Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Beechick on the KJV, a very long rebuttal

Before you read this I would like to state that I do have a very high view of Scripture. I happily agree with the reformation creed "Sola Scriptura", the Bible Alone as the source for knowledge of God.

Text in Courier is from Ruth Beechick's A Biblical Home Education, pp 18-20. Beechick's thesis seems to be that the King James Version is the only reliable version of the Bible. Text in Georgia is mine. I disagree with Beechick's thesis. I have been greatly helped in my research by the simple but immensely clear book by DA Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979). I humbly recommend it to all who find this topic interesting, concerning or challenging. I have also made use of Bruce L Shelley's Church History in Plain Language (2nd ed, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995). This is a thoroughly readable book on Church History.

Here is a short history of how the English Bible came to us. The original letters and histories of the New Testament that Paul and others wrote were copied and recopied and carried around to the churches. Other writers, too, wrote for the church, and church leaders agreed on which writings were part of the "canon" to be added to the Hebrew Scriptures. So far, so good. As you read further, remember that the New Testament was originally written in Greek ("Koine" Greek, not the earlier "Classical" Greek), the lingua franca of Jesus' time. When the King James translators went to work, they had more than 5000 manuscripts of the New Testament that agreed with each other. ~~~Error #1: The King James translators (working from around 1602-1611) did not have 5000+ manuscripts of the New Testament, at least, not Greek manuscripts. As of (Don Carson's writing in) 1979, there were only around 5000 Greek manuscripts known in total, and around 8000 manuscript versions (that is, early handwritten translations from the Greek into other languages such as Syriac, Coptic and Latin). The 5000 Greek manuscripts known today are not all complete New Testaments. There are (approximately) 2100 lectionary manuscripts (church reading books containing quotations from Scripture), 2700 miniscules (manuscripts using a post-9th century script), 260 uncials (manuscripts using the oldest script, characterised by capital letters only) and about 80 papyri (written on papyrus paper rather than animal skin vellum). The King James was "translated out of the original tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty's special command", according to its title page. Comparisons to these "former translations" suggest the translators relied very heavily on the Great Bible - which was based upon the Bishop's Bible (and Geneva Bible), which was based upon Matthew's Bible, which was largely the work of William Tyndale. The Greek texts which the KJV translators used were editions published by Theodore Beza (Calvin's successor) in 1588-89 and 1598. We might ask from where did Beza obtain his Greek text? It differs little from the 4th edition Greek NT published by Robert Estienne (aka Stephanus) in 1551, which had numbered verses. Where did Stephanus obtain his Greek text? It was based upon Desiderius Erasmus' 4th and 5th critical editions (1520s), and to a much lesser extent the Complutensian Polyglot (1514). Remember Erasmus? Erasmus had access to only a handful of Greek miniscule manuscripts, none of which was a complete NT, and none of which was dated prior to the 10th century. These manuscripts are called the Received Text, or Textus Receptus in Latin. ~~~Error #2: The Textus Receptus (TR) was not a collection of manuscripts. The Textus Receptus title arose from an advertising blurb for the second edition of a printed Greek NT published by the Elzevir brothers in 1624 (13 years after the KJV was first published). The blurb says (in Latin) "The text that you have now received by all, in which we give nothing change or perverted." According to Don Carson, "The TR is not the 'received text' in the sense that it has been received from God as over against other Greek manuscripts. Rather, it is the 'received text' in the sense that it was the standard one at the time of the Elzevirs." Where did the Elzevirs obtained their Greek text? It was largely the same as that of Beza. At last we see how the TR title has come to be abrogated by the KJV. God had promised to preserve His Word for all generations (Psalm 12:6-7) and this seems a better way to do it than to have one original copy in a church or museum somewhere that people claimed was the "original." ~~~Unbiblical argument #1: This does seem a better way to do it if you are thinking from a worldly perspective. But if we are to consider the actions of the God revealed in the Bible, we have to admit that He has usually used the weaker, lesser people (consider his choice of David for king over his elder brothers, 1 Samuel 16) and his means have not always been so overt either (consider Ehud's left-handed sword thrust to kill the king of Moab, Judges 3). The central theme running through the second half of the Old Testament is that God will claim a remnant - a small number of faithful people - for his own, and the rest of Israel will be forsaken just as they forsook their God. If we were to formulate a suggested history for the preservation of the Biblical text following upon these lines, we would have to say that God would be likely to preserve only a few, faithfully copied Biblical manuscripts among many with errors. Who can question 5000-plus copies that say the same thing? ~~~Exaggeration #1: Again Beechick uses the erroneous "5000". However, it is her use of the loaded words, "say the same thing" which I take exception to here. While many of the extant Greek manuscripts are very similar, no two manuscripts are exactly alike. (If you want to understand why, try handwriting a chapter of John for yourself and then checking it for errors.) There is agreement on the vast bulk of the material in these NT manuscripts, but they are not identical. Among these manuscripts, there are only four main "text-types" - groups of manuscripts which, from a critical comparison of their similarities and differences, can be shown to have arisen from probably one or a very small number of ancestor manuscripts. The TR belongs within only one of these text-types, the Byzantine, which has no known and undisputed manuscript sources before the fourth century AD, unlike all the others. For the Old Testament, the translators used the Masoretic text, the one carefully handed down from generation to generation by the Jews.


While all that was going on, other people were trying to tear down God's Word. Back in the third century some Jews were teaching and studying in Greek schools in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Bible there was becoming corrupt. Jews there made a Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament that we now call the Septuagint.
~~~Error #3: The "third century" mentioned here is very confusing and I have to assume that Beechick has made an error. At the very least she has been unclear. The Septuagint (aka LXX) is generally agreed to have been translated over a long period somewhere between the 3rd and 1st century BC. Tradition, based upon Josephus' story in The Antiquities of the Jews Bk12 Ch2, holds that the LXX was translated in two parts by groups of 70 and 72 Jews for Ptolemy and Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246BC), but this is considered by modern scholars to be a legendary account rather than strictly historical. ~~~Exaggeration #2: The LXX does differ from the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, but the LXX  has close parallels to the Dead Sea Scrolls (almost the only known Biblical manuscripts dated prior to 100BC), and so may well represent a far older and more widespread tradition than is allowed by Beechick's assertion that the Bible (ie, Old Testament) was becoming corrupt in Egypt around 300BC. It is also important to note that the LXX is the text of the Old Testament which Jesus quoted from, as did the New Testament authors and all of the early church fathers.  They made a New Testament, too.  ~~~Error #4: Why on earth would Jews translate the New Testament into Greek? Firstly, Jews would not be interested in translating the New Testament, the holy Scriptures of the Christians. Secondly, how on earth could Jews in the centuries before Christ produce a New Testament? Were they time travellers? Thirdly, the New Testament was first written in Greek and thus needed no translating. This error just boggles my mind. One famous writer there was Origen. ~~~Observation: Now I believe we are coming to the crux of Beechick's argument. Origen (185-254AD) originally wrote in Alexandria. Around 230AD he travelled to Ceasarea, where he became an ordained minister, an act of which his Alexandrian bishop did not approve, so from this time Origen remained based at Caesarea. He did not believe in Hell, the deity of Christ, His atonement for sin, ~~~Error #5: Origen did believe in all the proclaimed church doctrines of the time, as is made clear in his First Principles. The deity of Christ had not been fully hammered out as a church doctrine at the time of Origen. It did not come to the fore until the Arian controversy in Alexandria at the time of Constantine a century later. Jesus' divinity was then debated formally by the church at the Council of Nicea (325AD). Just because Origen originally lived in Alexandria does not mean he was unorthodox in these beliefs; indeed, it was he who first coined the description "God-man" for Jesus. He also believed in hell, but taught as doctrine the hope that one day, all people would one day be restored to communion with God and hell would be emptied. This is the heresy for which he is most often condemned, by those in his own day as well as in successive generations. At worst we could say that Origen held some unorthodox beliefs, but his beliefs of Scripture were orthodox and conservative. He died after being imprisoned and tortured in the persecution of Christians by Emperor Decius. This is an ad hominem attack and as such is not valid, because even if Origen could be demonstrated to be a pagan, he would still be capable of being a critical scholar analysing Biblical manuscripts. Bible infallibility, and many other important doctrines. ~~~Exaggeration #3 I think Beechick includes this phrase here because of the direction she wants to take in her following argument.  It all depends on what you mean by the phrase, "Bible infallibility". The crucial question becomes, "Which copy of the Bible is infallible?" Obviously Beechick has one particular version in mind. Origen did the first work of Biblical textual criticism when he compiled his Old Testament Hexapla (which compared various available translations of the OT), and then added to this commentaries and sermons on particular books. His intent in all this was to establish the accuracy of the Old Testament, as he believed the Scriptures are the treasury of divine revelation. He did also pioneer what is called "allegorical interpretation" of Scripture, but this is not to be confused with the rampant liberalism of today. Origen sought to consider each portion of Scripture in the light of the whole of Scripture to obtain its true meaning, rather than taking selected quotes out of their contexts. Conservative Christians follow in Origen's footsteps today when we reflect upon the way in which God used the OT sacrificial worship practices to teach the spiritual truth which would only be fulfilled in Christ's atoning death on the cross, for example. This is also the beginning of a straw man argument, because while Beechick is arguing for the flawed nature of Origen's writings, she ignores the fact that he worked almost exclusively with Old Testament texts and as such can have had no involvement in manufacturing corrupted New Testament manuscripts. After he died, his writings were passed on to [the] historian Eusebius. ~~~Observation: I am not sure if Beechick is attempting to tar Eusebius with the same brush as Origen with this comment, but it should be noted that Eusebius was the source for the base text of the Nicean Creed. His doctrinal orthodoxy would be very hard to malign.
There's more to come. I really need to go to bed though (yikes! it's 1:50am!) so I hope to deal with the following paragraph tomorrow. There's a whole lot of error and exaggeration in this as well, so don't go throwing out all your non-KJV bibles just yet!
Emperor Constantine asked Eusebius for fifty copies of the Bible to send to fifty cities, so he used Origen's writings to make those for the emperor. The churches of the day did not receive that heretical version. They did not use it or make copies of it, and it almost became lost to history. Then in the 1800s two manuscripts were found that could possibly be two of those fifty, one found in the Vatican and one in a monastery in the Sinai. Those two were not complete and they had many differences between them. Yet a couple of men (Brooke Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort) made a Greek New Testament from those two manuyscripts. These men, like Origen, did not believe in many essential Christian doctrines. They said the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts were older and better than the over 5000 manuscripts of the Textus Receptus (also called the Majority Text). We might ask wheyher God's true Word was lost for those many centuries until somebody found it again, or did God preserve it for all those generations through the Majority Text? Most new English versions today come from the Greek New Testament begun by Origen. ..." At the end of this paragraph Beechick cites One Book Stands Alone by Dr Douglas D Stauffer (Milbrook, AL: McCowen Mills Publishers, 2001). I haven't read it, so I am not sure how much of the preceeding is taken from this book, and how much is Beechick's own argument.


Mrs. Edwards said...

I remember being stunned in my NT class in college when the professor lectured on this subject, taking us through the history of Bible translations and explaining the origin of the canon. I grew up using NIV and felt no emotional attachment to KJV, so it was easy for me to accept the idea that the KJV is actually one of the poorer translations. However, when he pointed out that passages like in Luke 22:43-44:

43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[c]

do not appear in the earliest manuscripts, I really was stunned. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture in the "original manuscripts" and I now find it unnerving to hear well-meaning Bible teachers fail to mention this point, especially when teaching this verse and others in the same category.

All in all, however, God is sovereign and He must be filled with grace for His people and their dogmatic stances and opinions.

I keep saying I won't bother you with comments, and then I keep commenting!

Sharon said...

Mrs Edwards, I love your comments, so don't stop, please!
~ Sharon