Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The King James Bible at 400


The party is coming to an end. We have had a year of celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible. Celebrations, large and small, scholarly and devotional, have taken place all over the world in honor of this milestone. Mostly the presentations at these events have celebrated the literary, historical and cultural achievement of the King James Bible. Not much attention has been given to text-critical matters relating to the KJV.
Our celebration of this splendid early seventeenth century achievement comes at a time when its language is revered but the text on which it is based is generally regarded as late and corrupt. Especially over the last two centuries stunning manuscript discoveries and refinement of methods have overthrown the once dominant Textus Receptus (The New Testament in the KJV was based on Beza’s 1598 edition of this text), and today translators generally depend on an eclectic text, like The Nestle/Aland 27th edition. Many readings found in the King James have been relegated to the apparatus by modern editors. For example, few scholars today would be willing to argue that either Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 were part of the original (or initial) text of these books.
However, there are a few places in the New Testament where I believe the King James represents the original text of the writer. In my recent book, Text and Story: Narrative Studies in New Testament Textual Criticism (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011), I argue on eclectic grounds that three readings represented in the King James, but missing from modern editions, should be re-considered:
Mark 9:29: prayer and fasting
Luke 4:18: to heal the brokenhearted
Romans 8:2: set me free.
In addition to these I have argued in earlier studies listed below that other readings found in the King James Version but absent from the modern editions should be placed in our printed texts rather than in the apparatus:
Mark 15:28: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” (Evangelical Quarterly, LXI, 1989, 81-84)
Ephesians 5:30: “…of his flesh and of his bones” (JTS 41, 1990, 92-94)
1 Peter 4:14: “On their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (CBQ 43, 1981, 93-95).
As the birthday party for the KJV comes to a close, let us celebrate this translation for its splendid language and influence. But we should also be alert in these and a few other instances for indications of the original text of the New Testament.


  1. I've argued as well, in NTS a couple years ago, for "righteous" in Matt 27:24.

  2. Ryan, Thanks for this reference. I will have a look at your article.

  3. Peter,

    PR: "Few scholars today would be willing to argue that either Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 were part of the original (or initial) text of these books."

    Few scholars today seem willing to get their facts straight regarding Mark 16:9-20, if the commentaries on the shelves of the typical seminary library are any indication.

    I know of one individual who is ready and willing to defend the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 in a formal debate, so that the evidence can be considered openly and so that the claims made against it can be tested, instead of having the question be decided by false claims, or by tangential swipes.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. Dear James, Thank you for your comments. I have read Hort and Metzger,and am convinced by their arguments in this particular instance, but I am quite open to arguments to the contrary. I try to keep an open mind on these matters and am ready to be persuaded. Peter Rodgers

  5. Peter Rodgers,

    Please e-mail me ( james (dot) snapp -at- gmail [dot] com) and request a digital copy of "Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20," which includes several corrections and clarifications of some of the claims presented by Hort and by Metzger. Especially Metzger.

    Although the review of external evidence in the book is very thorough, please note that since it was written, additional utilizations of the contents of Mark 16:9-20 have been confirmed in the writings of Chromatius, Pelagius, Philostorgius (although this needs further investigation), and in the Coptic composition "The Enthronement of the Archangel Michael."

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. Dear Ryan,

    I would be much obliged if you could send me a copy of the article you wrote. I'm currently without access to a good theological library.


    Jonathan C. Borland
    A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 

  7. sure, Jonathan, no problem, I'll just have to find a copy, I think I still have your email.

  8. Ok, I lied, I lost your email address, I'm sorry. if you send it to me at r.wettlaufer at utoronto.ca I will send a copy along. I warn you though, it's an exceedingly boring article.

  9. A few comments:

    1. "the text on which it is based is generally regarded as late and corrupt."
    The text on which the KJV NT is based is an eclectic one, drawing at times from Latin rather than Greek sources. This is not disputed. The text on which the KJV OT is also eclectic, drawing from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin editions. The KJV Apocrypha was drawn from Greek and Latin sources, probably including actual Latin manuscripts.

    2. "Few scholars today would be willing to argue that either Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 were part of the original (or initial) text of these books."
    These are rather ironic choices for pointing out shortcomings of the KJV, as both of these passages are found in every English Bible available at your local bookstore. You would be better off pointing out the passages in Acts and 1 John which clearly were not a part of the original texts of these books, and are therefore not included in most Bibles.

    3. "The New Testament in the KJV was based on Beza’s 1598 edition of this text."
    Beza 1598 was the most recent GNT available to the Translators, but although they did follow many of its unique readings, it was not the basis for the KJV NT. The KJV departs from Beza more times than it follows one of its singular readings.

  10. Dear White Man, Thank you for these clarifications.What Greek text do you think was the basis for the KJV New Testament? Did they use a combination of printed texts?

  11. There was no Greek base for the KJV. It was an authorised revision of the Bishops Bible, with the goal of making it more acceptable to the common people, who preferred the plain English of Tyndale's labours as preserved in the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible. Naturally some Greek texts were consulted, namely Beza's and Stephanus', as well as the two official editions of the Vulgate and the Latin sides of the Greek diglot editions. Virtually all readings of the KJV can be traced back to one of these sources. A notable exception is the superfluous appearance in three verses of 'frankly' or 'freely', unprecedented in previous editions, and with no manuscript or printed support whatsoever.

  12. And, just to show the enduring hold that the KJV has on the English language, observe that at least one of these KJV pluses found its way back into the NASB (and is still there), even after being deleted by the ERV:
    Luke 7:42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both."

  13. Dear White man, I suspect that the KJV translators took the Greek text more seriously than you suggest. PR

  14. Ryan, On 28 Dec 2011 you kindly responded to my post noting that you had published an article on Matt 27:24. Would you please give me the publication details on that article, since I have not been able to trace it. Thank you. Peter Rodgers

  15. Ryan, I found the article. I am very impressed with your argument in favor of the longer reading at Matt 27:24. Best wishes, Peter Rodgers