Friday, October 10, 2008

An Essay by New Versions Apologist Daniel B. Wallace: "Why So Many Versions?"

Got caught up in this essay by new versions defender Daniel B. Wallace and thought maybe I could make some useful comments here and there from the opposing point of view. There's not much in it that I haven't already encountered, it's the standard defense of the new versions, covering much the same territory as James White for instance.

Why So Many Versions?
By: Daniel B. Wallace , Th.M., Ph.D.

"Breaking up is hard to do," as the song goes. Ma Bell did it--creating a glut of long distance companies almost as numerous as brands of deodorant.

The Bible did it, too. Before the year 1881 you could read any version you wanted--as long as it was the King James Version. But since 1881, scores of new translations have been printed.
So, he wants to frame the discussion by comparing the proliferation of Bible versions with the deregulation of a business monopoly which was supposed to increase productivity by competition? So competition is a good thing with God's word too? God's word should be open to human invention and variation? We should all make our own judgment as to what form of God's word we want? God's word is just a commodity? God's people are just consumers presumed to be able (and to have the right) to make their own judgment as to what constitutes God's word for themselves?

It certainly does seem to fit what has actually happened. Perhaps he should be applauded for his honesty.

Well, let me see if I can anticipate where this is going and explain it properly before it gets there. Ma Bell was deregulated by the government for better or for worse, and perhaps a bit of both, but the reason we have so many Bible versions is that a couple of questionably qualified and questionably motivated textual critics persuaded the Anglican Church of their day (the producer and owner of the King James Bible) to accept their judgment about the content of the Bible, which basically involved changing the King James almost beyond recognition without authorization and without any other kind of justification. To put it mildly. They had been commissioned to make minor changes; they produced a completely new and inferior Bible. That this is what happened was patently clear to their contemporary Dean J W Burgon who described what they did in many essays and one massive study, The Revision Revised. But of course this is precisely what is in dispute, since the new versions defenders will claim the revised Bible was superior, and apparently they couldn't care less that its producers violated their trust in producing it or that the manuscripts they used were regarded as corrupt by other experts in Westcott and Hort's day.

How did the King James get dethroned? Which translation is best today? Are any of the modern translations really faithful to the original? These are some of the questions we'll be looking at in this essay. But initially, we'd just like to get a bird's eye view. We simply want an answer to the question, "Why are there so many versions of the Bible?"
It got dethroned as described above. It remains the best translation today, even conceding that it may yet need some improvements. No, none of the modern translations are really faithful to the original. We don't have the originals so we have to decide which tradition of Greek texts is faithful and which isn't -- both traditions can't be faithful because they are different. The Greek texts the KJV was based on are appreciably different from those the new versions are all based on, which means at least one tradition of Greek texts must be corrupted. I am convinced of course that it's the modern versions that are based on corrupt texts. The versions defenders, however, although the implication of their position is that the Greek Text underlying the King James is the corrupt one, try to get away with claiming that the King James is fine too, but both traditions can't be fine because they are too different from each other.

And again, why are there so many versions? Because of the very bad Greek texts and horrifically bad Bible translation made by a couple of arrogant textual critics that got enshrined as authoritative, which led to the ensuing proliferation of versions thanks to their bad example -- well, if they could play fast and loose with God's word, anybody can -- and many have, especially over the last few decades, turning the Bible into a huge business involving as many changes to the text as they can dream up.

But since you are still waiting for Dr. Wallace's explanation, here it is:

There are three basic influences which have given birth to a multitude of translations.

First, in 1881 two British scholars published a Greek New Testament which was based on the most ancient manuscripts then available.

This is true, but to put it in perspective, this appeal to "the most ancient manuscripts" in this context is to imply that they are superior, the idea being that they are superior simply because they are older -- and "superior" of course means that it is assumed that, being older, they are most likely closest in text to the original autographs written by the apostles and inspired authors.

There are thousands of old Greek manuscripts available to scholars today, the vast majority of which have survived from the Middle Ages, and most of those are what the King James Bible was based on. It's called the Majority Text, and the Received Text (or Textus Receptus or Traditional Text) is made up of preferred readings from this tradition. There are a very few Greek manuscripts that have survived from the first few centuries, and the Westcott and Hort preferred texts are dated to the fourth century which make them the earliest, at least in 1881, to have survived the ravages of time. (There have been some earlier manuscripts found since then which will be addressed soon.)

These fourth century texts that were preferred by Westcott and Hort happen to have significant differences from the Majority Text manuscripts, notably the absence of many familiar passages. In 1881 when Westcott and Hort did their translation, these manuscripts that they themselves were so fond of were regarded by other Bible experts such as Burgon and Scrivener as corrupt and unworthy. The King James translators of 250 years earlier were familiar with the same type of manuscript although the particular manuscripts W&H used were found after their time. The King James translators had already rejected that type of manuscript as having been corrupted, and Westcott and Hort's contemporary Dean J W Burgon recognized the type as corrupt and emphatically denounced them as corrupt in his Revision Revised which was a thorough critique of Westcott and Hort's work.

In other words, their being older does not necessarily mean they are more trustworthy, and in this case there is evidence that they are less trustworthy. In fact there is some reason to believe they were altered in the early centuries to support an early Gnostic cult. That would take a lot of mustering of facts and discussion to prove, but suffice it to say the length of time a particular manuscript has survived is no certain evidence for its text being closer to the originals, though the new versions treat this as a foregone conclusion.

This text, by Brook Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, made several notable departures from the Greek text which King James translators used. For the most part, the Westcott-Hort text was a shorter New Testament. That's because the older manuscripts (MSS) which they used did not contain passages such as the longer ending of Mark's gospel or the story of the women caught in adultery. The Greek MSS which the King James translators followed included these and many other passages.
Yes, these are the facts. Many passages familiar to English-speaking people from the King James are not in the Westcott-Hort preferred text.

If you have a parallel Bible with the King James and the Revised English versions side by side for comparison, you will immediately see that there is space left at the bottom of almost every page below the revised version, and any other translations that were spawned from the same texts, while the KJV's longer text fills the page. The only time the revised version takes up more of a page is when it changes the format from paragraph style to verse style. The differences are that visible. [I reduced the font and lightened the color to minimize the impact of this statement because I'm wrong about this. the changes aren't necessarily visible. I was comparing a King James in separate verse format with an English Revised in paragraph format]

If you compare just about any passage word for word you should be amazed, as I was, to see how many purely niggling trivial word substitutions were made in the revised Bible for perfectly good and usually superior words in the King James. Change for change's sake. Really, anyone who makes such a comparison ought to be disgusted. There is NO excuse. But now I've gotten ahead of Dr. Wallace.

At the same time the Westcott-Hort text made its debut, the English Revised Version of the New Testament appeared. A new era was born in which translations of the New Testament now used the few ancient Greek MSS rather than the many later ones.
Completely true. They produced the English Revised Version from their preferred texts, the same ones denounced as corrupt by Burgon and others, and besides that they changed thousands of English words according to some standard of their own, against the instructions they had agreed to follow in revising the text, and produced a disaster for the English Bible. And we are certainly in this full-blown "new era" now in which there are -- how many? dozens at least? -- new English translations of the Bible based on those corrupted texts, the corrupted texts being "the few ancient ones rather than the many later ones." To be clear, again, these are the few that simply happened to survive from ancient times, a fact which, really, ought to show that they weren't in much favor with the churches or they wouldn't have survived, having disintegrated from constant use and surviving only in later copies made from them, just as we can assume the ancient precursors of the "many later ones" must have. The fact that there are "many" of the type that underlay the King James is in fact GOOD evidence for their authenticity.

Westcott and Hort's violation of their trust is also a major fact that needs to be acknowledged, but whether the result of their work is a disaster or not has become a matter of opinion, because the new versions defenders accept Westcott and Hort's viewpoint instead of Burgon's and Scrivener's and call it progress. This is what this dispute comes down to.