D.A. Carson. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.
D.A. Carson is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This book is his response to Christians who argue that the King James
Version is the only legitimate Bible version that Christians should use.
Carson focuses his energy on the New Testament manuscripts, since it
is mainly in that area that the debate takes place. Carson, like many
text critics, believes that one can group New Testament manuscripts into
text-types on the basis of common features. There is the Byzantine
text type, which is the basis for the King James Version, and of which
the majority of New Testament manuscripts are a part. There is the
Alexandrian text type, which is earlier. And there is the Western text
Carson’s text-critical problems with the KJV-only viewpoint are that
(1.) the Byzantine text is late and probably dates back to the
mid-fourth century C.E., (2.) the Byzantine text is not used by the
ante-Nicene church fathers, who do use the Alexandrian and Western
texts, (3.) the Byzantine text draws from the Alexandrian and Western
texts, showing it is more steps removed from the original, and (4.) the
Textus Receptus behind the KJV came about when Erasmus (fifteenth
century) made a manuscript using late Byzantine manuscripts and
supplementing missing pieces of Revelation with a Latin text. According
to Carson, the fact that most New Testament manuscripts out there are
consistent with the Byzantine texts is not due to divine providence
favoring that version, as some KJV-only advocates maintain, but has
other explanations: that the Byzantine Empire spoke Greek long after
other parts of the world stopped doing so and thus produced more Greek
manuscripts of the New Testament, that Emperor Constantine sought to
standardize the versions, and that John Chrysostom popularized the
Byzantine text. Even if the Byzantine text has the most copies, Carson
maintains that this does not make it the most reliable text.
As I read further into the book, particularly the appendix, which
Carson warned would be complicated, I learned that things are a bit more
complex. There actually are times when ante-Nicene fathers appeal to
distinctly Byzantine readings, but those occurrences are very rare. In
addition, ante-Nicene fathers appear to refer to the content of I John
5:7, which is Trinitarian and in the KJV but which many scholars believe
is not original to the text. Carson says on page 61, however, that
“the words are not cited as Scripture, but…probably arose as allegorical
exegesis of the three witnesses.”
I found this book, especially Carson’s fourteen theses, to be a
decent and lucid introduction to the KJV debate. I still find that I
need to learn more about textual criticism, specifically why certain
criteria are valid or useful at helping us get at the now lost original
text. For that, I may consult Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, which even some conservatives say can serve as a good introduction to text criticism, or Bruce Metzger’s authoritative work.
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