The King James Version and Principles of Translation - Part 2
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
Last year was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version (AV) which, in many places, is rarely matched in terms of the beauty of its language. In these two articles an effort has been made to define some principles which might help to answer the question: which translation might we use? In the first article, published in the November 2011 magazine, the question of the underlying text used was discussed. In this article, this is considered further together with the method or mode of translation.
1) The original text to be used
Two Crucial Paragraphs
Apart from many other omissions and differences1 there are two complete paragraphs which are undermined in the ‘NU’ (see previous article for explanation) text. Many modern versions set these two paragraphs aside to show that the translators or editors reject or question them. Since both are of real theological significance, and both are included in the KJV and the NKJV as part of the sacred text, an explanation is in order.
Mark 16. 9-20
In leaving out these verses the marginal notes often state, ‘Some of the oldest manuscripts omit these verses’. However this should really read, ‘Just two early manuscripts and one much later one omit’. The note in the New International Version (NIV) is more accurate as to the number of manuscripts, but it is, however, highly interpretive, viz: ‘The two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16. 9-20’. However, the reliability of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is, as we have already mentioned in the first article, strictly theory, though unfortunately widely taught as fact. To add to this controversy, the Vaticanus contains a space for the missing paragraph, a very unusual thing considering the expensive writing materials of that day. The Sinaiticus manuscript also shows evidence of having been tampered with to fill up the space. It has been stated that the style of Mark chapter 16 verses 9-20 is unlike Mark’s. However this is subjective, as there are, for instance, stylistic parallels between Mark chapters 1 and 16. Chapter 16 verse 8 (where the two minority manuscripts close) ends with the little word gar (‘for’ in Greek), which is highly unusual. To end a book with this word seems most unlikely. If one accepts the theory that Mark is the oldest Gospel, it would seem strange that it includes the resurrection story but ends without the risen Christ actually appearing! The footnotes in modern translations often fail to report that some 1,400 manuscripts do contain this passage. Furthermore, Jerome, when he translated the New Testament into Latin, included it. It is significant that he did so in the fourth century, when the dissenting Egyptian manuscripts were also written! Apparently these two copies, which lack this passage, were not representative in their own time! To conclude, the long ending of Mark has a firm textual foundation. It would seem to many that this omission alone is a sufficient basis to entirely reject the evidence of the two earliest manuscripts.
The Adulterous Woman Forgiven—John 7. 53—8. 11
Over nine hundred manuscripts support this passage though not as many as for Mark chapter 16. An NIV marginal note says, ‘The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not have John 7. 53 – 8. 11’. Let it be emphasized again that the earliest Greek copies of John – i.e., those from Egypt – though they lack this text, are not, as stated previously, necessarily superior. Augustine wrote that the paragraph may have been removed for fear it would promote immorality. In fact, the Lord upheld the law by first turning the heat of Sinai on the woman’s accusers, then telling the woman to cease from her sin. The argument that the style is not like John’s is subjective and has been well answered.2 Perhaps the best way for the Bible reader to test the passage is to read John chapter 7 verse 52, skip over the verses from chapter 7 verse 53 to chapter 8 verse 11, to chapter 8 verse 12. It is clear that verse 12 does not connect. The NIV obscures this anomaly by supplying the word ‘people’ to the text of chapter 8 verse 12. But every Greek text says ‘them’ and if chapter 7 verse 53 were the verse right before it, the ‘them’ would refer to the meeting of Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin where the Lord was not present!
A Scientifically Impossible Eclipse
There is a scientific error in the Critical Text (for explanation see first article) for Luke chapter 23 verse 45. The overwhelming majority of manuscripts support the ‘TR’ or Majority text that ‘the sun was darkened’ (Gk. eskotisthe). The ancient Egyptian manuscripts, however, read ‘the sun being eclipsed’ (Gk. eklipontos). This is an astronomical impossibility as Christ’s death took place at Passover when the moon was full, i.e., positioned behind the earth in relation to the sun and therefore it could not simultaneously be in an eclipse position! God caused the sun to be ‘darkened’ by means not disclosed. As Isaac Watts penned:
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in
the Incarnate Maker, died
For man His creature’s sin.
Now we need to address the second important foundation of reliable translations.
2) The mode or method of Translation
The oldest and most traditional method of translation seeks to follow the structure and wording of the original language wherever the receptor language allows, and to be more free and idiomatic where a literal rendering would be misleading or confusing. Nearly all of the famous versions of Judeo - Christian history fall into this category: the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther’s German Bible, Tyndale and its revisions, down to the KJV and its later revisions. Some of these revisions such as the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV) and the U.S. counterpart, the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), go too far in their literal renderings. They have been rightly criticized for being too rigid in this respect.
A paraphrase, e.g., The Good News Bible or The Contemporary English Version, takes great liberties in word order: adding words and phrases, rewriting, and altering the style without informing the reader which words have been added or taken away. Because of this freedom of rendering, the translator often inserts his own interpretations into the text. These insertions are not highlighted and therefore the reader is left with no way of telling what was in the original text.
Since many words can have more than one meaning, and Greek words often have subtle shades of meaning that are difficult to transmit in a strictly literal translation, some translators seek to insert extra words, explanatory comments, and paraphrases of verb tenses. Wuest’s Expanded Translation and the Amplified Bible are popular examples of this method. While it is true that many words can have a number of meanings when they appear in a list, when these are in context, the meaning of a word is generally pinned down more closely. These translations are actually running commentaries, the author’s interpretation and not strictly a translation. Expanded translations can lead to readers being unable to distinguish what part of the translation comes from the original language, and what part comes from the translator. The multiplicity of meanings could lead to doctrinal error.
To be fair, the ideals of the Dynamic Equivalence3 method are high; namely, to produce in the reader or hearer of the receptor language the same reaction to the message that the original author sought to produce in the immediate readers or listeners. Those who seek dynamic equivalence in translation attempt to produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message contained in the source language, keeping in mind both the meaning and the style. They recognize, of course, that no translation can succeed one hundred per cent. The problem with dynamic equivalence is the area of subjectivity in the transfer of information to the receptor language. As in an ordinary paraphrase, there is too much opportunity to introduce interpretive material into the receptor language. Another problem is that words added are again not italicised as is the case in the KJV and NKJV, and so the reader cannot determine what is and what is not in the original text, e.g., 1 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 9, where the NIV adds the words ‘of the procession’, ‘in the arena’, and ‘whole’. The Bible contains difficult doctrinal discussions, and there is real danger using this method of inserting what the translator believes rather than what the original text says.
This is basically the literal method updated to include scientific insights from linguistic analysis. To the extent that modern usage allows, a complete equivalence translation of such a book as the Bible will reflect as much of the original as possible.4
To summarize, a great deal of the information contained in a phrase, clause, or paragraph is encoded in its syntax. Translations that do not produce structural equivalence as well as semantic equivalence have failed to reproduce important information.
To conclude, a growing number of scholars believe that God has preserved His word in the consensus of the majority of manuscripts. It is vital that we take our part in the chain of teaching, as laid out by Paul: Paul, then Timothy, then faithful men, and finally others also, 2 Tim. 2. 2, i.e., right down to us of the present generation! We need to hold fast the form (Gk. essence) of sound words. We should care even about the ‘jots and tittles’, even where they may not affect any doctrine, Matt. 5. 18. There is a need for us to make an intelligent and informed judgement about these matters rather than leaving them to scholars who may or may not be true believers.
An important question to ask is: ‘Would God inspire a written revelation, then allow it to be partially lost, then allow it to be recovered some eighteen or so centuries later, and then even later to be corrected in stages?’ Surely, the answer must be negative, though this is apparently what many critical scholars would have us believe. It is submitted that the Lord, who inspired men to write His precious word, would providentially preserve it as well. Reference here is made to what the Lord Himself said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away’, Matt. 24. 35. Though many do not go along with this view, I believe that, even as the Lord promised to preserve His word, He has carried out this preservation and that this is contained in the majority of manuscripts.5
Those responsible for new versions often claim that their version is a more accurate translation of the original than previous ones. Which version should we choose? How can we discern which is the most accurate? To conclude, it is my view that it is safest and best to use one that is based on the majority of manuscripts and which uses the complete equivalence translation method. The only two English translations which pass both of these tests at present are the KJV and NKJV.6
- Dean Burgon, Revision Revised, last published by Conservative Classics.
- Edward Hills, The KJV Defended, Christian Research Press.
- Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version - In the Great Tradition, Thos. Nelson.
- The Newberry Bible which gives textual authorities for/against inclusion/omission in footnotes.
- Z. C. Hodges, The Greek text of the King James Version.
- For further information refer to Bible version comparison charts at http://av1611.com/kjbp/
- Z. C. Hodges, The Greek text of the King James Version
- See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_and_formal_equivalence for a more detailed definition
- At internet address http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_and_formal_equivalence there is a brief list of which category into which the different translations fall.
- Concerning the majority reading two further Majority Texts were published in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, using the latest manuscript evidence; both correspond very closely with the TR and confirm its reliability. There is a brief explanation of this at http://www.bible-researcher.com/majority.html.
- Many marginal notes in the various editions of the NKJV refer to NU text readings – as indeed would be the case with versions of the KJV, e.g., the Newberry Bible. However, care should be taken when comments such as ‘the best or most reliable manuscripts read’ as this is subjective. As discussed previously, they are not necessarily the best manuscripts just because they are the earliest.