A Critical Argument in Biblical Scholarship, Part II: “What the heck was he talking about?”

By now, some who have read the previous post may be legitimately scratching their own heads and wondering that question in the title, above. Let’s first start by saying what the post was NOT about:

  1. The post was not an argument against modern language translations. Those are necessary, though to what extent depends on how much someone understands and lives by them (see this post).
  2. The post was not an argument for either the King James or the New King James. While I adore and enjoy them for what they are, they’re not particularly superior to any other English translation, per se, and especially not superior to the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic scripts.***


Now for the positives:

The post is an argument for taking a closer look at our justifications behind using the Critical Text. Simply arguing that the Critical Text is superior for translation due to being the oldest extant source of manuscripts is severely flawed from historical, physical and logical points of view.

The post is an argument against faulty association between the Textus Receptus and the King James tradition. Often times, arguments for translations based on the Critical Text will seek justification by referring (however nonchalantly) to flaws in the King James Version’s form of English. This reference to Jacobean English is precisely the problem; the Textus Receptus is not Jacobean English, and in fact tens if not hundreds of translations had been done based on the Textus Receptus that were not the King James Version. Arguing that the Textus Receptus shouldn’t be used for translation because of the King James is much like arguing that a Corvette shouldn’t have been built because the Ford Model T existed: the archaic Ford Model T is not the same thing as the concept of a car, or the ability to accurately design a more relevant car model; likewise, the archaic Jacobean English in the KJV is not the same thing as the Textus Receptus source of manuscripts and the ability to translate a more relevant English version of the TR apart from the KJV.

This last statement needs some further unpacking, because even attempts at translating from the Textus Receptus fall into the very same fallacy of faulty association. Whether it’s the NKJV, the KV21, or the more recent release of the MEV, every single translation that bases itself from the Textus Receptus feels a need to justify itself not by pointing out outdated facets of the King James Version, but by arguing its consistency with the King James Version. So the Critical Text translations say “six of one” and the Textus Receptus translations say “half a dozen of the other,” thereby committing the same error. (Please feel free to enact your own *facepalm* at home here.)  

The point is that the King James Version and tradition should be allowed to be valued for its own sake, while not further compromising either the legitimacy of source material or the understanding of that material in the current English language. What would I argue instead? Namely that people raised on a bible other than the King James start translating the Textus Receptus using contemporary English, without worrying about “how much it sounds like the King James Version.” This is entirely plausible, as many people now of age to accurately and academically translate could have been raised on the NIV, NASB, NKJV, or even NLT, and they’d certainly be more familiar with those translations than seemingly anyone doing work on the MEV.

The main hope here is that we as the Church recognize the value of our history, the value of all available manuscripts, and the value of God’s choice to place us in this particular culture, with this particular language, at this particular time.


***A discerning reader might counter: “You’ve just admitted that the original manuscripts are superior; you cannot also say the Critical Text is inferior.” Actually, yes I can; the argument is that the Critical Text, while closer in age to the originals, is not a guaranteed full representation of the originals, precisely due to its age and state of disrepair. In other words, it is a fallacy of faulty association to equate “original” with “Critical Text.”