Some Thoughts By

Gary Ray Branscome

    In many ways the past century was a century of ideological conflict. During that century the Bible endured one attack after another, and the very foundation of our faith was assaulted. Nevertheless, the Bible remains, even as the ideologies of this world wane, and the case for the reliability and divine preservation of Scripture is stronger than ever before. In that spirit, I would like to call for a fresh look at the traditional New Testament text, for I believe that there are several good reasons why it is more reliable than the text currently in vogue.


    The traditional, or Byzantine, text is the text that was used by the Greek Orthodox Church from the fourth century (or earlier) to the end of the nineteenth century. That text includes most of the New Testament manuscripts, and there is very little variation between them. In addition to that text, we also have a few manuscripts that omit a number of words and phrases found in the Byzantine text (the Alexandrian text), and a few manuscripts that include words and phrases not found in Byzantine or Alexandrian texts (the Western text).

    Because the Alexandrian manuscripts are few in number and inconsistent in their readings, they would never have received serious consideration if it were not for the fact that two of them (code named “Aleph” and “B”) are written on expensive vellum (calfskin). Because of the cost involved in the manufacture of vellum, it is assumed that they were made at government expense, and that the government made certain that they were copied from the best manuscripts available (an assumption that anyone familiar with government waste and bungling must find laughable).

    What is conveniently overlooked, is the evidence against manuscripts “Aleph” and “B”.
    First of all, those two manuscripts differ with each other in over three thousand places. Second, they omit an entire section of Scripture (the last twelve verses of Mark) that is included in every other Greek manuscript in the world (that contains Mark). That section of Scripture is also included in all Syriac translations except the Sinatic Syriac, and in all old Latin manuscripts except “K”. Some of the early church fathers also quoted from it. Hippolytus in 200AD, Irenaeus in 180AD, Tatian in 175AD, and Justin martyr in 150AD.
    Therefore, the evidence that the last twelve verses of Mark belong in the Bible is just about as strong as you can get. If those verses belong in the Bible, then manuscripts “Aleph” and “B” were not copied from the best manuscripts, are not copied accurately, and are not reliable. And, if they are not reliable, the case against the traditional text falls apart. [See Mark 16:9-20.]


    Since our faith is faith in what the Bible says, it is important for us to have a translation that is the Word of God, not an interpretation. While some people claim that no translation can ever be the Word of God, the Bible says otherwise every time it quotes a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Even though God does not guide the translators by direct inspiration, He uses the original Greek or Hebrew text to tell them exactly what He wants them to say.

    At the same time, even though the translator has some leeway in deciding what words to use, because the salvation of souls will depend upon that translation, objectivity is important. Because the men who prepared our king James translation understood the importance of objectivity, they sought to provide a formal equivalent of what the original language said. As a result, their translation has been greatly used of God, and those who rely on it have carried the gospel around the world. Furthermore, the fact that it has been accepted by many denominations, and has endured for centuries, is a great comfort to those who fear being misled. Nevertheless, there are others who find its older language confusing, and prefer a translation that they find easier to understand.

    Therefore, in deciding which translation to use, it is important for a church to consider the needs of everyone. Congregations, which replace the king James with a modern translation, have gone to one extreme; while those that ban every modern translation have gone to the other extreme. What we want, is to maintain a direct link with the past while making certain that the Bible is understood, and that its teachings are known and accepted. I believe that we can achieve that goal by continuing to use the King James translation in preaching, worship, and the memorization of God’s Word, and by using other translations along side of the King James Bible, in Bible classes and in our study of God’s Word.

    I personally use a Bible that has the King James in one column and the Amplified in the next. However, this will only work if everyone understands that both translations are essentially saying the same thing in different words. What we want to do is to compare the translations, just as we might compare Matthew and Luke, and gain a better understanding of what is being said, by hearing it expressed two different ways.

    We never want to make the mistake of pitting the translations against each other by interpreting them to contradict. Nor do we want to create a conflict by insisting that one is right and the other is wrong. People who are continually trying to pick apart the King James translation, are causing division contrary to Romans 16:17, and those who are hostile to every modern translation are also a source of division. The King James is a good translation that has stood the test of time, and the newer translations can be helpful in understanding what is being said if we do not place them in opposition to the King James.

    In dealing with the newer translations, we need to understand that many of them follow the Alexandrian text, rather than the traditional text, and that they do not all maintain the same level of quality. However, as long as we allow the King James translation to be our standard, and follow the rule of “two or three witnesses” (each translation being a witness), we should not have any problem (Matthew 18:16). 

    Since manuscripts “Aleph” and “B” omit some words or statements that are in the traditional text, translations that follow those manuscripts may also omit them. However, instead of feeling threatened by those omissions, we need to learn what we can. What we want to do is to compare the translations just as we might compare Matthew and Luke, while hoping that someday those translations will include all of the readings included in the traditional text.
    [Note: Just to give you an example of what kind of omissions I am talking about, In Matthew alone, all of these verses omit something. Matthew 1:25, 5:22&44, 6:13, 8:29, 9:13, 12:35, 13:51, 15:8, 16:3, 19:21, 18:11, 19:9, 20:7,15,16,22, 22:20, 23:14, 24:36, 25:13, 27:35&54.]

    When it comes to dealing with translations that vary in quality, as long as we make the King James our standard, and follow the rule of “two or three witnesses,” it should be easy to spot a translation that departs from the generally accepted meaning of the text (2Corinthians 1:13).  However, because it is easy for those who are not trained in theology to assume that every translation is saying something different simply because the wording is different, we need to emphasize what the translations agree on. The last thing we want is for people to become confused by the differences in translations, and wind up not knowing what to believe. It is only when we compare the translations without assuming disagreement or superiority on the part of one (much as we compare Matthew with Mark or Luke) that we can gain a better understanding of the Bible by seeing various ways that the original might be translated.

    Finally, because the English language is continually changing, the King James translation has been revised in the past, and will need to be revised in the future. However, in order to maintain an unbroken link to the past, we need to avoid unnecessary change, while making certain that future generations are able to read and understand the King James translation. [Note: You might want to get a copy of the “21st Century King James.”]


    Since the Holy Spirit works through the Bible to bring people to faith, and our faith is faith in the promises of His Word, in dealing with texts and translations we need to avoid a course of action that will undermine faith (Matthew 16:17, Luke 11:52). I believe that the course of action outlined above offers a sensible way doing just that, by preserving our Reformation heritage, while being sensitive to the needs of everyone.