Final Authority

Answers to a reader's question of KJV as his final authority

May 1, 2001


In response to the my analysis of Daniel 3:25 in the November 2000 issue of AISI (“’The Son of God’ or ‘A son of the gods’?”), one reader wrote:

“I generally enjoy reading your comments but think you are wasting your time on Daniel and the "Son of God".  I have a final authority right here on my desk and I have not read that you do since you do not have even one of the ‘originals’.” 

This reader was writing from the perspective of one who claims that the King James Version of the Bible is an absolutely perfect translation. Further, he believes that a no-longer-extant, hypothetical “infallible original Bible in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic” is of no practical use to us today since the original manuscripts have all perished, and such copies as we have (and we have many thousands) differ in numerous details from each other, and therefore no one manuscript and no one printed edition has been or can be identified as “the final authority.”  Based on these two premises--first, that the KJV which we do have is infallible, and second, that the original language copies of the Bible which we do have are not--he leaps to the conclusion that the final authority in all matters of theology is therefore the KJV English Bible, and not the original language text of Scripture.

Such a conclusion is fraught with gross defects. 

First, it must be noted that the existence of variant readings in now-existing Bible manuscripts has been employed by modernists and apostates such as Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) to undermine and ridicule the authority of Scripture in the original languages and the doctrine of inspiration.  Today this argument is used by self-styled fundamentalists to the same end: to undermine the confidence of Christians in the authority of the Scriptures in the form they were originally given by God.  When you find yourself using the same arguments as apostates to destroy confidence in the authority of Scripture, you are in very dangerous company--warming yourself, as it were, by the devil’s fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas.

At Daniel 3:25, the verse discussed in the previous issue, there are no reported variants in the Aramaic manuscripts we possess.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the ancient translations of Daniel to indicate that they knew of any variant reading in the verse.  It is therefore entirely in keeping with this evidence to conclude that we DO HAVE here presumptively the exact reading of the original words as given by the Holy Spirit to and through Daniel (cf. 2 Peter 1:20, 21).  Since in this particular place we have perfectly preserved for us the exact original words, who can dispute that we do have the absolute authority of the inspired original here?  And if that is the case, then it is entirely proper and right--indeed, it is the only valid course of action--to appeal to and rely on those inspired and infallible original words for determining what is or is not the correct translation of those words into English.  Anything else, anything less, would be inadequate.

And just here, we must note that whatever authority the King James Version may have is wholly dependent on its adherence to the standard of original language text. The translators themselves on their very title page describe their version as “translated out of the original tongues, with former translations diligently compared and revised.”  They certainly did not denigrate the original language text (though they were aware of the existence of manuscript variants), or hold it in disdain, nor did they mock those who held to the authority of original language texts; indeed, they themselves were obviously among this number.  To deny the authority of the original language texts we now possess is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face, and undermine unwittingly the authority of the KJV which is entirely dependent on those original language texts for whatever authority it might have.  Without the prior and superior authority of the original language text, the KJV is wholly devoid of any authority or validity.

Finally, those who claim to have “the final authority” in their hands in the form of the KJV while at the same time denying the finality of the authority of extant Hebrew and Greek texts, display defective knowledge of the facts in the case.  No one today has the original KJV, even if they own one of the copies actually printed in 1611.  Those printed editions are merely copies--and defective ones at that--of the translators’ original manuscript which was submitted to the printers in 1611.  The fact is, the translators’ original manuscript of the KJV is now lost, apparently a victim of the great London fire of 1666.  Its existence was attested as late as 1660, but thereafter, it entirely disappears from historical records (see T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, compilers, Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, vol. 1, p. 134; John M’Clintock, and James Strong, eds., Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. I, p. 562).  If these facts are so, then no one has seen or held what is allegedly “the final authority in English” for approaching 350 years!  At best, all they have are imperfect copies of a now lost “original,” leaving KJVO adherents in precisely the same boat as those who appeal to the original language Biblical texts as their final authority. 

It should be unnecessary to say much about variations which have always existed among various printings and editions of the KJV.  They do exist, and have from the beginning (the two editions printed in 1611 differ in over 2,000 places, perhaps the most famous being “he” or “she” at Ruth 3:15).  The problem of variant readings in KJV printed editions had become so disturbing that from the middle of 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, several attempts were made to produce “standardized” editions of the KJV from among the editions then in print, and eliminate the many thousands of variations (more than 24,000 by one careful count) known then to exist.  Some of these attempts at making standardized editions were not well-received (see Darlow and Moule, vol. I, pp. 286-7; 294; 349; and especially 362-3), and none of them achieved the goal of creating a truly standard text. 

To bring it up to our day, counting every text difference of whatever sort between those first two editions of the KJV (and which of the two was published first in 1611 is still an unsettled controversy), and KJV editions today, they number more than 70,000.  True enough, they are mostly of small significance (just as are most of the differences between printed Greek texts), but certainly not all are.  The real issue in this context is that there is no one standard KJV edition, only a plethora of differing editions. 

And just here, the ground is cut from under the wishful thinkers who claim they have “the final authority” in their hands in the form of some one or another printed edition of the KJV.  But which one? And which variants do they accept as correct?  Unless and until they can point with certainty to one and only one pristine KJV edition which perfectly conforms to the translators’ now lost manuscript, all talk of having “the final authority” in their hands is nothing more than hollow pious posturing. 

“But variations don’t affect theology!” they would insist.  In nearly all cases, we grant that this is true, but the same could be said of the variants in exiting Greek and Hebrew texts.  The variations in these latter do occasionally affect the interpretation of a specific verse or passage, but not a syllable of any standard theologically-conservative “statement of faith” would be altered by any known variations that have any claim to being the true original reading.  A person could compare at random any of the more than 2,000 printed Greek New Testament, choosing among the many differing textus receptus editions, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, Westcott-Hort, Nestle, UBS, Majority Text, etc., and the doctrinal content of these would be found to be identical, with only a rare alteration in “proof texts” (in some cases losing one or two among dozens, and yet gaining others).  Such variations are of far less importance than questions of interpretation of passages where there are no issues of textual variants (e.g., does Romans 9:5 teach the Deity of Christ?).

I have repeatedly challenged those who claim to have “the final authority” in their hand and mock the very idea of the “original authority” view.  My challenge is this: “Which ONE KJV edition is the infallible ONE?”  There is no “wiggle room” here.  We are told by the KJVO faction that “God wrote only one Bible” and that “things which differ are not the same.”  So, tell me straight out: which one KJV edition is the infallible one.  It must be only one (if any at all), not two or three, or the KJV editions taken collectively.  It must be just one.  Until you can with certainty identify it for us, the objections raised against those who appeal to the "originals” as their final authority is entirely discredited. 

---Doug Kutilek