Is The King James Version Nearest To The Original Autographs?

by David Otis Fuller, D.D. (1903 to 1988)
Grand Rapids, Michigan

[This pamphlet is a resume of the book "Which Bible?" now it its fifth edition and again enlarged to 350 pages.]

Of The Multiplying Versions of God's Holy Word, is the King James Version Nearest to the Original Autographs?

By Dr. David Otis Fuller

From 1611 A.D. to 1978 A.D. is a long time in any man's language. Three centuries plus sixty seven years. That is how long the King James Version of God's Holy word has lasted. How come? It is still going strong despite the attempts of the Liberals and alas! the Conservatives to downgrade this version using the worn cliché of the critics, "Older and more accurate manuscripts have been discovered to change the meaning of many passages." Such a statement is not true and we have abundant evidence for it.

But first, let us ask a few pointed and practical questions: We as evangelicals believe the Bible to be the Verbally Inspired Word of God, inerrant -- namely, without err. THEN -- we ask, is there one version extant among the multiplicity of versions which is without error today? If there is not then we worship a God Who is either careless or impotent to keep His Word pure through the ages. HOW can we say we believe in the inerrancy of the Word of God and yet say there are errors in every translation?

We do not say that the KJV does not permit changes. There are a number that could be and should be made BUT there is a vast difference between a change and an error.

In the early church there came a time, or times -- just when or where we have no reliable record -- when some Godly men definitely directed of the Blessed Holy Spirit of God selected the twenty-seven books which comprise out New Testament and arranged them in that order. That this was done over a long period of time could well be and probably was, but it was done -- we have the evidence at hand to prove it.

This writer is just as firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit played a very definite part in bringing together the brilliant scholars who in time produced the King James Version of 1611. These men were the greatest scholars of their day or any day, so erudite and learned that the scholarship of today pales in comparison. To illustrate: John Boys, one of the translators was able to read the Bible in Hebrew at the age of five years! He was a proficient Greek scholar at the age of fourteen and for years he spent from 4 o'clock in the morning till 8 o'clock at night in the Cambridge library studying manuscripts and languages!

The Chairman of the overall committee was Lancelot Andrewes who was the greatest linguist of his day, being at home in twenty different languages. He spent five hours a day in prayer and was so respected by King James that the monarch ordered all levity to cease whenever Bishop Andrewes was present. (See "Which Bible" page 13 "The Learned Men" by Terence Brown, Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society of London, England.)

You see, these men were not cursed with television, radio, telephones! They had time to think, meditate and study. They were not caught in the trap of flitting from one Bible conference to another with little or no time for preparation or prayer. God the Blessed Holy Spirit knew what He was doing - - as He always does -- when He gathered these dedicated minds together for such a purpose. True, there were High Churchmen among them and those with whom we might disagree on minor points of doctrine but ALL without exception held in highest regard and deepest reverenced the Bible as the Verbally Inspired Word of God -- and treated it as such.

We venture to say, never in all history has there been such a convocation of scholarly men of God who produced the masterpiece of the King James Version, hailed by the greatest of literary lights in every age since then, as the Lodestar of Literature that has led all writings to the present hour. The 1611 scholars used as the basis for their version the Textus Receptus which was originally collated by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and later improved by Sturnica, Robert Stephens, the Elzivirs and Beza's 5 editions. The Renaissance of Europe produced that giant intellect and scholar, Erasmus. The common proverb then was "Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it." To quote one scholar, "Endowed by nature with a mind that could do ten hours work in one, Erasmus, during his mature years in the earlier part of the sixteenth century was the intellectual giant of Europe. He was ever at work, visiting libraries, searching in every nook and corner for the profitable. He was ever collecting, comparing, writing and publishing. Europe was rocked from end to end by his books which exposed the ignorance of the monks, the superstitions of the priesthood, the bigotry and the childish and coarse religion of the day. He classified the Greek manuscripts and read the Fathers.

It is customary even today with those who are bitter against the pure teachings of the Received Text, to sneer at Erasmus. No perversion of facts is too great to belittle his work. Yet, while he lived, Europe was at his feet. Several times the King of England offered him any position in the kingdom at his own price; the Emperor of Germany did the same. The pope offered to make him a cardinal. This he steadfastly refused, as he would not compromise his conscience. In fact, had he been so minded, he perhaps could have made himself Pope. France and Spain sought him to become a dweller in their realm; while Holland prepared to claim him as her most distinguished citizen.

Book after book came from his hand. Faster and faster came the demands for his publications. But his crowning work was the New Testament in Greek. At last after one thousand years the New Testament was printed (1516 A.D.) in the original tongue. Astonished and confounded, the world, deluged by superstitions, coarse traditions and mockeries, read the pure story of the Gospels. The effect was electric. At once, all recognized the great value of this work which for over four hundred years (1516-1930) was to hold dominant place in an era of Bible.

There were hundreds of manuscripts for Erasmus to examine -- and he did; but he used only a few. What matters? The vast bulk of manuscripts in Greek are practically the Received Text; of course, not identical but most of the variations are superficial; and in general character and content they represent the same kind of text. If the few Erasmus used were typical, that is, after he had thoroughly balanced the evidence of many and used a few which displayed the balance, did he not, with all the problems before him, arrive at practically the same result which only could be arrived at today by a fair and comprehensive investigation?

Moreover, the text Erasmus chose had such an outstanding history in the Greek, the Syrian, and the Waldensian Churches, that it constituted an irresistible argument for, and proof of, God's Providence.. God did not write a hundred Bibles; there is only ONE Bible, the others at best are only approximations. In other words the Greek New Testament of Erasmus, known as the Received Text, is none other than the Greek New Testament which successfully met the rage of its pagan and papal enemies. (The above may be found in full in "Which Bible?" pp. 142-144).

Two hundred and seventy years passed which brings us to 1881 and the publication of the Revised Version. Three brilliant scholars dominated the whole committee; Brooke Foss Westcott (later Bishop of Durham) and Fenton John Anthony Hort, both professors at Cambridge University; Bishop Ellicott, chairman of the committee who some years before was solidly in favor of the Received Text and the position of John Burgon. Ellicott was swung over to the position of Westcott and Hort, so much so that he aided and abetted them in the pledging of the rest of the committee to absolute secrecy when each received a copy of the newly published Westcott and Hort Greek text. Why the secrecy? That remains to be seen.

Our study, over a period of ten years, of this whole subject has confirmed the conviction that this was what Burgon calls, in his own language, "a conspiracy." Neither Westcott nor Hort ever stated or believed that the Bible was the Verbally Inspired, Inerrant Word of God. They have gone on record as saying it was to be treated like any other book. It is our studied belief that this was one of Satan's subtlest assaults on the purity and integrity of God's Holy Word and the repercussions of this assault have been felt thru the decades to this very hour.

All of this has to do with the Westcott and Hort Textural Theory which the vast majority of evangelicals have accepted at its face value without being given the truth about it.  Both of these Cambridge professors, for one thing elevated antiquity above accuracy and thus championed the two oldest manuscripts of the Scriptures in existence, Codex Aleph or Sinaiticus and Codex B or Vaticanus, both dating from the 4th century. Both of these have been branded by Herman Hoskier, John Burgon, Prebendary Scrivener as being filled with errors and contradictions; two of the "foulest" of manuscripts, in the words of Burgon. W & H (Westcott and Hort) put all of their eggs in these two baskets, completely ignoring and at times deprecating the hundreds of Greek manuscripts which agreed with the Received Text, on which the King James Version was founded, in 90 to 95 percent of their contents.

It is clearly shown in the writings of some of the greatest scholars in "Which Bible?" that the oldest manuscripts have been proved more often than not to be the worst and the least trustworthy. W & H invented some clever clichés and plausible arguments in favor of their theory such as "intrinsic probability," "transcriptional probability," "Syrian recension," etc. all of which proves to be entirely subjective with no real facts to substantiate them save the opinion of the scholar. This method is much easier than the very laborious one of comparing manuscript with manuscript and thus establishing a sound factual basis for their conclusions.

Practically every version of the Bible from the publication of the Revised Version of 1881 down to the present has followed the Westcott and Hort Greek text and theory almost in full. In the words of Dr. Alfred Martin (see "Which Bible?" page 254--) "The theory was hailed by many when it came forth as practically final, certainly definitive. It has been considered by some the acme in the textual criticism of the New Testament. Some of the followers of W & H have been almost unreasoning in their devotion to the theory; and many people even today, who have no idea what the Westcott-Hort theory is, or at best only a vague notion, accept the labors of those two scholars without question. During the past seventy years it has often been considered textual heresy to deviate from their position or to intimate that, sincere as they undoubtedly were, they may have been mistaken."

To continue Dr. Martin's presentation, "Most work in textual criticism today has at least a Hortian foundation; nevertheless there are fashions in criticism as in women's clothing, and the trend of scholars in more recent years has been away from the original Westcott-Hort position . . . An amusing and amazing spectacle presents itself; many of the textbooks, books of Bible interpretation, and innumerable secondary works go on repeating the W & H dicta although the foundations have been seriously shaken even in the opinion of former Hortians and those who would logically be expected to be Hortians."

"In spite of the notable work of Burgon, Hoskier and others who supported them, the opponents of the W & H theory have never had the hearing which they deserve. How many present-day students of the Greek New Testament ever heard of the two men just mentioned, and how many ever saw a copy of "The Revision Revised" or "Codex B and Its Allies," to say nothing of actually reading these works? . . . This is a controversy; there can be no mistake about that. This disagreement raged long before 1881 and is still raging. For it cannot be denied that the controversy is still very much alive; no amount of pontificating of present-day writers can obscure that fact. The reason for dwelling on this point is that today most writers, even though they differ from Westcott and Hort in conclusions, insist upon a W & H point of departure and milieu. It is commonly said that the older controversy around the Textus Receptus (or the Received Text) is dead, but this cannot be true; for if it can be shown that Westcott and Hort were wrong in their basic premises, then it will be necessary to go back before W & H and take up the study afresh. If the direction is wrong, further supposed progress only leads farther from the truth."

"If the Westcott-Hort theory can be disproved, it can be seen that the traditional text is closer to the original autographs than any other. If it be objected that strong feeling obtrudes itself at times into the discussion, it can only be replied in extenuation that this is the kind of subject which engenders strong feeling. There are tremendous issues involved; the text of the Word of God is in question! How can one hold oneself mentally aloof? . . . There is a cause and it is a more important cause than many Bible students have yet realized. The writer is soundly convinced from years of reading and thinking upon this question that the Westcott-Hort theory is false and misleading!"

"A Bible-believing Christian had better be careful what he says about the Textus Receptus, for the question is not at all the precise wording of that text, but rather a choice between two different kinds of texts, a more complete one and a shorter one. One need not believe in the infallibility of Erasmus, or his sanctity, or even his honestly; because he merely followed the type of text which was dominant in the manuscripts although he probably was not aware of all the implications involved. He undoubtedly could have done much better than he did, but he also could have done a great deal worse. If some regret that the Vatican manuscript was not available to, or was not used by him, one may reply that it may yet be proved that the mercy of God kept him in his ignorance from following a depraved text that had been rejected by the church at large for at least a thousand years before his time."

Herman Hoskier was an understudy of Dean Burgon and he gives this interesting glimpse of Burgon toward the close of his life. "Three and a half years ago (this was written in 1890) I was in Dean Burgon's study at Chichester. It was midnight, dark and cold without; he had just extinguished the lights, and it was dark, and getting cold within. We mounted the stairs to retire to rest, and his last words of the night have often rung in my ears since, 'As surely as it is dark now, and as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, so surely will the traditional text be vindicated and the views I have striven to express be accepted. I may not live to see it. Most likely I shall not. But it will come."

Let's face this fact; the Westcott-Hort method is certainly basically rationalistic, for it exalts the judgment of the individual critic. They were influenced either consciously or unconsciously by the liberal tendencies of their time. It was a period when the theory of evolution had been thrust before the popular attention with the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1859. This theory had tremendous repercussion in every area of life. Both Westcott and Hort seem to have been theistic evolutionists.

Men who had long denied the infallibility of the Bible -- and there are many such in the Church of England and in the independent churches -- eagerly acclaimed the theory of Westcott and Hort which they thought to be in harmony with their position. One may not agree with all of Burgon's views, nor can one condone the irascibility and smugness which at times he exhibited, but one who believes the Bible cannot but rejoice in his love for God's Book and admire his masterly defense of verbal inspiration.

Men are always seeking some self-evident principle that will explain everything. The W & H theory is an attempt to find such a principle in New Testament textual criticism. This theory enabled the two editors to reject as of no value about ninety-five percent of the available evidence, and in effect, to make the text of Vaticanus the magic touchstone. If anyone would doubt this then listen to Hort's own words on the subject. "Tried by the same tests as those just applied, B (Vaticanus) is found to hold a unique position. Its text is throughout Pre-Syrian, perhaps purely Pre- Syrian, at all events with hardly any, if any, quite clear exceptions. The highest interest must already be seen to belong to a document of which thus far we know only that its text is not only Pre-Syrian but substantially free from Western and Alexandrian adulteration."

Prebendary Scrivener was on the committee of the Revised Version of 1881 and was about the only one who had the great scholarship and courage necessary to cross swords with Westcott and Hort. Listen to his words taken from his "Plain Introduction, Vol. II, pp 291-292 and 298, "Dr. Hort's system, therefore, is entirely destitute of historical foundation. He does not so much as make a show of pretending to it; but then he would persuade us, as he has persuaded himself, that its substantial truth is proved by results . . . With all our reverence for his (Hort's) genius, and gratitude for much that we have learned from him in the course of our studies, we are compelled to repeat as emphatically as ever our strong conviction that the hypothesis to whose proof he has devoted so many laborious years, is destitute not only of historical foundation, but of all probability resulting from the internal goodness of the text which its adoption would force upon us." Thus you have a clear, unimpassioned criticism from a learned contemporary of Westcott and Hort. There is no more proof today for the Syrian recensions that there was when these words were written.

A further sweeping, although not unimpassioned refutation came from the pen of Dean Burgon, who with his superb sense of satire reduced the whole hypothesis to an absurdity. No matter how many heretics there were in the church in the third and fourth centuries, and there were many, they would not have dared to handle the sacred text of Scripture in the way that Hort supposes. Even if they had dared to do so, they could not have succeeded with impunity. There would have been some writers who would have raged against them as Burgon did against Westcott and Hort in the nineteenth century. If there is no Syrian text -- and there could be none without some such recension as Hort imagines -- there is no Westcott-Hort theory.<

The opponents of Westcott and Hort have not hesitated to impeach Codex B or Vaticanus as fallible or false witness. It is clear that the traditional text and B cannot both be right, and IF the traditional text is at least as old as B -- Hort admits this -- why should the authority of one manuscript be acknowledged against the host of manuscripts, versions and Fathers which support the traditional text?

As Benjamin Wilkinson, PHD closes his splendid book "Our Authorized Bible Vindicated" so every born again Christian can echo the same, "We shall need the Lord Jesus in the hour of death, we shall need Him in the morning of the resurrection. We should recognize our need of Him now. We partake of Him, not through some ceremony, wherein a mysterious life takes hold of us. When we received by faith the written word of God, the good pleasure of the Lord is upon us and we partake of Him. Through this Word we receive the power of God, the same Word by which He upholds all things, by which He swings the mighty worlds and suns thru the deeps of the stellar universe. This word is able to save us and to keep us forever. This Word shall conduct us to our Father's throne on high. 'The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever."

The starry firmament on high
And all the glories of the sky,
Yet shine not to Thy praise, O Lord,
So brightly as Thy written Word.

The hope that Holy Word supplies
Its truths Divine and precepts wise,
In each a heavenly beam I see,
And every beam conducts to Thee.

Almighty Lord, the sun shall fail,
The moon her borrowed glory veil,
And deepest reverence hush on high
The joyful chorus of the sky.

But fixed for everlasting years,
Unmoved amid the wreck of spheres,
Thy Word shall shine in cloudless day,
When heaven and earth have passed away.





E. L. Bynum, Pastor

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Books by Dr. David Fuller

Dr. David Otis Fuller was a graduate of Wheaton College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Dallas Theological Seminary. He pastored Chelsea Baptist Church in Atlantic City, NJ and the well known Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

He served as the editor of the General Association of Regular Baptist’s "Baptist Bulletin." He was the founder and president of Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary, and founder of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. He was also the founder and president of "Which Bible?" Society.

Fuller dedicated much of his life to the defense of the Byzantine textual tradition as embodied in the Textus Receptus (King James Version).


Books Available:

Counterfeit or Genuine? (#3858) by David Otis Fuller. A condensed and edited edition of Burgon’s unanswered and unanswerable masterpiece, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark. 230pp. $12.95
True or False? (#3497) by David Otis Fuller. The Westcott-Hort Textual Theory Examined. Sequel to Which Bible? 317pp. PB $12.95
Which Bible? (#3558) by David Otis Fuller. This is the classic defense of the KJV which led Dr. Frank Logsdon, who had set forth the guidelines for the NASV, to renounce his own NASV and all new versions. 317pp. $12.95 

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