war of words: the Bible’s manuscripts

As I was growing up in a Christian home, I was told that it really didn’t matter what version of the Bible I read.  Although I was introduced first to the King James Version (KJV), also called the Authorized Version (AV), and stuck with it for several years, I eventually started reading all types of versions that I could get my hands on–the NIV, NASB, Amplified, etc.  I never thought anything of it until I reached my early to mid-20’s and started using Chick Publications to purchase and pass out Bible tracts.

Jack Chick of Chick Publications often pointed out in his newsletters why the KJV was the only true version, but for the most part I dismissed his arguments.  Then I decided to buy some KJV-only books which told why the KJV was the true version.  I only bought them to see what their arguments were so I could debunk them.  However, after I verified the research presented by the KJV-only crowd, I became convinced they were correct.

Only originals are perfect

In the war of words that occurs in Christendom over Bible versions, one argument is that versions don’t matter because only the original manuscripts were perfect and none of them are around anymore.  Critics of the KJV often quote Psalm 119:89–“O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven,”–to point out that only God in heaven has the perfect version of his word.  Therefore, it’s okay to “modernize” the words and put them into today’s English.

This argument neglects the fact that (1) God had his word settled in heaven before the universe was ever created, and (2) God said he would preserve his words, not the medium (like the original scrolls) that his words are recorded on–

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. [Isaiah 40:8]

Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. [Mark 13:31]

God wasn’t concerned about originals.  In Jeremiah 51:60-64, the prophet wrote down God’s words about the fate of Babylon and told Seraiah to read the book to the people when he got to Babylon.  Then when Seraiah was finished reading to the people in Babylon, he tied a stone around the book filled with God’s words and threw it in the Euphrates River at the prophet’s command to do so.

The word “scripture” in the Bible means copies, not originals.  The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 was reading a copy of Isaiah, the Bereans had copies of God’s word to verify Paul in Acts 17, and Timothy was raised on copies of God’s word (2 Timothy 3:15).  These copies were always referred to as scripture and holy scripture. 

the family of manuscripts

There are two groups of manuscripts on which Bibles are based.  One family of manuscripts was gathered initially from Antioch (which was formerly in ancient Syria but is now in southern Turkey), but eventually included manuscripts from Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Africa, and a few other places.  This family is called by several names–the Byzantine text, Antiochian text, Masoretic text, Majority text, and Textus Receptus (Received Text).  It has the majority of the manuscripts and is the family from which the KJV is translated.

The other family of manuscripts was gathered from Alexandria, Egypt.  The most popular manuscripts in this family are the Vaticanus (also called B) manuscript and the Sinaiticus (also called Aleph) manuscript which were used to create the second Latin Vulgate of 380 AD.  There are a few more manuscripts in this family, but they make up approximately 1% of all manuscripts and are known as the Alexandrian text.  This 1% of manuscripts was the basis for all other Bible versions, including the New King James (NKJV) which really has nothing to do with King James.  His name was used on this Bible as a marketing ploy.  These manuscripts disagree not only among themselves as to words, they also have vast disagreements with the Majority text.

a tale of two cities

We can tell a lot about a place mentioned in the Bible by what is said about it.  What is said about Alexandria, Egypt and the old Syrian Antioch (now in Turkey) are a reflection of the manuscripts each city yields.  Most of what is said about Egypt in the Bible is negative.  After all, they are the ones who enslaved God’s people and were judged by God time and again for their wickedness.  Even Abraham didn’t trust them when he had to go there in Genesis 12 to flee from a famine in his own land.

What the Bible says about Alexandria isn’t positive either.  There were Jews from this Egyptian city in Acts 6 who persecuted and killed Stephen, our beloved deacon.  A Jew named Apollos was also from Alexandria and we see in Acts 18 that he was preaching without the knowledge of the gospel.  He only knew about John’s baptism and had to be taught by Aquila and Priscilla about salvation through Jesus Christ.

Alexandria is therefore a place of hatred for God’s people and a lack of true, complete knowledge of the Lord.  The manuscripts from there are a reflection of this very nature.

On the other hand, many pleasant things are said about Syria and Antioch.  Isaac, Abraham’s son, fell in love with and married Rebekah the Syrian who gave birth to the nation of Israel through her son Jacob.  Saul was on his way to Damascus in Syria to persecute Christians when he encountered the Lord Jesus.  Then in Syria, Ananias was sent to heal Saul of his blindness, encourage him, and baptize him.

It was at Antioch in Syria where believers in Christ were first called Christians.  The Holy Spirit worked mightily in the church there through prophets and teachers in Acts 13.  It was there that Saul (Paul) and Barnabas received their commission from the Lord to go and preach to the Gentiles throughout the world.

Antioch is therefore a place of God’s blessings and the carrying out of his will, just like the manuscripts that come from there.

Source: Gipp, Samuel C. The Answer Book: A Helpbook for Christians. Shelbyville, TN: Bible & Literature Missionary Foundation, 1989.

UP NEXT: war of words: saints & scribes

–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–

2 thoughts on “war of words: the Bible’s manuscripts

Add yours

  1. Thank you Harry,
    How wonderfully put!
    I love to see history clarified and explained correctly.
    When you see the facts presented this way, it really is quite simple isn’t it?
    I just know our Father is blessing your work and efforts Harry.


    1. Yes, our Lord has always been about keeping things simple. It’s only when we want to push him aside for our own way that confusion and complications arise. May he be blessed forever. And I pray that he will open the eyes of as many saints as possible so we can all minister with his true word more effectively before his coming.


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