by Paul Alexander
At a time when many churches, Christian leaders and Bible colleges are exchanging the KJV for newer Bible versions, why don’t we?
New translations have not increased overall Bible literacy, in fact the opposite is true. The Bible is less read and less understood than ever before among professing American Christians (based on studies by Barna Research Group, Thom Rainer, Gary Burge, George Lindbeck of Yale).
Lack of uniformity has stifled recognition and memorization. The motivation for the King James Version was the need for one common English Bible to be used by all. “Repetition is the mother of learning,” but if the preacher uses one version, the Sunday school teacher uses another, and the student another, we lose the advantage of widespread, easy recognition and memorization of Scripture. Without a uniform Bible, the Scriptures will continue to lose their influence on our country, culture and churches. Instead of making the Bible more familiar, the multitude of versions have actually made it far less familiar to society.
God promised to keep every word available to every generation. “The words of the LORD are pure…. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.” (Psalm 12:6-7; also Ps. 33:11; 100:5; 119:160; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23-25)
What about the words of the Old Testament? One would expect any ordinary book that was hand copied for hundreds of years to contain serious errors. However, both the Bible and its method of transcription were far from ordinary. There is essentially no debate about the preservation of the Old Testament in the Masoretic line of manuscripts.
- Only trained professional scribes were allowed to reproduce the Hebrew Scriptures. Painstaking steps were followed to ensure that each copy was an exact duplicate of the original. The number of letters and words on each page was counted, and the middle word of each page was found to be sure they matched the original. No character could be smudged or touch another. If a single letter was found to be in error, the entire page was discarded and the work redone.
- “The ancient Dead Sea Scrolls contain all of the Jewish Bible except Esther. They prove the texts have remain unchanged through two millennia of rewriting by Jewish scholars.”
- Research the Masoretic Texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the methods and qualifications of the King James Bible translators.
- All of our English Old Testament versions are translated from the Masoretic family of Hebrew manuscripts and are the Word of God so far as they are accurately translated. The King James Bible has stood the test of time as an authoritative and reliable translation.
What about the New Testament?
While Bible translators uniformly base their OT versions on one family tree of manuscripts, there are two different families upon which translators base the NT, the Byzantine and Alexandrian families. These two collections of manuscripts are like two pairs of identical twins born to the same parents. They are virtually identical within their set, but are significantly different (about five percent of the words) than the other set.
The Byzantine family contains about 2,000 complete hand-copied Greek New Testaments and 3,300 partials gathered from Europe, Asia and Africa dating back as far as A.D. 350. This line of almost identical copies has been in continuous use since the early church period. All of the early New Testament translations, including the King James version, were based on manuscripts from the Byzantine texts.
Another family of manuscripts, discovered in the 1,800’s has come to be known as the Alexandrian texts. This family is comprised of just two near-complete Greek manuscripts and about thirty partials dating from A.D. 135-400 and originating around Alexandria, Egypt. These copies lay “lost” and unused from the fifth to the nineteenth century.
Though no fundamental doctrines are changed in the lost Alexandrian manuscripts, the differences are significant. Two passages (Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11) numerous words and many verses (ex. Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 8:36-38) found in the Byzantine manuscripts are absent in the Alexandrian. However, all modern English translations except the New King James are based on the Alexandrian manuscripts.
The test of purity is not age, but availability.
Many scholars believe the Alexandrian manuscripts are closer to the original words of God primarily based on the assumption that “older is better.” But if these truly are God’s preserved words, why did they lie unused and uncirculated for 1,400 years? What if more “lost books” are discovered, differing another five percent from what we now have? How are we to be certain of the pure Word? God gave us a way to positively identify His preserved Word: Every word available to every generation. The Biblical test of purity is not “age,” but availability. God’s Word can never be lost any more than He can forget His name (Psalm 138:2). Because Almighty God has promised to safeguard and keep His word continuously available, there can be no such thing as a “lost book” of the Bible.
God has preserved every word of the Old Testament for every generation in the Masoretic texts, and every word of the New Testament for every generation in the continuously available Byzantine texts. As a student of God’s Word, I desire a “word-for-word” translation that is based on the divinely preserved texts translated by world-class linguists. I believe the only translation that currently meets those criteria is the King James Bible.
by Paul Alexander