THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
First, let us consider that the Bible says, “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word translated “inspired” literally means “God-breathed.”
The original New Testament documents (called the “autographs”) were given by inspiration by the Holy Spirit to the writers. Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all things that Jesus had taught them (John 15:24), and that the Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Therefore the apostles (and other Bible writers) did not leave out anything Jesus wanted to reveal to us, and they made no errors when they recorded the message.
Most textual controversies would be easily resolved if the autographs were available to us, but they no longer exist. The only existing manuscripts are hand-written copies. The autographs were complete and totally error-free because they were inspired by God. However, the copies are not inspired and are thus subject to human error.
Another thing we must consider is that the original New Testament was not written in English, but Greek – and it was a special class of Greek called koiné (“common”). Koiné Greek is now a dead language. Languages change as years go by, but koiné Greek is frozen in time. We therefore can use a reference book called a lexicon to determine the original, unchanged, meanings of the words.
There are more than 5000 ancient manuscripts (most are just fragments) of the Greek New Testament in existence. This is more by far than any other ancient manuscript of any language. Most ancient manuscripts have fewer than a dozen existing manuscripts.
The monumental task of bringing God’s Word into English and other languages begins with piecing together these fragments to create a complete New Testament. There are some textual variations caused by scribal mistakes in hand-copying the text. How do we determine accuracy?
One philosophy is that the closer we get to the first century, the more likely the text accurately reflects the original. If we find several of the most ancient texts and they agree with each other, we can pretty well consider that they are accurate renditions of the autographs. This seems to me to be the most logical way of determining accuracy.
However, some reject this philosophy, believing that these most ancient texts agree because there was a heretical conspiracy to corrupt the original text. These people accept a later text.
We might note that most of the texts available to us are dated at least three hundred years later than the originals.
Here are three of the ancient most complete (and also very reliable) texts available to us:
These are all very good Greek manuscripts, and these were the most used in compiling a usable Greek text.
In the sixteenth century the Greek New Testament was published in printed form for the first time.
The real controversy today is over which Greek text to use. There are two schools of thought regarding this: the Textus Receptus (“Received Text” – also called the “Majority Text”) and the International Bible Society text (based on Westcott-Hort / Nestle / Aland texts – also called the “Minority Text”).
The Textus Receptus was published by Desiderius Erasmus in 1518. This was the first published Greek version of the New Testament. The Textus Receptus was the basis for the King James Version of 1611. The New King James Version is also based on the Majority Text. Two popular versions based on the Minority Text are the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible. These are currently the four most popular English versions of the Bible. The English Standard Version is a recently published version which is gaining in popularity.
Which Bible should we use? The best approach is not to be a “versionist” but to use several versions for comparison. We will surely miss some points if we restrict ourselves to only one version. All of these versions have their strong points and their weak points.
The good thing about all four of these versions is that they accurate teach the way of salvation, the organization of the church, proper worship practices, and how to live the Christian life. You can get to heaven by studying any of these versions and applying the teaching to your life.
The most revered book ever published in the English language is the KJV. It has for decades been the largest selling book in print. However, lately the NIV has overtaken it for popularity.
There are two extremes regarding attitudes toward the KJV: KJO (King James Only) and NKJ (No King James). Both of these attitudes seem a bit harsh to me.
A few things to consider when reading the Bible: some Bibles use italics within the text. Why do they do this? It is done to indicate that the italicized words were not contained in the original text. Some people do not know this, and they mistakenly believe that italics mean to give special emphasis to the words. One example is 1 Corinthians 14 of the KJV where the expression “unknown tongues” is used several times. The translators, in their honesty, wanted the reader to know that these words were entered because they hoped to “clarify” the meanng. However, in this case, it results in confusion because to some it refers to some “heavenly” language which was unknown to humans. The translators simply meant that the language was foreign to the hearers, it was a known language, but foreign (“unknown”) to those particular listeners.
Another thing to notice is that some Bibles place alternate readings as footnotes at the bottom of the page. A footnoted word indicates that there was good evidence that this word could have also been used. So how did the word in the text get selected over the footnoted word? The word in the text won out because two-thirds of the translators voted for it over the word in the footnote.
Another misconception is that the archaic language of the KJV is a “holy” language, and has thus become a “prayer language.” When the KJV was published, everyone, including God, was referred to as “thee” and “thou.” As the English language changed, for some reason these words were retained for God, and everyone else was called “you.”An interesting point is that “you” was a word which was being used to show great respect and “thee” and “thou” were reserved for the common person. Read the Preface to the King James Version and note that the King was referred to as “You” with a capital Y: click here http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/txh/kjavpref.htm . God probably does not care which term we use, as long as we pray to him. This should not be a point of contention.
None of these are reasons for rejecting the KJV, and we should not speak against it. All of our versions (and all we have are versions) have strengths and weaknesses. By a comparison of readings between the versions we can generally determine the most accurate reading.
Larry Nixon. M.Min.