These three differences--textual, informational, philosophical--have been the parents of a new generation of Bible translations. But are these translations any good? Are they any better than the King James?Well, if you'd just focus on what Westcott and Hort actually did, their utterly unjustified changes and the fruit of their work in the proliferation of Bibles as mere commodities created by human invention with ever-multiplying unjustified changes to confuse the sheep, we wouldn't need to discuss who is right or any of the observations that will follow.
For the rest of the essay, we will examine each of these influences and then, finally, try to see which translation is best.
II. The Text of Modern Translations
Where have all the verses gone? The modern translations seem to have cut out many of the most precious lines of Scripture. They end Mark's gospel at the 8th verse of chapter 16; they omit the reference of the angel of the Lord stirring the waters at the pool of Bethesda (verse 4 of John 5); and, most notably, they excise the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
Besides omissions, these modern versions make significant changes in the text. For example, in I Timothy 3:16, the King James reads, "God was manifest in the flesh," but most modern translations read, "He was manifest in the flesh." In Revelation 22:19 the King James speaks of the "book of life" while virtually all modern versions speak of the "tree of life." Altogether, there are hundreds of textual changes between the King James and modern translations.
In this brief essay we cannot determine who is right. But we can make a few observations.
First, the textual changes in the modern translations affect no major doctrine. The deity of Christ, virgin birth, salvation by grace alone--and all the rest--are still intact. Though certain passages are omitted or changed, the doctrines are not.This is completely irrelevant to the real concern. That we can still eke out all the major doctrines from the modern versions is simply a smoke screen for the glaring fact that those major doctrines are precisely what have taken a hit in the Greek texts preferred by Westcott and Hort and all Bibles based on them.
There are evangelicals who prefer the King James and there are some evangelicals who prefer the modern translations.
As I point out in another recent post, besides the effect of mutilating the Bible trusted by English-speaking Christians for centuries -- back through the translations that preceded the KJV as well -- it isn't too hard to conjecture what use might be made of the particular passages where the Deity of Christ and the Trinity and the supernatural are eliminated from the wording, by a Gnostic-styled heretic such as the Antichrist most likely very soon to arrive on the scene. (The Jehovah's Witnesses already benefit from the W&H legacy; their text really helps along their particular heresy. That ought to mean something, people.) Many such passages could be quoted to fit his own credentials that in the KJV and earlier translations clearly refer to the God-Man Jesus Christ. Of course if Christians are going to be raptured by the time he appears perhaps it doesn't matter? We have no obligation to the unbelievers to educate them in the truths of the Bible? I've talked to enough Mormons and Jehovah's witnesses and liberal Christians to know that they can quite glibly quote scripture to prove anything they want. But why should an altered Bible itself be allowed to help them out?
Also, that some people prefer this or that translation is likewise a misleading observation. That individuals prefer anything whatsoever for subjective reasons is absolutely beside the point and should never ever be made the supposedly important point they always make of it. There are differences between the texts. Adding or subtracting from God's word is condemned by God. To leave it to the average Christian to make subjective choices is irresponsible on the part of church leaders.
What we want to know is which is the true, accurate, complete text, the text we can trust to be closest to if not identical to the inspired originals, and NOTHING else matters. The evidence supports the KJV and the text it's based on, which makes the modern versions all corrupt, and that being the case we can then make the far more interesting observation that it is precisely the passages in those versions supportive of the major doctrines that are the very ones omitted. And only if they can give convincing evidence that it's the Revised Bibles and their text that are closest to the originals can they justifiably claim that the KJV is corrupt because material has been added to it. And they don't have convincing evidence of that. The age of the manuscripts is NOT convincing evidence. The very fact that they raise such irrelevant points -- as that you can get the major doctrines out of the corrupted texts anyway, or that people like this or that Bible best -- has the feel of evasion and duplicity to my mind.
Second, the textual changes in these modern translations are based on the most ancient MSS of the Greek NT. These MSS date from early in the second century A.D. But the Greek texts behind the King James belong to a group of MSS--called the Byzantine text--which are much more recent. On the other hand, although these MSS are more recent, they comprise at least 80% of the 5000+ MSS of the NT that we presently have. It is theoretically possible that, at times, these MSS point to an early tradition as well.Yes, that's why it's called the Majority Text, there are so many of them. But it's far more than merely "theoretcally possible" that an early tradition underlies the Majority Text. Until Westcott and Hort came along and turned everything on its ear it was believed with faith that this plethora of MSS of the type used for the King James in itself represents the true text recognized by the true church from the earliest times. It is not just "theoretically possible" but a demonstrable fact that in fact they do, as there is plenty of evidence from the early centuries of the same readings that are found in the Byzantine MSS, in the form of quotations by the Church Fathers and lectionaries (collections of readings from the Bible) used in the churches that read the way the King James text reads.
The reasoning that the age of an existing manuscript tells us something about its purity or validity is spurious (or, really, it does, but what it tells us is the opposite of what is claimed). The Byzantine MSS are "more recent" only in the sense that so many thousands have survived since the Middle Ages but not many from earlier centuries. There are thousands of the same Byzantine type text, including translations in a wide range of languages. Their very existence in such numbers is strong evidence for a long history of copying leading up to the surviving MSS. Clearly they were THE text of the church across the world at the time. And, more important as evidence is the fact that the other textual tradition WAS known all along, so when the Westcott and Hort preferred manuscripts were found they were recognized as belonging to a tradition already judged as corrupt -- except by those in the 19th century who had come under the spell of the liberal German Tubingen School. This fact then leads to the reasonable conclusion that they represent a type known as corrupt and therefore rejected throughout the centuries, and since the corruptions quite tellingly do eliminate many references to various central doctrines of the faith that were contested by various heresies in the early centuries, there is good reason to attribute them to tampering by various early heretical sects, which was assumed by many textual critics and experts before Westcott and Hort. There is also evidence in the earliest texts themselves of such tampering.
Above and beyond all this is the promise by God to preserve His word for His people. The defenders of the new versions imply that ALL the Bibles except for some in the earliest centuries were corrupted, and therefore imply that God had not preserved His word all that time, choosing to oversee an authentic Bible only from 1881. This is absurd and damaging to the body of Christ but it is implied by their position.
To be continued.