Do We Have a Preserved Text?

Please don't be alarmed by my question. I am doing some research, and some questions are coming to light. Here are a few:

  1. How can we say that the Masoretic Hebrew text is a word for word exact copy of the "originals," when the KJV translators apparently didn't believe this?
  2. How can we say that the Textus Receptus Greek NT is an exact, word for word copy of the "originals?"  The KJV translators did not depend upon a single Greek manuscript for their work, so apparently they did not believe they had an exact copy of the originals?
  3. How can we say the 1611 KJV is a "verbally preserved," (word for word) English translation of the "originals?" It appears by reading the "Preface to the Reader" included in the 1611 that the KJV translators did not believe their work was absolutely, word for word perfect.

Thank you for your letter. With your spirit as it is, the letter certainly does not disturb me. You are dealing with some of the same things I have had to deal with as I got further and further into the subject of Bible preservation. I grew up with a simple faith in the King James Bible, then I went to Bible college and became convinced that there was no such thing as a perfect Bible. Later, the Lord got ahold of me and turned me back to the King James Bible. I saw the lines of manuscripts and the evidence for the King James readings that was ignored by the scholars and knew I had the evidence I needed for faith in the King James text.

For a while, I studied out every problem with the intent to answer every charge against the King James Bible. But as I went on, I realized that there was always going to be another problem and another issue to solve. Some of the key ones needed answers, but I could easily spend my entire life trying to answer every question. I went through another transition. I returned very close to the simple faith I started out with in my youth. I believe God is in charge of the preservation of His Bible.

Now, that being said, my newfound knowledge of manuscripts and their transmission made it impossible for me to go back to the simple faith without some inner understandings. These understandings help me to see the breadth of God's hand on the preservation process without being able to comprehend all the intricate details and workings of the Lord. Here are some of the things that helped me most.

PRODUCT: First, I had to determine what it was that I held in my hand. My conclusion is that the King James Bible is God's perfectly preserved text for the English speaking people of today. Although it is God's perfect word in the English and although it fully translates God's word from the Greek and Hebrew, I know that a strict word for word translation from any language to another is impossible by definition. A different language requires a different vocabulary, a different syntax, and so on. The King James text is more literal than the modern versions, but it is not perfectly literal. The perfection is in the results as contained in the King James text. God started with His words in Greek, Hebrew, etc., and ended up with His words in English. It is as simple as that.

PROCESS: I have studied evidences until I am full of evidences. I have preached one message called "Twenty-Four Proofs of the King James Bible." However, we must understand that evidences are just that. They lend support to the resulting conclusion. They are not absolute undeniable proofs. We read the evidences and come to a conclusion. Now, before you can say that this is unsatisfactory, let me point out that this is our approach in several key areas. How do we know that there is a God? We see the evidences of creation, conscience, etc., but we must finally come to the conclusion that God is the only answer that makes sense.

Closer to our subject, consider the canon of the New Testament. How do we know that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are those placed there by God? Surely you do not believe we can trust in the conclusion of a Catholic Council hundreds of years after the books were written. The truth is, there are numerous evidences. None of them are a complete test-tube proof in and of themselves. In addition to this, we have some scriptural principles. Jesus told the apostles that the Spirit of truth would call things to their remembrance (Gospels and Acts), teach them all things (Epistles), and tell them of things to come (Revelation) [John 14:26; 16:13]. We expect God to keep His word and we expect Him to provide His word for His people. But those who expect nothing from God are ready to reject the validity of the New Testament canon.

Consider the process of accepting the canon. We see the promises that God would provide His truth. We see the evidences that He did it through the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. And, finally, we accept by faith that God did what He said He would do.

PROOF: So, what is my proof that the King James Bible is God's perfectly preserved word for today? I see two precepts concerning God's words. First, He will preserve His words (Psalm 12:6-7). His truth (which is His word - John 17:17) will endure to all generations (Psalm 100:5; 117:2). Also related to this is God's assumption that we have His words and can obey them. But there is a second and important precept. It is this: Man will always pervert and corrupt the true words of God (see 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). Taking these two precepts together, I come to two conclusions. First, God's true word will always be available somewhere on earth. Second, there will always be corruptions and counterfeits of God's holy word. Therefore, my job is not to determine whether or not God preserved His words. That would be a direct rejection of the information given to me by God. Rather, my duty is to discover that true word and where it is in the world today.

These promises and truths turn me to the evidences. How would God validate His word in the world today? It would certainly be a powerful text. It would change lives, bring revival and produce missionaries. There would be internal and external evidences. The text would have historical confirmation. The text would resonate with those closest to the Lord. This is not the place to go into the evidences, but I have been totally convinced by the evidences that the text of the King James Bible is God's perfect text for today. It could also be in other languages. I do not know. But I fully believe it to be in the English Authorized Version of 1611. As you can see, the evidences examined in the light of the promises lead to faith in the perfect word of God. To me, it is that simple.

PARTICULARS - However, you bring up other problems as well and I understand that these can be very troubling. You have discovered that there are variations in the Hebrew Masoretic text, the Greek Textus Receptus, and even in the King James English text. How can we deal with these? First of all, remember that man naturally corrupts everything he touches. This is true even when he does not mean to corrupt, but it especially true when he means to corrupt as is often the case. But my faith is not in the transmission powers or translation abilities of man. It is in the providential working of God to preserve His words.

Any individual copy may have errors in it (no matter how honest and benign). God does not promise to make sure that my individual copy of the Bible has no mistakes. If I find it in a text that is supposed to be true, I will not throw away the Bible, but only correct the copy I have. I have done this with misprints in the King James Bibles I have owned. To require each single copy or even one single copy to have no errors is to put the faith in man. Man makes mistakes. However, honest mistakes can usually be discovered and corrected.

I believe that there have been thousands upon top of thousands of forces moving on the Bible text for hundreds of years. Dishonest men have changed the text; honest men have made honest mistakes; true scholars have tried to correct the errors and alterations. Yet, if our only hope in the text rests on the labors of man, I would agree that it has been lost. But would God allow His words to be hopelessly lost in errors and corruptions. We must believe that He wants us to have His pure words. Therefore, I believe that He providentially works in the affairs of men, taking their errors and attempts and bringing out at certain times and in certain languages His perfect word and His perfect words.

We believe that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28), but we do not look on all things as good. God can pile up a bunch of negatives and make the end result a positive. He is good at multiplication, and when you multiply a negative by a negative, you get a positive. According to Psalm 76:10, he will turn the wrath of men into praise for Himself. This is His common way of working in the world. Therefore, the fact that the King James translators did not consider their work perfect has nothing to do with it. In fact, it is true that none of them did perfect work. They began with multiple translations before their time. Then, they passed their translation work from one person to another and from one committee to another. No lengthy text was the product of one individual translator. But the final result was the product of God working with power in the entire process. They were not inspired translators. God worked providentially among them to preserve His perfect text.

Finally, I believe that the work from 1611 to 1769 (though minor to the extreme) was God's final purifying of the text from typographical errors and such. On several occasions, I have allowed a congregation to choose a chapter in the Bible for me and I would then read them that chapter from a 1611 reprint of the King James Bible. To this date, no one has caught the first change in the text. I know there are a handful in there, but they are not of the sort that we see in the modern versions.

I cannot in a letter solve all your problems. They are real and I know that they are honest ones. However, I warn you not to try and understand it all. God says of man that He "hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That means that He purposely hides the way He accomplishes His will from our eyes and understanding. His ways are unsearchable (Romans 11:33). In the end, we must come to Him in faith. If you were to go into a study of the canon of scripture in the same way you are studying manuscripts, you would probably be alarmed at the questions this would raise. The truth is, our belief in God, in the preserved canon of scripture, or in the preserved words of God, all come down to faith. Will you believe God's promises or not? I hope this helps you to think this through. God is trying to bring you to a breakthrough. I pray that He will see you through it.

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 21:23

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.