From time to time ministers are confronted with questions about Bible versions. Do the modern translations represent a conspiracy to dilute the Scriptures? Should the King James Version (hereinafter, KJV) of the English Bible be considered “the” Bible? Do particular renderings in modern versions that differ somewhat from the KJV indicate that words and phrases are being “removed” from the Bible? These are serious questions to many who are deeply committed to the purity of the Word of God, and I include myself in that number. No one desires to hold the Bible in higher esteem than I. I embrace its precepts, trust its principles, and I glean hope from its prophecies. It is inspired by God. It is forever settled in heaven and is unchanging.
The curiosity of many who wonder about the discrepancies between the KJV and the newer translations remains unsatisfied. Should the modern translations be trusted? How do we account for the different renderings?
From that launching point, let’s see if we can address the above concerns in the format of questions and answers.
1) Most of us in the United States and the English-speaking world are accustomed to the KJV. Shouldn’t it alone be considered “the” Bible and others containing different wording be set aside as illegitimate and polluted?
To denigrate modern versions and promote the traditionally popular KJV is fairly safe because not many people, preachers included, have taken the time to do serious research in this area. So the idea of any differences or variant readings is easy to be viewed as an attempt by liberal translators and unbelievers to discredit the Bible and thereby dilute Christian doctrine. While we can’t get into another person’s head totally to know his every motive, there just doesn’t seem to be enough evidence for that to be the case with the major versions. Different renderings do not necessarily make a new version less credible. The KJV itself was suspect and ill thought of when it first appeared. It took a couple of generations, along with political and cultural events, to displace the Geneva Bible and come into widespread prominence. Any new version can be made to appear suspect when we come from the position that the KJV is “the” Bible, as though the Apostles handed it to the elders of the various churches and said, “Here is the Word of God.” Of course that did not happen. Only the original autographs constitute “the” Bible. The KJV is just another in a string of English versions that appeared over several hundred years. If it is “the” Bible—the only credible Bible [version]—then that makes all those that appeared before it illegitimate since all of them have slightly different wording in places.
This position prompts these questions: Were Bible readers prior to the KJV reading something other than the Word of God? Are those translations done in languages other than English, and incorporating different ways of saying the same thing, not the Word of God?
This paper is not meant to downgrade the KJV. I take it to church every week (sometimes along with others in a parallel edition). It was what I used when I was weighing the Pentecostal message before I came to God. It has its strengths and weaknesses. We have to acknowledge that it is a Bible version also—one in a string of English versions from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
2) But what about the verses that appear in the KJV that are absent from the others, e.g., the New International Version? (Since the NIV is the most popular modern translation, we will use it to represent the others.1)
When we approach the subject of the Bible from the standpoint that there is only one legitimate version, it is then easy to say when a variant reading is noted, “They have excised entire verses...they have left out seventeen verses in the New Testament alone.” To many, that means that someone is “changing the Bible.” The observation begs the question: Excised from what? Obviously what is meant is the KJV, but is the KJV “the” Bible that John and Paul and Peter wrote? The English language wasn’t around then. “The” Bible consists of the original Hebrew and Greek autographs. We don’t have those. We only have copies of copies, many of which have variant readings. Because the copies don’t all agree for one reason or another, the discipline of textual criticism was developed. That enables scholars to gather all of the fragments, codexes, uncials, miniscules, papyri, lectionaries, references in extant writings by church fathers, etc., and compare them, setting standards for credibility where there are differences in the readings. So the verses were excised from what? The KJV? A particular manuscript copy? The Textus Receptus? The Majority Text? Those are the questions to be answered when the inference is made that someone or some group just unilaterally “excised” certain verses and printed new Bibles to accommodate their doctrines. That is what some will think when it is said, “They excised....” Whoever “they” are, they are automatically demonized. All of that sounds very conspiratorial to the average reader.
Certain writers such as J. J. Ray, Peter Ruckman, David Otis Fuller, and Gail Riplinger have made notable reputations for themselves by writing tracts and booklets about this issue, often employing shoddy scholarship that feeds on fear and ignorance. Because few would take the time or go to the bother to mount a challenge, many doubts and misconceptions were put into the minds of their readers. Also, biblical criticism is a fairly new and daunting realm of thought and study for most of us. We had always considered the KJV too absolutely sacred and beyond question. Case closed. However, there is too much material accessible to too many people for us to ignore the realities involved in this issue. The fact is, there are legitimate reasons that some wording in the modern translations is not the same as that in the KJV. Hopefully, this discussion will illuminate some of those reasons.
3) Does the NIV say that there are certain passages contained in the KJV whose credibility is suspect and that the reader should be informed?
This question focuses on particular passages that are footnoted in the NIV. In the footnotes, the readers are informed along this line: “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not contain this phrase (or word or verse).” Probably the most significant examples are John 5:7b,8a, John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and Matthew 12:47. The NIV will usually print the verse or word in question in the text, merely footnoting that information. In these cases, the KJV translators chose to include the passage without notes as to its historicity regardless of its textual credibility. The NIV translators decided to footnote and inform their readers of the background of the texts.
4) Some claim that the NIV “demotes Jesus in numerous places,” because the name of Jesus is omitted in the text of the NIV. Is this true? Could this indicate a conspiracy on the part of the NIV translators?
It is true that the name of Jesus appears in the KJV in places that it does not in the NIV. We should keep in mind that a translation is made from the Greek text. If the Greek text has “Jesus,” the rendering should have Jesus. There are places where the KJV took the liberty to add the name when the manuscript evidence did not support it. So the argument is easily turned around: What about the places where the NIV has “Jesus” but it is “omitted” from the KJV when the Greek text has it (e.g.: Acts 16:7; Romans 8:34)? Were the KJV translators conspiring to demote Jesus by omitting His name in these verses? I think not. The argument is ludicrous on both sides.
Another perceived example of the supposed demotion of Jesus is Matthew 8:2, 9:18, and 20:20 where “worshipped” appears in the KJV and “a man...knelt before him” appears in the NIV. The Greek word translated “worshipped” in Matthew 8:2 is proskuneo, which literally means “to kiss towards.” Would that have been a better English translation? Obviously not. “Knelt before him” is what the man evidently did, and what we would normally do if we were to worship someone in person. To use another word or phrase which describes what the man actually did is not doing violence to the passage; it actually clarifies the incident.
Yet another word change is viewed as demoting Jesus. In Acts 3:13,26 the NIV translates the term pais or paida, which can can denote either “child” or “attendant,” as God’s “servant” rather than “son” as in the KJV. Note that the Greek term is not huios (son). In the Septuagint (a pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT Scriptures), Jesus is referred to in Isaiah 42:1 as the “Servant of Jehovah” (pais Kurios). He is presented in the “passion chapters of Isaiah” as the Suffering Servant, doing the bidding of Jehovah for the redemption of mankind. The NIV rendering is correct and thus justifiable, and is used almost exclusively in all modern versions. Critically, it fits better than the alternative “child,” although technically correct, and certainly better than “Son” since huios is not used.
5) Does the NIV attack the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation of Christ in Matthew 1:25 by omitting the word “firstborn”?
The term “firstborn” is lacking in manuscript support. It appeared in at least some of the Greek texts used by the KJV translators. They chose to use it. Others do not. Most use “her first son” or “a son” (NIV). It is difficult to see how this rendering “attacks” the Virgin Birth. I know of no one who holds the view that it suggests otherwise. The entire story in the NIV substantiates the Virgin Birth (see Luke 1:27; Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). Why select this particular rendering and try to force it to represent the record of the whole version? Nor does the verse seem to “attack” the incarnation of Christ. Does anyone actually know of a scholar who denies the Incarnation of Christ based on this verse? The only ones I know of that even refer to the idea are the conspiracy buffs like J. J. Ray, Peter Ruckman and Gail Riplinger.
Modern versions are often attacked because a 1901 version appeared with “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14 rather than “virgin.” Although the 1901 RSV is the the only major version that used that term, it soured many on all modern versions. Conspiracy theorists jumped on it as a clear sign of creeping compromise, although the version’s NT references had “virgin.” Permit a little background. During the latter part of the first century and into the second century, the Jews attacked the Septuagint (LXX) because it was widely used by Christians. One point of disagreement between the two camps was the text of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew Masoretic text has the word almah, translatable as “young woman,” while the Christians insisted on the LXX Greek parthenos, which literally and specifically means “virgin,” and translated it as such. The Jews claimed that the Christians changed the word in the LXX. Therefore, they disdained the LXX from the outset because they asserted that it had been corrupted by the Christians. The RSV translators in 1901 unwisely chose to use Masoretic Hebrew almah, or “young woman,” rather than the LXX Greek parthenos. While “young woman” could certainly mean a virgin, as clearly indicated in the NT verses, those who wish to assail all modern versions have for a century used it as a major reason to dismiss them. That all other major versions contain “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 seems not to matter.
6) Did the NIV change Micah 5:2 to read “from ancient times” rather than “from everlasting”? Does this prove an effort to limit the deity of Christ?
The NIV does indeed render Micah 5:2 as “from ancient times.” The KJV translators preferred “from everlasting.” Perhaps they felt that would somehow strengthen the image of the Godhead. But KJV owners of Bibles with marginal notes are able to glance at their margins and see the explanation that the Hebrew actually reads “from days of eternity.”