Why the Lord didn’t preserve the original autographs
I return once again to my review of Jack McElroy’s KJVO book, Which Bible Would Jesus Use? I will briefly provide summary of the chapter and then a review and response.
In his fourth chapter, McElroy derides the notion of the original manuscripts. He begins his chapter by stating that everyone knows that the original parchments of both the OT and NT are gone; even the tables of stone the Lord gave Moses no longer exist .
However, the main talking point of modern, textual scholarship is that God’s Word CAN be found in the originals and the goal of genuine, textual criticism is the identification of those original documents of Scripture. McElroy calls that the “Original Bible” doctrine and he says that it permeated the Christian culture today to the point where souls are lost because the only authority has been stripped from the flock by teachers who leave them realizing that their book is a mix of men’s words and God’s words [84-85].
Some of those modern Christian scholars claim that we have 95% of the Bible and we must determine by means of textual criticism the other 5%. Other’s will say 98%, others as low as 85%, where as others, like Daniel Wallace, say the Christian church has 110% and textual criticism involves identifying and discarding the spurious readings like burning off the dross so as to get to the gold.
The “Original Bible” doctrine only raises doubt, uncertainty, and speculation. No Christian truly has a Bible he can point to and say, “This is the Word of God.”
McElroy does his readers a major disservice. He rips out of context cherry-picked quotations from various individuals who would be considered Evangelical textual scholars, and presents a wildly unbalanced view of modern textual criticism. Any unlearned individual who takes seriously his presentation about the original manuscripts is only being set up for a major face-plant when he encounters anyone who genuinely knows the facts of how our Bible was transmitted to us.
In other words, his presentation is setting up all the factors necessary for the creation of a fresh generation of “former-fundy” apostates and Youtube atheists.
With just the handful of reviews I have already presented, I have identified a number of significant flaws in the KJVO apologetic. With this chapter, McElroy’s discussion touches upon probably the most foundational doctrine of the Christian church. That being, what is meant by original manuscripts?
What we believe about the original autographs and how the copies of those originals came down to us so as to have a working text from which to translate the Bible into new languages shapes our understanding of the doctrines of inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy.
His discussion is filled with horrible amounts of gross error and the mishandling of historical facts. In his attempt to ridicule the current understanding of textual criticism, he unwittingly takes the side of counter-Reformation Roman Catholic apologists and the liberal myth that says the ideas of infallibility and inerrancy in the original autographs started with B.B. Warfield and was developed in the 20th century. See for instance, Jack Rogers and Donald McKim’s work, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach.
The average reader of McElroy’s book – of KJVO apologetics in general – is more than likely unaware of the Roman Catholic challenges against Sola Scriptura during the Protestant Reformation, as well as liberal attempts since the Enlightenment to undermine the doctrines of Scripture that has spanned into the later part of the 20th century; yet his arguments defending his perspective greatly parallels them.
The orthodox, historical view of the Christian church is that the original autographs are inspired and inerrant and any “error” that exists in the current copies we possess are due in part largely to unintentional copyist mistakes. Additional “errors” can be created by damaged manuscripts, poor handwriting, word order, sentence structure, and grammatical style.
Modern critics, both liberal and conservative, are correct when they point out that the thousands upon thousands of variants and corruptions that KJVO apologists like McElroy exaggerate and claim distort the doctrines of the Bible, are easily explained and do nothing to change the meaning of the text. In other words, there are no missing doctrines or added heresies that KJV onlyist say exist in modern translations. So with that in mind,
Let’s travel back through church history.
Within the first century after the birth of the Christian church, apologists were engaged with defending the Faith against critics who raised skeptical questions against the Scripture. Those critics particularly zeroed in upon what was perceived as contradictions either in the text or in Christian doctrine, such as the problem of evil.
Believers understood that copying errors could exist. They certainly understood translational errors could exist as well, and those could account for the difficulties in the text. When Latin became the primary language of the Roman empire, and the NT was translated into other regional languages, they also understood that the Greek originals were the authority over those various language translations and would often appeal to those original Greek texts.
For instance, Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, in writing a treatise defending the concept of the Holy Spirit being co-creator with the Father and the Son, writes, “But if anyone disputes because of the variations of the Latin codices, some of which heretics have falsified, let him look at the Greek codices…” [Ambrose, Selected Works and Letter]. One will note that Ambrose recognized bad translations, but if the translation is in doubt, the Greek original (what he means by the codices) are the authority to clear up a discrepancy. Ambrose seems to have believe the “original Bible” doctrine that McElroy disparages.
The church father, Augustine, exhorted his students to be familiar with Hebrew and Greek. Writing on the subject of Christian doctrine, he states, “And men who speak the Latin tongue, of whom are those I have undertaken to instruct, need two other languages for the knowledge of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, that they may have recourse to the original texts if the endless diversity of the Latin translators throw them into doubt.”[Augustine, Book 2, Chapter 11]. Augustine lived in North Africa. Those “originals” more than likely were Alexandrian in text type.
At any rate, he goes on to explain in chapter 12 why certain inaccurate translations arise, primarily due to poor translating skill or unfamiliarity with the original languages. Never does he suggest that heretics are responsible, nor does he throw up his hands by suggesting there is no solution for such bad translations. He points his readers back to knowing what the originals state in the Hebrew and Greek. Augustine, like Ambrose, believed in the “original Bible” doctrine.
Skipping a head to the Reformation, most modern Christians are unaware of the fact that at the same time the Protestant Reformers were recapturing the saving Gospel and formulating the five major Solas, Roman Catholic, Libertine, and Socinian apologists were busy attempting to undermine those efforts. John Woodbridge, in his book, Biblical Authority, has 3 long chapters detailing those challenges and I would exhort folks to find a copy and read his study into that important time of the Reformation.
Their main target of these enemies of the faith was Sola Scriptura, and a host of counter-Reformation apologists wrote against the doctrine, raising all sorts of skeptical questions against the Scripture. They wrote about alleged contradictions, asked Protestants how they knew who wrote which biblical book, and even questioned the vowel pointings in the Massoretic Hebrew text suggesting the sinister Jews could not be trusted with their own OT texts.
In organizing their rebuttals, Protestants explained that the original autographs were error free because they were written by the original inspired prophet or apostle. The counter-Reformation apologists argued that no one can know what the Bible really says because there are no originals with us today, what basically amounts to the same argument McElroy raises in his chapter.
Yet, in spite of that claim, Protestants demonstrated how Christians could have confidence in the Word of God because they believed those originals were there, preserved in all the copies they had available at the time.
William Whitaker wrote the most comprehensive defense of Scripture during the 16th century against the onslaught from Catholic apologists. In his book Disputations on Holy Scripture, which is still in print today, Whitaker appealed to “the originals” or the “authentic text.” By that he meant either the original autographs penned by the authors of Scripture or the original languages of Hebrew and Greek in the copies the church possessed.
For example, Whitaker spends a good amount of space writing against his version of the KJVO position during his day, what could be called Latin Vulgate onlyism. Catholics argued that the Latin Vulgate was sufficient, should never be changed, and there was no need for any “modern” (in the 16th century) English versions, or any other language edition at all. Whitaker, in answering those claims, argued that the “originals alone were truly authentic,” [Whitaker, 145]. In fact, that is his position throughout his book and he wrote that translations were only as good as the translators and those translations do not take precedence over the “originals.” Whitaker, like all the Protestant defenders of the faith during those crucial years of the Reformation, believed in an original Bible doctrine.
But even more to the point with my review, the King James translators themselves believed in an original Bible, an original Bible from which they made their translation. A person need merely to read their long introduction to the first edition of the KJV to see that they spoke about the “originals” frequently. For instance, they write, “if any thing be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the originall, the same may bee corrected, and the trueth set in place.”
Concerning the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, they write,
“The translation of the Seventie dissenteth from the Originall in many places, neither doeth it come neere it, for perspicuitie, gratvitie, majestie; yet which of the Apostles did condemne it? Condemne it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men doe confesse) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had bene unworthy the appellation and name of the word of God.”
Here we see that they knew the LXX was a translation of the original Hebrew, and the LXX “dissenteth,” or departed from, the original in many places. However, as they note, that did not deter the Apostles from using it as the Word of God. One can only assume they believed the LXX was a mixture of both God’s Words and men’s words.
It is apparent that the KJV translators recognized the originals were certainly the Word of God, but good translations were just as equally the Word of God. In another section they write,
“…that wee doe not deny, nay wee affirme and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set foorth by men of our profession (for wee have seene none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God. As the Kings Speech which hee uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian and Latine, is still the Kings Speech, though it be not interpreted by every Translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expresly for sence, every where.”
What I have presented here is just a smattering of historical documentation that proves the Christian church has always recognized that God’s Word is found in the originals. Christians not only affirmed the original autographs, but they believed those originals were contained in the current copies of the biblical Hebrew and Greek text we have in our possession. They further considered any good translation of those originals the Word of God.
McElroy is misguided about his claim regarding the original Bible doctrine. The idea he puts forth that no original documents exist so we have to put all of our faith into a 17th century English translation is one wrought from the desperation of KJVO apologetics.