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KJV Only: Anatomy of an Argument

Recently I’ve talked a fair amount about using numbers as a means to dress up lies and make them look more respectable. I even discussed the issue in a Sunday School class I was invited to teach last Sunday, using the various ways in which grocery (or any) prices and sales can be stated and how those various ways can be used to deceive the consumer into buying something more expensive while thinking he’s getting a bargain.

(As an exercise, if you’re not sure you understand this idea, make a list of all the ways in which prices and specials on particular items are stated. Your list should include things like 1/2 off, 20% off, $x.xx off, 2 for the price of one, buy one/get one free, and so forth. Then think about how these numbers might be used to make the price of any particular item look better. The bottom line is that you have to bring all prices into relation to a single standard by calculating a price per unit, thus comparing the actual value you’re getting. You do have to be careful with the units used as well. I found myself comparing the price on two rolls of packing tape, one was $3.47 for 54 yards, and the other was $2.38 for 60 meters. You should be able to do that one on sight! Now consider that when people present statistical arguments to you, they have more ways even than the grocer does to make the numbers appear the way they want them to, all without actually telling a direct lie.)

It’s interesting that just as I’m writing about numbers, I get an e-mail in response to my Bible Translations FAQ that brilliantly illustrates precisely the type of misdirection and lying with numbers that I’ve been talking about.

The e-mail consisted of a text, badly abused, followed by a table of numbers, followed by a paragraph containing his challenge. I’m going to look at the last paragraph first. The correspondent identified himself simply only by his initials, so I’m going to call him C, for correspondent.

C states:

So, as you have so aptly put it in some of your responses to others, “Them’s just the facts”.

Well, no, them’s just the lies, as I will show below. Claiming something is a fact doesn’t make it one.

Let’s see you include this e-mail to your web site section on “KJV Bible Translations FAQ”;

I’ll include a link to this blog entry. How’s that?

if you truely don’t have a hatred for the KJV (as you’ve stated), then you would have no problem presenting the facts as they stand, without your commentary, and let the reader decide for themselves based on the factual evidence!

My rejection of your arguments has nothing to do with hating the KJV; it has to do with the fact that your “facts” are wrong, and your logic incorrect. You would, of course, like me to post your table without my commentary, because falsehood hates the light. You know that any commentary on your table will show it to have no evidentiary value whatsoever. The only hope you have for such arguments to work is that people who don’t know better will read it quickly and think the numbers and your assurance in presenting them is impressive in themselves. You absolutely can’t afford to have anyone think about your little number table.

I sure hope this e-mail contains enough “substance” worthy of your response!

Actually, your argument is simply a repetition of the argument I answered in my Bible Translations FAQ, #12, based on the majority of the manuscripts. The only reason I’m responding to it is because you provide such an excellent example of abuse of numbers in making an argument.

Concerned for the lost,

Bluntly, I doubt it. If you were concerned for the lost, you would likely be more interested in the gospel message and less interested in the support of a nearly 400 year old Bible translation that now more often than not stands in the way of people who want to understand the Bible. The KJV Only position is not a position that honors the word of God. It is not “Bible believing.” It is man serving in two ways: First, because it elevates the work of human beings–a translation–into the position of God’s actual word, and second because it serves primarily to support the positions of spiritual power of its advocates over others. It is destructive spiritually and intellectually.

Now, let’s look at the table:

The KJV Greek Text Attested by the Evidence

Manuscripts

Total

WH/TR

%MSS
WH/TR

Papyrus

81(88)

13/75

15%/85%

Uncials

267

9/258

3%/97%

Cursives

2764

23/2741

1%/99%

Lectionaries

2143

0/2143

0%/100%

Totals

5255

45/5210

1%/99%

Now let’s consider this chart briefly. I’m not going to deal with the actual numbers, though there appear to be some errors there. For example, it is quite doubtful that the editors of the Textus Receptus actually consulted 2143 lectionaries. But even if all of these numbers were correct, the chart as it is would convey a lie. Numbers require a context; they do not have independent meaning. In this case, the numbers are tabulated so as to suggest that many less manuscripts were used in producing the Westcott & Hort text than in producing the Textus Receptus (TR), and the TR is inturn equated to the KJV Greek text. In some way, not stated, this is supposed to convince us that the KJV text is correct.

No reference is given for these numbers, but one is quite easy to locate. A google search provides us with The Bible Believer’s Baptist web site has their Bible Tidbit #65: Westcott & Hort which is itself a disgusting ad hominem attack, contains such a chart, and they reference it to THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE BIBLE AND CHRISTIANITY without providing further information. This tactic is used by KJV Only advocates to make their arguments look more respectable–after all, the source is an encyclopedia. But a little more checking leads us to the encyclopedia web site, The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity. Here we discover of this “encyclopedia” that:

“It is the only Bible dictionary/encyclopedia that is written by a Fundamental Baptist and based strictly upon the King James Bible.”

and

It does not correct the Authorized Version of the Bible . . .

So it is a KJV Only advocates encyclopedia, giving them a respectable sounding reference for misinformation–and this chart is definitely misinformation.

Here are the issues with the context and presentation of these numbers:

  1. What does it mean to “use” a manuscript? We are told how many manuscripts were used by the editors of each text, but we are not told what is meant by this. I am not nitpicking here. As an undergraduate, I had to produce a critical text of a passage working solely from available manuscript photocopies and collations. I worked with about a dozen manuscripts, and based on my knowledge of family relationships and so forth was able to produce a reasonably accurate text, certainly better than the TR. Does “use” mean simply to have them around? Does it mean to examine each reading in each one? Do you “use” a manuscript when you reject its reading, or does only acceptance of a reading count as using? Clearly, we don’t know what these numbers represent. This in itself would render the chart useless as evidence. But there’s more.
  2. The TR is equated to the Greek text of the KJV. It would be easy to claim that the two are “close enough” because they are, indeed, very close. And yet we’re dealing here with KJV Only advocates, who believe that any deviation is too much. Thus the equation of the TR is deceptive.
  3. There is an implication that the TR is based on the majority of the manuscripts, and thus is equivalent to the majority text–a text based simply on counting manuscripts. But this too is false. The KJV includes the long text of 1 John 5:7-8, for example, which is definitely a minority reading, and is also definitely a significant variant, and yet a consistent majority text would have to exclude that passage.
  4. Why is the Westcott and Hort text being used in comparison at all? Westcott and Hort advanced knowledge of the Biblical text and were pioneers of modern textual criticism, and yet almost nobody actually uses their text any more. Go to any Christian bookstore, and you will not find any version produced within the last century that uses the Westcott and Hort text. Besides the simple fact that the text criticized is not the one used in preparing modern versions, this particular piece of misdirection prevents people from checking the numbers as easily. The United Bible Societies 4th edition, commonly used as a starting point by modern translators lists 69 lectionaries, for example. Anyone who understands the study of textual criticism will realize that 69 lectionaries is actually a substantial survey, provided these are chosen from different text groups.
  5. Finally, why is it that one should be concerned simply with the number of manuscripts? That is the implication of the chart. It suggests that modern versions are using a minority of manuscripts, and that this practice is bad. But the simple fact is that the more time that passes between the writing of the autograph and the creation of a copy, the more likely it is that manuscript generations have passed. This is not the only criterion in determining which is a better manuscript, but it is a very important one, and one which makes the entire chart completely ridiculous. Manuscripts are not equal, and because of the nature of manuscripts–they decay–the majority of manuscripts are relatively recent. We only have a few manuscripts from the first few centuries of Christian history

All this chart does is wrap the respectability of numbers around a much repeated lie. If you stop and examine the numbers, and consider what they actually mean, you will find that these “facts” do not convey what their author has dressed them up to convey. That is what you need to do with all deceptive numbers.

3 comments to KJV Only: Anatomy of an Argument

  • VH

    A Response to Henry’s “Web

  • The most common KJVO argument I’ve heard (which is sort of addressed in your FAQ) is that God wouldn’t allow a text that gained such universal acceptance as Scripture in the English-speaking world to contain errors. This is very similar to the argument found in a few Patristic writings for the ‘Septuagint-only’ position (there is nothing new under the sun). Something interesting I found recently is that it appears to me that in Hebrews 2:12 (the author of Hebrews almost always quotes the LXX word-for-word) the author appears to me to correct the LXX (NT has apaggelo, meaning ‘announce’ or ‘proclaim’ which is what all the translations from the Hebrew that I have say [I read Greek, but not Hebrew or Aramaic], LXX Psalm 21:23 has diegesomai, meaning something like ‘expound upon’). If this was the case, I think it would really shut down this kind of argument, since it would show that God didn’t similarly preserve the LXX which had a status very much like that of the KJV. However, I only have one edition of the LXX and I don’t have an ap. crit. in it and I am similarly lacking in the other resources that would be needed to test this hypothesis. Perhaps you could comment on this?

    I find this question very interesting, but to me it’s purely academic because I find it impossible to take the KJVO position seriously (even seriously enough to take time to refute it as you have done). I do think the claims of inspiration of the LXX are slightly stronger (though still ultimately nonsense) because it is quoted so frequently by the NT, and actually plan to deal with that question on my blog in the near future as part of a series on the rational basis for belief in the Bible (which I hope will be able to move on to a discussion of WHAT to believe about the Bible).

    BTW, I got here from the Better Bibles Blog link, and will probably become a regular reader. Keep up the good work.

  • In response to VH:

    I’ll just respond to a couple of minor points. The problem with responding to the KJV only position is that they pack so many errors and/or falsehoods into each sentence that it becomes burdensome simply to list them.

    … the text in my e-mail you claimed was “badly abused