Textus Rejectus

Textus Rejectus

Question

The original writtings of the gospel are no longer with us. We just have copies. They are in Greek and Hebrew. The English translations are from these copies. The KJV is from the Received Greek Text and the NIV is from the Critical Text. Some say that the KJV is the only true Bible translation. What is your opinion?

Answer

The debate between the Received Text and the Critical Text of the New Testament is sometimes a fierce one. There are two kinds of arguments made for the Received Text, one is worth considering, the other is simply annoying.

The annoying argument is that the Received Text is superior because God providentially preserved it. This is annoying because there is no suggestion in Scripture that God will ever do this. Even if one were to argue that the Bible taught that God would always preserve an accurate manuscript (say in Isa. 40:8) , there is still no way to tell which manuscript is the one he preserved. There is no real historical evidence from which to argue that the text family from which the Received Text descends was especially chosen by God over and above all other texts. Worse, the Received Text is not actually a text -- it is a compilation made by Erasmus of Rotterdam who did the same kind of work with the documents at his disposal that the compilers of the Critical Text have done in our day, and it has gone through numerous editions. If it was providentially preserved, why did it need to be compiled? And what was wrong with the first edition? Which edition should we use now? In my opinion, this argument for the Received Text is little more than an expression of fideism to a familiar, traditional text of the western church.

The second argument for the Received Text is worthy of consideration. Some assert that the Received Text actually descends from a more reliable manuscript family. These people generally recognize the value of other manuscripts in the same family. Following principles similar to those followed by the compilers of the Critical Text, they determine that the Received Text is more reliable.

At Third Millennium Ministries, we believe that the Critical Text represents the best reconstruction of the original texts. In the tradition of the Received Text, it considers all available documents, and takes its best shot at what the original said. It does not limit itself to the reading of one particular group of manuscripts, but considers all the documents God actually has providentially preserved, that is, all those to which we now have access (including the Received Text). Futher, the Received Text does not have a particularly stellar history. Erasmus of Rotterdam compiled it in the 16th century from only seven different manuscripts that he was able to find. Originally, it was even missing the last part of Revelation. Many of the manuscripts considered by the Critical Text are much older than the those used by the Received Text, and many were preserved in places where people actually kept up with their Greek (the eastern church) -- the Latin Vulgate is still the authoritative Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, not the Greek and Hebrew texts.

The argument for the KJV only is an even stranger argument than the annoying argument for the Received Text. Those who hold this view believe not only that the Received Text is the only legitimate manuscript, but also that the 1611 Authorized translation of the Received Text is the only good English translation. Some actually even assert that the KJV translators were inspired by God (which is refuted in the preface of the 1611 KJV itself -- and the 1611 KJV contained marginal readings because the translators thought the "probability" of either reading was high). Still others (though by far a fringe minority) actually argue that the 1611 KJV is authoritative over the Received Text. A somewhat more reasonable defense of the KJV is made by those who believe that no current scholars are reliable enough to produce a better translation of the Received Text, though there is no warrant for this position (the preface to the 1611 KJV also says that later translations are often improvements on earlier ones).

In any event, essential doctrine is not at stake in this debate -- both the Critical Text and the Received Text teach the same things, even if they use somewhat different words. Substantive differences occur only on minor points. Both are good texts, both are reliable, both are orthodox. And modern translations like the NIV are done by even better scholars with better resources than those who translated the KJV.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.