How can you know WHICH Bible is correct? We have all sorts of versions out there – KJV, NIV, ASV, RSV, and quite literally hundreds of others – but which should you read? Does it matter? What’s the difference? Setting aside for the moment ease of use for the modern reader, which version is MOST TRUSTWORTHY? Are any inspired by God? Some would tell you that the King James Version of the Bible is “the word of God, from cover to cover includin’ the cover!” – is that true? Should you use the Septuagint? What about the Apocryphal books like the books of the Maccabees, Judith, Jubilees, and Enoch? Or the dead sea scrolls?
I will address these questions a bit later on, but for now I want to lay the groundwork of the philosophy of how you SHOULD approach this question. If there is a God – and you must believe there is, if you’re wanting to read the book He wrote – then God, if He is powerful enough to be worthy of being CALLED a God, can take care of Himself. He can protect Himself. And He can protect His word.
Does God need YOUR help to protect the Bible? If He does, He’s a pretty useless God if He can’t even keep His own inspired writings from getting burned or wet or lost! The point of this is that GOD is ABLE to save His word; God WANTED to save His word, and God DID save His word. If you don’t approach this question with that in mind, you will certainly come to the wrong conclusion and walk away in frustration.
Religious scholars tend to get caught up in the details and forget that this is a book written by God, not Hebrews; it was the words of God, not Jews, that were written down; it was the thoughts of the Creator, not the created, that we find in the pages of the Bible. All too often they’re too busy looking at the words under a microscope to read what they say….
So, think before making – or letting someone else make – a bald statement like “well, you see, in Middle Eastern texts, the climax is in the middle, not the end, so you have to REARRANGE books like Zechariah to get a correct understanding of the text” – or, “Ezekiel is written all wrong, chronologically, so let’s write a Bible that straightens it all out in correct time sequence!” – or, “Daniel couldn’t POSSIBLY have been written by Daniel, because it is in the ‘wrong’ spot in the Hebrew canon!”
Statements like this show that men have forgotten the whole point. God doesn’t live in the Middle East. He writes books the way He feels like. He writes them in the order He feels like, and He arranges the text within the books in whatever arrangement He thinks is best – He doesn’t need to follow Hebrew, Greek, Jewish or Babylonian rules of composition. Does He?
If the book is INSPIRED, it means it is inspired BY GOD. The fact that John’s pen was used is irrelevant. God may have used symbols that John was familiar with to express His thoughts, and so in that way the books may differ slightly one from another in style, but if the book is written PARTLY by God, and PARTLY by men, then it’s not a pure book. We can’t trust it, and you have no sure way to find salvation. Because if you or I start adding words – even one – to the Bible, we’re going to mess something up. God made that quite clear.
Revelation 22:18-19 … If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Textual criticism is a very simple problem; it only becomes complicated because people desperately want an excuse to reject the Bible. They want to have a lot of different opinions about what God says so that they can be free to pick a quotation from the Septuagint here, a doctrine from the Gospel of Peter there, a verse from the Masoretic text here; and the more different opinions they can find, the better they can hide from God in the confusion of uncertainty.
There is no uncertainty. God intended for us to have His word available, and He has made it available. And no, I don’t mean the King James is infallible, but I don’t mean the NIV is either – and yet you don’t have to pick and choose, verse by verse, what you want to believe. You can KNOW what the true word of God is. So before I get into the technical details, let me ask this question; which Bible does God use?
As I said, God is able to make His word survive intact. I think most of my audience would agree that the protestant reformation was God breaking the power of the Catholic Church, and opening a great door to spread the gospel to literally “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people”.
At no time in human history has there EVER been such missionary work dragging the Bible through darkest Africa and remotest Tibet as in the time from A.D. 1500 onward. God’s words, however varied and tinted with different opinions and doctrines was given to every people on Earth. And always they left behind them a Bible, even if the missionaries themselves didn’t follow the Bible in many areas, the Bible was left behind.
And so for those who trust God, the “end to all strife” on this subject is quite simple; which Bible did God use for this? And the answer is easy; first the Geneva Bible, and then the King James Bible. They excelled beyond any other available Bible in terms of readability, affordability, and sheer usesfulness, using study aids such as cross-references and translator’s notes in a way no Bible before had done.
So when God wanted His message opened to the world; when the “gospel was preached unto all nations”; when a door was opened before His church that “no man could shut” – the gospel that was carried to all the world was the Geneva and King James Bibles, which are almost identical. To this day, as you check into a motel you will find a Gideon Bible in the lampstand which is a King James Version – the Gideons ALONE have placed over 1.5 BILLION Bibles just in the last hundred years.
This is not to say that the King James was inspired, or infallible; but it IS to say that no man can argue that it is GOD’S PREFERRED VERSION. It is the one GOD sent to the nations. God must have considered it the best available, or God would have used a different one!
Let me be clear, lest I be classed with the “KJV is inspired” groups out there; the King James Bible is FLAWED. It has ERRORS. But so does every single Bible on the planet! The King James just has fewer of them, and more importantly, it is EASIER to determine where they are – as you’ll see in the next chapter. God left flaws in the KJV Bible for a reason.
But flaws or not, it is the Bible God preferred, beyond any question, be taken to all nations and used as the basis for translating a Bible into every written language on Earth. That is a fact that cannot be swept under the rug as you look at this question.
No original writings of any of the apostles, prophets, or writers exist today. None of the dead sea scrolls, none of the oldest libraries anywhere in the world have the ORIGINAL piece of sheepskin that Mark’s Gospel was written on – or whatever material he used. So we have to rely on copies. Actually, we have to rely on copies of copies. Of copies. You get the idea.
The Bible was compiled and preserved in two sections, the Old and New Testaments. We have each section from a different source; we’ll look at the New Testament first. There are essentially two New Testaments today; the one as found in the King James and related versions; and the one found in the NIV and related versions.
The name of the original Greek text used in translating the King James version was the “textus receptus“, compiled in the early 16th century by Erasmus, by comparing every Greek copy of the Bible he had available to him. Originally he had six versions of the Bible to translate, but since then there have been found over FIVE THOUSAND ancient manuscripts containing at least a part of the Greek New Testament as used by Erasmus. These 5,000 manuscripts are collectively called the “majority texts”, that is, the ones we have the most of. They are also called the “Byzantine texts”.
But these are not the oldest manuscripts; the oldest manuscripts we have available to us are called the “minority texts” or the “Alexandrian texts”. The original translation was based on THREE versions, and since we have found a few more, about thirty, which agree with the “Alexandrian style”. These versions were for many centuries considered inferior because they show significant evidence of corruption, omit many texts which obviously were intended to be in the Bible and which I will show in a moment, and there are just so few of them, showing that they were not considered important. Many were found on monastery rubbish heaps, having been rejected by the owners as worthless or flawed.
However in 1881 the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament was published based on these minority texts, instead of the majority texts; the sole reason being that they are older. Since then, nearly every new translation has used this Westcott-Hort Greek text as its basis. So which should you believe? Which is the inspired word of God?
HOW WOULD YOU PROTECT THE BIBLE?
Let me ask you a question; if you wanted to make sure that something you wrote survived; that no matter who tried to corrupt it, or destroy it would survive unchanged, how would YOU do it? Let’s say you took a picture of Bigfoot. That picture would be your only evidence that Sasquatch existed. Absolutely IRREPLACABLE proof; and you’d want to make SURE that it survived. So what would you do?
If you lock it in a safe, your house could burn down; it could be stolen; your proof would be lost. So you’d copy it. But if you keep a copy in the same house, it might still burn down with the other; so you’d make ANOTHER copy and give it to a friend. But he might change it – touch it up so your bigfoot evidence was destroyed! Then it would be your picture against his – how would anyone know which was the original? So you’d make a hundred copies, or a thousand; you’d send them to everyone you knew, every news agency you could find, and scatter it across the world; sure, some of them would get lost, but who cares? The bulk would survive.
Your negative might be destroyed, but your PROOF – the PICTURE – would survive everything but the complete extinction of mankind. And even then, you might still find that someone dropped a copy of your picture in a cave, or in a bomb shelter. So it would survive.
And sure, some of them would be corrupted; some would change it deliberately to destroy your proof, some would change it accidentally by spilling ink on it, and just by copying the copies of a copy errors in transmission would creep in – but the ERRORS WOULD NEVER BE IN THE SAME PLACE TWICE!
Think about that! If you had 1,000 scribes HANDWRITE copies of the Bible, there would be ERRORS IN EVERY COPY! No scribe is so perfect, no hand so steady, that every “i” would be dotted, or every “t” crossed! No scribe is so alert that he won’t accidentally write “hadn” instead of “hand”, or worse, “good” instead of “god”.
So no matter HOW well you had the copies made, there would be errors; but the errors would be in DIFFERENT PLACES EVERY TIME!
When you compare those thousand copies, 999 – or at least 995 – will have the exact same reading of the exact same verse. The other 1 or 5 scribes may have forgotten a period, or repeated a line, but the MAJORITY will show you the TRUE text; what the original was MEANT to be.
And so when God wanted His Bible preserved, he knew that twenty or thirty copies locked up in a monastery somewhere would be corrupted beyond recognition in a few thousand years – and they have been. Edited and reedited in hidden rooms away from the public where they could be changed by those who held doctrine dearer than truth.
And so God gave the Bible to the people; He had tens of thousands of copies made, of which over five thousand survive to this day. No, we don’t have the original papers the Apostles wrote, nor are these even the oldest copies – but we have so many of them, that the minor errors that each contains can be harmonized easily, just by seeing how the majority read.
So if God were to protect His word, He would have done so by putting as many copies in the hands of as many people as humanly possible; and leave the Vatican and the Egyptian gnostics free to corrupt the few dozen manuscripts they could get their hands on.
ALEXANDRIAN VS. BYZANTINE MANUSCRIPTS
The Alexandrian minority texts are older; the primary reason being that dry, desolate Egypt is a far better place to store documents than humid, populous, war-torn Asia and Europe. Everyone agrees the Majority texts were copied from even older texts, which most agree might well predate the extant Minority texts.
But judge for yourself the comparison in these readings; the Majority text is pretty much what you find in the King James Bible. But the Alexandrian text omits MANY things that are quite important, and without which cause the Bible to make little or no sense in many spots. For example:
Mark 16:8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
The Minority texts end the Gospel of Mark there. Abruptly, with no epilogue or “amen” as nearly every other book has. Just up and ends, in mid-sentence. And there is no way the book ended there! As you read the rest of Mark, you read about the resurrection, the commission to preach the gospel which parallels the other gospels, and then Mark as recorded in the Majority texts concludes his book properly by saying:
Mark 16:20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
We KNOW that happened, from the other Gospels and Acts. It belongs in the Bible, and it is ONLY doubted because it is not included in the earliest Alexandrian Manuscripts, when virtually ALL of the thousands of other manuscripts include it. God protected it from deletion by the gnostics by making sure they couldn’t reach all the copies He had spread across Europe.
The story of the woman taken in adultery John 7:53-8:11 is also omitted in the Minority texts, although there are notes in the manuscripts indicating that the story was known to fit there, but was rejected by the authors of those versions because they didn’t like it. Many other verses or pieces of verses are missing, such as:
Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
That entire verse is missing from the Alexandrian text, and all Bibles based on it. Other whole verses that are omitted include Matthew 12:47; 17:21; 18:11; Mark 9:44.46; 15:28; Luke 17:36; Acts 8:37; 15:34; Acts 24:7, 28:29. I’d urge you to look those up and see if you don’t think those belong in the Bible. Many other fractions of verses are missing, important fractions that belong in the Bible.
But I don’t want to get too sidetracked with listing the flaws in the minority text; I just want to state that they are there, and more importantly to show you that God had a plan, He is still working that plan, and He is still protecting His Bible – if you’ll only believe that He did, is, and can.
OLD TESTAMENT: Septuagint vs. Masoretic text.
We have the Hebrew in all of our modern Bibles, KJV and NIV alike, from the Masoretic text. This is a copy preserved by an extremely careful Jewish sect called the Masorites. They were tedious scribes with great attention to detail. They even counted the letters in the documents and tabulated how many there should be, so that the documents could be checked to prevent errors.
But there is another copy of the Old Testament out there: the Septuagint. It is growing in popularity like wildfire with the rumor “Jesus quoted from the Septuagint!” – and it is just that, a rumor. No one stops to check it, and many deliberately mislead with that statement. Yes, there are quotes from the Old Testament that Jesus used that are similar to the Septuagint – but there are just as many that are not even remotely close to the Septuagint.
To do justice to the subject, the Septuagint must be handled in it’s own article. Most modern Bibles read by most people have been addressed by what I already said here. So I will shelve the Septuagint for now, since it isn’t strictly part of the question at hand, and it is answered by the same fundamental answer:
When God wanted His word spread to all the world, He did so by using the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Majority Greek texts, specifically the translations used in the King James, and Geneva Bibles.
FLAWS IN THE KING JAMES
The King James is, as I’ve said repeatedly, not perfect. The best example is the “trinity scripture”, called by scholars the “Comma Johanneum” of 1 John 5:7.
1 John 5:7 “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
1 John 5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
The underlined portions of this passage are not found in the majority Greek texts, NOR in the minority Greek texts. If you look in your NIV, it won’t be there. It didn’t even exist in the first two versions of Erasmus’ Majority Greek text. But clergymen were FURIOUS that the trinity doctrine was “weakened” by not being in the Bible as THEY thought it should be!
According to Wikipedia, article “Comma Johanneum“: “Erasmus is said to have replied to these critics that the Comma did not occur in any of the Greek manuscripts he could find, but that he would add it to future editions if it appeared in a single Greek manuscript. Such a manuscript was subsequently concocted by a Franciscan, and Erasmus, true to his word, added the Comma to his 1522 edition, but with a lengthy footnote setting out his suspicion that the manuscript had been prepared expressly to confute him.”
Some doubt the exact veracity of this story, but the fact is clear that Erasmus doubted the authenticity of the concept, and the verse does not appear in practically ALL of the five thousand majority Greek texts, being found in only FOUR of them, and dating from the 15th century at the earliest.
It is present in earlier LATIN versions, but not that many of them either. Again we see the principle; God wanted to save something, He KNEW a few dozen versions would be corrupted by a doctrine, as many as a corrupt church could reach, but they couldn’t possibly corrupt ALL, or even the MAJORITY of the Bibles. And so by comparing them, we can know EXACTLY what was meant to be in the Bible – and even trinitarians admit that this verse doesn’t belong in the Bible.
So why did God allow it to be in there, if this is His preferred Bible? Well, I said preferred. Not perfect. God goes out of His way not to expose us to perfection, because the more we see perfectly, the more He must punish us if we disobey. So God allowed error in the Bible just as He allowed deception in its teaching, so that we can all “see through a glass darkly” and have at least some excuse for our actions.
John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
But it can’t be denied that God sent all the information that the world needed to the world. The King James isn’t “missing” verses that SHOULD be there; it has a few that shouldn’t, and a few mistranslations and poor renderings, but everything we NEED is there – enough so that, without knowing ANYTHING about manuscripts AT ALL, we can easily see that the trinity scripture is an ERROR. We can reject the trinity without knowing anything about textual criticism by the simple fact that the ENTIRE BIBLE preaches against the trinity!
The same logic applies to the Apocrypha; God didn’t send it to all the world. He sent the Bible as we have it. He didn’t send them the Dead Sea Scrolls. He didn’t send them the Septuagint. He sent them the King James Bible. So which Bible do I use?
I don’t use just one Bible. No Bible is perfect. But I don’t have to use just one – Modern technology allows me to use a dozen or two Bibles at once; I tend to start in the KJV, but when I want to see what a certain verse says more clearly, I just thumb through other translations – Young’s Literal, Phillips, BBE, Rotherham, Weymouth, NKJV, Murdoch, to name a few of my preferred translations. Generally they don’t disagree, because for the most part, textual criticism DOESN’T MATTER!
IT DOESN’T MATTER
See, you’ll hear it said that “there are 30,000 discrepancies in the gospel of Mark alone between the Westcott text and the Received text!” – and that is scary. Which do you believe? Which is right? What are those 30,000 discrepancies?
When you actually examine it, you learn that they count EVERY missing period, every T not crossed, every misspelled word, every transposed word, every repeated line, every obvious scribal error. Things that never show up in an English translation, and are said primarily JUST to scare and confuse the ignorant.
In reality, there are only a few dozen places in the New Testament that REALLY affect the understanding of what God said, which you can see by simply comparing the KJV with the NIV in any Bible. Most of the time they are fairly close. But when they disagree, remember that the King James is what God sent to the world – not the NIV.
Most of the time, textual criticism simply DOESN’T MATTER. It is just yet another place people hide from God; hoping to cloak their rebellion under the excuse of uncertainty; blaming their disobedience on defective manuscripts. And it all has a simple answer; God used the majority text.
And when the King James is wrong, when you compare the majority texts you will always – and I mean ALWAYS – find the right answer. God has made certain that we HAVE access to a pure Bible; not just one holy book that must be protected, but thousands of imperfect books that must be compared to find one holy truth. Most of that work has already been done, and particularly in the King James, we know where the mistakes are.
2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
When Paul said those words, He was speaking of the Old Testament. The Old Testament without Apocrypha. And those scriptures alone are able to make you wise unto salvation. Not merely salvation, but salvation THROUGH FAITH, and through faith IN CHRIST JESUS. That information is all in the Old Testament, without the New.
The New makes it much easier to understand; you might think of the Old Testament as the lock, and the New Testament the key; it makes some things that would have really been HARD to understand really easy. But they are all the package we need; we don’t need to hunt for mystical knowledge not found in the Bible to find salvation.
We needn’t peruse the “Gospel of Peter” looking for answers, nor the traditions of the “Church Fathers”, nor will we find salvation in some dusty old manuscript locked in the libraries of the Vatican. You have all you need to find salvation already. All that remains is to obey it.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 For this commandment which I command thee this day, IT IS NOT HIDDEN FROM THEE, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Which Paul sums up and explains, saying…
Romans 10:8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
So stop worrying about which Bible to read and get out there and read one.
…But read one that does have all the things God preserved for us in the Majority text.