Very often you will hear a King James Version Only advocate claim that since the majority of Greek manuscripts that are extant today (which is a Byzantine text-form that is substantially behind the KJV translation) therefore the KJV is a superior translation. The following are eight reasons to debunk this fallacious KJV argument.
(1) The Greek text that is behind the KJV is not the “Majority Text”; rather it is called the Textus Receptus (TR). There are 1,838 differences between the Majority text and the TR! In other words there are numerous readings in the KJV that follow a small minority of Greek texts.
(2) To dovetail the last point, I adduce a few examples of numerous minority readings in verses found in the KJV, and the majority readings found in modern translations: Revelation 5:10; Acts 8:37; Acts 9:5; Revelation 22:19; Colossians 1:14; Ephesians 3:9 (the latter verse contains a variant attested by 99.5% of all Greek manuscripts, yet the KJV takes the .5% reading!). If the KJVO wanted to be consistent with the majority principle they should change these and many other readings.
(3) How did the Byzantine text-form end up having more attested Greek manuscripts than the other text-forms such as the Alexandrian and the Western? Here is a very important fact of history that KJVO advocates ignore. Given the supplanting of the Greek language for Latin in the West early on, and given the expansion of Islam into Egypt and other regions, it explains why Byzantine Greek manuscripts continued to be copied in the Byzantine corner of the empire and eventually became the majority Greek text around the ninth century onwards; and explains why the early Greek text-types such as the Alexandrian were not copied during later times in other areas of the Christian world.
If there were no Islam expansion and coupled with the West speaking Greek not Latin, certainly the Byzantine text would not have been the “majority.” The Alexandrian and Western Greek text-forms would have continued to be copied with frequent pace.
(4) Let’s take a step back from history and ask a logical question: Why should we simply assume that the fact of the majority of manuscripts somehow follows a logical necessity of being more accurate or faithful to the originals? Indeed, this assumed principle may be compelling for democratic nations—the majority rules. But why should this principle be carried over to the Holy Writ? Is a basket of 100 rotten apples more valuable than a basket of 10 good apples? Again, why does the fact of a majority (in this case Greek manuscripts) in itself warrant accuracy?
Say you begin with two manuscripts with two different readings: A=uncorrupted and B=corrupted. And manuscript B is copied 10 times. Since we now have 10 corrupted manuscripts versus 1 uncorrupted manuscript, it follows that the purest text of the two is found in A. Indeed, manuscripts need to be weighed not blindly counted.
(5) Related to this last point is an interesting observation that myself and others have noticed about the most fundamental criticism that KJVO advocates make against modern textual criticism. They incessantly denounce that modern critics use “rational principles” in the utilization of determining better readings from inferior readings. And yet this is clearly a double standard given that the most fundamental principle that govern their thinking is a rational principle! In the mind of the KJVO advocates is the deep-seated rational conviction: “This is the way that God must have preserved his Word.” Notice that this is not a Biblical, historical, or textual argument—it is a rational argument. Somehow they believe that they are privy to God’s mind and can see this rational reason. And stemming from this fundamental rational reason is another rational reason: the majority principle. So what KJVO advocates criticize the most, is what they are essentially guilty of themselves! And to be sure, there is nothing wrong with rational thinking—I would hope that we do not approach God’s Word with irrational thinking. The question should be: is this or that rational principle applicable and warranted in this or that context?
(6) When the Majority Text was not the majority before 900 AD, I ask the KJVO advocate: how was God’s Word preserved for the first 900 years or so of church history? I’d like an answer for this. When the Alexandrian or the Western text-form was the majority in the early church, was God’s Word preserved in that text-form until the Byzantine became the majority?
(7) When that last Byzantine manuscript was copied circa AD 900 to make the Byzantine text-form the Majority, did God’s Word all of a sudden become preserved in the Majority text that year? For KJVO to make preservation support the Majority text, it must imply accessibility for it to work. When did believers have accessibility to the Majority for the first 900 years?
(8) The points above have been mostly in reference to the New Testament, but it should be noted that the Old Testament text and the manuscripts that attest to it, is another embarrassing and glaring problem for KJVO advocates who invoke the majority criteria, which is why they most often completely ignore Old Testament discussions on its transmission history and textual realities.
In conclusion: What basis is majority rule correct? Reason? No, since there is no rational principle to accept the majority principle. Is more better? Is eating 1000 jelly beans better than eating 10? No. Is having 1000 dollars better than 10 dollars? Yes. Only the nature of a category can tell us if quantity is a variable in the worth of something. Is having more Byzantine manuscripts than Alexandrian manuscripts better? No, since the Byzantine MSS contain many corrupted readings. And if someone objects, then that brings us back to a discussion of the quality of a manuscript and not its mere existence.