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Godly men such as Jack Hyles claim that modern translations are corrupt and based on inferior manuscripts. Are his arguments incorrect?

Jack Hyles is a godly man, deeply loves the Lord, and is solid on the Word of God. All that is truly wonderful! I myself am so committed to Scripture that I cry out almost weekly about those men in pulpits who play games and do not preach the Word!

One must not be swayed by passion alone, however, if it is coupled with half-truths. No amount of passion and sincerity can make up for truth. If I were to say that 2 + 2 = 5, and if I were truly passionate about it and committed to this and if my mother taught me this and if it had persuaded millions of folks for centuries, this would not make it true. You need to exercise discernment when you think about what KJV only folks are saying. Their typical approach is to label others as heretics (I myself have gotten that label from many KJV only groups) or to cry out about a conspiracy to the effect that all those in seminary have been duped by the devil. But where is the actual substance to their arguments? To be fair, you need to read both sides of the issue. Read D. A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate or James White’s King James Only Controversy. These two men are godly, conservative Christian scholars. They deserve to be heard.

In one of his sermons (“Logic proves the KJV”), brother Hyles said that he would only give facts—facts that all would agree with. I did not. Here are some of his factual errors or misleading statements: He misused Matt 24:35 (‘heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’), distorted certain statistics, skewed the present status of textual criticism, indirectly maligned the senior editor of the NRSV, was strangely silent about the underpinnings of the KJV, has not done his homework on Southern Baptist Seminary, gave a caricature of those who prefer modern translations to the KJV, and even contradicted his fundamental argument about authority. Allow me to canvass these points for you:

1. Matthew 24:35 is typically used to imply that the KJV must be the preserved Word of God. Upon closer inspection, this is certainly not what the verse is about. Jesus is speaking here; the context is the Olivet Discourse in which he describes future judgment, the tribulation, etc. As he builds up to a crescendo in which he will soon declare his own return, he declares, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Now, to start with, let me assure you: I believe what Jesus Christ said here will all my heart. But I must protest the abuse that his words have suffered from well-meaning defenders of the KJV. He is speaking about the certainty of his prophecies, not the preservation of all that he said. Think about it. If he were speaking about the latter, then why don’t we have more of the words of Jesus in the Bible? All the words of Jesus that we have recorded took place in approximately 50 days. Fifty days—not even two months. Yet we know that Jesus’ ministry lasted at least three years. Should we believe that he only uttered words on less than 5% of all the days of his ministry from his baptism until his ascension? Was he silent at all other times? If so, then when the gospels say that he rose early to pray, he must have not uttered any words. Or when they say that he ‘taught many other things’ he must have done it by hand signals. Further, John’s gospel clearly implies that Jesus said other things than were recorded in the gospels (cf. John 21:25).

Now, please understand: I am not in any sense being disrespectful of our Lord! Rather, I am showing the ludicrousness of a certain caricature made of him when a particular verse is twisted so perversely that one cannot see its original meaning at all any more. This is what brother Hyles (and legions of KJV only folks) has done with Matt 24:35. Without so much as any serious time in Bible study in which the meaning of the verse is discerned, it is rather waved around like a magic wand. This can be said for all such verses that are used to defend the notion that the KJV is the preserved Word of God.

2. Brother Hyles distorted certain statistics. He said that 95% of all seminaries are liberal, do not affirm that the Bible is the Word of God, do not believe in hell, do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, etc. I’m not sure where he’s getting his ‘facts,’ but I can assure you that his numbers are quite wrong. To be sure, there are a great number of liberal seminaries in which these statistics are accurate. But even at such schools, there are some conservatives. But the largest seminaries in terms of numbers of students—and which, collectively, surely represent the majority of those receiving a theological education today—do not fit this pattern. Dallas Seminary is the fourth largest seminary in America: all faculty must embrace that the Bible is the Word of God, that there is a place called hell which involves eternal, conscious punishment of the wicked, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead bodily, etc. In fact, all our students must also embrace such truths in order even to get admitted. Many, many other schools also have doctrinal statements that include these points: e.g., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Talbot Seminary, Western Seminary, Westminster Seminary, Central Bible Seminary, Denver Seminary, etc., etc.

3a. Brother Hyles skewed the present status of New Testament textual criticism. He did this by speaking of the evils of ‘Wescott [sic—it should be spelled ‘Westcott’] and Hort’—men whose work is now well over 100 years old. What he didn’t mention is that since their day hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts have been discovered, as well as early church fathers’ writings and early versions. The amount of material we now have to assess the state of the New Testament text is simply enormous. Yet, one finds a curious thing: the earlier we go, the closer the manuscripts look like the modern English translations and not the KJV. I won’t go into the details here; you may check some of my essays on the BSF web site for data. But one fact I will mention: To date, not one manuscript, not one church father, not one version in the first 300 years of the church’s existence has been found that looks like the KJV! But it does substantially look like the modern translations.

3b. Further, brother Hyles said that the modern translations are based on manuscripts that are housed in the Vatican: “The Wescott [sic] and Hort manuscripts came from the Vatican manuscripts that were hidden in the Vatican for years—from whence came the Catholic Bible.” This one sentence is filled with misleading innuendos and factual errors. For one thing, Westcott and Hort did not create ‘manuscripts.’ I’m not sure what he means by this expression; Westcott and Hort spent 28 years researching and looking at ancient manuscripts, but what they produced was a printed Greek New Testament. Also, Westcott and Hort found that two major manuscripts (which were also the earliest known to exist at the time) helped them to determine the wording of the text of the New Testament. One of these is codex B—also known as Vaticanus. It is indeed housed in the Vatican. The other is codex Sinaiticus—housed in the British Museum and never possessed by the Catholic Church. Further, Westcott and Hort also found three other manuscripts very valuable: codex Alexandrinus (which is in a case next to Sinaiticus at the British Museum and has been in possession of Great Britain for centuries), codex Ephraimi Rescriptus (housed at a library in Paris), and codex Cantabrigiensis (housed at the Cambridge University library). This last manuscript was in fact owned by Theodore Beza, one of the great Protestant Reformers. In 1581 he sent the manuscript to Cambridge University, saying that that school would be able to preserve it better than anyone else. He also noted that it was quite eccentric in places. What is significant here is that Theodore Beza’s Greek New Testament of 1589 was the direct ancestor to the KJV of 1611. His Greek text was the one the translators used when translating from Greek into English. Thus, Westcott and Hort used one manuscript that is housed in the Vatican—and this manuscript has, incidentally, been confirmed by a papyrus manuscript discovered in the 1950s which is now housed at the University of Michigan and in Dublin (in a private collection). Finally, brother Hyles gives a distinctively false impression when he says ‘from whence came the Catholic Bible.’ Why is this a false impression? Because the Vatican did not allow others to see codex Vaticanus for a long time precisely because it seemed to destroy the credibility of their own Bible! Thus is this one sentence of brother Hyles fraught with error and misleading statements.

4. Brother Hyles tossed out the RSV/NRSV tradition by claiming that such had been translated by liberals. This is true to an extent (the bulk of scholars who translated these two were liberals), but not entirely. The senior editor of the NRSV is Dr. Bruce Metzger, a godly man whose integrity is unquestionable. He embraces fully the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and that the Bible is the Word of God. Now, to be sure, Dr. Metzger is not a full-blown evangelical; but he is no liberal. There are shades of grey that brother Hyles simply doesn’t see. It seems that unless someone agrees with him completely, that person is a liberal. I don’t think that that is either fair or charitable. When I visited Dr. Metzger several years ago at his office at Princeton Seminary, he showed me an urn. Inside were the ashes of a copy of the RSV Bible. This Bible had been burned by a Baptist pastor in North Carolina (I believe). He had destroyed it because he claimed that it was a “Communist” Bible. What was his basis? The word ‘comrade’ was used a couple of times in the Old Testament! Dr. Metzger looked at me and said, “Can you imagine anyone destroying the Word of God in the name of Christ? Isn’t that tragic?”

5. Brother Hyles does not mention that his beloved textus receptus (the Greek text that stands behind the KJV) was first published by Erasmus, a Roman Catholic humanist against whom Martin Luther wrote one of his major works. Nor does brother Hyles mention that Erasmus was pressed for time and was trying to beat others to the claim of being the first to publish the Greek New Testament; he was so impatient, in fact, that his first edition was filled with thousands of errors (it has in fact been called the worst edited book in the history of publishing). Nor does he mention that Erasmus did not have the last six verses of the Greek text in Revelation (since the one manuscript he was using had lost its final page); consequently, Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin into Greek thereby creating seventeen textual variants that have never been found in any other Greek manuscripts! The list goes on and on. (For example, Erasmus altered the wording of 1 John 5:7-8 to reflect an explicit trinitarian viewpoint on the basis of one manuscript that was ‘made to order’ by a scribe named Roy, working at Oxford in 1520. Erasmus only put Roy’s wording in his published text because the Roman Catholic church put pressure on him to do so. Thus, the KJV claim to this verse owes its roots to the Catholic church.) Erasmus altogether used only about half a dozen manuscripts, none earlier than the tenth century AD. And since he created many readings that have not been found in any other Greek manuscripts, we would have to conclude that if the textus receptus is inspired then inspiration has gone beyond the age of the apostles, jumping 1500 years and landing in the lap of a Catholic humanist!

6. Southern Baptist seminary has seen some dramatic shifts in the last decade or so. Most of the administration, I believe, is now conservative. Brother Hyles implied that it must surely be more liberal than when he went there. Apparently he has not kept up with the school at all. David Dockery is a key conservative scholar, as are Tom Schreiner and Craig Blaising. All men would hold to the same fundamentals that brother Hyles claimed were no longer being taught there. Further, many other faculty are also conservative, though to be sure there are still some liberal elements in the school. Rather than condemn and criticize, perhaps we should rejoice that the Lord is turning this important school—important because it is the major southern Baptist seminary—around; and perhaps we should continue to pray that the Lord would be pleased to do so.

7. Brother Hyles gave a caricature of those who prefer modern translations over the KJV when he suggested that they would say that the KJV is not the Word of God. The vast bulk of those who prefer modern translations acknowledge that the KJV is the Word of God. The opposite, however, is not true: those who strongly prefer the KJV tend to treat modern translations as less than the Word of God. Thus, the situation is reversed of what he described.

8. Finally, brother Hyles contradicted his fundamental view on authority. The very title of his message argues for reason as the final authority over all else—even over Scripture. This is an Achilles’ heel for all KJV advocates: they must resort to their own version of reason and logic rather than appeal to Scripture in order to defend the KJV. When they do this, they elevate their own reason above the Word of God. Further, their general argument is akin to ‘50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.’ Such is obviously a rather faulty way to approach truth.

My friend, I ask you to look at the data. I believe that to skew the truth is not honoring to Christ. Instead of protecting one’s fort, maybe it would be better to pursue truth and to adjust our lives to it. It’s a real tragedy that good and godly folk can spend so much of their energies condemning other Christians. Unfortunately, as one of my Bible professors once said, “The Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.”

Related Topics: Textual Criticism