Have Heretics Corrupted My Bible?

I continue today in my series examining the arguments made by Christian who defend the King James Version (KJV) as being the only translation that accurately conveys God’’s Word.

The last few articles have undertaken a study of the third point: what I call the textual argument. This is the idea that the King James Bible is translated from original language texts that supposedly demonstrate clearly God’s guiding hand of preservation.

Now, before we close out this study of the textual argument, it is important to address two areas of contention used by KJVO advocates for establishing the King James as being the only translation based upon the best original language texts. First, we need to explore the charge that the texts used by modern versions have been corrupted by heretical men and then the vilification of Westcott and Hort.

With this article, I want to turn our attention to the allegation that the original language texts used in translating modern versions have been corrupted by heretical individuals in Church history past, particularly during the immediate centuries after Christ.

That is a major charge to consider because I have never encountered a KJVO apologist, either in person or in print, who does not raise it. In fact, the corruption by heretics charge was one of my main talking points any time I had the opportunity to proselytize for KJV onlyism. The claim is unarguably one of the top challenges KJVO advocates make against modern Bible translations so it must be addressed.

KJVO apologists will tie their charge of corruption together with two threads of argumentation: From the Bible itself and then from Church history.

They will first appeal to scripture to establish their case, usually starting with Genesis chapter 3 and the fall of Adam and Eve. They argue that Genesis 3 is where we see the beginning point of the devil’s attack on God’s Word by corrupting it. Self-published KJVO apologist, Robert Alexander, explains the devil’s corrupting activity,

The first words out of the devil’s mouth are “Yea, hath God said…” I find that very interesting. The first time he appeared, he said Yea, hath God said, and then changed what God said. The devil misquoted, questioned, and twisted what God said. The devil has been in the business of revising and updating the word of God ever since. [How to Study the Bible, p. 88].

KJVO apologists argue that if we examine the account of how the devil deceived Eve, we can identify three ways God’s Word was corrupted:

1) First, the devil casts doubt upon the trustworthiness of God’s Word when he asks Eve mockingly, “Yea, hath God said?”

2) Then Eve adds to what God had told her by Adam when she responds to the devil by saying, “we are not to eat of the tree nor touch it.”

3) And finally, the devil outright lies about the truthfulness of what God had said when he tells Eve you shall not surely die.

Thus, doubting the Bible, adding to the Bible, and lying against the Bible are the three ways the Devil has used heretical men to attack the Scriptures over the years, and this is the modus operandi of modern-day textual critics who say the modern versions are based upon the oldest and best manuscript evidence.

KJVO advocates will also appeal to other passages of Scripture. For example, Jeremiah 23:36, where the prophet speaks of men who have perverted the words of the Living God, as well as other similar sounding rebukes from the prophets and apostles, like Deuteronomy 16:19, 2 Corinthians 2:17, and Galatians 1:7. KJVO advocates believe those passages imply the enemies of the Bible were physically altering the text to promote their heresy.

After attempting to give a biblical account of men corrupting the Bible, KJV onlyists will then try to tie their argument to some historical factors. Quoting once again from KJVO defender, D. A. Waite, president of the Bible for Today, he writes in regards to heretics corrupting the Bible,

These so-called old texts of the New Testament, such as B (Vatican) and Aleph (Sinai) and their some forty-three allies, were corrupted, I believe, by heretics within the first 100 years after the original New Testament books were written. Therefore, even though they may be the oldest, they were doctored by heretics and therefore are not the best. [Defending the KJV Bible, p. 28]. Emphasis mine.

Later, he names some of those heretics who are alleged to have doctored the NT,

Some of the heretics which operated in this period were Marcion, (160 A.D.); Valentinus, (160 A.D.); Cyrinthus, (50-100 A.D.); Sabellius, (about 260 A.D.); and others [ibid, p. 46]

It is believed those heretical individuals, and others like them, were responsible for the creation of the Alexandrian texts so despised by KJVO advocates. Their hand in producing those manuscripts and the fact they originated in and around Alexandria, Egypt, was the main reason why God’s people never used those manuscripts.

Moreover, the textual scholars who found and utilized them later during the 1800s were ungodly, theological liberals. KJVO defender, William Grady, writes an entire chapter in his book, Final Authority, linking the philosophy of those Bible-changing, liberal heretics to the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation 2:6, 14-15.

The “Nicolaitan mindset,” according to Grady, was supposedly evident during the 18th and 19th centuries when the liberal textual critics began to defer to textual readings found in the then newly discovered Alexandrian Greek manuscripts, over similar readings found in the traditional TR from which the KJV was translated. Those textual scholars were in essence altering God’s Word by publishing their edited New Testaments with the corrupted readings and claiming they were superior.

With that brief outline in mind, we need to consider the reliability of this charge that heretics have corrupted our Bibles. That is a serious accusation and I do not believe we truly appreciate the gravity of what KJVO apologists are leveling against our modern translations.  King James only advocates are telling us that heretical men have tampered with God’s revelation throughout church history, and Satan made sure their tampering would find its way into the hands of modern-day Christians in the form of modern English translations.

Our faith and our Christian walk are dependent upon the leading by God’s divine revelation that He has recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. If it is true the Bible was altered to the point heresy has been injected within its pages, then it is imperative we discover and affirm what KJVO advocates are charging. However, if it is found out they are misinformed and the charge of heretical corruption is exaggerated or outright false, then KJV onlyists are guilty of promoting a gross lie. So, the question before us is simple: does the KJVO claim of scriptural corruption by heretics stand up against scrutiny?

It may interest many readers to note the strange irony with the KJVO charge of a corrupted Bible. In an odd twist, that is exactly what true haters of the Bible, like Islamic apologists and supporters of Da Vinci Code like conspiracies, also allege against the biblical manuscripts. The difference, however, is where as the KJVO proponents argue for preservation in only one divinely blessed and preserved line of manuscripts, the anti-Bible apologists believe the corruption was made in order to promote Christian doctrine, say for instance the Deity of Christ, over against what they consider to be the real truth, i.e., Jesus was just a man.

Before we consider some of the key points, I will state now that this charge of heretical corruption is false. There is absolutely no historic proof that heretical men intentionally tampered with manuscripts so as to introduce unorthodox doctrinal teaching to the church, and that their tampering either went unnoticed by the Christians, or is to only be found in the so-called Alexandrian manuscripts later utilized by textual critics.

There were some notorious heretics who did alter the NT documents, but their alterations did not go unnoticed and those individuals were marked out by church leaders as what they were, heretics. Rather than altering physical manuscripts, heretics re-interpreted the unaltered Bible according to their teachings. In other words, heretics taught false doctrines and then twisted the proper interpretation of Scripture to fit their teachings. Rarely, if ever, did they physically edit NT books to establish heresy.

Let us now consider some specific points of the KJVO case for heretical corruption.

Did God’s people reject and lay aside the use of any manuscripts they believed to be corrupted?

KJVO advocates want their readers to believe heretics acquired biblical manuscripts and made small alterations to the text. Those changes were such things as detracting from the divine title of the Lord Jesus Christ by leaving out the words Lord or Christ and just using the name Jesus.  It is also claimed heretics attacked important doctrines like the virgin birth by implying Joseph was the father of Jesus (Luke 2:33), and the deity of Christ by calling Jesus the unique God in John 1:18 rather than the only begotten son. The Christian community, however, knew about those small changes and refused to use those manuscripts and thus they were laid aside, never to be copied.

There are three obvious reasons why this claim is false:

First of all is the quick proliferation of the NT documents within the first century. Christians wanted the NT to be copied and spread far and wide. So for example, if a Christian businessman visited a city where a local church had a copy of the book of Colossians and he wanted a copy of it for his congregation, he would make his own copy by hand to take back with him. However, there is the potential risk of transmitting copying mistakes because the businessman was copying by hand. Moreover, if he were copying from a copy with written mistakes already present, he would also transmit those into his copy as well. This is one of the reasons for the vast number of variants within the NT documents. It is not evidence of heretical editors, but simple handwriting error.

Because Christians would allow their books to be copied so readily by other believers, the NT documents quickly spread throughout the entire Roman world. Thus, there were too many copies spread out all over the place so that it would be next to impossible for any heretic to think he could get away with changing the Bible without being identified. There was just no way for the heretic to gather up every available copy to alter. Hence, God protected the NT from corruption by the vast number of manuscripts produced by the early Christians.

Second, heretics made sweeping, wholesale changes, not small tweaks here or there. D.A. Waite names Marcion, Valentinus, Cyrinthus, and Sabellius as heretics that intentionally altered the NT documents, but out of that group, only Marcion physically altered the Bible. Marcion was a second century, anti-Semitic who produced the first unofficial NT canon. His NT contained some of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of Luke. Those were the only books he deemed to be inspired and even those he edited to fit his anti-Semitic views.  It was Marcion’s NT “canon” God used to force the Christians to recognize and affirm the 27 books of our orthodox NT. The other heretics Waite names did not alter the Bible. They re-interpreted Christian doctrine to teach their false doctrine and were rebuked for doing so, which leads us to the third reason,

Thirdly, heretics begin with corrupted teaching and then twist the Bible to make it teach their heresy. Never has there been an historic example of heretical teaching developed out of a biblical text that had first been corrupted. The pattern witnessed through out Church History is that of a heretic developing unorthodox teaching, and then he or she would re-interpret the Bible to fit the heretical doctrine.

A good many of the major cults which arose in the 1800s even used the KJV as their base text, only it would be re-interpreted to teach the cult’s particular heresies. Only in some cases would heretics produce an edited Bible that reflected their unorthodox beliefs. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are like this. Charles Russell began as an apostate from the true Christian faith. For many years he taught his heresy that Jesus was really Michael the Archangel, the resurrection never happened, and hell does not exist while using the King James. He taught his followers that the KJV had been mis-translated, especially when it disagreed with his heresies. It was not until the 1950s when the Jehovah’s Witnesses produced an entirely new translation, the New World Translation, that the actual Bible was altered and re-translated to fit their already established false doctrines.

Were the Alexandrian manuscripts a product of heretical corruption?

Nearly every King James only publication contains a chapter detailing why the Alexandrian manuscripts, especially Codex Aleph and B, are corrupted works produced by heretics. Some KJVO advocates like Sam Gipp argue they were produced in Alexandria, Egypt, a known hotbed for heretical activity. Gipp goes on to argue that Egypt is a biblical symbol always equated with the world or worldliness and nothing good can ever come out of the world and that is reason enough those manuscripts should be rejected.

Also, KJVO advocates will argue they are not only to be rejected as reliable because they originated in Alexandria, but also because the Church Father Origen (pictured above) helped produce them. They allege that Origen dabbled in Gnosticism and advocated an allegorical method of interpreting the Bible that reads into the Scriptures all sorts of odd symbolism.

I can recall the very first King James only book I read called To Be or Not to Be: What is Wrong with the Modern Versions? in which the author claimed Origen inherited many Babylonian cultic practices and was the forerunner to the Roman Catholic priesthood, even castrating himself to demonstrate his devotion to celibacy. KJVO proponents claim Origen edited the Alexandrian manuscripts to reflect his extreme asceticism and this family of manuscripts is the source for many of the pseudo-Christian heresies the Church has had to face over the years.

For an untrained believer, the KJVO advocate provides some rather compelling reasons why we should reject modern translations and return to an exclusive use of the King James. Origen was a heretical man and Alexandria, Egypt, was an area known for propagating false doctrine. Is there any truth to these charges?

First of all, it is true that Origen held to some quirky views about spirituality that independent fundamental Baptist in today’s American culture would find to be odd.  It is also true he engaged in an allegorical reinterpretation of the Bible.  However, that does not mean he intentionally altered the biblical text.

The King James translators were Anglicans and believed in baptismal regeneration for infants. Am I to conclude, then, that they may have altered the biblical text to make it fit this Anglican doctrine? Furthermore, interpreting the Bible with the over use of allegory does not mean Origen altered the text of Scripture any more than Sam Gipp claiming Egypt is a metaphor for worldliness means he altered the text of Scripture. Origen was an important early textual critic, especially when it came to the OT text, but the charge that he intentionally corrupted the physical text with his editorial abilities to reflect Gnosticism is plain false.

Additionally, Alexandria was not the sole hotbed for doctrinal heresy in the early days of the Christian faith. Heretics with no connection whatsoever with Alexandria sprung up in many areas through out the Roman Empire. The most notable example is Arius who was from the theological school in Antioch. Arius denied the deity of Jesus Christ and his teaching was the catalysis for the first major controversy the Christian Church faced after the Roman Empire declared Christianity to be legal.

KJVO advocates often distinguish between Antioch, the doctrinally pure area of early Christendom where the preserved texts used to eventually translate the King James originated and circulated, and Alexandria, the dreaded city of Gnostic New Age thinking and bizarre, self-mutilating heretics who altered the Bible to fit their blasphemous doctrines. However, taking the KJVO reasoning, I could easily argue that Arius the heretic, who had a prominent following in Antioch, altered the Bible along with his followers to reflect a watered down view of Christ’s divinity, but it would be absurd to do so. During the Arian controversy, which eventually led to the convening of a council in Nicea and the formation of the Nicene Creed, the most vocal opponent of the Arian heresy and the lone champion of biblical orthodoxy was Athanasius, a Christian teacher from Alexandria, Egypt.

Were the textual critics who used the Alexandrian manuscripts to provide new English translation ungodly liberals?

When presenting their case against the use of the Alexandrian manuscripts, KJVO advocates will list many of the early textual critics from the 1700s and 1800s and accuse them all of being theological liberals who hated God’s Word and desired to see it corrupted. A good percentage of the Christians who read KJVO publications are entirely ignorant of any form of modern-day textual criticism, let alone the history behind the early pioneers who forged many of the principles of biblical textual criticism used today. Because the unlearned reader really knows next to nothing about the obscure individuals listed in the KJVO literature, the writer appears to have done his or her homework and the research is never questioned. That is sad, because the terrible misinformation presented by the KJVO advocate presented as fact, only serves to solidify the Christian in his ignorance of the true history of our Bible.

It must be kept in mind that when the KJVO was published in 1611, textual criticism was still an immature scholarly discipline. There was a renewed interest in the original Hebrew and Greek languages beginning with the Renaissance, so before then, no one had done any serious textual critical work with the Bible. That is just close to 100 years before the start of the translation for the KJV.

Then, the 1700s saw the beginnings of the Enlightenment and the rise of Modernity. KJVO advocates are correct in pointing out that it was during this time when theological liberalism began to spread throughout European seminaries, but it was this theological liberalism that drove conservative scholars to scour monasteries and libraries in the Middle East in search of ancient biblical texts.

Despite their diligent work in establishing the authenticity and preservation of the biblical manuscripts, those good men are viciously maligned by KJVO advocates. In reality, many of them were far from being liberal Bible correctors. For example, Johann Bengel was a staunch Pietist Christian who believed firmly in inerrancy. He was bothered by the so-called 30,000 variants among the many manuscripts of the NT, so he began a massive work of determining whether or not those variants did anything to undermine the Christian faith. He discovered that those variants are fewer in number than expected and concluded there was nothing in them to shake any article of the evangelical faith. Bengel is considered the father of modern textual criticism, because it was he who first began to divide manuscripts into families (even identifying the Alexandrian manuscripts) according to common readings. He also believed manuscripts needed to be weighed, not merely counted, and believed the shorter readings were to be preferred over the longer ones.

Another important textual critic was Constantin Von Tischendorf, who discovered the Sinaticus manuscript at St. Catherine’s monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. He is the biggest target of the more libelous criticism by KJVO advocates who attack his character, but he was far from a godless liberal. He was a man desirous to please the Lord with his work, and his main goal was to find ancient biblical manuscripts that affirmed the authenticity of the NT. The chief reason he hunted down ancient biblical manuscripts had to do with the theological liberals he was encountering among the scholars back in Europe. In his mind, Tischendorf saw his work as a means to elevate and affirm the Bible, not tear it down with heresy, and to silence the true liberal critics of his day.

Those men, and many others like them, did important work in Bible preservation and translation for which the Christian Church should be grateful, but shamefully, KJVO advocates dishonor them by spreading lies against their character and life work.

I think the most damaging thing the KJV advocates do when they charge heretical corruption in God’s Word is to smear the character of our Lord Himself. The notion of heretics being able to freely introduce damaging heresy within the pages of Scripture suggests God has no ability to protect His revelation from corruption. Moreover, to say God’s preserving ability is narrowly contained in one group of texts, and in order for Christians to really know what God said they have to read an antiquated 17th century English translation limits God and makes Him to be impotent with preserving His Word in the manner He sees fit and in the way the evidence clearly shows He did.


2 thoughts on “Have Heretics Corrupted My Bible?

  1. Pingback: Answering the Claims of KJV-Onlyism | hipandthigh

  2. Pingback: Were B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort Apostate Heretics? | hipandthigh

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