The KJV as a True Agent of Text Preservation
by Dr. Larry Bednar
The modern age is characterized by a widespread humanism that exalts scholarship of mere men above belief in the power of God to preserve His Word throughout history. This is carried to such an extreme that many people today laugh at the conviction of those who say there are traditional translations that reflect God's power to preserve His Word, as in the case of the KJV for English-speaking people. Many who lack trust in God are convinced by arguments of scholars who invent text criticism theory in an effort to promote their own views and their own versions of God's Word. Even so, God's truth rises above the foolishness of men for those who trust Him above all inventions of men, and through confidence in Him, we see His Hand in text history.
The basis for perfection of translations
The history of translations suggests that their accuracy reflects the degree of devotion to God's truth by the responsible parties, the highest accuracy characterizing the work of those who have the highest reverence for God and the teachings of His Word, and spend their lives developing the necessary great scholarship. The Reformation was largely a result of a desire in Europe to bring forth God's Word from the shadows of the Dark Ages, to once again teach God's truth to all. The Received Text, associated with the Reformation, would be expected to be foundational to teaching of the truth of the New Testament in Europe after the Dark Ages, and ordained translations would be expected to be based upon it, with degrees of accuracy being based on the degree of faithfulness to all teachings of God's Word. That this concept is correct is illustrated in the case of Reformation-era translations that are quite accurate overall, but show some limited inaccuracy. For example, Luther's German Bible shows much evidence of great overall accuracy, but has problems related to his use of the 2nd edition of the Received Text of Erasmus. In using this text, he by-passed a later perfection process of the Received Text, a process that began with the 3rd edition of Erasmus, and this can reflect his failure to depart completely from non-biblical Roman-church methodology & dogma.
On the other hand, evidence indicates that the KJV marks completion of the process of perfecting the language of Received-Text editions by correction of minor literality differences among the various matured editions. This readily suggests intervention of divine Providence in KJV history. The rise of this translation in correlation with the beginnings of Separatist & Baptist movements in England would thus be indicative of God's hand of guidance in providing His Word in perfected form for movements that were about to change worship in the churches from the ritual of dead formalism to a vitality of worship based on the truth of God's Word.
Now KJV perfection seems largely based on selection of a providentially-ordained group of translators whose outstanding scholarship and reverence for God's Word would ensure overall text accuracy. It also appears that there was a specific type of providential intervention that deals with select words determining passage sense. The latter is indicated by KJV use of terms like replenish in chapters 1 & 9 0f Genesis, as discussed in essay 15, and KJV use of Easter in Acts 12:4, as discussed in Essay 5a.
Now a translation that preserves inerrancy must be an exact equivalent of an inerrant Hebrew/Aramaic & Greek textual basis, and since no two languages are alike, what is required is complete preservation of context and word sense, while being as literal as possible, which is what the KJV formal-equivalence principle is all about. Word choice isn't fixed since an exact equivalent can be achieved with wording that varies a bit, and KJV translators at times rightly chose different English words for a given Hebrew or Greek word, choices preserving exact equivalence. Critical word choices determining passage sense often depend upon careful context study, and KJV translators showed outstanding expertise in this matter. They also made margin notes reflecting possible alternative readings, including cases of manuscript variance, which allows readers to follow the reasoning for their word choices, and has no effect on inerrancy since that is governed by their choices in the text. At times preservation of inerrancy depends on selection from variant manuscripts on the basis of context subtlety, and providential leading, coupled with outstanding scholarship, is indicated in these matters.
Editing is normal in translation work, and in certain cases it was delayed until shortly after the first edition. And, while an inerrant text can be produced, this quality doesn't automatically extend to copies made by printers, who are not part of its production, and the correction of printing error extends inerrancy to copies in general. A periodic up- dating of the text to changing language convention was required to enable proper communication to all readers as English language underwent changes in word sense, spelling & the style of print.
History of the influence of the KJV
KJV use in earlier British/American history was characterized by widespread biblical Christian faith, in contrast with the scattered minority of churches holding to this faith today. The KJV marks great epochs of English/American history, appearing shortly before successful founding of the Plymouth colony in America in 1620, and following the colonists soon after to become the Bible of America. It was foundational to epochs of American history, including the Great Awakening in New England and the greatest Bible-based missionary work since the apostolic era. In England the KJV was the text that guided writing of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. It was the Bible of revivals greatly influencing Britain & America in the early 18th century & afterward. It was the Bible of the great missionary work of William Carey in India in the 18th-19th centuries when he translated the Bible into forty languages. The KJV accompanied 19th century spread of British empire all over the world from Europe & America to Asia, Australia and Africa, becoming a world-wide vehicle of God’s Word. The KJV marks a history of God’s plan that would require a standard of accuracy that is the English equivalent of inerrancy since this Bible has been used and blessed of God in unusual ways that speak of His sovereign ordination. On the other hand, the numerous modern English versions reflect theories & opinions of scholars, and have only produced widespread disbelief in the Bible as God’s Word.
A unique proof of unparalleled translation accuracy
Preservation of accuracy in a translation often hinges on a few words that can affect the sense of a verse or passage, and providential intervention in text history in regard to these words would be crucial, as noted above. But at times several word choices in a given verse require God's intervention, and this may take the form of old textual records available only to select translators ordained by God to preserve His Word, as discussed below in a matter involving the Septuagint, the early-church Greek version of the Old Testament. In such cases the possibility of complete accuracy can't extend beyond the KJV and comparable versions in other languages. This is indicated in essay 12: 100 Erroneous Criticisms of the KJV and Its Textual Basis (see items 25,26,49).
The Septuagint (LXX) at Lev. 11:29,30. The current LXX text is largely corrupt, but the original LXX text was the accurate standard Greek version of the Old Testament for early Christians. Substantial accuracy still exists in the Old Testament, the later New Testament portions in current texts exhibiting the primary corruption.
NIV: Of the animals that move about on the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon.
The NIV lists six types of lizards, in regard to their edible nature for God’s people. NIV translators didn’t seem to know identities of most of the animals signified by Hebrew terms here, for it’s not credible to note so many specific types of lizards since other creeping animals would be of concern. Today, translators rely on Hebrew-English lexicons, and the lexicon authors admit they are not certain of the identities of the animals in the six cases. They offer their best guesses, which are poor, as evident when they appear together in the one context of Leviticus 11. The problem here is lost knowledge, the meaning of some ancient Hebrew terms now being obscure.
In a case like this, one must rely on the oldest authoritative source, and the KJV is the oldest reliable reference among English versions. The KJV Leviticus passage reads as follows:
KJV: These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind, And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail and the mole.
With just two references to lizards, this is far more credible. Lizard and chameleon cover the full spectrum of lizards, the latter being a unique type. Regarding the source of KJV animal identities, the list is like that in the Brenton LXX text published in 1851 in England, so the translators referenced the LXX. But the identities in this LXX text are a bit different, the KJV tortoise and snail here being called a lizard and a newt (a lizard-like amphibian), respectively. The LXX calls the KJV lizard an evet, a type of lizard, so this isn’t a real difference. The order in which animals are listed is the same in the KJV and Brenton, so the translators consulted the LXX, but the two differences must be explained.
The Brenton LXX over-emphasizes lizards less than the NIV, indicating greater LXX accuracy. With corruption so common in current LXX texts, one close to the Brenton, but earlier and uncorrupted in this verse, would've been available to KJV translators.
Now if, as the present writer proposes, an original LXX
translates a text close to the Masoretic, the latter will contain
most terms, enabling us to check meanings. To do so we note that one
Hebrew name is often assigned to subjects inherently different, but
having a literal or figurative resemblance. Tortoise
is correct since the Hebrew for this appears at two other places in
the Masoretic Text where it is translated by terms confirming this
identity. In Num.7:3 the KJV has covered
wagons, and the similarity to a tortoise is
the covering shell and slow motion common to both. In Isa.66:20 the
KJV renders the term litters,
in the sense of enclosed carriers of persons supported on poles borne
by men in the slow travel, in common with a tortoise (the Hebrew
here means to move gently). The term for snail
appears nowhere else in the Old Testament, so
it can’t be checked this way, but a snail leaves behind a trail of
mucous as it moves, and would doubtless be considered unclean.
KJV translators likely had access to an LXX text now lost, but reflecting in this verse an original reading related to the text of the 3rd century B.C. and the later church of the early centuries A.D. Availability of this text to KJV translators and later loss of it indicates that the KJV is providentially accurate in places where modern versions can’t possibly be accurate, so total accuracy in modern versions is impossible, indicating a providential mandate closing the door to complete accuracy in any translation made in the modern era.