The June, 1996 edition of Back to Genesis contains a short, 3-page article titled, Should Creationists Abandon the King James Version? The article, unfortunately, repeats the same erroneous arguments that KJV Only advocates have been putting forth for a number of years now. It is regrettable that Dr. Morris would lend his weight to these kinds of arguments. I was heartened, to some degree, a few years ago when Dr. Morris withdrew his endorsement of Gail Riplinger’s book, New Age Bible Versions, a work that has been rejected as utterly inaccurate and without merit by nearly every knowledgeable Bible scholar and minister that has reviewed it. When I spoke with Dr. Morris at that time, he repeated his preference for the KJV, but admitted that he had not read Mrs. Riplinger’s work well enough to realize what it really contained.
The arguments put forward by Dr. Morris are thoroughly examined and, in each case, refuted, in my full-length work, The King James Only Controversy (Bethany House, 1995). However, as the questions that are raised by Dr. Morris are common, I would like to comment on them in passing.
Dr. Morris, throughout the article, falls into the trap of making the KJV the “standard” by which all others are judged. The problem is, the KJV is not the standard, and cannot be the standard. Think about it for just a moment. Were there not translations before the KJV? Of course. Wycliffe, Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and so forth, all served the needs of English speaking Christians prior to 1611. So why not choose one of these as the “standard”?
We are told immediately that the KJV translators were all creationists. Of course, since the theory of evolution had not yet been propounded, one must ask, “What else could they have been?” This introduces a serious historical anachronism, for the issue wasn’t an issue at the time. We are also told that the KJV translators were great scholars, and this is true. However, those same scholars denied the idea that the KJV was perfect, or not to be improved upon, in their introduction to readers. Those same scholars made positive reference to the Septuagint, and we shall see later that Dr. Morris disagrees with modern scholars doing what the KJV translators suggested. And while the KJV scholars were indeed great, they were not perfect, and were not aware of some important items (such as the proper way to translate Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 so as to safeguard the deity of Christ) and were a bit too attached to the Latin text for their own good as well.
Dr. Morris says the KJV translators “were familiar with the great body of manuscript evidence.” Unfortunately, he does not document this assertion. While the KJV translators chose from various of the earlier printed editions of the Greek New Testament (the versions of Erasmus, Stephanus’ text, and most importantly, Beza’s revision of Stephanus), they did not have access to the vast majority of Greek manuscripts available today, including the papyri manuscripts which go back to within generations of the originals.
Dr. Morris asks a very important question under the sub-title, Which New Translation? “Even if one really feels that he ought to switch to a modern translation, how can he decide which, if any, is really the inspired word of God?” If Dr. Morris agrees with the KJV translators, any translation that accurately renders the original languages is worthy of the title “the word of God.” But is Dr. Morris claiming that the KJV is somehow “inspired” in and of itself? Did God re-inspire the Bible between 1604 and 1611? And if so, which of the many differing editions of the KJV is the “real” one today? It is hard to say.
Dr. Morris throws out a number of arguments very quickly under the sub-title, Is God the Author of Confusion? For example, he laments the fact that with many translations being available, congregational reading is difficult. This is quite true. Of course, someone probably made the same statement in 1604 when they heard about the KJV. “Why not just use the Bishops’ Bible as we have been for years?” could have been the comment. In Chapter Two of my book I document the fact that the Church has a long history of attachment to particular versions and translations. This is nothing new. Dr. Morris likewise blames a decline on Scripture memorization upon the use of modern translations, though why using a modern translation should stop you from memorizing the Bible is not explained. I know many people who memorize the Bible in the NASB or NIV who could never memorize it in the KJV.
Next Dr. Morris makes a very brief comment on “dynamic equivalency” translations when he writes, “And what about our belief in verbal inspiration? If it’s only the ‘thought’ that counts, then the words are flexible, and we can adjust them to make them convey any thought we prefer.” Of course, any translator providing a dynamic translation is immediately going to say, “Gracious sakes, no! The issue is to convey the meaning of the original author. The idea of ‘adjusting’ them to convey what I prefer is not what we do at all.” But beyond this, Dr. Morris surely must be aware that the KJV itself used dynamic translations at places. There is no strictly formal, word-for-word translation of the Bible, including the KJV. Does Dr. Morris simply mean to communicate the idea that formal equivalency (a more literal rendering) is better? If so, then he can’t have any problem with the NKJV or NASB, since both are formal equivalency translations.
The article then moves on to the issue of the manuscripts of the Bible. Again, there is a great deal of information on this topic that needs to be understood to properly evaluate the claims made by advocates of the KJV. Dr. Morris repeats a number of less-than-solid assertions regarding the text in his article. He lumps all modern translations of the NT together under the rubric of the Westcott-Hort text, ignoring the major differences between modern texts (UBS4th and Nestle-Aland 27th ) and the WH text. He likewise ignores the existence of a number of different versions of the Textus Receptus, or TR, and ignores the more than 1,800 differences between the TR and the Majority Text, treating the TR as if it is in fact the Majority Text itself. This is a common error that is often repeated in KJV Only literature.
Dr. Morris needlessly undermines confidence in modern Hebrew texts by vilifying Rudolf Kittel, calling him a “German rationalistic higher critic, rejecting Biblical inerrancy and firmly devoted to evolutionism.” All of that may be true, but can Dr. Morris demonstrate that this had anything at all to do with the resultant text? Is he aware that the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia differs from the 1525 Bomberg Text (used for the KJV) in a whopping eight places, not a single one of which impacts the meaning of the text? Does Dr. Morris believe that all conservative, Bible-believing Christian scholars who use a text other than the KJV or the 1525 Bomberg edition are unable to examine the information for themselves and, if there were some kind of “perversion,” make note of it? And if he is against all differences in translation based upon source-material, why did the KJV translators make positive reference to the Septuagint themselves? Many of the differences we find in modern translations in the OT have to do with further discoveries regarding the Septuagint and DSS, as well as our great advances in knowledge of the Hebrew language due to the discovery of cognate languages. Should we allow these advances in our knowledge to go unused simply to maintain a traditional text?
Dr. Morris uses the “evolution” tag to attack modern Greek texts by identifying Westcott, Hort, Nestle and Aland as “evolutionists.” Again, is this solid argumentation? Is this something a Christian should be doing? Erasmus, the former of Dr. Morris’ Greek text, was the “prince of the humanists,” a Roman Catholic priest, a defender of transubstantiation in the Mass. So? The issue is not the personal beliefs of the individuals but, did those beliefs materially impact the text? If Dr. Morris would like to provide examples of textual decisions in our modern Greek texts that he thinks are perversions of the truth, let him do so. I have yet to have a defender of KJV Onlyism back up their allegations against modern texts from the original sources themselves. While a few have pointed to variations, they have never been able to demonstrate that any theological “bent” on the part of the editors resulted in a particular textual choice.
Dr. Morris is again quite free with his epithets when he identifies the great Christian historian and scholar, Philip Schaff, as “another liberal evolutionist.” Again, is this a valid argument? Does Dr. Morris use this kind of ad-hominem argumentation in his defense of creationism? We can only hope not.
The article then says that the Westcott-Hort text was based mainly on Sinaiticus (a) and Vaticanus (B). To that point, he is correct. The problem is, he has already erred in asserting that the modern texts are basically warmed-over versions of the Westcott-Hort text, which is untrue. Hence, the reader is led to believe that modern translations are nothing more than a and B in modern clothes, which is simply untrue. Dr. Morris says these two manuscripts were “rediscovered and rescued from long (and well-deserved) obscurity in the 19th century.” Well-deserved? Upon what basis does Dr. Morris make this assertion? Hopefully he is not simply repeating the cavils of the likes of Peter Ruckman, Gail Riplinger, or D. A. Waite. He then makes the statement, “Since these are both said to be older than the 5000 manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus, they were called ‘better.'” Dr. Morris is here confusing the Majority Text with the TR. There is not a single Greek manuscript in the world that reads like the TR in every place. Not one. Dr. Morris does not seem to understand the issues regarding the Byzantine text type, the families within the Byzantine type, and the unique (and indefensible) readings of the TR.
Dr. Morris goes on to say, “So one of the serious problems with most modern English translations is that they rely heavily on Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible developed by liberals, rationalists, and evolutionists, none of whom believed in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Is this how God would preserve His word? Would He not more likely have used devout scholars who believed in the absolute inerrancy and authority of the Bible?” This kind of argument, which appeals to the emotions (but not to the facts) is very common, and often carries the day. But Christians should be very careful about the kind of arguments they use. Is Dr. Morris calling Erasmus, the Roman Catholic priest, a Bible-believer? And since he has not even begun to demonstrate that a single variation in the modern texts is based upon any “tampering” by any “liberals, rationalists, or evolutionists,” how can he bring such a serious charge against translations that have been used of God to bring people to a knowledge of the truth? Has Dr. Morris bothered to contact any of the godly men who worked on the NKJV, NASB, or NIV translation committees? Does he think Dr. Ken Barker, for example, of the NIV translation committee, would sit idly by when faced with obvious tampering of the text on the part of “liberals, rationalists, and evolutionists”? Does Dr. Morris really think that all of us who use modern versions, teach from modern Greek texts, and promote the superiority of these texts to the TR, are liberals, rationalists, and evolutionists?
Finally, Dr. Morris discusses the beauty of the KJV language. I have only one question to ask: Did the Apostles write in formal, literary Greek? Did they communicate in a way that was completely different than the everyday speech of the people to whom they were writing? The answer is a simple, “No.” So why should we put God’s Word in a form other than the Apostles? I’d like to know Dr. Morris’ answer to that.
I titled this article “A Response to a Brother in Christ,” since Dr. Morris is my brother in Christ. I appreciate his stand for truth in many, many areas. But Dr. Morris has erred in believing less-than-honest materials put forward to defend a traditional text, and he has utilized argumentation that is not honoring to the truth, nor helpful to his own work in other areas. I call upon him to consider the issues more carefully. Take the time to read Dr. D.A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate (Baker, 1979) or my own work on the same subject. If he can respond to the information presented therein, I, for one, would like to see the response. If not, I would hope that he would be kind enough to undo some of the damage he has done by promoting bad arguments and false information about modern translations. Surely there are modern translations that are not acceptable: but Dr. Morris did not differentiate between such works and credible, godly translations like the NKJV, NASB, and NIV. I hope he will reconsider his position.