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The Biblical Position on the KJV Controversy

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/10/2003

Category: Christian Living

Source: CCN

The following article comes from a booklet titled "The Biblical Position on The KJV Controversy." It was written by the Elders of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California. A copy of the booklet and other materials can be obtained by writing, Grace Community Church, 13248 Roscoe Blvd., Sun Valley, CA 91352.

This booklet was transcribed into an electronic file by Bible Bulletin Board of Shreveport, Louisiana. It is our intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this copy of the booklet to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

                                                The Biblical Position                                                             on                                                 The KJV Controversy



Recognizing that the Bible is the very Word of the Living God to man, and understanding the priority of knowing and obeying its truths, the elders at Grace Community Church are deeply committed to study and teach with diligence and authority.

Thus, the central ministry of Grace Church is the continuous imparting of the Scripture to the people of God that they may know God and serve Him in worship and ministry.

Through their years of study, training and teaching, the elders have come to convictions regarding the major theological truths of the Bible. This little booklet presents one of these truths which reflects the heart of the teaching here at Grace.

                                                                                                            John MacArthur, Jr.

We regularly receive letters from our Grace To You listeners who react to statements that, "The better and older texts say. . ." Our listeners conclude that the Greek manuscripts behind the KJV are not accurate. Often they send literature defending the KJV.

Here is a typical letter:

Dear Pastor MacArthur:

I regard you as one of the best ministers around and your interpretation as tops. We have many of your tapes, notes, etc. So you can see that in this household you are highly regarded.

However, there is one area where I, personally, am becoming extremely confused and frustrated. This is when you, as well as a few other ministers, state that certain Scriptures (usually from KJV) are not accurate according to the best manuscripts. And, today, during the broadcast I thought I understood you to say that the KJV is not really the most accurate translation. Yet, I have heard and read from equally godly sources that the KJV is the most accurate, and they give source material for this conclusion that sounds most convincing.

So, I would very much appreciate a clarification. When you refer to a KJV Scripture as "not according to the best manuscripts" just exactly what do you mean and what exactly are the best manuscripts? If KJV is not the most accurate translation, then which translation is and why do you regard it so?

I'm sure you will agree that in this day and time we all need to be able to point to God's Word and say to the ungodly, et. al., that it is accurate and why. It is most important that we all know and be sure of what we are talking about, in order to be witnesses of the true Word of God.

Thank you very much for your response.

In His Name,

In response to these letters, we have developed this statement:

Thank you for your recent letter and encouragement concerning our tape ministry. The question you raised concerning various Bible versions is a very complex issue that cannot be adequately discussed in a letter. Often times it is filled with more emotion and heat than it is knowledge and light. Let me share with you my own conclusions after studying these issues. Bible versions, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible, have been translated by godly men of demonstrated academic repute from the very best manuscript evidence that is available today. May I add, the manuscript evidence that is now available is far superior to that which was available to the King James Version's translators in 1611. I would have no reservation in recommending these versions, yet I myself choose to continue using the Scofield Reference Bible because it is the text with which I am most familiar.

Let me recommend a recent book which very carefully discusses the issues. I think you might find it helpful. The author is Donald A. Carson, "The King James Version Debate," published by Baker Book House. I have also enclosed a well-written pamphlet by the president of one of America's leading seminaries, a Greek scholar in his own right, which presents a very balanced view of the King James Version.

Just a final word, keep in mind that the supporters of "God wrote only one Bible" theology have mistakenly equated the 1611 King James Bible with the original manuscripts written in the first century. It is true that God wrote only one Bible, but it is also true that it was not the King James translation.

These are detailed issues, especially for those who are not trained in the field of the Greek language and New Testament textual studies. But I trust that these brief comments will prove helpful.

Yours In His service,

John MacArthur Pastor-Teacher

                                                      The Background

Why do these people write? Where do they get their information? There is a growing literature crusade which claims that "God wrote only one Bible." By one Bible, they mean the King James Version Bible written in 1611. They conclude that the King James Version is the only English version which faithfully preserves the original writings. It is often supported with claims illustrated by the title of this article, "My Stand on the Inerrancy of the King James Version."

They build their case upon such doctrines as the preservation of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture and one's continued commitment to God.I have one letter in my file whose letterhead reads, "Good News Baptist Church, Home of 'King James Bible Schools.'" The letter was written to promote the "King James Bible Preachers Fellowship." This group of pastors is characterized as, "Men who are unashamed to proclaim the King James Bible, A.D. 1611, as God's holy, perfect word. God still has a few men who have not bowed the knee to the Baal of scholarship."

                                                      The Circumstances

Some basic facts about the existing manuscripts of the New Testament will help us to understand the historical background of this issue.

1. The Old and New Testaments were not originally written in the English language. They were first written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

2. We do not have the originals of any of the books of the Bible.

3. God never promised the perfect preservation of the originals, but He did promise to preserve their content. They are preserved within the body of currently existing manuscripts.

4. There are differences among the original language manuscripts that have come down to us in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is the chief cause of the problem.

5. These textual variations are almost always incidental and do not significantly affect the sense of what Scripture is saying. As a matter of fact, once the easily solved variants are removed, 99.9 percent of what is in our Bible can be confirmed without question.

6. It is usually easy to identify the cause behind a textual variant because the Greek New Testament has been preserved in far more existing manuscripts than any other piece of ancient literature. We are faced with, "an embarrassment of riches."

7. Many textual problems have already been resolved satisfactorily and are no longer in question.

8. No doctrine in Orthodox Christianity is dependent on the solution to any one variant.

                                                      The Controversy

The heart of the issue involves several questions, "Is one version inherently superior to another?" "Is one family of manuscripts superior to another and if so, which one?" And then, "How do we know?"

There is a host of background materials which we really need at this point to discuss the issue adequately. Neither space nor time permits, but let me suggest several volumes which you will find informative reading if you wish to pursue the issue.

J. Harold Greenlee. "Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism." Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964.

Bruce M. Metzger. "The Text of the New Testament." Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.

                                                      Various Approaches

How do we choose between these textual variations? Several solutions have been offered to determine which manuscripts are most accurate in deciding which variant was in the original manuscript. They include:

1. "King James only"

2. "Majority-Text only"

3. "Thorough-going eclectic"

4. "Westcott-Hort"

5. "Balanced eclectic"

The "King James only" approach suggests that the English translation of 1611 is inspired of God. It equates the Word of God, in the very real sense of the autographs, with the King James Version Bible.

In the October, 1978 issue of "Bible Believers Bulletin," Peter Ruckman makes this statement: ". . . the Holy Ghost, who honored the English text above any Greek or Hebrew text. . ." By this he meant that the KJV translators were guided more accurately in their translation by the Holy Spirit than were those men who copied the original manuscripts.

The Bible Truth Mission in Millersburg, Pennsylvania has made a $10,000 offer on Bible versions. Their challenge is this, "We have decided to have a standing offer of $10,000 for anyone who can disprove, to our satisfaction, the authenticity and historicity of the facts surrounding the King James Bible as compared to other versions, paraphrases, translations, etc. We are making this offer to permanently silence the small group of biased news journalists, self-appointed scholars, Bible book stores and publishing companies, who question why the vast majority of born again Christians use the King James only."

A second approach is the "Majority-Text only" school. This reasonable approach also promotes the King James Bible. Zane Hodges, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, would be the most qualified supporter. The Dean Burgon Society was recently formed to promote this position. Thomas Nelson Publishers of Nashville issued the New King James Version under the academic leadership of Dr. Arthur Farstad with this position in mind.

The "Majority-Text only" position advocates that God preserved His Word in the text which is found the largest number of manuscripts. Because the largest number of manuscripts are found in the Byzantine family, this family should then be considered the primary and favored external witness.

Next is the "thorough-going eclectic" school. Basically, these folks are liberals who reject any consideration of external evidence such as manuscript families, date of manuscript and so on. They concentrate all of their energies on internal consideration for a literary analysis of the text. They hold little sway among conservatives.

Fourth, the "Westcott-Hort" approach has long been publicized as the approach which modern conservatives hold. Westcott and Hort suggested that the Alexandrian family of manuscripts are the oldest and thus preferred. They also concluded that external evidence, that is, manuscript families, outweighs internal evidence and that the Alexandrian variant, all other factors being equal, is the one preferred. You can read their explanation in the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament (pp. 1541-583).

There is a fifth approach, and it is actually the one that many conservatives currently espouse. This "balanced" position holds that each text type is to be evaluated independently without premeditated bias. It also posits that internal and external evidences are to be considered equally. It basically suggests that each textual variant is to be investigated thoroughly and considered on its own merits.

                                                      Support for KJV

Now, let's look at the major arguments normally used by those who support either the "King James only" or the "Majority Text only." These six summaries accurately portray their frequently used arguments.

1. The doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible necessitates not only that the original manuscripts were without error, but also that there must be extant copies without error to preserve its inerrancy. Otherwise, even liberals can believe in the inerrancy of the originals but deny the inerrancy of the Bible we have today if all extant copies have textual errors. In the Greek, the inerrant manuscripts are the "textus receptus" (TR) which underlies the King James Authorized Version of the Bible.

2. Although God has allowed textual errors to occur in all of the Greek copies of the original New Testament manuscripts, He has preserved the best text in the vast majority of these copies. The best text is found by looking through all of the extant Greek manuscripts and choosing the wording of the majority of those manuscripts. With 80-95 percent of the manuscripts of almost identical readings for any given passage, it should be obvious that the majority text is God's providentially preserved text.

3. The Greek manuscripts underlying all the modern versions of the New Testament come from Alexandria, Egypt. They cannot be the best manuscripts because they have been in the possession of heretics such as Origen or the Roman Catholic church. God would not use such people to transmit the best text since they would alter the text to suit their own teachings.

Furthermore, the Alexandrian text was not in general use from the 8th to the 19th centuries. God would not allow the true text to be hidden from public view for such a long time. Finally, God would not use liberals, such as Westcott and Hort, to rediscover and resurrect the true text.

4. The TR manuscripts are the best manuscripts because they properly exalt the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, while the Alexandrian manuscripts do not. When the Alexandrian manuscripts are compared with the TR, many places are found where the words, "Lord" and "Christ" are missing in reference to Jesus. This shows that the people who copied the Alexandrian manuscripts did not want to believe Jesus as both "Lord" and "Christ."

5. The Alexandrian manuscripts could not be the true text because they teach doctrines different from those found in the TR. These errors include justification by works, Arianism and belief that the Apocrypha is part of the text.

6. The King James Version and the Greek TR text underlying it must be the best text because God has so blessed its use since the time of the reformation. In every major modern revival men have preached from these texts. God has not used and will not use the Alexandrian text to do such great works among men.


                                                        An Example

Recently we received a tape by a well-known pastor on this subject. It is impossible to summarize the tape in this limited paper, but the letter response which we wrote is included here.


Recently, one of my flock dropped off several of your tapes entitled, "The Foundation of the Word." Because I am deeply committed to the inerrancy of the Bible, I listened with interest to your presentation.

I was somewhat surprised as you got into the subject. Weekly we receive letters through our own tape ministry asking the question, "Did God write only one Bible?" By this, they mean the Authorized Version.

As I listened, I noted numerous factual errors and illogical conclusions. I am taking time to write not to prove you wrong or me right, but rather to ensure that whatever conclusions we reach, they are reached with correct data and right thinking.

We would agree that Satan often misuses Scripture (Matthew 4:6) and delights in distorting or denying God's Word. We agree that any addition or deletion to God's Word as given in the original writings is a serious matter and incurs strict judgment (Revelation 22:18-19). We agree that we can believe the Bible in its entirety and never go wrong. We agree that the Bible is the

final authority of faith and practice. It's a delight to share that common ground.

We do, however, disagree when it comes to Bible versions. If I understood your tapes correctly, you were saying that the King James Version is the only English translation which has faithfully transmitted the truth of God in its entirety from the original writings of the 1st Century. I still use the Scofield Reference Bible which is basically a King James Version, but I do not believe it's the only good version.

This entire matter is the most complex discipline in all of Biblical studies because of the intricacy and volume of the data. I do not pretend to be a polished textual critic, but I have thought through the data. Let me suggest that whether the position I take or the position you take is the correct one, the substantiation that you provided on the tapes makes a very inadequate case for the conclusion that you reached. I want to list these just for your help.

1. You say that Satan misquoted God by taking away a few words in Genesis 3:1. You quote Satan as having said, "Hath God said that you can eat of all the trees that are in the garden?" You yourself have misquoted Scripture at that point for the question reads like this, "Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"

2. You asserted that the textual critics and the scholars who say that you cannot accept all of the King James Version are the same scholars who say that you can't accept the stories of the Bible as genuine. They are the ones, you say, that call Old Testament miracles Hebrew myths. And they are the ones who deny the virgin birth of our Lord, the resurrection of our Lord and His deity. Come now, that is guilt by association in its pure form. You tried to lead your audience to conclude, "Because they agree on one point, they agree on all points." That's like saying that because the Mormons are for the family but deny the deity of Christ, then we ought to deny the family. I know you would not draw those conclusions there. It is simply not true that godly men have denied the very orthodox foundations of the Christian faith when they investigate all of the manuscript data. By the way, few people today, believers or unbelievers, embrace all of the Westcott & Hort theory of textual criticism. Whatever the solution is to this issue, it will not be solved by using the tactic of guilt by association.

3. You say that 2 Peter 2:1-2 refers to these kinds of people. "False prophets who deny the Lord that bought them." That is a highly inflammatory statement and much unlike your normal well-reasoned, well-presented teaching.

It is again simply untrue and logically unnecessary to conclude that those who look to a Bible version other than a King James are the same ones that Peter references in this second chapter.

4. In your tape you say there are two major textual families. The Textus Receptus and the Alexandrian family are those that you identify. That is a very unfactual statement. There are at least four manuscript families that are widely recognized. They include the Alexandrian Text, the Western Text, the Caesarean Text and the Byzantine or the Majority Text. Note carefully that the TR, or the Textus Receptus, compromises just a portion of the Byzantine Text and is not the entire family. Also, Westcott & Hort did not develop the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. They merely attempted to recognize certain similarities within a group of manuscripts and account for their existence.

5. You said that Westcott & Hort worked on the Bible version of 1881. Let's be specific. Westcott & Hort worked on the English Revised Version of 1885.

6. You went to great lengths to suggest that gnosticism prevailed in the 2nd Century and drew the conclusion that because gnosticism prevailed, gnostics altered the older text; therefore, you reason the earliest manuscripts are not reliable. Those assertions will not hold up under investigation. There have been apostates and heretics throughout all of church history. Quite frankly, there is no factual substantiation that Aleph, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus or any of the early papyrii which, by the way, you never mentioned in your tape and are really the earliest Greek manuscripts we have, were of gnostic origins and doctored to conform to their heresies.

7. You use Marcion as an example of a gnostic who mutilated the Bible text. Let me tell you, Marcion did not limit himself to texts, but he published a canon of the New Testament which included only 11 books. He was anti-semitic in his thinking and included only the gospel of Luke and ten epistles of Paul. He deleted Paul's pastoral epistles. You also criticize Irenaeus.

Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Apostle. Church history has not recognized him as a heretic and neither should we.8. You listed a number of men in early church history who were gnostic in background and therefore to be disbelieved in whatever they did with the text. You suggested that anyone that came from Alexandria was immediately suspect. You focus on the Nicene debate where Arius was attempting to demonstrate that Christ was something less than identical in nature to God.

Do you remember who opposed him? His name was Athanasius. Do you know what his title was? He was the Bishop of Alexandria. You also suggested in that portion that Constantine, then emperor of the Roman empire, hired Jerome to translate the Latin Vulgate. That's simply not true. Pope Damascus hired Jerome to do the Vulgate in A.D. 382.

9. You suggest that the New Testament manuscripts that came out of Antioch are known as the TR or Textus Receptus. That is simply untrue. The term "TR" as it applies to the text of the New Testament, originated in an expression used by the Elzevir brothers in the preface to their second edition of the Greek New Testament in 1633. That introduction reads in English, "Therefore, you now have the text received by all in which we have nothing changed or corrupted." In the Latin, it reads, "Textum . . . receptum. . ." The King James Version was first published in 1611 and did not use, in its entirety, the manuscripts that were used to produce what the publishers called the TR. The TR is simply a subfamily of a much larger family called the Byzantine text or the majority text.

10. You associate Augustine with the Church of England. That must have been a slip of the tongue because there is absolutely no association. Augustine would be associated with the Roman church.

11. You suggest that the church of Rome tried to wipe out the doctrine of the deity of Christ, but that would be rather silly since the Roman church does embrace the deity of Jesus Christ. It's in other areas that they have severe problems.

12. You suggested that the Syriac Peshitta was translated in 165 A.D. and conformed in all parts to the King James Version. No, that's not true. The Syriac Peshitta is a 5th century translation and it does not agree at every point with the King James Version. Let me illustrate from one of the texts that you'll list later in your tape. You suggested that in Matthew 25:13 the phrase, "in which the Son of Man is coming" was deleted by the heretics to avoid mention of the second coming of Jesus Christ. The reading that deletes that phrase is supported and included in the Syriac Peshitta.

13. You make a great deal to do about the true fact that 80-90 percent of the extant manuscripts generally conform to what's called the Byzantine or Majority Text. While this family might be the best family, it is not because the majority of texts available today come from it. Quite honestly, we do not know how many manuscripts have been destroyed and what family they represented. The logic that "the most demands the best" is "non sequitor." If you will read about the discipline of textual criticism in literature other than the Bible where evidence is abundantly available, you will discover that with the greater numbers of copies and the greater passage of time, the more errors there were in the later writings. It is much like passing a message verbally and watching it become distorted as it passes through the greater number of people and over the longer period of time.

14. It was at this point that you began to point to a number of examples where the King James Version differed from other Bibles. That's a true statement, but let me make these general observations, and then I want to deal with several of the texts.

a. There is no doctrine in all of orthodox historic Christianity, which you and I hold to dearly, that is removed from the Bible because of any of the textual variants.

b. You have assumed your case for the King James Version when you demand that a deletion to the King James or an addition to the King James is a perversion. Quite frankly, it is just as possible for the opposite to be true, that is, that the King James translators, or those who copied the manuscripts that they used, added to or deleted from the original text. You really need to prove your point before you claim it.

c. Did you know that the King James translators translated and included the Apocrypha originally as part of the King James Version? That certainly does not speak to their orthodoxy.

d. Did you know that a portion of the manuscripts that they used to translate the Book of Revelation came from Erasmus, himself a very humanistic Roman church scholar. He translated a portion of his Revelation manuscript from Latin back into Greek because his Greek manuscripts lacked those pieces.

e. There have been heretics who mutilated the Bible to conform with their errors. Jehovah's Witnesses is a classic modern example. In their New World Translation, they have stripped the text of all direct mention of Christ's deity. But note carefully, they did it consistently and completely; it was not a half-hearted random attempt. We should expect this kind of thoroughness when any cult or heretic tries to denude God's precious Word of vital truth.

Well, let's look at several specific texts which bothered you.

You pointed out how certain key doctrines were removed from these texts by heretics. You point to Matthew 6:13 and the deletion of the phrase in the disciples' prayer, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever." Answer me this, why did they leave it in 1 Chronicles 29:11 which is the Old Testament attestation of this great truth?

You note the deletion in Matthew 18:11 of the phrase, "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." But why did they leave it in Luke 19:10?

With many of your examples, the fact that a text has apparently either been added to or subtracted from does not demand that it was necessarily the original text.

You mention Mark 16. That text has evoked no end of critical discussion. For many, they delete it because it simply solves some of their theological hangups. I know we differ on the charismatic issue and quite honestly, it would be easy for me to hide behind the cloak of textual criticism and conclude that because it's not in some of the manuscripts, that therefore, verses 9 ff. are to be deleted. The evidence is not conclusive for either side, but a good case can be made for the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 and I myself believe that it should be included and then rightly interpreted.

Next, you say that the term "father" is added to Luke 2:33 to discredit the virgin birth of our Lord. But why, if they were trying to do that in Luke 2:33, did they leave in the exact quotation and substantiation from the Old Testament in Matthew 1:23?

In John 3:15 you note that the idea of perishing is not included in verse 15 of some manuscripts. You conclude that they were trying to delete the idea of eternal punishment. But why, then, would they have allowed the same idea to remain in verse 16?

You note that in Acts 2:30 the idea of Christ being raised up is deleted, and then you conclude that those who deleted it were trying to deny the resurrection. But why did they leave the term "resurrection" in the very next verse?

You note in Ephesians 3:9 that the name "Christ" has been deleted from the phrase that would give him credit for creation. But why did they leave this same idea in Colossians 1:16?

Perhaps the biggest error of fact that you report concerns 1 John 5:7-8. You claim that it was a part of the original manuscript and should, therefore, be included in any Bible. You and I both cling lovingly and tightly to the tri-unity of God. It is taught in numerous places in both testaments. To say that the deletion of the phrase in verse 7, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Hol

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