The Defense of Modern Translations
One of the strongest defenses of modern translations,
especially the New International Version (NIV), has been made by the
Canadian, Dr. D.A.Carson, in his 1977 work, King James Version
DebateóA Plea for Realism, Baker Book House. Even those who, like
the authors, are firmly convinced that the King James Version is still
the most reliable English translation of the Bible, are indebted to
scholars like Dr. Carson for making them aware of the weakness of some
arguments presented by overeager defenders of the King James Version.
Dr. Carson with detailed care points out that no two
manuscripts are identical, and that the age of a manuscript is not final
proof that it is more accurate (though later in his book he does seem to
give great emphasis to the likely superiority of older manuscripts).
Neither can we always trust the majority reading of any text or passage.
Dr. Carson details the way intentional and unintentional errors have
crept into the manuscripts. Usually substantial changes, such as the
effort of Marcion in the second century to delete all references to
Jesusí Jewish background, have not been difficult to detect. Marcion
attempted to dissociate Christianity from the Jews, who were then under
fearful persecution by the Roman Empire.
It is significant that when Erasmus put out his
Diaglot (Greek and Latin translation) it varied significantly from the
Catholic Vulgate of Jerome. Erasmusí second edition formed the basis of
Lutherís German translation and it became the basis of almost all of the
Protestant translations of Europe in the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately, Carson failed to acknowledge the
tremendous thrust that translations based upon Erasmusí Greek text gave
to the Reformation. Though Erasmus did not renounce the Roman Catholic
Church, there is no doubt he hoped his text would foreshadow sweeping
reforms within that church. Such reforms did not eventuate, and the
Latin Vulgate continued to dominate Catholic thinking. Unfortunately,
Carson spends considerable space detailing how Erasmus had to resort to
the use of the Vulgate for the final six verses of Revelation since
these verses were missing from the Greek manuscripts he was using.
Carson also enters into lengthy arguments on Erasmusí inclusion of 1
John 5:7-8. While both these issues are worthy of review, they are
presented in a way that casts unnecessary doubts upon the Textus
Receptus. That term was coined in 1624 to express that it was the
standard text of the era. In reality, it was almost identical to the
Erasmus text of the previous century.
Though Carson does not indicate it, the leaders of
the Protestant Reformation certainly saw in the Erasmus text, or the
Textus Receptus, a presentation of scriptural purity that had been
missing from the Latin Vulgate. Therefore all over Europe the
translations of that text were used in the preparation of the Protestant
Bibles, which differed markedly from the Catholic Bible of the Latin
Vulgate and the later vernacular translations by Catholic scholars. It
is only in recent years, with the rise of the ecumenical movement, that
many Protestant scholars have sought the Alexandrian (Western) text in
preference to the Byzantine (Eastern) text. We could not detect any
substantive evidence presented by Carson to verify his claim that the
Alexandrian text is superior to that of the Byzantine tradition, except
that a few remaining manuscripts are earlier in origin. And on his own
testimony, the age of a manuscript is not decisive in determining
Carson presents fourteen theses to defend his
viewpoint. His third thesis is that the Byzantine text type is
demonstrably a secondary text. He bases this assertion upon the greater
harmonization of the synoptic gospels (the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and
Luke) in the Byzantine text than in the Alexandrian-type text. We do not
contest that there is harmony of the gospels in the Byzantine text, but
we deny that his thesis is thereby strengthened. Yet this argument is
set forth as one of the strongest. Of course, such an argument does
nothing to injure the doctrinal truth of the gospels.
Another argument presented by Carson is that the
famous Papyrus P75, dating from about A.D. 200, is
very close to the Codex Sinaiticus. He claims that this correspondence
suggests an early dating of the Alexandrian text.
The ultimate thesis set forth by Carson seems to
develop in his chapter on nontextual questions. It is evident that he
has a preference for the New International Version. He argues that the
King James Version is too insensitive to English idiom. This
insensitivity, he says, leads to awkward English. The King James
Version, he further states, gets into difficulty trying to translate
Greek imperfect verbs into English imperfect verbs, and is too literal
at other points as well. This awkwardness he says is minimized in the
New International Version. However, we are willing to accept a little
awkwardness, if by so doing we have greater accuracy.
In his book Carson states:
Some modern translations tend toward the heretical
by virtue of the fourth of the presuppositions that govern the
translations. D.A. Carson, op. cit., 65
Perhaps Carson has not recognized that the New
International Version is certainly guilty of this tendency, independent
of the merits of the manuscripts used in its translation. Unwittingly he
has attested to this fact when he says of the awkwardness of the King
This is one of the errors that the translators of
the New International Version, all of whom were selected because of
both their scholarship and their evangelical commitment, seek
to minimize. Ibid., 89, emphasis supplied
This thesis we hold strongly. The New International
Version reflects the biases of evangelical translators, just as the
Douay reflects Catholic bias.
Perhaps most surprising is that Carson provides not
one substantive doctrinal issue that is presented erroneously in the
King James Version. If he is aware of them, he certainly chose to
refrain from their presentation. Admittedly, he states that he is
presenting only a few examples, but we wonder why he does not present
such important defects if they exist. Carson asserts:
The onus of proof, in my view, still rests with the
defenders of the Byzantine tradition. Ibid., 111
We wonder why. Surely any significant change from a
350-year Protestant tradition should rest on the one urging the
change. We agree that tradition is meaningless in itself, but surely
substantive evidence is required to support a case for change.
Of course most of the New Testament is already
textually certain; and as I have already argued, the remaining
variations may affect the interpretation of various passages, but they
do not affect a single doctrine. Ibid., 119
In this assertion, Carson is demonstrably in error.
In various passages the disputed readings do weaken the testimony of
Scripture in defense of the divinity of Christ, the investigative
judgment, the state of the dead, the doctrine of the Lordís supper, and
the mediatorial work of Christ. In view of this fact, we question
Carsonís strong support of the New International Version, which seeks,
by interpretive translation, to support the evangelical concept in such
areas as Augustineís doctrine of original sin (Psalm 51:5), and
immediate life after death (2 Peter 2:9), and in the other various
doctrines (see chapter 17, Subtle Catholicism). These are
substantial doctrinal aberrations that have their roots in the
infiltration of pagan doctrines into the early Christian church.
Our major disappointment is that Carson either fails
to address, or addresses with only passing reference, many important
issues. He does not address, for example, the well over 3,000
differences between the Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Sinaiticus upon
which so much of the Westcott-Hort Greek text is established. Neither
does Carson address the numerous missing words, phrases, and passages in
the Codex Vaticanus. Neither does he address the numerous "corrections"
and changes made by twenty or thirty scribes over a period of half a
millennium within the Codex Sinaiticus.
Carson emphasizes that no Byzantine-type text has
been discovered which can be dated before A.D.
350. We are sure he does not believe that it had no origin before this
date; it must have come from somewhere. There are also very, very few
Western and Alexandrian texts from before this time, and for the next
three or four centuries there are few of the Byzantine texts that are
now known. Why not acknowledge that there may be some earlier Byzantine
texts that are waiting to be discovered? Surely we have not found all
that are hidden in some remote building, or archeological area, yet to
Carson makes much of the invalidity of arguments as
to why we have no Byzantine texts earlier than A.D.
350. Let us suggest a probability. Carson correctly points out that
after the fourth century, Greek almost vanished as a spoken (or read)
language in the Western Roman Empire. Therefore it would be logical to
assume that with Jeromeís Latin Vulgate dominating the educational
institutions, this translation was copied over and over again by
copyists. Thus the Greek manuscripts in the West all but disappeared.
Given this reality, demonstrated by the very few Greek manuscripts
discovered in the West from later periods of history, we would logically
expect that Western scholars would be more likely to preserve the
tattered and torn copies of the earlier Greek New Testament, since
preparation of new copies had fallen into abeyance. Further, since the
Latin Vulgate became the standard Scripture of the West, older copies of
the Greek manuscripts held there were less likely to be read and thus
destroyed by constant use. However, in the Eastern Roman Empire, the
situation was entirely different. For a half millennium after the fourth
century, Greek continued to be a strongly active language. Thus, Greek
New Testament manuscripts continued to be copied in significant numbers
in the East. We can logically assume, with the much larger numbers of
manuscripts available in the East, as is attested by the number that
have been recovered, that old, tattered, and worn copies of the
manuscripts would be far more likely to be discarded and destroyed. Also
their constant use would ensure their rapid deterioration.
Carson asserts that the earlier church fathers quoted
from the Western Alexandrian texts in their writings rather than from
the Byzantine. We point out that those church fathers resided in the
Western empire, not the Eastern. Further, there is increasing evidence
now that the Byzantine text was very frequently used in the writings of
the ante-Nicene period (before 340). This evidence is quite remarkable,
since these men almost all resided in the West. Such a finding is
powerful evidence for the validity of the Byzantine text.
Another strong concern expressed over the last
century is the evidence of the Anglo-Catholic commitment of Westcott and
Hort. This bias is confirmed in their own writings, and naturally leads
to suspicion of the motives behind the translation of the Revised
Version, which is the forerunner of virtually all modern English
translations, and not a few in other languages. Faithful Protestants are
hardly comforted by the reported statements of the distaste of Westcott
and Hort for the King James Version. Carson surprisingly does not
address this issue.
We are also disappointed that Carson does not
seriously compare exact equivalence, versus dynamic equivalence, in
translation. We assume that he does not believe the King James Version
or any other translations use exact equivalence, for he says it ought to
be obvious that to some extent every translation, from
anywhere on the spectrum, was necessarily involved again and again
with finding the "dynamic equivalent." In the perspective from which he
was writing, his statement is true; but it sidesteps the real issue. The
Hebrew language has been judged to be one of the most "concrete"
languages in the world, and even the writers of the New Testament,
though writing in Greek, were writing with the mind-set of Hebrews.
Therefore, many Hebrew phrases needed to be translated from the concrete
to the abstract. Thus, the translators of the King James Version
attempted to give the exact meaning of the original languages in an
altogether different way from the liberties taken by most modern
translators in the name of "dynamic equivalence."
As an attempt to discredit the King James Version of
Scripture, Carsonís book falls far short of its aim. He uses selective
evidence, ignores difficult questions, fails to give weight to more
substantial explanations of proven facts, and altogether provides no
sound basis for his preference for the New International Version of the