Seeing The Accuracy of the Bible
Do our English Bibles accurately reflect the writing of the original authors? It’s an important question. Some would argue (or more often assume) that they don't. The view that that the text of the Bible has been corrupted and changed over the centuries is commonplace even among those who have never read the Bible.
Textual criticism is the discipline that seeks to make sure that the text behind our English (and other) translations is as close to the original as possible. Textual critics look at the variations between extant texts and work through which is most likely to be the original based on a variety of criteria.
Today, the vast majority of the New Testament translations are based on an eclectic text created by textual critics. This means that the Greek text used by translators would not be found in any one Greek manuscript, but is a bringing together of what textual critics have concluded are the best readings from the available manuscripts.
This fact can sometimes worry people. Learning that there are so many variants in the existing New Testament manuscripts (around 500,000 in fact) can cause people to worry that we can never really know what the original authors wrote. Critics of the Bible, such as Bart Ehrman, make exactly this case. But it’s very easy to be misled by the 500,000 figure. Yes, there are thousands and thousands of variants, but very few of them are of any great significance.
For those who can’t read Greek, it has thus far been necessary to trust Greek-readers who say this as there hasn’t been an easy way to look at the evidence in English. However, a website launched earlier this year changes that. KJV Parallel Bible allows English readers an insight into these variants by presenting in parallel English translations of the two most influential versions of the Greek text. One is the Textus Receptus. This was the first Greek text of the New Testament to be produced after the invention of the printing press and is the text which underlies most Reformation period translations, including the KJV. The other is the Nestle-Aland 28 (NA28), the latest version of the eclectic text used today by scholars and which underlies the vast majority of modern English translations. What is clever about the KJV Parallel Bible, is that the compilers have translated the NA28 in the style of the KJV so that only textual, and not translational, differences are visible.
The site is thus a great tool to visually see the extent of difference between two different textual bases to the New Testament, one of which is the product of a millennium and a half of scribal transmission, the other of which is the conclusion of modern textual critics.1
What is most striking as you look through the New Testament on the site is how few of the differences are of any great significance for the meaning of the text or for key theological beliefs. It provides a way that English readers can see for themselves the amazing extent to which the text of the New Testament has been preserved through the centuries of transmission and the confidence we can have in it, despite the thousands of variations in extant manuscripts.
So why not take a look through some chapters of the KJV Parallel Bible to have your faith in the accuracy of the Bible strengthened?
You can find out more about the project in an article written by the site’s creator, Mark Ward, over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.
- 1 Technically speaking, the Textus Receptus is a sort of eclectic text in that it made use of a small handful of manuscripts because manuscripts covering the entirety of the New Testament were not available. Alternative readings found in the Latin Vulgate were also sometimes allowed to influence the text. In general, the Textus Receptus is based on what modern textual critics deem the least accurate family of Greek witnesses to the New Testament (the Byzantine text) which makes it a particularly fruitful version for comparisons seeking to show to what extent the variations are significant.