Monday, October 13, 2008

More of the Daniel Wallace essay (3)

Third, the King James NT did not always follow the majority of MSS. Actually, the Greek text behind the King James was based on only about half a dozen MSS. Now it just so happened that these MSS belonged to the Byzantine text. But on a few occasions there were gaps. And the compiler (a man named Erasmus) had to fill in those gaps by translating the Latin NT back into Greek. There are, therefore, some readings in the King James--such as 'book of life' in Rev 22:19 or the wording of I John 5:7-8, which are not found either in the majority of MSS or the most ancient MSS. No serious student of the Bible would call them original (though many popular Bible teachers do).

Wycliffe English translation, 1388, has "book of lijf" at Rev. 22:19

Tyndale English translation, 1525-1535, has "boke of lyfe." (first English translation from the Greek.)

Bishops Bible, 1568, has "booke of lyfe"

Geneva Bible, 1587, has "Booke of life"

Dutch Statenvertaling, 1637, has "boek des levens." (tree of life is "boom des levens")

The above listing is simply to show that the KJV didn't come by its choice of "book of life" without precedent or authorization despite the paucity of Greek texts that have it. Why dismiss the Latin out of hand anyway? The translators obviously consciously chose it for whatever reason as the authentic rendering, and their reasons I would trust. It is known that the translators were familiar with all the texts available, they considered their choices with a high degree of precision, and had many others on the task to consult for each choice. Here's a place where the nonexpert can only trust the experts that show themselves to have the best qualifications, and to my mind that is the KJV translators far and away over Westcott and Hort and the other revisers of the liberally-corrupted 19th century they persuaded to their unjustifiable ways. Especially if the Greek texts the revisers based their choice on were only the Alexandrian type, the Latin of Erasmus is to be preferred. Of course it would be nice to see a comparison of all the extant Greek texts for this verse to know what Dr. Wallace means by "gap" in the Byzantine type. Is the whole phrase about taking the name out of the book of life not there?

And by the way, today's orthodox Jews acknowledge a Book of Life. Perhaps for some reason the early Gnostics didn't like the idea?

Fourth, the charge that the more ancient MSS or the men who embrace them are unorthodox is a faulty charge. It is true that in certain places the ancient MSS do not explicitly affirm the deity of Christ--such as in I Tim 3:16. But neither do they deny it!

No, there's no reason to accuse most of the new versions supporters of heresy just on that account. It seems pretty clear that most have simply been indoctrinated in the position of their schools, including acceptance of the basics of the Westcott and Hort travesty, ridicule of KJV-onlies and lack of encouragement to study the reasonable representatives of the anti-new versions position, especially Dean Burgon but some of the more recent writers too. Especially Dean Burgon. If ONLY Burgon were read, carefully thoroughly read.

As for the "more ancient MSS" the only important point is which are the closest to the originals, and simply being "more ancient" is far from guaranteeing that, and if the "more ancient MSS" aren't, then someone removed the affirmation of the deity of Christ in that verse as well as others.

Besides this, in some passages these ancient MSS make Christ's deity explicit where the King James does not! In John 1:18, the modern versions read "the unique one, God" while the King James has "the only begotten Son."

This is in fact the notorious "only-begotten God" passage. That is, the Greek in the "ancient MSS" (the corrupted MSS according to the authorities I trust) literally reads "only-begotten God" (as opposed to the Textus Receptus and KJV which have "only-begotten Son). Interestingly, the phrase is actually avoided in most of the translations, as well as by Dr. Wallace. Even Westcott and Hort avoided it in their Revised Edition, which Burgon notes and attempts to explain:

Thus we avow that we are offended at reading (against S. John i.18) -- 'Many very ancient authorities read "God only begotten:" whereas the 'authorities' alluded to read monogenes Theos [He gives the actual Greek which I am unable to reproduce here. The Textus Receptus has monogenes huios] . . . which (as the Revisionists are perfectly well aware) means 'the only-begotten God,' and no other thing. Why then did they not say so? Because (we answer) -- they were ashamed of the expression. --Dean John William Burgon, The Revision Revised, 1883, page 182.

Here's a site run by an independent Baptist church that answers this claim:

Interestingly enough, some have maintained that the “only begotten God” reading gives a stronger evidence to the deity of Christ since it uses the word “God”. Yet, the Jehovah Witnesses do not seem to think so. They fit it perfectly into their doctrinal system that denies the deity of Christ and makes Him a created “god”. In fact, as a whole, the Christian community did not like this reading. Despite other weaknesses, they saw it for what it was—an attack on the deity of Christ. To use an old saying, the “only begotten God” became about as rare in modern versions as hen’s teeth.

From the same site we have these facts too (I'm sure they're available from many sources, but they're here so I'm quoting him):

What exactly is the evidence against “the only begotten Son”? Sir Frederic Kenyon’s Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament gives credit for the departure from the Authorized Version of 1611 to the influence of the Codex Sinaiticus. This Greek manuscript was discovered by Constantin Tischendorf in 1844 in the Eastern Orthodox monastery of St. Katharine at the base of the traditional Mt. Sinai.

In fact, the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament lists eight Greek texts that read the “only begotten god” though some manuscripts have a “the” and some do not. Yet, thirty-one listed manuscripts and a multitude of quotations from the early Christian authors attest to the King James reading of “only begotten Son”. The Sinaiticus, whose authority is definitive in this decision, is thought to be a product of the fourth century after Christ. Yet, at least two authors of the second century (Irenaeus and Clement) quote the passage as “the only begotten Son.”

[my emphases]

This is often the case with the evidence for the new versions choices over the KJV. Hard to justify rationally. Amazing to think that a huge swath of today's church accepts such stuff.

Wallace didn't quote it as "only-begotten God" but as "the unique one, God" -- perhaps for the same reason Burgon surmises was the case for Westcott and Hort, although the Greek in the corrupted texts quite straightforwardly reads "only-begotten God." Really, there doesn't seem to be any way to write this one that makes sense, let alone maintain the meaning of Christ as the begotten Son. Doesn't "the unique One, God" make that verse read "The unique One, God in the bosom of the Father has declared Him?" That doesn't even identify Christ at all. What exactly it means is impossible to say, though as noted in the quote above the JWs have no problem making it refer to a created god. Doesn't "only-begotten Son" convey the different Persons as well as the Deity of the Son? What am I missing?

But the American Standard, and Young's and Darby maintain the KJV's "only-begotten Son" and I haven't found any version that has "the unique One, God."

Others attempt to grapple with the new version in various awkward, confusing and ultimately meaningless ways:

ESV: No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

NIV: 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

NASB: No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained {Him.} [This is the only modern translation that uses the actual phrase given in the corrupted Greek texts.]

RSV: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

When they don't refer to Christ or the Son at all, there is no way to make sense of the verse.

But here I have to say that as soon as I get into making comparisons like this I'm again appalled at the wildness that is accepted among Bible translations and allowed among Christians in dealing with God's word. I'm horrified. What? Anybody with a smattering of Greek or merely a Strong's Concordance and a Greek dictionary can have a go at it? What?

Futhermore, the majority of evangelical scholars embrace this critical text. Even the men who edited the New Scofield Reference Bible of the King James Version personally favor the critical text!
Lots of fundamentalists have recently gone for the modern translations at least in part. It's a scandal among KJV-onlies. It's actually easy enough to explain as the leaven of the false versions spreading through the whole lump as scripture says leaven has a way of doing [1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9].

Fifth, at the same time, there are some scholars today who are strong advocates of the Byzantine text--most notably, Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad. Together they edited The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text and Dr. Farstad was also the senior editor of the New King James Bible. Thus, it is possible to be intelligent and still embrace the Byzantine text, just as it is possible to be evangelical and embrace the modern critical text. (I happen to disagree with the resultant text that Firsthad and Hodges have produced,1 but I respect their scholarship.)
(Love that "possible to be intelligent and . . . ") If you really respected their scholarship you would present both sides of the argument as you go and make an attempt to show the superiority of your own against theirs, but so far this essay is nothing but the usual one-sided apologetic for the new versions argument.

Finally, we ought to quit labeling one another as heretics or idiots in the ongoing discussion. There needs to be charity on both sides. One of my college professors frequently said, "The Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded!" Unfortunately, this is especially true when it comes to translations of the Bible.
Fine general principle, but a major help from the new versions side would be to stop characterizing all the KJV-onlies as extremists, conspiracy mongers and name-callers and actually address the substance of their argument.