I’ve mentioned several problems with the King James Version in previous posts. Arguably the most significant set of problems has to do with the text that the translators were translating. Here I’ll stick with what I know the most about, the text of the New Testament. The brief reality is that in the early 17th century, Greek editions of the New Testament were based on very few and highly inferior manuscripts. Only after the King James was translated did scholars begin to become aware of the existence of older, and far better, manuscripts. For those of you who have read Misquoting Jesus, much of what follows will be a brief review.
Before the invention of printing, the NT (and all other books) circulated in manuscript form (the word manu-script literally means “written by hand”), as scribes copied the text by hand, one page, one sentence, one word at a time. All scribes copying long texts made mistakes; and anyone who copied a manuscript that had mistakes replicated the mistakes and made some of his own, and this process went on for centuries. I should stress that most scribes did their best to make faithful reproductions of the copies they were copying, and many of them did a remarkably good job. Others did a not-so-good job. Since mistakes can get replicated over time, and introduced over time, in general it is a good idea to consult the *earliest* manuscripts for determining what an author of a book wrote. The later manuscripts tend to be worse (that’s not an *absolute* rule, but a relatively good one).
The first edition of the Greek NT to be published after the invention of printing was by the Rotterdam humanist Erasmus, whose 1516 edition went through several revisions over the years. Other publishers based their own editions on Erasmus, rather than doing a careful study of the surviving manuscripts themselves. Eventually it became such a standard text that it came to be known as the Textus Receptus (the “received text” – that is the text everyone used). Erasmus’s edition was based just on the few Greek manuscripts at his disposal, which were late medieval and that had the typical kinds of mistakes that one can find in late medieval manuscripts.
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