The King James version Of the new testament

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Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts

by Peter van Minnen


The New Testament text we read in our English Bibles is based on the original Greek text. We know this text, albeit imperfectly, through a large number of ancient manuscripts. All these manuscripts are mere copies, and the great majority of them are copies of copies, yet ultimately they all derive from the originals. In the process of copying, however, scribal errors are bound to occur. There is not a single copy wholly free from mistakes. A science called textual criticism deals systematically with these mistakes to eliminate as many of them as possible. The most important tools for textual critics are the manuscripts themselves.

In the sixteenth century the Greek New Testament was published for the first time in printed form. The great Dutch philologist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam had established a text from a handful of manuscripts dating from the later Middle Ages. Unfortunately he used only manuscripts of inferior quality for his edition of 1516. A few verses from the Apocalypse were lacking in the manuscripts at his disposal. He simply re-translated them from the current Latin version! Erasmus’ intention with his edition was to provide a basis for a new Latin translation of the New Testament. The Reformers used it to produce vernacular translations of their own.

Until the nineteenth century New Testament scholars and translators availed themselves only sparingly of other manuscripts. Then, within a fairly short period, a number of manuscripts of superior quality became available, mainly thanks to the work of the German scholar Constantin Tischendorf. These manuscripts dated from the fourth and fifth centuries and presented a text that was at least free from the accretions of a later age. We had to wait, however, until the 70’s and 80’s of the nineteenth century for new critical editions of the New Testament.

Tischendorf himself and the British scholars Westcott and Hort produced two rival editions of the Greek text. They believed that their text reflected the original as well as possible, even if it was based on manuscripts dating from at least three centuries after the New Testament was written. Gradually the new critical texts replaced Erasmus’ text, which has not received much attention from serious scholars anymore. Thousands more ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have become known in the past 100 years. Monastery libraries in countries around the Mediterranean have yielded most of the manuscripts. The textual critics of the Greek New Testament have been able to come to terms with only a few of them. Most of them are not very old manuscripts anyhow, and in textual criticism it is age and quality that counts, not mere quantity.

In the 30’s and 60’s of the twentieth century a number of other, very important manuscripts have become available. We owe this to the efforts of two wealthy book collectors, Chester Beatty and Martin Bodmer. These manuscripts are of a special class for two reasons. They are written on papyrus and date from well before the fourth century. The earliest papyrus manuscripts come very close to the time when the New Testament was written. Of course, manuscripts on papyrus were known before, but these dated from a much later period and tended to be rather fragmentary. For almost all New Testament books we now have manuscripts earlier than the fourth century.

How do we know these manuscripts are so very early? How do we know their dates for certain? Some of you may think “scientific” tests on the physical structure of the papyrus may yield such dates. In fact they cannot, because such tests are very inaccurate. No, we can date papyrus manuscripts, any manuscript for that matter, simply by looking at the way it is written. Handwriting is a product of human culture and as such it is always developing. Differences in handwriting are bound to appear within one generation. Just compare the handwriting of your parents with your own. Or look at your own scribblings of a few years ago. It is the same handwriting as today but an expert, a paleographer, can distinguish not unimportant differences. He cannot establish the exact date but he can confidently place one handwriting in the 30’s and another in the 80’s. Even printed texts can easily be dated according to the outward appearance of the type or font used by the printer.

For such an ancient period as that between A.D. 100 and 300 it is of course much more difficult to be confident about the date of a manuscript. There is infinitely less comparative material. Nevertheless we are now in a fairly comfortable position to date papyrus manuscripts according to their handwriting. We do not have to rely on manuscripts of the New Testament only. We have hundreds of papyrus manuscripts of Greek pagan literary texts from this period and again hundreds of carefully written papyrus documents that show the same types of handwriting. These documents are very important for paleographers because they are often exactly dated. As a rule New Testament manuscripts on papyrus are not. A careful comparison of the papyrus documents and manuscripts of the second and third centuries has established beyond doubt that about forty Greek papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament date from this very period. Unfortunately only six of them are extensively preserved.

Even within the period that runs from c. A.D. 100-300 it is possible for paleographers to be more specific on the relative date of the papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament. For about sixty years now a tiny papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John has been the oldest “manuscript” of the New Testament. This manuscript (P52) has generally been dated to ca. A.D. 125. This fact alone proved that the original Gospel of John was written earlier, viz. in the first century A.D., as had always been upheld by conservative scholars.

We now have early and very early evidence for the text of the New Testament. A classified list of the most important manuscripts will make this clear. Numbers preceded by a P refer to papyri, the letters refer to parchment manuscripts.

testament

As you can see, from the fourth century onwards the material base for establishing the text of the Greek New Testament is very good indeed. The manuscripts Sin. (Sinaiticus), A (Alexandrinus) and B (Vaticanus) are almost complete parchment manuscripts. With the help of the earlier papyrus manuscripts we have been able to establish that the text of these three great manuscripts is to a large extent reliable. The papyrus manuscript P75 was the latest to be published, but it showed a virtually identical text to manuscript B. This settled the vexed question whether we have in the parchment manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries a safe guide to the original text of the New Testament. We have.

That is not to say that we can dispense with later manuscripts of the New Testament. With the exception of Sin. the oldest manuscripts are not complete. Moreover they contain scribal errors of all sorts. P46 is a case in point: it is the manuscript with the largest percentage of blunders on record! Most of this kind of errors can, however, be removed by comparing the readings of the oldest manuscripts. The remaining puzzles can only be solved by taking later manuscripts into account. Most of the work in textual criticism in the past forty years has been done by Kurt Aland in Münster and Bruce Metzger in Princeton. The latest translations of the New Testament are based on their work.

It is to be noticed that all the manuscripts listed above come from Egypt. The papyri were found there in the twentieth century. They are now in Dublin, Ann Arbor, Cologny (in Switzerland), the Vatican and Vienna. Sin. was found in a monastery library on the slopes of Mount Sinai in the nineteenth century and brought to St. Petersburg. In 1933 it was sold to the British Museum in London for a mere 100,000 pounds. A was transferred from the patriarchal library at Alexandria in the seventeenth century and is now also in the British Library. B has been in the Vatican since the Middle Ages. We owe the early Egyptian Christians an immense debt. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to work with part of their heritage count their blessings every day.

Bibliography (all except the last two items contain illustrations of manuscripts):

E.G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (1987)

G. Cavallo & H. Maehler, Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period (1987): a sequel to the preceding item

C.H. Roberts, Greek Literary Hands (1956): on the dating of manuscripts with the aid of contemporary documents

G. Cavallo, Ricerche sulla maiuscola biblica (1967): on the style of writing of the great parchment manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries

K. Aland, Der Text des Neuen Testaments (1982) = The Text of the New Testament (1987)

J. Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts (1974)

B.M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible (1981)

W.H.P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament (1939)

H.J.M. Milne & T.C. Skeat, Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus (1938)

D.C. Parker, Codex Bezae (1992): on the idiosyncratic manuscript D

G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (1956): on P46

C.H. Roberts, Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt (1979)

((c) Peter van Minnen 1990)

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A Brief History of the King James Bible

By Dr. Laurence M. Vance

As the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) was coming to a close, we find a draft for an act of Parliament for a new version of the Bible: “An act for the reducing of diversities of bibles now extant in the English tongue to one settled vulgar translated from the original.” The Bishop’s Bible of 1568, although it may have eclipsed the Great Bible, was still rivaled by the Geneva Bible. Nothing ever became of this draft during the reign of Elizabeth, who died in 1603, and was succeeded by James 1, as the throne passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts. James was at that time James VI of Scotland, and had been for thirty-seven years. He was born during the period between the Geneva and the Bishop’s Bible.One of the first things done by the new king was the calling of the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604 “for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the church.” Here were assembled bishops, clergymen, and professors, along with four Puritan divines, to consider the complaints of the Puritans. Although Bible revision was not on the agenda, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, John Reynolds, “moved his Majesty, that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry the eighth, and Edward the sixth, were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original.”The king rejoined that he:

“Could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by he best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.”

Accordingly, a resolution came forth:

“That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service.”

The next step was the actual selection of the men who were to perform the work. In July of 1604, James wrote to Bishop Bancroft that he had “appointed certain learned men, to the number of four and fifty, for the translating of the Bible.” These men were the best biblical scholars and linguists of their day. In the preface to their completed work it is further stated that “there were many chosen, that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise. Again, they came or were thought to come to the work, learned, not to learn.” Other men were sought out, according to James, “so that our said intended translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom.”Although fifty-four men were nominated, only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translators were organized into six groups, and met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.

Fifteen general rules were advanced for the guidance of the translators:

1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.

2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.

3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.

4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.

5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.

6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.

7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.

8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.

9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.

10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.

11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.

12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.

13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.

14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.

15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.

The work began to take shape in 1604 and progressed steadily. The translators expressed their early thoughts in their preface as:

“Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one,…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavor.”

They had at their disposal all the previous English translations to which they did not disdain:

“We are so far off from condemning any of their labors that travailed before us in this kind, either in this land or beyond sea, either in King Henry’s time, or King Edward’s…or Queen Elizabeth’s of ever renowned memory, that we acknowledge them to have been raised up of God, for the building and furnishing of his Church, and that they deserve to be had of us and of posterity in everlasting remembrance.”

And, as the translators themselves also acknowledged, they had a multitude of sources from which to draw from: “Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, CHaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch.” The Greek editions of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza were all accessible, as were the COmplutensian and Antwerp Polyglots, and the Latin translations of Pagninus, Termellius, and Beza.Four years were spent on the preliminary translation by the six groups. The translators were exacting and particular in their work, as related in their preface:

Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.

The conferences of each of the six being ended, nine months were spent at Stationers’ Hall in London for review and revision of the work by two men each from the Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford companies. The final revision was then completed by Myles Smith and Thomas Bilson, with a preface supplied by Smith.

The completed work was issued in 1611, the complete title page reading:

“THE HOLY BIBLE, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment. Appointed to be read in Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. ANNO DOM. 1611.”

The New Testament had a separate title page, the whole of it reading:

“THE NEWE Testament of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST. Newly Translated out of the Originall Greeke: and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Commandment. IMPRINTED at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. ANNO DOM. 1611. Cum Privilegio.”

The King James Bible was, in its first editions, even larger than the Great Bible. It was printed in black letter with small italicized Roman type to represent those words not in the original languages.A dedicatory epistle to King James, which also enhanced the completed work, recalled the King’s desire that “there should be one more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue.” The translators expressed that they were “poor instruments to make GOD’S holy Truth to be yet more and more known” while at the same time recognizing that “Popish persons” sought to keep the people “in ignorance and darkness.”The Authorized Version, as it came to be called, went through several editions and revisions. Two notable editions were that of 1629, the first ever printed at Cambridge, and that of 1638, also at Cambridge, which was assisted by John Bois and Samuel Ward, two of the original translators. In 1657, the Parliament considered another revision, but it came to naught. The most important editions were those of the 1762 Cambridge revision by Thomas Paris, and the 1769 Oxford revision by Benjamin Blayney. One of the earliest concrdances was A Concordance to the Bible of the Last Translation, by John Down-ham, affixed to a printing of 1632.The Authorized Version eclipsed all previous versions of the Bible. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. Subsequent versions of the Bible were likewise eclipsed, for the Authorized Version was the Bible until the advent of the Revised Version and ensuing modern translations. It is still accepted as such by its defenders, and recognized as so by its detractors. Alexander Geddes (d. 1802), a Roman Catholic priest, who in 1792 issued the first colume of his own translation of the Bible, accordingly paid tribute to the Bible of his time:

“The highest eulogiums have been made on the translation of James the First, both by our own writers and by foreigners. And, indeed, if accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general, be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every work, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed, either in the text, or margin, with the greatest precision.”

As to whether the Authorized Version was ever officially “authorized,” Brooke Westcott, one of the members of the committee that produced the Revised Version, and the editor, with Fenton Hort, of an edition of the Greek New Testament, stated that:

From the middle of the seventeenth century, the King’s Bible has been the acknowledged Bible of the English-speaking nations throughout the world simply because it is the best. A revision which embodied the ripe fruits of nearly a century of labour, and appealed to the religious instinct of a great Christian people, gained by its own internal character a vital authority which could never have been secured by any edict of sovereign rulers.

This article was taken from the book A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Dr. Laurence M. Vance.

Dr. Laurence M. Vance’s Publications are available from:
Vance Publications
P.O. Box 11781
Pensacola, FL 32524
850-474-1626
Credit Card Orders Only: 1-800-363-9604 

 

 

 

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