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Questions on Bible Versions


Pr. Larry Kirkpatrick


Question:

The newer Bible translations are said to be prepared with the use of the oldest and thus most accurate manuscripts. How do you respond to this?

Response:

That claim is certainly made. But the question is, is it valid? It is true that the oldest manuscripts are generally found in the so-called Egyptian textual stream. However, there is cause to think that those oldest manuscripts may well be part of a limited and localized textual stream, preserved by the unusually dry climate of that area. The far more broadly based textual stream that underlies the Majority text is difficult to account for unless it arises from a very early (as well as more broadly distributed) textual stream.

Again, the newer critical texts are heavily weighted in that they largely follow the Aleph and Beth manuscripts (key manuscripts in the Egyptian textual family). These critical editions are composed of a blend of various manuscripts into a conglomerate text that never existed. Upon those critical texts virtually all modern Bible translations are based (the New King James Version is an exception). There are two different theories about the text opposed to each other in such a choice. One theory is based on textual blend that never existed and presupposes that at some time previous to the existence of the oldest Majority manuscripts, there was a major change made to that text--one for which there is no manuscript evidence nor any other evidence--it is purely an unsupported theory. Based on these thin presumptions, the oldest existing manuscripts are supposed to be superior. Of this we have considerable doubt.

If the manuscript streams branched early, existing manuscripts in the Egyptian stream may indeed be older; yet if it is a branch because it reflects a flaw introduced into the textual stream, then all it is is an early mistake. The very widespread dominance of the Majority text points to its common origin from an earlier text as well. Although we do not have in our possession manuscripts of this stream that are as early as the small Egyptian group of texts, the argument that this textual stream is the descendent of the earliest documents is quite viable, and to many minds, far more persuasive. If indeed, the majority textual stream rises from this authentic original stream, then simply having in possession a few older manuscripts lacks persuasiveness. The evidence suggests that in fact, it is the Majority text that most likely traces back to the originals.


Question:

I saw a Bible representing Jesus as a black person on its cover. Is there anything wrong with this?

Response:

People are not stupid. Everyone knows that Jesus was not black. The intention behind this kind of representation is said to be to build bridges, to remove any racial barriers from the equation. We all know from Scripture that Jesus died for every member of every race. But to emphasize the fact of race is to emphasize its existence, and perhaps even subtly to suggest some meaningful racial difference. It may have the opposite effect. Yet what's more interesting is that Jesus is portrayed in an unreal and inauthentic manner. Yes, He could have come bearing the genetics of any racial group. But He didn't . The objective of witnessing is never to inject any needless layers of unreality into the witness. This is the same problem with using drama and movies and theatrics to "witness."

The life, death, resurrection, and heavenly ministry of Jesus is the realest thing there ever was. Never should we compromise it by portraying it in any manner obviously untrue to the facts. What is to prevent the portrayal on the cover of a Bible of a San Francisco Jesus, dressed as a gay man complete with earring, etc? Or Jesus as a heroin addict on the cover, or as a rich guy dressed in a suit eating caviar? I mean, where do you draw the line?


Question:

What about the current trend to make the covers of Bibles bright and artsy?

Response:

The splashy new Bible covers give the Bible an appearance unremarkable and like that of any other book. The splashy artwork lends it the look of just another product like every other. Again, it may have the presently favored "look" to it, but in a few months or years when the style changes, it will be a visually dated presentation.


Question:

I heard that Ellen G. White advocated the use of many Bible versions. Aren't we free then to use whatever version we want?

Response:

You heard wrong. While it's true that she did, from time to time use different versions, if you follow her use of quotations in the EGW index, you will find her not only using the KJV overwhelmingly more often than any other version, but there is something else you will find. If you know Greek you can test this. I at one time (I never wrote this up) invested many hours in comparing the versions EGW used with the Greek text of the first three chapters of John. In that text I found eight significant textual disjunctions between the Textus Receptus and the blended Greek text. (The textus receptus is the version that, until recent years, virtually all Protestant Bibles were based upon.) If you look up the uses given in the Scripture index for those chapters, you will find Mrs. White using more than just one Bible version. Sometimes a more recent translation than the KJV translates the sense of the Greek from the manuscript a bit more clearly and you will find her occasionally using it. What's interesting though, is that in seven of the eight textual disjunctions (places where the Textus Receptus goes one way and the blended text goes a different way), Mrs. White chose to follow the translation/reading of the KJV. Since I don't think Bible versions were generally an issue in her day, it strikes me as meaningful that she chose to follow the reading of the KJV so decidedly. I believe that she was led, unconsciously, by the Holy Spirit, to follow that reading. Remember, she could have chosen to follow the newer translation any time, but the times when she did that are few.


Question:

I've heard that in years past congregations recited Scripture together much more than they now do, and that this was because they all had the same version. Have you heard of this idea of "common Scirpture?"

Response:

Yes, and I understand that there is historical truth in it. When the whole community shared the same translation of the Bible in common, they could read it and recite it together in worship. Whether as a church congregation, or as a family, or attending a funeral, in any and all occasions they could share in speaking aloud the Word of God together. Luther's version of the Bible in the German language was a great strengthener of the German Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The forest of new translations and productions of the Bible flooding the market today almost completely insure the impossibility of having Scripture in common; it works against there being a united Christian community. If Christians are not linked with Rome, then it makes all the sense in the world that Rome would want them to be divided in as many ways as possible. The production of so many different Bible versions plays directly into the hands of Rome.


Question:

I've heard that the KJV is harder to memorize because it uses old English. Is this true?

Response:

I have not found it at all to be true. The opposite has been my experience. Because it doesn't sound just like every day language it is much easier to memorize. Instead of sinking into your memory along with the ad for this weekends' sales at Walmart, it stands out in the mind. It is far easier to memorize the KJV than any other version. The words roll differently. They are set apart in the mind differently. My experience has been that the KJV is far easier to recall than other versions.


Question:

Is it right for versions of the Bible to be copyrighted?

Response:

The task of producing a new Bible translation can be very involved. It means oodles of hours invested by many, many participants. The laborer is worthy of his hire. Copyright laws, intellectual property laws however are largely artificial and can limit the availability of the work. The Bible (that is, any work truly considered to be classifiable as divinely inspired) is unique in that the Scriptures are understood to have been divinely preserved from significant flaw and in terms of their ultimate origin. God spoke through the various authors who wrote their own words yet under divine superintendancy. Thus it is at once the Word of the living God yet inscripturated through divine influence upon mortal minds. What we are saying here is that inspired writings fall into a unique class among all other writings.

The idea of the Bible is to spread it as far and wide as possible so that it will impact lives for the gospel. Yet the many, many modern Bible versions emerging practically day by day appear to be published largely with an eye to one specific motive: making money. Copyrighting and trademarking protect the final product so that it can only be produced by the owner of the copyright or by a licensed publisher. Regrettably, profit motive runs directly against the goal of widest possible circulation at minimum cost. Furthermore, the seemingly limitless quantity of Bible versions have many effects. Their sheer numbers make it seem as if the Bible can be translated an infinite number of ways and perhaps interpreted an infinite number of ways. Again, when everyone has a different version of the Bible it renders joint Bible study or reading of Scripture virtually impossible. Philosophically, why should any company own a copyright to the Word of God?

If a publisher's goal is to distribute the Bible they publish for spiritual reasons then they could forego the copyright (as we do in regard to content on this site). If they believe in what they are doing, let them publish it and make it openly available without restriction. God's word was not originally copywritten by Him. What right do we have to copyright it? Of course, if we regard it as our word, then have at it.


Question:

How would you answer the charge that young people today can't understand the old English found in the Bibles?

Response:

Some of our kids today are programming in computer languages like C, C++, Java, perl, lisp, python, and many more. Some of our kids can set the VCR while we are mystified about how to accomplish that. Don't tell me that our young people are stupid. They are very bright. I run into this claim from adults once in awhile, but have never had that with a young person. If they bump into a word from time to time that they need to look up, or think through in order to understand, that's fine; it will be good for them. When we come to God's Word we should be engaging our best energies, our most focused thought. It is truly scary to hear claims that our young-people's minds today cannot understand "thee's, ye's, and thou's." Such words do not significantly detract from understanding.


Question:

Are you trying to say that the KJV Bible is a perfect Bible?

Response:

I don't claim that a perfect Bible exists. But after some study it is my opinion that the most superior of all Bible translations is the King James Version. Certainly the English Bible most widely used in the Protestant Reformation was the KJV. This Bible was very widely circulated under the Holy Spirit's influence. In places where its language seems archaic to us, we can readily supply the modern meaning (i.e., x number of "cubits" is equivalent to about x number of inches, etc.). The KJV is the closest thing to a universal Bible that we have. This point, combined with so many other benefits of using it leave it without a comparable rival in terms of widespread usage. While sales of NIV Bibles are rising (after the continual hype and promotion of several years), still the number of KJV Bibles in the field versus NIV Bibles is astonishingly one-sided. KJVs far and away are vastly greater in number.


Question:

What about the easier to read paraphrase versions of the Bible?

Response:

The most literal translations are always the truest to the manuscripts that we have. Paraphrase versions may be helpful from time to time to provoke the mind to think of a text in a fresh sense, but paraphrase translations are, as a matter of course, produced by one author rather than a committee striving to get the most literal sense. A paraphrase inevitably does more of the translating of the literal for you. A paraphrase Bible interposes a large lense between the original text and you the reader. You are relying upon the paraphrasing author to deal with issues inaccessible to the reader of a paraphrase. For example, if you were to paraphrase the Bible when it comes to Sabbath some writers would (and some even do) write "Sunday" for "Sabbath." If such a practice were followed before the Seventh-day Adventist church arose, perhaps it never would have been. A more literal translation (like the KJV) keeps the reader the closest to the biblical text one can get apart from reading it in the original languages.


Question:

Because you favor the KJV, you must believe all the poor arguments out there in support of it, right?

Response:

Some of the arguments out there in favor of the KJV are poor. But there are several sound arguments very much in favor of the KJV. I do favor, on defensible grounds I think, the KJV. Do not assume that it is for all the same reasons you may think it is. Instead of assuming why one's beliefs are held, it usually works better to inquire why what they are and go from there. Could it be--are you willing even to entertain the idea--that there could be intelligent arguments in favor of the KJV? If not, then please go away. Neither this document nor this website is for those having closed minds.


Question:

If your main argument is based on the superiority of the Textus Receptus, then what about the Old Testament?

Response:

The Old Testament is written in Hebrew with a small amount of Aramaic. It is possible that some of the newer Bible translations have produced superior translations of the Old Testament to what we have in the KJV. And yet it is also true that many of the newer translations are marred by willful changing of the Word, for example, to make it "gender inclusive." If you want this, go get something like the NRSV, but do beware; you are buying an ideologically preloaded Bible version. Doubtless even the KJV has some of this (for example, its translators likely believed as a general thing in the immortality of the soul and in a forever burning hell). But don't miss this crucial fact: modern Bible versions have virtually all been produced after the introduction of biblical criticism in its most extreme forms. The KJV was produced long before those methods arose and their influence spread throughout Christian scholarship. This point is not to be taken lightly. It constitues even an argument in favor of the KJV Old Testament.


Question:

Aren't you afraid that by mentioning the issue of Bible versions from time to time you will alienate some of the people who read this website, that their financial support will decline?

Response:

We are not forcing anyone to use any version of the Bible. I am only sharing the convictions I have come to in my study over the years. Much has been written denigrating the KJV. I am just trying to provide some balance. If people dislike what we put on the site here, they don't need to come here. No one is forcing anyone to visit this site. Sure, if someone disagrees with this or some other viewpoint presented on the site they are unlikely to contribute financially to the needs of the website. But the moment we make that our criterion will be the moment we consent to reduce it to something that doesn't matter. We do need financial contributions to improve the site, keep it on the air, keep it fresh. But we won't let this site sink into the mainstream by changing our principles. The truth is not for sale at any price.