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Home: Questions and Answers: Is the Word of God only perfect in the originals?
Question:

Is the Word of God only perfect in the originals?

Answer:

It depends upon what a person means by the words "perfect" and "originals," because this is another question where it is important to define our theological terms.

First of all, with the word "originals," does a person have in mind the actual autographs initially written by God's prophet or apostle? Or does the person mean the copies of those originals that have been generated over the centuries by various individuals? The proponents of King James Version Onlyism (KJVO) tend to blur the distinction between the original letters written by the authors of scripture with the copies made of those originals. The reason being is because there are no "originals," and all that we have available to us as Christians are copies of the copies of those originals. KJVO advocates argue that certain principles of providential preservation can be utilized in order to determine which copies best reflect the original. The problem, however, is that when those principles are placed under serious scrutiny, they are lacking any real merit, both factually, and historically. For example, KJVO advocates claim that any Greek text that had its origin in Egypt has been corrupted by heretics. King James Only proponents will often hold up the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, two major NT manuscripts that are about 200 years or so removed from the time of the original New Testament authors, as illustrations of how heretics have corrupted the Bible. But, there is no historical evidence of any heretics introducing corruption to these manuscripts, let alone any other biblical manuscripts. The heretics that did dare to change the biblical text were quickly exposed and renounced as false teachers. Thus, this is a principle that lacks any true justification from Church History for determining the original text.

Also, there can be differing understandings of the word "perfect." For instance, is the word "perfect" being applied to the quality of the content of revelation being conveyed in the biblical text, or to the actual, physical manuscripts? In other words, if the word "perfect" is being applied to the quality of God's revealed word, then that would mean that God's word is considered perfect in that it is complete and sufficient for the people of God to understand spiritual truth, and it is with out error. To that I would say God's word is both "perfect" in the many copies of the Old and New Testaments we have in the original biblical languages, as well as in any language translation that accurately translates those original language texts. Thus, any English translation that accurately translates the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, is a fitting translation of the biblical text and would be considered the "perfect" Word of God.

If by "perfect," however, a person has in mind the actual, physical manuscripts then I would disagree. Some KJVO advocates attempt to argue that God has perfectly preseved his Word in a specific family of manuscripts called the Byzantine family of manuscripts that had their circulation in and around the former Byzantine empire where the Greek Orthodox Church flourished. Once again, however, that position doesn't take in all of the historical facts concerning the transmission of the biblical text, because it tends to ignore the presence of transcribing errors, copying variants, or surface damage to the actual manuscripts themselves. Practically every Hebrew and Greek manuscript (meaning entire copies of the OT and NT), or text of scripture (meaning portions of passages from the OT or NT) contains textual variants, marginal notes by copyists and other insignificant differences from one another. There are no manuscripts that are perfectly free from such marks. King James advocates often exaggerate these variants and copyist errors as examples of heretical corruption being introduced into the Bible by false teachers, but in actuality, these variants are minor. They include such things as difference in word order, spelling, harmonizations by scribes over years of copying, and other similar occurences that happen when a text is passed down from one generation to the next. Whereas KJVO advocates argue that such variants are a negative thing, I believe it is a good thing, because God in his graciousness has seen fit to make sure we have so many copies of his word that it would not be lost at any point, nor could one group, either heretical or orthodox, gather up all the copies and pass off their "version" of the biblical languages as the true Bible. However, one aspect of having many, many copies of scripture will be the presence of variants. That is why textual criticism is necessary for determing which copies best reflects the original epistles of the apostles. It helps to establish what is the true biblical text and to discover what the authors of scripture originally wrote.


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