Is the KJV the best translation?

Is the KJV the best translation?
10 Nov 2017

The King James Only movement, an advocacy by a loosely associated group of Protestant Christians, says that the King James Version of the Bible is superior to other English translations and that other versions are not to be trusted and are based on corrupted manuscripts. Adherents of the movement believe that the KJV is the last and best of a series of translations based on what they consider the most reliable of Greek New Testament manuscripts, the Textus Receptus or Majority Text. the King James Only movement can be divided into at least five different views of this theory. They range from the “I like the KJV best” to the extreme view, the KJV is a “new revelation” or “advanced revelation” from God. It is clear that the KJV is built upon the manuscript of the Greek New Testament called the Textus Receptus, or the Received Text. So, let’s look at the history of the textus receptus and how it came to be.

The Textus Receptus (Latin: “received text”) originated with the first printed Greek New Testament, published in 1516 – a work undertaken in Basel by the Catholic scholar, priest and humanist Desiderius Erasmus. That’s right in 1516, before the Reformation, before there were Protestants, Erasmus is responsible for its creation. The textus receptus differs in nearly two thousand readings from the standard form of that text-type, as represented by the “Majority Text.” Erasmus used only six Greek manuscripts immediately accessible to him in Basel. They all dated from the 12th Century or later, and only one came from outside the mainstream Byzantine tradition. Consequently, most modern scholars consider his text to be of dubious quality. So, who is Erasmus?

He was born Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. He was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest. Yes, he was a humanist. In fact, he was known as the “Prince of the Humanists” and has been called “the crowning glory of the Christian humanists”. He used humanist techniques for working on the texts. Erasmus remained a member of the Roman Catholic Church all his life. His parents were not legally married. His father, Gerard, was a Catholic priest in Gouda. So, Erasmus was the son of a Catholic Priest, a traditional belief in his family. His mother may have been Gerard’s housekeeper. Although he was born out of wedlock, Erasmus was cared for by his parents until their early deaths from the plague in 1483.

Most likely in 1487, poverty forced Erasmus into the consecrated life of St. Augustine at the canonry of Stein, in South Holland. So, he became a priest because of poverty, not because he loved God and wanted to pursue this as his calling. He took vows there in late 1488 and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood at about the age of 25, in 1492. While at Stein, Erasmus wrote a series of letters to a fellow monk, Servatius Rogerus, in which Erasmus called him “half my soul”. He wrote, “I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly”. Regarding these letters, Diarmaid MacCulloch says that Erasmus “fell in love” with him. Was Erasmus a homosexual? Or did he just have passionate attachments [fervidos amores] for some of his companions? In 1497, Erasmus tutored in Paris to the Northoff brothers and two Englishmen, including Thomas Grey. After a time, Erasmus was dismissed by Grey’s guardian since he showed “an affection strong enough” for Grey, which caused the guardian to suspect him. Erasmus complained that the relationship between him and Grey was not based on “any youthful whim but an honorable love for letters”. No personal denunciation was made of Erasmus during his lifetime, and he took pains in later life to distance these earlier episodes by condemning sodomy in his works and praising sexual desire in marriage between men and women.

Soon after his priestly ordination, he got his chance to leave the canonry when offered the post of secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, on account of his great skill in Latin. To allow him to accept that post, he was given a temporary dispensation from his religious vows on the grounds of poor health and love of Humanistic studies, though he remained a priest. In 1495, Erasmus moved to Paris to attend the university. There he came under the influence of Renaissance humanism. For instance, Erasmus became an intimate friend of an Italian Humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini, “professor of humanity” in Paris. In 1499, he moved back to England where he famously hated English ale and English weather. He complained that they could not supply him with enough decent wine. He took wine for his ailments.

He stayed at Queens’ College, Cambridge from 1510 to 1515. Until the early 20th-century, Queens’ College used to have a corkscrew that was purported to be “Erasmus’ corkscrew” which was a third of a meter long, though today the college still has what it calls “Erasmus’ chair”. Today Queens’ College has an Erasmus Building and an Erasmus Room. His legacy is marked for someone who complained bitterly about the lack of comforts and luxuries to which he was accustomed. As Queens’ was an unusually humanist-leaning institution in the 16th century, Queens’ College Old Library still houses many first editions of Erasmus’ publications.

Erasmus decided to prepare a new edition of Jerome’s Bible translation. He tried to free the methods of scholarship from the rigidity and formalism of medieval traditions. Despite a chronic shortage of money, he succeeded in learning Greek by an intensive, day-and-night study of three years, continuously begging his friends to send him books and money for teachers in his letters. Throughout his life, he was offered positions of honor and profit in academia but declined them all, preferring the uncertain but sufficient rewards of independent literary activity. He always intended to remain faithful to Catholic doctrine, and therefore was convinced he could criticize frankly virtually everyone and everything.

Erasmus had been working for years on two projects: a collation of Greek texts and a fresh Latin New Testament. In 1512, he began his work on this Latin New Testament. He collected all the Vulgate manuscripts he could find to create a critical edition. Then he polished the Latin. He declared, “It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin.” “My mind is so excited at the thought of emending Jerome’s text, with notes, that I seem to myself inspired by some god. I have already almost finished emending him by collating a large number of ancient manuscripts, and this I am doing at enormous personal expense.” – Erasmus

He included the Greek text to permit qualified readers to verify the quality of his Latin version. He made the two traditions “compatible”. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that his Greek text is not just the basis for his Latin translation, but also the other way round: there are numerous instances where he edits the Greek text to reflect his Latin version. For instance, since the last six verses of Revelation were missing from his Greek manuscript, Erasmus translated the Vulgate’s text back into Greek. Erasmus also translated the Latin text into Greek wherever he found that the Greek text and the accompanying commentaries were mixed up, or where he simply preferred the Vulgate’s reading to the Greek text. Erasmus said it was “rushed into print rather than edited”, resulting in a number of transcription errors. After comparing what writings he could find, Erasmus wrote corrections between the lines of the manuscripts he was using among which was Minuscule 2. Erasmus used several Greek manuscript sources because he did not have access to a single complete manuscript. Most of the manuscripts were, however, late Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine textual family and Erasmus used the oldest manuscript the least because “he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text.” He also ignored much older and better manuscripts that were at his disposal.

Erasmus created several editions of his text. The first and second edition texts did not include the passage (1 John 5:7–8) that has become known as the Comma Johanneum. Erasmus had been unable to find those verses in any Greek manuscript, but one was supplied to him during the production of the third edition.
Erasmus published the fourth edition in 1527 containing parallel columns of Greek, Latin Vulgate, and Erasmus’s Latin texts. In this edition, Erasmus also supplied the Greek text of the last six verses of Revelation (which he had translated from Latin back into Greek in his first edition) from Cardinal Ximenez’s Biblia Complutensis. In 1535 Erasmus published the fifth (and final) edition which dropped the Latin Vulgate column but was otherwise similar to the fourth edition. Later versions of the Greek New Testament by others, but based on Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, became known as the Textus Receptus. Erasmus dedicated his work to Pope Leo X.

So, to sum up, Erasmus was a Catholic Priest. He used humanist ideology in his translations. He was born out of wedlock. He was given to homosexuality and drunkenness. He lived lavishly. He only used six manuscripts to translate his version of the texts. When it was unclear in the Greek or he preferred, he used the Latin Vulgate in which he was biased. He dedicated his work to the Pope, not to God. It becomes clear…the Textus Receptus was biased by an immoral man who cared more about scholarly assent that communicating the word of God to the public. Eye-opening isn’t it.


JD Wilhite

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