Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 5

Introduction

The fifth chapter of The King James Version Debate might as well be titled, “Erasmian Myths as Presented by Bruce Metzger.” Carson does what most Critical Text scholars do, frame the TR in light of Erasmus, even though Erasmus’ editions were not used by the translators of the KJV, and then attempt to discredit Erasmus’ text. That, among other reasons we will get to, should cause the reader to question the seriousness with which they should approach this chapter.

Irrelevant Details and Storytelling

Telling the story of Erasmus is the most popular approach to discrediting the Received Text and thus the KJV. This chapter includes the “Rush to Print” story, “The Missing 6 Verses at the End of Revelation,” the “TR is a Latin Backtranslation,” and the “Rash Wager” myth. The most egregious error in this chapter is his retelling of Metzger’s “Rash Wager” myth, which proposes that Erasmus included 1 John 5:7 after losing a bet. This has been debunked by Erasmus scholar HJ Dejong and the reason Erasmus included the passage can be found in his own annotations. According to Erasmus himself, he included the passage due to his belief that Christians would not read his text if he excluded it.

Thus far, Carson has been quite objective in his presentation, though in this chapter he devolves into storytelling and biased interpretation of the data. For example, he only considers the first 3 editions of Erasmus’ text relevant to describing what the Received Text is, despite the Beza’s edition being a better representation of the TR.

“Although Erasmus published a fourth and fifth edition, we need say no more about them here. Erasmus’s Greek Testament stands in line behind the King James Version; yet it rests upon a half dozen minuscule manuscripts, none of which is earlier than the tenth century.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 35-36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He does go on to explain the significance of Stephanus’ editions, which he does admit were based on “fourteen codices and from the Complutensian Polyglot,” but it is clear that Carson is trying very hard to say that the Received Text is just Erasmus’ edition. That is the substance of Carson’s argument in this chapter, that while the KJV translators, as he admits, “largely relied on Beza’s editions,” Stephanus’ and Beza’s editions are really no different than that of Erasmus. This of course is true in that the basic text form of all editions from the 16th century were very similar, but Carson engages in a smear campaign against Erasmus in order to frame the discussion in an uncharacteristically biased manner. He concludes his opinion on the TR by saying that it is a shoddy product with very little textual basis.

“Nevertheless the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late minuscule manuscripts.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The reason I say that Carson is biased here is due to the way he has framed the discussion. He has already made the point that counting manuscripts isn’t how textual criticism is done, yet he critiques the TR for being based on the manuscripts Erasmus had, despite those manuscripts being majority text representatives. Strangely enough, he makes sure to mention the 14 manuscripts used by Stephanus, but only considers the ones Erasmus is said to have used as relevant. He also fails to mention that the Critical Text is largely based off of only two manuscripts where it disagrees with the Majority Text. Carson admits that the TR is largely representative of the Majority Text shortly after, seemingly disproving his own point.

“The dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 38). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If we examine the form of Carson’s argument, we find that it is blatantly contradictory. On one hand, the TR should not be taken seriously because it was based on “a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late manuscripts,” and on the other hand, “the dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.” The major argument Carson seems to set forth is that even though the TR largely represents the Majority Text, since Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza did not have every manuscript that represents the Majority Text, it doesn’t matter. They only had a handful of the thousands of manuscripts that their text represents in most places, so therefore their text is only based off a handful of manuscripts. Just several pages prior, Carson accepts this as perfectly fine.

“The relationship of the witness to the text-types is extremely important, because if all the witnesses that support a particular reading are from one text-type, then they may all be copies of copies that spring from one manuscript. Manuscripts must therefore be weighed, and not just counted. Of course, if all those manuscripts came from one textual tradition, that tradition may in fact preserve the original reading; but this cannot be presumed from the number of manuscript witnesses per se.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The contradiction in Carson’s argument is so severe here that it is really difficult to understand what point he’s trying to make. If a text being based off of a handful of manuscripts makes is a bad text, Carson’s own text is far worse than the TR. He has deviated from the rules that he previously sets forth in order to make an argument against the TR, and damages his own argument as a result. Most frightening is his claim that the manuscripts used to create the TR were “haphazardly collected.” This is blatantly false, Erasmus had an exceedingly broad correspondence and is well documented in his knowledge of manuscripts, even if he only had a dozen in his possession. He even consulted Codex Vaticanus, though he evaluated it as a shoddy attempt to combine the Latin tradition with the Greek.

Conclusion

This chapter is the first time we see Carson show his hand as simply following in the line of Metzger. Not only does he include stories that in some cases are just factually incorrect such as the “Rash Wager,” he also contradicts himself according to the rules he sets forth in previous chapters. He judges the TR by a standard separate than he judges his own text, and for that this chapter cannot be taken seriously. He criticizes the TR for being based off a handful of manuscripts, even though the number of manuscripts Erasmus had is still more than the Critical Text is based off of (2). Further, the manuscripts Erasmus had represent a textual tradition that is represented by the vast majority of extant manuscripts.

This chapter typifies the inconsistent argumentation that is propagated by Critical Text advocates, and I imagine we will see more of the same in upcoming chapters. In my opinion, Carson should have saved his word count and simply started his book with this chapter.

4 thoughts on “Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 5

  1. Carson’s book is dated, therefore largely obsolete, although it represents a more irenic version of what would become the polemic agenda of James White. This chapter, however, clearly demonstrates that even Carson was comfortable in using questionable anecdotes (rather than actual historical scholarship) to advance the official agenda of the evangelical-industrial complex (which has effectively replaced the Church in matters of “scholarship”, or what the Bible calls “science falsely so called).

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  2. You say “He does go on to explain the significance of Stephanus’ editions, which he does admit were based on “fourteen codices from the Complutensian Polyglot,””

    However Carson accurately says: “Stephanus referred in the margins to the readings from fourteen codices and from the Complutensian Polyglot.” i.e. the codices are not *from* the Complutensian.

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