, would presumably reflect a theological hostility to any “strong” doctrine of Biblical inspiration and the providential preservation of the sacred text.

            Two cases are representative.  The first is of limited importance; the second is of far greater significance.

            Some translations include a note suggesting “616” as a substitute for “666” in Revelation 13:18.  Burgon begins his marks by quoting the ERV note:  some ancient authorities read six hundred and sixteen.”  Then he adds sarcastically (N. 28):

 

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But why is not the whole Truth told?  Viz. why are we not informed that only one corrupt uncial (C):--only one cursive copy (11):--only one Father (Tichonius):  and not one ancient version—advocates this reading?—which, on the contrary Ireaneus (A.D. 170) knew, but rejected; remarking that 666, which is “found in all the best and oldest copies and is attested by men who saw John race to face”, is unquestionably the true reading.

 

            To contend that candor and intellectual honest requires the inclusion of such vaguely possible textual substitutes is torn into by Burgon with the comment that if all similarly minimally-attested readings were included “the margin (would) prove insufficient to contain the record;” yea, “the very page itself would not suffice” (N. 29).

            We would not go as far as Burgon—who seems inclined to eliminate all alternative readings—but there seems no good reason to challenge his basic assertion, that they should be only cautiously and moderately utilized by translators. 

            The correct ending for the gospel of Mark involves a controversy of much greater importance.  Barring the unlikelihood that Mark intended for his account to end at Mark 16:8, something came after that verse.  Although we can understand why many scholars have scruples about accepting the genuineness of the traditional “long” ending (16:9-20), we are convinced that their rejection is incorrect since the strongest manuscript evidence remains behind it.      

            Far more difficult to comprehend is why the stature of the “short” ending is so high:  “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they were told.  And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation” (RSV).  The NEB and the NASB also include this as a note.

            Although there is nothing objectionable in what is said within this proposed alternative, the manuscript evidence for it seems far from adequate to elevate it to the role of being a serious contender.  In a few concise sentences, Lewis sums up the modest pickings that can be introduced (N. 30):

 

The short ending occurs in four Greek uncials:  L, Psi, 099, 042; and in the cursive 579 following verse 8.  It is in each case followed by the long ending.  The short ending is also found in the margin of Ms. 274 and of the Harclean Syriac, in the margin of two manuscripts of the Bohairic version, and in several manuscripts of the Ethiopic version between verses 8 and 9.  One Old Latin manuscript, Ms. K, has only the short ending; but no known manuscript has it after the long ending.

 

            The New RSV reproduces both the long and short endings as bracketed passages within the main text itself rather than relegating one or both to the status of footnotes, as has been done in some editions of earlier translations.  Oddly enough, the NRSV provides a concise note effectively showing the traditional ending as being far more likely to be the original one than the abbreviated alternative:

 

[Page 178]

Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8.  One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20.  In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

 

            What comes as a shock is the NRSV adding a new alternate ending to Mark’s account.  With the notation “other ancient authorities add, in whole or in part,” they print:

 

And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits.  Therefore reveal your righteousness now”—they spoke to Christ. 

And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near.  And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and imperishable glory of righteousness that is in heaven.”

 

            This, they suggest, is a possible addition that goes between verses 14 and 15.

            There is an inherent improbability in this suggested alternative.  For one thing Jesus had just rebuked their lack of faith (verse 14).  Here they neither defend nor repent of this but criticize the world’s lack of faith!  (Should we think of the old adage about the pot calling the kettle names?)  Furthermore would those who had successfully cast out demons lament that the “power of God” had not “prevail(ed) over the unclean things of the spirits”?  Hence, on strictly internal grounds, there is no likelihood of it being genuine.  Pious, perhaps; genuine, no.

            This reading is known as the Freer Logion and comes from Codex X (for Washingtonensis Freerianus; also known as Codex Freerianus or, more simply, the Washington Ms. of the Gospels).  It dates from the late fourth or early fifth century.

            C. S. Mann, in his “Anchor Bible” commentary on Mark, reveals how incredibly scanty is the evidence in behalf of the Freer Logion (N. 30a):

 

The date of this addition to the Anonymous Ending is not known, though the end of the second or beginning of the third century have been proposed.  It was preserved in Latin by Jerome, in the course of a polemic against the Pelagians.  According to him, some manuscripts of Mark existed which inserted this text before us immediately after verse 14 in the Anonymous Ending.  The full text of the Freer Logion came to light in 1906 as part of a Greek manuscript of the gospels (Codex W) and the fact that it has so far been found in only one manuscript suggests that it was a purely local phenomenon. . . .  But apart from the partial quotation in Jerome, the fact that it is known to us in only one manuscript would appear to suggest that it is a gloss.     

 

 [Page 179]                  “Appear to suggest”?  Wouldn’t it be more proper to say:  strongly argues that it is a gloss”?  Or even:  virtually guarantees that it is a gloss”?

            William L. Lane speaks in similar terms to Mann:         The addition is a unit of conversation which was inserted in the longer ending of Mark, apparently from a marginal gloss.  Its occurrence in a single Greek manuscript suggests that it should be treated as an isolated logion embodying a local tradition” (N. 30b).

            Vincent Taylor’s volume on textual criticism observes that the “Freer Logion . . . appears after verse 14 only in W” (N. 30c).

            The Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland collaboration on textual criticism concedes that “the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 is found in 99 percent of the Greek manuscripts” (N. 30d) but still rejects both it and the shorter ending in behalf of the scenario that the original Mark truly ended at verse 8 (N. 30e).  The Freer Logion is so minimally attested that it does not even enter into their discussion.

            In 1961 Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida published their Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark.  Both the long and short endings are deemed worthy of discussion—but not the Freer Logion (N. 30f).  Twenty years later Bratcher produced A Translator’s Guide to the Gospel of Mark and refers back to the two decade earlier discussion, again with no mention of the Logion.

            In his volume on the text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger concedes that, “The obvious and pervasive apocryphal flavour of the expansion. . . , as well as the extremely limited basis of evidence supporting it, condemns it as a totally secondary accretion” (N. 30g).

            We have cited such a variety of scholarly sources for two reasons:  First of all powerful denominational sources are pushing to have the New RSV accepted as one of America’s “standard” translations; secondly, it is probably without precedent that this minimally attested a reading should be granted even the status of being a marginal note.  If it so foolishly allows such a misjudgment to enter its pages, how can the reader put much faith in any of its textual judgments that steers the text away from its traditional reading?  Indeed, how can a person use such a translation—except for comparative reading—when he has the gravest doubts about the consistency of their good judgment?  

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Tenses

 

           

            Past—Present—Future.  Those are the tenses we most readily think of.  But there are others as well—future perfect, etc.  Each conveys a different shade of meaning to the ears of the alert listener.  To complicate the picture further, there are tenses in Greek that simply do not exist in English.  Even so one would expect, so far as reasonably possible, that a major translation would attempt to reflect in its English rendering the significance of the different tenses in the original.

            In the eyes of many critics, the King James Version established the precedent of failure that became the ongoing norm.  As the authoritative standard for comparison for [Page 180]  many generations, its lapses provided implicit approval for later translations that followed the same course.

            As least as early as the first half of the nineteenth century, James Scholefield was pointing to this phenomena as grounds for a future revision (N. 31):

 

Not a few passages in our Translation are obscured by a want of strict attention to the tenses of the original, and in consequence, the improper insertion or omission of the auxiliary verb “have”.  The distinction between the aorist and perfect tenses of the Greek is clearly marked, and in general it is accurately observed in the New Testament.  And though the difference of idiom between the two languages may occasionally require a deviation from the strict rule of grammar, such deviations appear to be carelessly and causelessly admitted in our authorized version in many instances, to the serious disturbance of the sense.

The following are a few examples of the improper insertion of “have,” by which the sense of the original is more or less interfered with.

1 Corinthians 11:23:  “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.”  Here the two verbs are both in the aorist tense, and it is obvious that both should be rendered in the same form:  I received, i.e., at a certain definite time, to which reference is made by the tense employed.

Again, 2 Peter 1:14:  “Even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me;” shewed me; viz. on the memorable occasion mentioned (in) John 22:18.  This is a less faulty example; but one worse occurs in verse 16 of the same chapter:  “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.”  The confusion introduced into this verse requires more than one correction. . . .

In a few instances the same auxiliary is improperly omitted:  John 15:18 . . . and (verse) 24. . . .  Another passage in the same Gospel, chapter 6:32 is entitled to deeper consideration:  “Moses hath not given you the bread from heaven; but my Father giveth, is (now) giving, you the true bread from heaven. . . .”   

 

            If the reader’s mind is stuck in “slow” gear—as mine was when I first encountered the above argument—the reader may have to repeat the extract a second time.  A more modern writer, Herbert Dennett, points to other examples, ones whose significance will more quickly be grasped (N. 32):

 

The earlier translations of the New Testament in English tend to ignore the finer precisions of the tenses of the Greek verb.  This is particularly true of the tense which described continued action whether it is in the present or in the past.  Matthew 25:8 in the Authorized Version reads “our lamps are gone out.”  What actually happened was that as the oil ran low in the lamps (or rather “torches”) of the foolish virgins, the wick smouldered and smoked for quite a time before the light finally failed.  So the Revised Version well puts it, “our lamps are going out.”

There is a similar situation in Luke 5:6 in connection with the great catch of fishes:  “their nets were breaking,” not “their nets broke,” as in the older [Page 181]  versions.  The very next verse shows plainly that the nets did not give way suddenly, for with the help of their partners the fishermen managed to drag aboard such a catch that the boats “began to sink.”  (The Authorized Version is correct here.)

Other examples of this action that went on in the past are:  Luke 14:7 “were choosing the best seats;” John 6:18 “the sea was rising;” Hebrews 11:10 “kept looking for a city.”  These passages do not describe a single act, but a series of acts or processes.  There are hundreds of other examples of this “imperfect tense” in the New Testament, and versions differ greatly in the degree to which they translate it accurately.   

 

 

 

Matthew 16:19

 

            It is contended that in at least some places an important doctrinal point is obscured by this lack of preciseness.  Perhaps the most well known example is Matthew 16:19:  “And I will give unto thee (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (KJV).  This rendering—and except for minor English updating it remains the “standard” one regardless of which major translation one consults—is one of the major Biblical “proofs” that what edicts the Papacy proclaims are considered by/in heaven itself as binding upon mankind.

            One approach that some critics of Catholicism have utilized against this assertion is to contend that the Greek tenses require that the “binding” was done first in heaven and only then on earth.  Catholicism reverses the order.

            A few of the non-major translations pioneered this approach before or during World War Two.  Charles B. Williams’ The New Testament in the Language of the People (1937) is the clearest:  “ . . . Whatever you forbid on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.”

            Richard F. Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech (Fifth Edition, 1943) is not as explicit but clearly intends the same concept:  “ . . . Whatever you bind on earth shall remain bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall remain loosed in heaven.”

            No recognized “major league” translation embraced this rendering until the New American Standard Bible was issued.  And their record on this was rather odd and erratic.

            The edition that I first used many years ago had this:  “ . . . Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

            Then when I put this manuscript through the revision process years ago I was startled to open an edition which had it:  “ . . .  Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Back to the old KJV approach!

            As I prepared to type this manuscript for internet publication, I decided to see whether there had been any further alterations.  Well the 1995 edition has returned to the [Page 182]  version I first encountered years before:  “ . . whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

            In 2009 the Holman Christian Standard Bible was issued  and it concurred in this approach:  “l give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”

            The impact of this rendering should be significant since in 2012 Holman had the seventh highest number of Bibles sold of any translation.  It was followed, in eighth place, by the New American Standard.

            The English Standard Version came in at 5th largest sales and it main texts the traditional reading while it footnotes the “have been bound / have been loosed” in an accompanying footnote. 

 

            In spite of the popularity of the tense argument as applied to Matthew 16:19, there are those who are convinced that at least in regard to this text the stress on tenses falls into the category of straining after a gnat.  The prominent commentator F. F. Bruce speaks with Williams’ translation specifically in mind (N. 33):

 

Some reviewers of this verse have singled out for special commendation (this) tense-rendering which is almost certainly wrong. . . .  Charles B. Williams has treated the Greek future-perfect as if it had the same force as the English future-perfect, where the Greek future-perfect commonly has the force of a specially emphatic future, denoting the immediate performance of a future action, or the permanence of its result.  In fact, if our Lord had wished to make the statement of the A.V. and the versions which agree with it as solemnly and emphatically as possible, He could not have done so more explicitly than in the words of our Greek text here. . . .  It is no part of a translator’s business to soften down our Lord’s “hard sayings.”

 

            No matter how one evaluates this objection, it remains true that the papal authority is an inadequate exegesis--even of the traditional rendering.  All the apostles—not just Peter—had the same power to bind and loose as Peter (Matthew 18:18).  Furthermore, the reason they could be trusted with such great authority lay in the fact that what they bound and loosed was established by the inspiration God provided them (John 16:13-15).  For that reason, what they bound was bound . . . because it was what God had already decided should be bound and which was now being revealed for the apostles to bind upon their listeners. 

 

 

 

The Other Side of the

“Tense Question”

 

            Separate and apart from the strictly doctrinal application of the matter, there has been a popular, ongoing conviction for more than a century that greater care should be [Page 183]  taken with the translation of the Greek tenses—a controversy that goes far beyond this particular text alone.  It should also be noted that there has been a loud, though smaller, chorus of voices insisting that the demand was being pushed too far.

            John W. Burgon—arch-defender of the traditional Greek text—accused the translators of the English Revised Version of yielding to school-masterish pedantry rather than fulfilling the true role of translators (N. 34):

 

We repeat, that the Revisionists set out with a mistaken principle.  They clearly do not understand their trade. . . .  Now, that we may not be misunderstood, we admit at once that, in teaching boys how to turn Greek into English, we insist that every tense shall be marked in its own appropriate sign.  There is no telling how helpful it will prove in the end, that every word shall at first have been rendered with painful accuracy.  Let the Article be (mis)represented—the Prepositions caricatured—the Particles magnified—let the very order of the words at first (however impossible), be religiously retained.

Merciless accuracy having been in this way acquired a youth has to be untaught these servile habits.  He has to be reminded of the requirements of the English idiom, and speedily becomes aware that the idiomatic rendering of a Greek author into English, is a higher achievement by far, than his former lavish endeavour always to render the same word and tense in the same slavish way.

 

A few pages later, he again vigorously tears into this type of tense-literalism that he believes to be terribly misguided (N. 35):

 

The difference between the Authorized Version and the Revised Version seems to ourselves to be simply this,--that the renderings in the former are idiomatic English representations of certain well-understood Greek tenses:  while the proposed substitutes are nothing else but the pedantic efforts of mere grammarians to reproduce in another language idioms which it abhors.

 

At an earlier date—while the proposal for the English Revised Version was still under discussion—C. J. Ellicott, Anglican Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, warned of the danger of (and even the nigh impossibility of) a totally consistent and yet accurate rendition of the precise differences between the Greek tenses (N. 36):

 

Suppose it was agreed beforehand that great care should be given, to distinguish, where possible, between the tenses—say, for example, between the aorist and the perfect.  Now, it may be confidently asserted that nothing but experience will adequately in cases of this kind (show us) when the “have” should be introduced in the translation of the aorist and when the simple past tense should be adopted.   

Whatever our rules might have been beforehand, they would break down in such a chapter, for example, as John 17, and they would be sorely tested in those many cases in which, as in the original Greek, particles of present tense are found in the same clauses, and in combination with aorists—for example Philippians 3:2 and 4:10.

[Page 184]                   And what is true of the aorist is almost equally true of the perfect.  We might, for instance, begin our work by the general agreement that whatever might be the case of the aorist, we would at any rate press the translation of the perfect, and recognize its force, and yet when we came to such a passage as 1 John 1:1, we should not be perfectly clear that the lines of demarcation between aorist and perfect were always very rigidly drawn.  We should have in the sequel to fall back on experience.

      

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Use of Articles:

“A” or “The”?

 

           

            The early nineteenth century critic Scholefield severely took the KJV to task on yet a different Greek grammatical concern (N. 37):

 

The next observation has reference to the Greek article.  The liberties taken by our Translators with this important element of Biblical criticism constitute perhaps the greatest blot in their admirable work.  Numerous instances are pointed out in the following notes:  one or two will suffice here to illustrate the general remark.

Article omitted, or the indefinite substitute for the definite:  Matthew 8:23 . . .  A ship.”  Cf. verse 18.  Luke 7:5 . . . “A synagogue.”  Acts 23:23 . . .  A centurion”. . . . 

           

            Once again we have no objection to the maximization of accuracy in translation, provided one does not purchase it at the price of gutting the readability and usability of the version.  However, it is still hard to see the practical difference (in most texts) between having “a” and having “the” in front of words like “ship,” “synagogue,” and “centurion” (the examples cited above).  Has someone really been mislead?  In what way?  Has it twisted his or her exegesis of the text?  In what manner?  (For exceptions to this broad generalization, see Burgon below.)

            Although the proposed greater exactness in regard to the Greek “article” garnered much passionate support—and was implemented in the English Revised Version and its sister the American Standard Version—there was still a loud and vocal group that (once again) insisted that the effort was carried to excess.  For example, Daniel R. Goodwin points out the popularity but was convinced the new translations gave the approach far too great a sympathy in its renderings (N. 38):

 

[Page 185]

            As to the use of the article.  In this respect it was very generally supposed that the Authorized Version stood in special need of large emendations, in the light of the scholarship “of today.”  Indeed there was a multitude of grammarians and critics who, to determine whether to put “the” or “a” before any English noun in the singular number, thought it necessary to inquire only whether there was or was not an article before its Greek correspondent; and, for the plural number, they required the article to be inserted or omitted in the English, just as it was in the Greek:  and they were clamorous to have the New Testament version corrected accordingly.  These have got small comfort from the Revisers, but more, we fear, than they deserved.

Our Revisers were far above any such sweeping, schoolmaster ideas.  They had a scholarship far too broad and generous for such narrow and Procrustean notions.  They knew that the rules for the insertion or omission of the article in Greek were in many cases different from the usage of the English; that those rules were subject to many exceptions in good Greek usage, and that there were many cases where the article was inserted or omitted without any general reason we can discover.

Moreover, the use of the English article is far from being reducible to fixed and universal rules, but varies from time to time and from man to man.  Locke wrote an “Essay concerning human understanding.”  We know it was concerning “the human understanding.” . . .

The insertion or omission of the article in a translation will depend largely upon the good taste and good judgment of the translator, in view of the genius of the two languages and the drift and scope of the discourse, rather than of any formal rules.

 

            John W. Burgon remains well known for his nineteenth century criticisms of the then emerging Westcott-Hort “critical” text and for his vindication of the genuineness of the “long ending” of Mark (16:9-20).  Although Goodwin sees marked self-restraint in the ERV’s “article literalism,” Burgon sees no moderation at all.  This conservative critic seems to take positive relish in how such “literalism” can result in a sense thoroughly different from that which the original authors intended (N. 39):

 

So, in respect of the indefinite article, we are presented with—“an eternal” (for “the everlasting”) “gospel to proclaim” (Revelation 14:6):--and “one like unto a son of man,” for “One like unto the Son of Man” (in verse 14).—Why “a Saviour” in Philippians 3:20?  There is but one!  (Acts 4:12). . . .  These instances taken at random must suffice.  They might be multiplied to any extent.

 

            If article literalism can reduce the intent of the text it can also increase it:  “But as touching Apollos the brother” (1 Corinthians 16:12).  Was he the only spiritual brother of theirs?  Obviously not; hence “a” would be far more appropriate, the Greek text notwithstanding.

            Furthermore, senses can shift within the same context:  The Bishop must be blameless . . . able to exhort in the sound doctrine” (Titus 1:7, 9).  Although there is only one “sound doctrine” and “the” is most fitting as a description due to its uniqueness, there [Page 186]  was the desire to place bishops in all the churches when qualified men were available.  Hence “a bishop” is the best translation because it applies to any person who wishes to qualify for the post.

            These are merely two of varied scriptures that Burgon provides from the ERV (and which are retained in the ASV) and which he uses as illustrations that article literalism should always yield to what is textually appropriate in English (N. 40).

            Two final examples of the traps into which excess “article-ism” can lead one deserve passing mention.  Firstly, in John 1:1 the Watchtower Society insists that the correct reading is “a” god rather than being a reference to (THE) God:  “Simply stated . . . the Society’s basis for translating . . . is the absence of the Greek definite article ho (the) before the word theos (God)”  (N. 41).

            The second example involves a recurring phenomena:  “In the original the name ‘Jesus’ is often preceded by the definite article, and Matthew 11:4 literally reads ‘the Jesus answered and said unto them’ ” (N. 42).  Will “the” be translated to maintain Greek usage or will Greek usage be subordinated to normal, proper English usage which would omit both “a” and “the”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  The Underlying Greek Text

Used for Translation

 

           

            Why do Bible translations read differently?  One obvious reason is that words change their meaning over a prolonged period of time or simply drop out of usage; what made perfectly fine sense in the seventeenth century when the KJV translators were doing their labor is sometimes confusing or misleading today.  In other cases the contemporary translators feel that a change in rendering is essential if the Biblical message is to be more accurately or meaningfully conveyed.

            In a goodly number of cases, however, we have to penetrate yet deeper into the “mysteries of translation.”  Words are omitted that are found in the King James Version—and in a lesser number of cases are added) because the translators are working from a different Greek text.  It is not a matter that translators have brazenly and intentionally left something out but, rather, that in their judgement the wording was never found in the original Biblical text itself.  If the KJV had worked from the same Greek text they do, it also would have reflected that same pattern of inclusions and deletions.

            There are only two “longish” New Testament passages that fall into the seriously challenged category.  The first is Mark 16:9-20, which is also the one most often discussed.  In recent decades “liberal” scholars have often become far more receptive in regard to the possibility / probability of its genuineness (note our earlier comments in this regard concerning the text found in later editions of the original Revised Standard). 

[Page 187]                   The second case involves the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11).  Here the controversy has swirled not as much over whether it belongs in the text (which even liberal scholars seem by and large willing to grant), but where in the gospel of John it should be placed.

            The other most noted challenged readings are short ones.  The Graphic Guide (N. 43) provides a list of 25 such texts.  It can hardly be over emphasized that no Bible doctrine hinges on any of the disputed readings.

            There are many other, minor cases, however, which create a different reading of a word or two or so.  Hence when working from the modern reconstructed (“critical”) Greek texts, we encounter a bit of a different “sound” when read by someone accustomed to the King James.

            In a few cases the modern Greek texts provide a reading that is doctrinally “stronger” than that found in the KJV.  For example, in Jude, verse 25, the modern texts add the words “through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages”—a clear reference to Christ’s pre-existence that is lacking in the KJV of the passage.

            Which is the better Greek text—that behind the KJV or that behind most more recent translations?  Since we have no desire to write an analysis as long as everything we have covered so far in this book, we will go with brevity.  This conciseness requires that we provide only a brief over-view of the history of the printed Greek text (N. 44).

            To begin with, how did the King James Version obtain its Greek text?  How broad a sampling of manuscripts was it based upon?  Was it great enough to enjoy an equal or an even greater credibility than that currently available as its substitute?

            The story begins with the text published by that great Renaissance / Reformation era scholar, Erasmus.  It was based upon only a half dozen manuscripts, none earlier than the tenth century.  Stephanus (a/k/a Robert Estienne) heavily relied on Erasmus but broadened the manuscripts utilized to fourteen, with additional readings from the multi-language Computensian Polyglot.  The Protestant scholar Beza essentially reprinted the text of Stephanus.  The KJV translators relied primarily—though not exclusively—on the various editions of Beza’s Greek New Testament.

            Thirteen years after the publication of the KJV, the Elzevir brothers produced their version of the Greek text.  Basically this was identical with that produced by Beza.  Their 1633 (second) edition carried the notation in Latin:  “The text that you have is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or perverted.” 

Hence the “Textus Receptus” (Received Text, in English) refers only to the fact that it was the generally accepted Greek text (1) of the early seventeenth century and (2) as reflected in this particular presentation.  It does not carry the connotations of being “received from the apostles” or “officially endorsed” by some religious body or institution of the time.

            Is it surprising that the text would need revision in the light of so many hundreds of manuscripts and fragments becoming available in the last century and a half?  Some nearly complete New Testaments carry us back to the fourth century, while manuscripts underlying the KJV (heavily, Beza) text only went as far back as the tenth century.  Individual books and fragments now go back to at least the second century (New Testament) and first century (Old Testament).

            Such a vast amount of new data was available that both the English Revised Version and the American Standard Version felt that they could no rely on the (once) [Page 188]  Received Text.  The problem, essentially, came down to how great a textual change was to be adopted. 

The number of alterations finally embraced probably went substantially beyond what otherwise would have been the case because of the growing popularity of the Westcott-Hort theory of textual criticism.  They successfully convinced the bulk of scholars that the Textus Receptus represented only a “late text” and that the type of text found in such sources as the fourth century Sinaiticus manuscript represented the earliest and purest form.  The large bulk of manuscripts that carried some variant of the Received Text could be safely set aside due to the extreme level of confidence in the new reconstruction.

The further passage of time led to the development of serious reservations as to how H-W handled the history of the New Testament text and the widespread conviction that one could not so easily rule out the reading of so many manuscripts solely because it disagreed with that of a comparatively small minority.  Could one be so confident that the supposedly “purer” W-H text was really such?

Hence most scholars today embrace an “Eclectic Text:  holding neither to the Received Text nor unequivocally to the W-H textual substitute.  A reading is established on the basis of the evidence for each verse rather than upon the basis of any overriding, predisposing theory that requires the acceptance of either approach.  Modern Greek texts reflect this greater willingness to be more flexible in their judgements.

The underlying Greek text of the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New American Standard Bible are essentially the same (N. 45) and represent such eclectic approaches.  Although there are differences between them, they all still symbolize the continuing mid- and late-twentieth century rejection of the blanket authority of the Textus Receptus.

The only major translation in this period that seemingly has utilized the Textus Receptus as the basis of its work is the New King James Version and it does so because it is determined to duplicate the same Greek basis as the original KJV.  It is far from hard to find web sites openly stating this reliance and presenting it as an outstanding virtue of the work.

However the Textus Receptus is not identical with the underlying Greek KJV text of the KJV because the TR was not published for more than a decade afterwards.  Furthermore the Textus Receptus is not equivalent to the majority of the Greek manuscripts now available.  A consultation of the NKJV footnotes will quickly show references to the “majority text;” in other words, the main text is not that of the majority of the manuscripts—it relies on something different.

A scanning of the NKJV footnotes in 1 Corinthians through Philippians will make this point even more vivid.  By my count—and the reader should feel free to double check the specifics since my count was a hasty one—the contemporary critical text (which it labels “NU”) omits the KJV wording in 36 cases involving a word or phrase; it reads differently in 37 cases; it adds words in two texts.

Although the majority of manuscripts (which it calls the “M-Text”) is substantially closer than the critical one to that found in the NKJV, the NKJV still retains the KJV text even when it contradicts the majority of manuscripts.  In at least four cases the Majority Text differs from the KJV/NKJV reading and it at least five additional cases both the critical and majority texts agree in omitting the KJV/NKJV reading.  Both [Page 189]  majority and critical texts concur in adding words in one instance (which the NKJV follows the KJV in omitting).  The Majority Text omits words retained by both the KJV/NKJV and critical text in one place and adds words in another.                                  

            Where then does the New King James obtain its Greek text if it is neither the Textus Receptus nor the Majority Text?  As the front matter to the translation makes plain, an earlier scholar of the twentieth century brought out an edition of the apparent KJV Greek text by taking the English and then determining the probable Greek that lay behind it.  The New King James takes this reconstructed Greek text and uses it as the basis for its own translation.

            An intellectually respectable case can be made for accepting a “critical” Greek text.  An intellectually respectable case can be made for going solely (or nearly so) by the majority of manuscripts.   

            The NKJV consciously sets out to reject both courses.  The NKJV is determined to preserve the KJV rendering in any and all cases—even when it is certainly wrong.  (And when it flies in the face of the combined evidence of both critical and majority texts can it possibly be anything else but flat out wrong?)

            In all candor, the NKJV appeals to me greatly and is my preferred personal use translation.  Part of the appeal may lie in its effort to retain the KJV order of words, allowing one to readily go from the KJV to the NKJV with a minimum of mental adjustment.  However its grim determination to reproduce the KJV text—even in cases of certain error—is still nothing short of intellectual absurdity.  Preserving the KJV untouched has become the overriding concern rather than the preserving of the true text of scripture so that the modern generation may be profited.  Such represents a theological bias as deep as any attributed to rival translations.

 

 

 

Notes

 

 

N. 1     --         James Scholefield, Hints for Some Improvements in the Authorised Version of the New Testament.  Cambridge:  Deighton, Bell, and Company.  First edition, 1832; fourth edition, 1857.  Page vii.

 

N. 2     --         Jack Lewis, Ibid., pages 49-50.

 

N. 3     --         Ibid., page 50.

 

N. 3a   --         Ibid., page 90.

 

N. 3b   --         Ibid., page 322.

 

N. 3c.  --         Herbert Dennett, Graphic Guide, page 3.

 

N. 4     --         Oswald T. Allis, Revision or New Translation?  Philadelphia:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948.  Page 86.

 

[Page 190]      N. 5      --         E. M. Geldart, “Translator’s Preface” to Theodor Keim, The History of Jesus of Nazara (sic).  London:  Williams and Norgate, 1876.  Page v.

 

N. 6     --         Lewis, Ibid., page 94.

 

N. 7     --         Ibid., page 185.

 

N. 8     --         Ibid., page 187.

 

N. 9     --         Ibid., page 94.

 

N. 10   --         Allis, Ibid., page 29.

 

N. 11   --         Ibid., page 29.

 

N. 12   --         Ibid., pages 31-33.

 

N. 13   --         Thomas Turton, Ibid., page ix.

 

N. 14   --         Ibid., page 38.

 

N. 15   --         Ibid., page 12.

 

N. 16   --         Ibid., page 12.

 

N. 17   --         Ibid., pages v, 41.

 

N. 18   --         Ibid., page 109.

 

N. 19   --         Ibid., page 38.

 

N. 20   --         Ibid., page 38.

 

N. 21   --         Thomas Turton, Ibid., page viii.

 

N. 22   --         See Lewis, Ibid., pages 204-205, for list.

 

N. 23   --         Ibid., page 110.

 

N. 24   --         Ibid., page 110.

 

N. 25   --         Ibid., page 134.

 

N. 26   --         Ibid., page 307.

 

[Page 191]      N. 27    --         Ibid., page 307.

 

N. 28   --         John W. Burgon, The Revision Revised, pages 135-136.

 

N. 29   --         Ibid., page 115.

 

N. 30   --         Lewis, Ibid., page 173.

 

N. 30a --         C. S. Mann, Mark (“Anchor Bible” commentary series).  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986.  Page 678.

 

N. 30b --         William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (“New International Commentary on the New Testament”).  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.  Pages 606-607.

 

N. 30c --         Vincent Taylor, The Text of the New Testament—A Short Introduction.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1961.  Page 90.

 

N. 30d --         Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament:  An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism.  Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans and Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1987, page 287.

 

N. 30e --         Ibid., page 287.

 

N. 30f  --         Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark.  “Published for the United Bible Societies.”  Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1961.  Pages 506, 515-517.

 

N. 30g --         Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament:  Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1964.  Page 227.

 

N. 31   --         Scholefield, Ibid., pages x-xi.

 

N. 32   --         Dennett, Ibid., pages 11-12.

 

N. 33   --         F. F. Bruce, Ibid., pages 180-181.

 

N. 34   --         John W. Burgon, Ibid., pages 154-155.

 

N. 35   --         Ibid., pages 157-158.

 

N. 36   --         C. J. Ellicott, Ibid., pages 19-20.

 

N. 37   --         Scholefield, Ibid., page 11.

 

[Page 192]      N. 38    --         Daniel R. Goodwin, Notes on the Late Revision of the New Testament.  New York:  Thomas Whittaker, 1883.  Pages 12-13.

 

N. 39   --         John W. Burgon, Ibid., page 165.

 

N. 40   --         Ibid., page 164.

 

N. 41   --         Michael van Buskirk, Scholastic Dishonesty, page 6.

 

N. 42   --         Dennett, Ibid., page 35.

 

N. 43   --         Ibid., page 124.

 

N. 44   --         For a penetrating analysis of the weakness of the case for the Received Text, the reader will find quite useful J. A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate:  A Plea for Realism (Baker Book House, 1978).

 

N. 45   --         Lewis, Ibid., pages 304, 306.