Monday, September 05, 2005

KJV only?

I recently came across a ministry on the web called Dial The Truth Ministries. I found the few articles I read quite interesting and informative, and the authors made some very good points on various issues. [I did find the tone of most of the articles rather disturbing, however, since it tended to be rather dogmatic, sarcastic, and almost arrogant.]

One of their beliefs that I found particularly interesting was that the 1611 Authorized Version [King James Version, or KJV] is inspired and inerrant. Not that the Bible is inspired, but that the translation itself is inspired.

I greatly respect the KJV. I believe it is a very accurate translation, and I use it 99% of the time. But I don't believe the translation itself is inspired.

At first I thought this was just another rather weird group with radical ideas. But they do bring up some very logical and very important points in support of their belief in the inspired KJV. The articles I read caused me to think about this for a while, which is good. Here's what I concluded.

The first question we must ask is, "Were the original manuscripts inspired?" I think most Christians would answer yes, since this is what the Bible itself teaches.

The next question is, "Are there any differences between the KJV and the original documents?

Upon this question lies the entire issue. If there is a difference, the fault must of necessity lie with the KJV, lest the originals be considered less inspired than the translation. If there is absolutely no difference, then the KJV is indeed inspired, but only because it exactly reproduces the originals.

This is assuming we have the originals with us. But we don't, which makes matters a little more complicated. All we have are copies of copies.

To ascertain how accurate the copies are, we must ask the same question of them--"How accurately do they repeat the originals?" We cannot answer this with complete certainty, since we don't have the originals. However, we can figure out with reasonable certainty what the originals said, by comparing the thousands of individual copies we do have. Since all of the copies don't have the same mistakes, or say the exact same thing, we can cancel out the errors by combining the different copies. (For more on this, see this excellent article by Ron Rhodes.)

Once this is done, we have a reasonably accurate idea what the originals said. Since the translations are based on this aggregate composition, we can be reasonably sure that the different versions are accurate also, though the accuracy and honesty of the translation work can affect the outcome.

In other words, the accuracy--and hence inspiration--of a particular verse in a particular version of scripture is based on the accuracy of the translation, which is based on the accuracy of the copies, which are based on the inspired originals. In this situation, the inspiration of a particular version is dependent on the accuracy of the step-by-step process. Since there are varying levels of accuracy in the translations, there will be varying levels of inspiration in the versions. The most accurate translation would produce the most inspired version. But since we cannot be 100% sure of the accuracy, no single version can have absolute authority or claim complete inspiration.

The only way we could claim inspiration for a particular version would be to say that both the copies and that particular translation were preserved 100% accurately by direct Divine intervention during the process. In other words, we would have to claim direct inspiration for both the copies and the version.

We run into major problems when we try to make such claims, however, since all such copies and translations were completed after the Bible was written. We would need to rely on information outside of the Bible itself to support such claims. While God promises that He will preserve His Word for all generations, that is a more general promise, and can be interpreted in various ways. (For example, we could say that the amazing number of copies that we have today is part of that preservation.) This promise does not and cannot endorse any particular copy, translation, or version. Again, we would need to use extra-Biblical information to support such claims.

But that would be, for all intents and purposes, to claim "special revelation." The Bible explicitly says that nothing can be added or subtracted from scripture. Thus, any claim of special or additional revelation should be regarded with suspicion and examined with utmost care.

So now we have two possibilities that are both rather troubling. One the one hand, the first solution leaves you with a version that is not completely inspired as it is written, and allows for other versions with comparable inspiration. The other solution holds up one particular version as completely inspired, but relies on extra-biblical information to do so.

Personally, I choose the first option, since it allows for very nearly complete accuracy--and hence inspiration--without relying on outside proof. The way I see it, the other option opens the door to new revelation and inspirations, a condition which I find very troubling, dangerous, and contrary to scripture.

I would rather say that the version I have is not quite 100% inspired than to say that it is the result of new revelation. For all that goes, the vast majority of the differences that are present are minute--only changes in spelling or word order. No major doctrine is affected in the least. Thus, I can be sure that what I read and believe is practically identical to what the original authors wrote down.

Yes, the King James Version is a very accurate translation--but it is not the only authoritative one.

Besides, God's Word is ultimately not written on paper, but rather it is "forever settled in the heavens." Furthermore, I have a personal relationship with the Living Word, and have the One who inspired the original documents dwelling within me and helping me to understand them. Manuscripts may be altered and copies may be wrong, but the Son abides forever.

For further reading, see

The Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible, by Ron Rhodes

The Textual Reliability of the New Testament, by James Patrick Holding

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