KJV vs. NIV Questions - 03/09/2009

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I just read throught the article by Mr. Rast regarding the ongoing controversy involving Biblical translations and I had just a few questions. 1. I have always been taught that these early documents of scripture are only found now because they were not used (accepted) by the early church and subsequently not destroyed (out of respect for the scriptures) when they became worn? Your contention is that they are more valid since they are dated to an earlier time. What is the truth? 2. If these discrepencies are not detrimental to the idea that both translations are dependable, how do we present this thought to those who see conflict between the two - especially the lost? Can both be right? They seem to contradict each other. 3. I have always been taught that the underlying trust that we have in the KJV is due to the idea of preservation and that is why we have always had "the line" of that version. How does this tought process apply to the NIV seeing that it is relatively new? Again, are they exclusive? 4. I just had a seventh grade student tell me that she does not know what to believe now after finding out that the NIV and KJV have different versus (NIV does not have Matt 17:21)? How can we say that we have the perfect, entire Word of God if we have different versus omitted or expanded? 5. Lastly, I know that he mentioned several times that it is only a 1% difference, but how much is too much when we think of the Bible as infallible and without blemish. I would like it if the author could address my points. I really enjoyed the article and would like further dialog if possible. Jim


Hi Jim, thanks for taking the time to write with your questions and concerns.  Unfortunately, the King James Only controversy has been an extremely and needlessly divisive issue with the Christian Church lately, and it needs to be dealt with honestly and based on fact, rather than emotion.  The KJV translators, based on their preface to the AV 1611, would no doubt agree.  I’m happy to try and help you work out these issues.  I’ll address them in the order in which you raised them: 

1.  The reason so many older Biblical manuscripts have been discovered in the last few centuries is due to an increased awareness of the issue, an increase in Biblical archeology and search for ancient manuscripts.  Most of the oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus, which is not nearly as sturdy or expensive as the vellum used later on.  Therefore, the earliest extant manuscripts are quite fragile.  If they were not considered Scripture by those who had custody of these documents, there would be nothing to inhibit the custodians from destroying them whether they were worn out or not.  The fact that many still exist intact is testimony to the importance people had placed on them.  Also, many have been found through archaeological expeditions which were not the norm hundreds of years ago.  For instance, in the mid 1800’s, Constantin von Tischendorf went to the Middle East specifically on a hunt for ancient Biblical manuscripts.  While visiting the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, he found some ancient manuscripts that seems quite old to him.  The monks didn’t fully recognize the importance of what they were.  It took him a while to gain possession, but he finally did, giving us Codex Sinaiticus – one of the oldest Biblical codices ever found.  Other important ancient manuscripts (such as Papyrus 46 and Papyrus 66, for example), have been found buried in the earth or stored away in libraries. 

Old manuscripts ARE quite important to understanding what the writers of Scripture wrote.  Given the short time frame between when the Scripture was written and when the manuscript was produced, there’s less chance for corruption.  If you think of the children’s game “telephone”, you can see that a copy made within just a few generations of the original is likely to be more accurate than a document copied from manuscripts that are a dozen or more generations removed from the originals.  But while age is important, it is not the sole consideration.  Biblical scholars use age as one factor in weighing its reliability.  Other factors are considered as well though, such as its support among other manuscripts of various ages.   

2.  There is no discrepancy; therefore there should be no difficulty in sharing this information with others.  The idea that the oldest documents are inherently unreliable is simply false.  Once again, I use the analogy of the game of telephone, where a message gets more and more distorted the more stages through which it is transmitted. I also add to that the fact that age is never the sole determining factor in a manuscript’s reliability.

3.  In my experience in dealing with people who are KJO, I have found the biggest source of their trust in the KJV is familiarity.  It’s the translation they grew up with, the translation their pastor and parents used, it’s the version they memorized from, and therefore it simply must be the standard.  This is not a new phenomenon in the history of Biblical translations.  The early Christians used primarily the Septuagint (LXX) as their version of Scripture.  When Jerome set out to translate the Old Testament into Latin, he translated from the Hebrew version of the Old Testament rather than from LXX.  As a result, it differed a little in content and style from LXX.  When Jerome’s translation hit North Africa, the Christians there and their Bishop, Augustine, were peeved to say the least.  They viewed it much the way KJO people view the NIV or NASB.  Why?  Because it was different than what they had grown used to.  And since it was new, it must be wrong.  When Desiderius Erasmus decided to make the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament in its entirety (the first of what would become known as the Textus Receptus), he upset a lot of people.  The Latin Vulgate had become the Bible everyone used, and they were not interested in anything new.  The KJV was not the first English translation of the Bible, and it faced skepticism and criticism when it came out.  The KJV translators drafted a preface to try and assuage the fears of the public.  Yet now it is that translation that is considered the “standard” by KJOs.  The NIV and NASB face the same criticism from KJOs that new translations have faced throughout history.  In time, the NIV may become the accepted standard.  If it does, I sincerely hope there’s not an equally destructive NIV Only movement.  Familiarity breeds acceptance, and in the case of KJOs, devotion to one particular translation.  There’s nothing in the history, textual basis, or translation of the KJV that can reasonably support the undue devotion given to the KJV.   

4.  Your seventh-grade student shared a valid concern which is easy to clear up and assuage with an appeal to facts and reasoning.  It is true that the KJV has some words and verses that aren’t present in the NIV or NASB.  It’s also true that the KJV lacks some words that are present in the newer translations.  As you know, this is due to the KJV’s reliance upon later manuscripts, inferior translation, and even some verses found only in the Latin Vulgate as opposed to ancient Greek manuscripts.  Christians are pretty unanimous in accepting that the Word of God is infallible in its teachings and in the original writings.  Yet this infallibility does not extend to translations.  If it did, there would be no variants at all.  Yet these differences should not be a source of concern.  Why?  First, because most of the differences do not affect the meaning of verses.  Most of the textual variants among the ancient manuscripts are due to misspellings or word order that are easily identified and reconciled.  In Greek, word order in a sentence does not impact the meaning like it does in modern English.  So in one verse, you may have several variants among the manuscripts, but the meaning is the same.  Second, the number of variants that can’t be so easily reconciled are actually less than 1%, and none of these affect a key doctrine of Scripture.  That is to say that where a verse isn’t found in a particular translation, there is no doctrine or teaching in that verse that can’t be found elsewhere in the Bible.  Because of this, we can be confident that whether you use the KJV, NIV, or NASB, you possess the inspired Word of God, complete in its teachings and doctrine.  The KJV translators understood this.  In their preface, they wrote “Therefore as S.Augustine saith, that variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures…” I use a variety of translations, including the KJV – its errors notwithstanding.  But even if I didn’t, I could be sure that the Bible I use is divinely inspired Scripture, infallible in its doctrines and teaching.   

5.  This question was answered above.  We don’t need to reach the question of setting a cut-off line.  Scribes and translators are human and weren’t divinely inspired like the writers of Scripture were.  The fact that there are so few irreconcilable textual variants, and that no key doctrine is in danger because of them, assures us that the KJV, NIV, and NASB are doctrinally sound and remarkably preserved books of Scripture.

I hope this has answered your questions.  A source I highly recommend for you is The King James Only Controversy, by Dr. James R. White.  This book is heartily endorsed not only by us here at Contender Ministries, but also by noted pastors and scholars such as Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Bruce Metzger, Dr. D.A. Carson, Hank Hanegraaff, Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon, Dr. Gleason Archer, and others.  Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.  God bless. 

In Christ,

Ben Rast
Contender Ministries