Thursday, July 30, 2015

“Satan’s Got Our Bible!” – A Brief Survey of the KJV, NIV, ESV and NASB

Source: screen captured from
Android Bible app
Recently, there have been rumors attacking the trustworthiness of certain modern English versions of the Bible, such as the NIV, ESV and NASB, going around among Christians. In these rumors, the modern English versions of the Bible are often compared to the KJV Bible, saying that these modern English versions have Bible verses “intentionally omitted,” and the omissions are the evidence of the satanic control of the modern English Bible publishers. Thus they are not to be trusted. It’s with this “satanic” language that I’m alerted and prompted to address to these rumors. I believe that a brief survey of how the modern English versions of the Bible came to be would be helpful for countering misunderstandings and lies, and for defending our faith.

As you may know that the original writings of the Bible were in Hebrew for the Old Testament, and Greek and Aramaic for the New Testament. It was through handwritten copies of these original writings that the scriptures were circulated among early Christians. In the Middle Ages, patristic biblical scholar Jerome was commissioned to produce the Latin version of the Bible, known as Vulgate, in the late 4th and early 5th century. Up until the 15th century, through Renaissance came the humanist movement. Humanists demanded the return to the original sources of theology. They believed that the Old Testament was to be studied in Hebrew, and the New Testament was to be studied in Greek.

Therefore, based on the Byzantine text, Dutch humanist priest Erasmus produced Novum Instrumentum omne in 1516, which is a Greek version of the New Testament, also known as the Textus Receptus. Byzantine text is consisted of a large number of Greek New Testament manuscripts written in Byzantine text-type, but they are by no mean the oldest manuscripts. As mentioned above, a biblical manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of the original writings of the Bible. But it’s not just “a copy” of the original text that we are talking about. We are talking about a copy of a copy of a copy… – generations of copies of the original writings. Therefore, presumably the later/younger the copy, the more scribal errors there may be – they are more generations down from the original writings.

To make the Bible more accessible to all God’s people, during the Protestant Reformation, based on Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, Luther published his German version of the New Testament in 1522. Of the same mind, at the dawn of the English Reformation, based also on the Textus Receptus, English scholar Tyndale published his English version of the New Testament in 1525. In the early 1600, King James I demanded a new English version of the Bible, which may reflect the use of the contemporary English in his time, and thus the 1st edition of the King James Version Bible (KJV) was published by the Church of England in 1611. The KJV translation of the New Testament was based largely on Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, Luther’s German Bible, Tyndale’s English Bible, and some on the Latin Vulgate. KJV has since become the most popular version of the English Bible through centuries.

Nevertheless, since the time of the KJV, new discoveries of ancient manuscripts are continued to be made. For example, in 1844, Codex Sinaiticus – one of the oldest and most complete Greek Bible dating from AD 325 was discovered. The Alexandrian text is consisted of older manuscripts like Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus and fragments of manuscripts that are written in Alexandrian text-type. While most of the Byzantine manuscripts originate from the 9th and 5th century, the Alexandrian manuscripts are largely dated from way before the 5th century. In other words, the Alexandrian manuscripts are much older than the Byzantine manuscripts, and thus presumably closer in generation to the original writings of the Bible.

Source: Codex Sinaiticus
Based on the Alexandrian text, German biblical scholar Nestle published his 1st edition of the Greek version of the New Testament Novum Testamentum Graece in 1898. In 1975, Novum Testamentum Graece is revised by one of its principal editors, Aland, based on an important new discovery of the earliest known New Testament manuscript fragments. Aland submitted his work to the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies (UBS), which is a global network of Bible Societies, and it became the basic text of UBS’ 3rd edition of Greek New Testament, known as UBS3. Later, Aland’s work was also published in the 26th edition of Novum Testamentum Graece, known as NA26. The UBS and NA texts are the primary sources of most of the modern English versions of the Bible.

In 1950, the English used in the KJV was no longer “contemporary” to its American readers. The old Victorian English had, instead, become an obstacle to the spread of the gospel. This time, however, the demand for a new English translation of the Bible was not initiated by any priest, scholar or royalty – this time it was initiated by a General Electric engineer, Howard Long. Long’s demand was brought to his pastor, and from his pastor to his congregation, and then to his denomination, and eventually a translation committee was formed with members from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals. Based largely on the UBS and NA versions of the Greek New Testament, with the collaboration of over 100 scholars, the 1st edition of the New International Version (NIV) was published in 1978. Since then, the NIV has become one of the most popular English versions of the Bible.

Besides the NIV, the 1st edition of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV) were also published in the 1970s. The late distinguished professor of Talbot Dr. Robert Saucy, whom I respected highly, was one of the three scholars who worked on the 1st edition of the NASB as well as its 1995 update. The Dean of Talbot Dr. Clinton Arnold is one of the translation review scholars of the ESV. Both the NASB and ESV also based their New Testament texts primarily on the UBS and NA texts.

At this point, it is important to note that the Christian doctrine of biblical inerrancy refers ONLY to the original writings of the Bible, not to the manuscripts, not to the vernacular translations, and not to our interpretations of the Bible. Since we do not have the original writings, with all the manuscripts and fragments discovered, the work of the biblical scholars is to put together text sources that may be as close and true to their original writings as possible. They do so with the help of archaeology and textual criticism. With each new discovery of the manuscript or fragment, biblical scholars carefully evaluate the trustworthiness and accuracy of them based on factors such as their origin, historicity and consistency etc.

As you can see by now, although the KJV is the older English version of the Bible, its New Testament text sources are actually later/younger than the NIV, NASB and ESV. Moreover, in those modern English versions of the Bible, the disputable verses and passages as well as the variations in manuscripts are often honestly and clearly indicated in the footnotes. Nevertheless, to be as close and true to the original writings as possible also means that there may be times when some disputable Bible verses, which are in the KJV, but not in the most reliable manuscripts, must be removed from the modern translations. I applaud the translation scholars of these modern English versions of the Bible for their courage to do the right thing, even though they knew that it may upset some readers.

My Greek NA28/English ESV and
Chinese CUV/English NIV Bibles
At present, we have more than 6000 manuscripts and fragments of the Greek New Testament to witness to the reliability of our New Testament text sources. However, perfect vernacular translation simply does NOT exist. The difference between these 4 versions of the Bible is mostly their translation philosophy. If you put them on a spectrum between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence, the NASB would be the most formal one, and followed by the KJV, and then the ESV; whereas the NIV would be well balanced between formal and dynamic. For a seeker or a new Christian I would recommend the NIV, for small group meetings I may recommend ESV, and for serious Bible study I would recommend them all with reference to the NASB.

What is dangerous to our faith is not the “wrong” version of the Bible. If you want to see evidence of Satan, it is in divisiveness you’d find traces of him. Christians, I urge you to refrain from calling our brothers and sisters in Christ as demons or accomplices of Satan. We are sinful human beings living in a fallen world, and our ability to grasp the Truth is corrupted by original sin. None of us understands God perfectly, and that’s exactly why we need each other. It is nothing but spiritual pride for any one person or organization within the Christian community to claim the knowledge of the whole Truth. Let us humble ourselves before God, and before each other.

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