Bible Versions Part 1: The Manuscripts

Have you ever noticed the differences in Bible Versions? Perhaps you are following along with the sermon in your own Bible, and what the pastor is reading isn't what you see in your own Bible. Or perhaps you are in a Bible Study, and someone else reads a portion of Scripture that seems markedly different than what you see in your version. If you are reading a modern version, such as the New International Version, you may even find that your Bible seems to be missing some verses that others are referring to! What is going on here?

The first issue we have to deal with concerning Bible Versions is that of the manuscripts. The English Bibles we use have been (for the most part) translated from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. These manuscripts are copies of the originals, and in most cases, represent copies of copies of copies, etc. As far as we know, there are no original texts in existence today.

There have been many copies of the Scriptures made throughout the years. The "papers" that the Word was written upon wore out from constant use and diligent study, plus there was a need for multiple copies so that each church could read from their own. This need grew as the number of churches grew.

Of course, as the number of copies grew, so also did the opportunity to falsify those copies. God warned us of this corruption of His Word: 

2  Cor 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Many manuscript copies were developed and several Bibles translations emerged during the first thousand and a half years since the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. By the time of Erasmus, a need to make a solid rendition of the Greek Scriptures was needed, as there were by this time many corruptions in existence. Using the best texts he had available, Erasmus produced a version that eventually developed into what is called today the "Textus Receptus", or "Received Text".

Two things we should note at this point. There was no one, single manuscript by this time that was universally accepted as "the exact copy of the original". In fact, there were variations between the texts that Erasmus used in developing his version. However, these variations, for the most part, were minor.

The second thing of note is that as evidenced in the New Testament, even copies of the original can be regarded as Scripture. For example, in John 5:39, Jesus says "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." In Acts 17:2 we read, "And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures..." Now, the Scriptures they were reading from were certainly not the originals, as they had long ago been worn out. Rather, they were careful copies that had been preserved through the centuries. Yet, both Jesus and Paul have no problem referring to these copies as the Scriptures.

God speaks about the purity and preservation of His Word:

Psalm 12:6-7: The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Pr 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.

Mt 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Mt 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Lu 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

1Pe 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Yet, the evidence we have today shows that there are variants between the many manuscripts we have, even between various representatives of the Textus Receptus. I can't fully understand how God preserves His Word through multitudes of imperfect texts. However, I can think of two reasons He may have taken this approach: 1) God wants us to diligently study the Scriptures. The "students" through the years have had to take seriously the importance of maintaining accurate copies and of determining His Word. God's Church has a responsibility to advance His Gospel throughout the world. 2) a single "official" copy would likely have been worshiped as an object itself.

Those who hold to the Textus Receptus (TR) view feel that this "strain" of manuscripts existed since the time of the Apostles, and that God preserved that text (through groups like the Waldesians and others) from corruptions of His Church, with the result that in the late 1500's to early 1600's the accurate text was still to be found. It is this text strain that the Geneva Bible, that was so important to the Puritans, and the King James Bible that we still use today, were based upon. Those with the TR view typically feel that the King James Bible is the best English Translation.

There are some today with a view known as King James Only, who believe that God so inspired the translation of the King James Bible that it even corrects the faults in the various manuscripts that were available at the time of translation. They feel, that by the time of the 1769 edition of the King James Bible (there were admitted errors and language changes made since the 1611 original), that the true preserved Word of God was reflected.

However, since the time of the Textus Receptus, many additional manuscripts have been discovered. Today we have over 5,350, consisting of (approximately) 115 Papyrus, 257 Uncials, 2795 Miniscules, and 2,200 Greek Lexionaries. [from Philip Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Versions]. For the most part, the majority of these texts agree with the TR, though there are some differences. This has led to another view known as the Majority Text (MT) view. This view takes the stance that by expanding the sampling size, we can ensure a more accurate translation. That is, instead of relying on (for example) 100 manuscripts to determine the correct reading of a passage, if we use 1000 manuscripts our odds are much improved. If one person could take the over 5,000 copies of the manuscripts all in one place, and perhaps with the help of a computer, a new "Majority Text" reading could be developed that would take full advantage of the many additional manuscripts found since the 1600's. Typically those with the Majority Text view feel that the KJV is a very good Bible, though not without its flaws. It must be noted that since no one person owns all 5,000+ manuscripts and they are very valuable and there are conflicting doctrinal views between the various holders of these manuscripts, that getting them all in one place is not very likely.

Out of the many manuscripts that have been discovered, there has been a strain known as the "Alexandrian" texts that demonstrate a more varied change from the others. In the 1800's two texts were discovered known as the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. One was found in the Vatican (it had been there since the 1400's), and the other was found in a Monastery (it was not being used). These manuscripts contain almost the whole of the New Testament, and are felt to be much older than the majority of the other manuscripts. Some felt that since these texts were older and closer to the time of the originals, that perhaps they better reflected the original New Testament writings. Primarily for this reason, Tischendorf and then Westcott and Hort in the mid-1800's began to develop new theories of the text of Scripture. Because many of the passages in these two versions were shorter or even missing, they began to conjecture that through the years, scribes added filler to their copies to "fill in" those places that were lacking, or to clarify theology that was murky in the originals. Also, these texts are not alone in their shorter readings. They are supported by approximately 300 other manuscripts, many of them also representing some of the oldest manuscripts found. [Source: Rev David Silversides sermon; The NIV: Is it Reliable?]

The NIV and almost every other modern Bible version take an "eclectic" view to the Bible text. They use not just the Alexandrian texts or not just the Textus Receptus, but try to "consider them all". They have developed a variety of rules to help them determine which passage readings are likely the original. For example, one of the rules as mentioned above is that in most cases "shorter is better". Since the Alexandrian texts most often use shorter readings, these texts are given a higher weighting than the others. This is also why, in the NIV, you find so many footnotes referring to "the best and oldest manuscripts". I should also note that later versions of the NIV have "softened" this footnote language over earlier revisions.

In a nutshell, then, four views of the Scriptural text are:

1. Textus Receptus: The TR is an accurate rendition of the Scriptures and can be regarded as such. God preserved His Word and ensured the men of this time period had in their possession the best examples of manuscripts available. Even though other manuscripts have since been discovered, they are not to be considered any more accurate.

2. Majority Text: Since most of the additional manuscripts that have been discovered agree with the strain of the TR, they should be added into the equation to develop a more accurate text. Spurious texts, like the Alexandrian, that differ greatly from this strain should be rejected. They point out that even the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus texts disagree with each other in over 3,000 places.

3. King James Only: God's hand was upon the translators of the King James Bible in such a way that it corrects the mistakes in the variant readings of the TR. The King James Bible is certainly the "Authorized Version" and is God's preserved Word in English.

4. Eclectic View: The discoveries by Tischendorf, Westcott, and Hort provide tremendous new insight into the original Scriptures, revealing that many additions and editorial license has been taken since the time of the originals. The use of Textual Criticism can help us get closer to the originals than ever before.

During my studies of this subject, the following observations keep popping back up:

1. The Alexandrian texts, although older, are a definite minority of the available witnesses, yet a high weighting is given to these texts by modern critics.

2. Almost every "modern Bible" version places a high value on these minority texts. The ESV, NASB, and even the NKJV have considerable influence from these texts. The NIV, as noted, places considerable weight on the Alexandrian texts.

3. The arise of the use of the minority texts came at the same time period that Darwin's false theories of evolution began to become accepted. As I look at the history of the Church, it seems that the mid to late 1800's were a dismal time for the Truth. This start in the 1800's led to many Bible revisions in the 1900's. Bruce Metzger stated during his development of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible that he was proud to have had a hand in the development of the first Bible that was acceptable to both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. He stated in his book "The Bible in Translation", "The story of the making of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible with the expanded Apocrypha is an account of the triumph of ecumenical concern over more limited sectarian interests. Now for the first time since the Reformation, one edition of the Bible has received the blessing of leaders of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches alike." This plea for ecumenicism is yet more proof that modern Bible versions represent a watering down of the Word, not a magnifying of it. In fact, the NIV has been noted to be more like the Jehovah Witness' New World Translation than it is to the KJV.

4. The Scriptures state that two or three witnesses are needed as the basis for truth (for example, 2Co 13:1"This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, while representative of the "Alexandrian" texts, differ from each other in well over 3,000 places, many of them very significant. Why are they accepted as reliable witnesses?

5. What do the use of these minority texts state about the future of the Scriptures? What happens if we find tomorrow yet another, older manuscript? Do we know that it won't remove even more of what we think is the Bible? What if it adds new Scriptures? How, then, can we have any confidence that what we have is truly indicative of God's Word?

6. I find it interesting that (as seen in the quiz elsewhere on this website) the NIV removes the last part of "man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God," as well as changing Psalm 12:6/7 to make the preservation refer to the people rather than to His Pure Word

While I am not so clear yet on my specific stance on approaches 1-3, I can in no way endorse the use of the Alexandrian texts. Satan wants to thwart God's Word at every opportunity. For the most part, he has succeeded in simply stopping man from reading the Word. How many of us really read God's Word daily, and of those that do, how many really study it from cover to cover to discover its deeper truths?

However, for those that do read the word, the enemy has found another approach. He has attempted to completely destroy the Scriptures in the past, but all of these efforts have failed. Instead, he has now succeeded in watering down the Word for those who read the modern translations, and even for those Bibles developed in other languages based on the corrupted texts. When a reader of a modern Bible begins to study the footnotes, Satan has now introduced lots of doubts into the readers minds by statements such as "the best texts don't include this verse" and so forth. I have heard many brothers and sisters in Christ begin to remark that we can't really know what the Scriptures say anymore.

There are some who simply bundle all of the Evangelical Bibles together and make the blanket statement that they all agree over 90%, and thus we have a reliable witness to the Word. However, when I look at the omissions like the ones in the above quiz, I cannot accept that. For example, in Galatians 3:16, the appeal is made that the Old Testament makes reference to "Abraham and his seed" for the promises, not "to seeds, as of many"; asserting that the seed referred to is Christ. Thus we see that even one word can be very important.

So, I make a plea to the reader. If this paper isn't enough to convince you (and likely it isn't), then please investigate this matter further by examining the many resources listed. I urge you to switch to a Bible text that better represents Christ's true words.

Some Bibles that are based on the TR/MR include:

The King James Version. The Bibles from Bearing Precious Seeds Ministries (available at are very nice
The New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Publishers; caution; does include some influence of the Alexandrian texts, especially in the footnotes)
The Easy Reading King James Version (GEM Publishing; replaces Thee's and Thou's, etc.)
The Literal Version (Sovereign Grace Publishers)
The Modern King James Version / KJ3 from J.P. Green, Sr. (Sovereign Grace Publishers) KJ3 has had multiple production problems)
The Geneva Bible (recently republished)

Other issues with the NIV:

Beyond the textual issues briefly discussed above, the NIV has other problems as well. One of these includes the use of Dynamic Equivalence mode of translation vs. Formal Equivalance, which leads to the practice of interpreting the text rather than translating. This will be covered in Part 3