by Jake Dell
I recently decided to get a new Bible for my own reading. I started with an NIV, then an ESV, and finally came back to the KJV. That is because modern translations (anything after 1881) use a scientific method to reconstruct the source texts. I always knew this, but until now, I hadn’t seen the flaw.
I am not saying no good can come from this method. In fact, textual criticism has helped to establish the Bible’s authenticity, especially of the NT, with almost forensic precision. If the autographic texts of Scripture are considered inerrant, then this methodical sorting through variants will get us closer and closer to a pure Bible.
The flaw lies in assuming that meaning evolves along with the forms that convey it, and that the Bible is the result of a historical process of meaningful change.
Indeed, one modern translation, the New International Version, makes this ever-evolving approach to the text the basis of its translation philosophy. First published in 1973, it is continually revised as the English language “evolves.” I ask: what if English devolves into incoherence, as today’s pronoun wars suggest it is? Should the very word of God follow the language of fallen man off this Babel cliff?
I say no. As a pre-modern (and therefore a pre-critical) text, the KJV is the last English-language Bible to enjoy plenary authority, and, despite its archaicism, it is still remarkably clear and readable.
Textual criticism will never produce the original autographs, which is okay, because we can do without them. The Bible does not originate in history, neither does its authority. Both come from above.
Jake Dell is a member of the EFAC-USA Board and the vicar of St. Peter’s, Lithgow, New York.