Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

9 May 2012

Marginal Notes in the King James Version

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The King James-only view argues that only the 1611 KJV is the Word of God in English. All other versions or translations are so corrupt that they are not to be used, nor be appealed to as the Word of God. Most KJV-only advocates contend that the printed Greek text from which the KJV was translated, commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR), is inspired and inerrant, and the KJV is the only translation that accurately translates the TR. But this is not true. The New King James Version (NKJV) is also translated from the TR. Being TR based, the NKJV cannot so easily be discounted by KJV-only proponents. Therefore, they seek to find other ways to disqualify the NKJV.

A common complaint against the NKJV by KJV-only advocates is the use of notes provided by the translators. For example, D. A. Waite says:

The diabolical nature of the New King James Version shows itself in their printing all the various readings of the Greek text in the footnotes. They print all sides and take their stand in favor of none of them. By so doing, they confuse the readers. The editors have made no decision as to what God’s Words really are (Defending the King James Bible, p. 125).

William P. Grady sounds a similar warning:

 When a study is made of the footnote section in the NKJV, one discovers a classic example of compromise. Understanding the self-centered nature of today’s carnal believers, Nelson Publishers decided to let their customers have a literal choice between three different Greek readings!… Can you imag­ine the confusion being wrought among laypeople as they suddenly discover their new responsibilities to become textual critics? (Final Authority, p. 304)

But the translators of the KJV were not opposed to such notes. In a study of the marginal notes in the 1611 KJV, F. H. A. Scrivener counted 6,637 in the OT, 1,018 in the Apocrypha, and 767 in the NT, for a total of 8,422 (The Authorized Edition of the English Biblep. 56). In their Preface, “The Translators to the Reader,” the KJV translators argued strongly for their inclusion:

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point.… It hath pleased God in his Divine Providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain), but in mat­ters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence,… There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once.… Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c. concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as S. Hierome [Jerome] somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such a case doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?… Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that vari­ety of translations is profitable for finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good; yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded.… They that are wise had rather have their judgments at liberty in difference of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

Of the 767 notes in the NT, 35 are explanatory notes or brief ex­positions, 582 give alternative translations, 112 give a more literal ren­dering of the Greek than the translators judged suitable for the text, and 37 give readings of different manuscripts (Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible, p. 56). An example of an explanatory note is found at the word “measures” in Matthew 13:33. The note reads: “The worde in the Greek is a measure conteining about a peck and an halfe, wanting litle more then a pinte.” An alternative translation is found in Matthew 6:2. The text reads: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee….” The margin suggests the translation: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, cause not a trumpet to be sounded before thee….” A more literal translation is found at Romans 7:5, where the text reads: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law.…” The margin explains that the Greek word for “motions” is literally “passions.” Finally, in Luke 17:36 is found an example of a variant reading. Beside the words “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left,” the margin reads: “This 36 verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies.” This is the same note which is found in the NKJV. In fact, nine of the thirty-seven textual notes in the 1611 KJV are also found in the NKJV. Yet Waite and Grady castigate the NKJV for doing the same thing the 1611 KJV did.

Again, the Preface of the 1611 KJV proves to be an embarrassment to the KJV-only position since in the Preface the translators approve the use of explanatory notes, including textual ones, that KJV-advocates harshly condemn.