The Preface, Part 4: Marginal Notes in the King James Version

Republished with permission from Theologically Driven. (See also: previous installments in this series.)

The King James-only view argues that only the 1611 KJV is the Word of God in English. All other versions or translations are so corrupt that they are not to be used, nor be appealed to as the Word of God. Most KJV-only advocates contend that the printed Greek text from which the KJV was translated, commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR), is inspired and inerrant, and the KJV is the only translation that accurately translates the TR. But this is not true. The New King James Version (NKJV) is also translated from the TR. Being TR based, the NKJV cannot so easily be discounted by KJV-only proponents. Therefore, they seek to find other ways to disqualify the NKJV.

A common complaint against the NKJV by KJV-only advocates is the use of notes provided by the translators. For example, D. A. Waite says:

The diabolical nature of the New King James Version shows itself in their printing all the various readings of the Greek text in the footnotes. They print all sides and take their stand in favor of none of them. By so doing, they confuse the readers. The editors have made no decision as to what God’s Words really are (Defending the King James Bible, p. 125).

William P. Grady sounds a similar warning:

When a study is made of the footnote section in the NKJV, one discovers a classic example of compromise. Understanding the self-centered nature of today’s carnal believers, Nelson Publishers decided to let their customers have a literal choice between three different Greek readings!… Can you imagine the confusion being wrought among laypeople as they suddenly discover their new responsibilities to become textual critics? (Final Authority, p. 304)

But the translators of the KJV were not opposed to such notes. In a study of the marginal notes in the 1611 KJV, F. H. A. Scrivener counted 6,637 in the OT, 1,018 in the Apocrypha, and 767 in the NT, for a total of 8,422 (The Authorized Edition of the English Bible, p. 56). In their Preface, “The Translators to the Reader,” the KJV translators argued strongly for their inclusion:

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point…. It hath pleased God in his Divine Providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain), but in mat­ters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence,… There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once…. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c. concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as S. Hierome [Jerome] somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such a case doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?… Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that vari­ety of translations is profitable for finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good; yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded…. They that are wise had rather have their judgments at liberty in difference of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

Of the 767 notes in the NT, 35 are explanatory notes or brief expositions, 582 give alternative translations, 112 give a more literal rendering of the Greek than the translators judged suitable for the text, and 37 give readings of different manuscripts (Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible, p. 56). An example of an explanatory note is found at the word “measures” in Matthew 13:33. The note reads: “The worde in the Greek is a measure conteining about a peck and an halfe, wanting litle more then a pinte.” An alternative translation is found in Matthew 6:2. The text reads: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee….” The margin suggests the translation: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, cause not a trumpet to be sounded before thee….”

A more literal translation is found at Romans 7:5, where the text reads: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law….” The margin explains that the Greek word for “motions” is literally “passions.” Finally, in Luke 17:36 is found an example of a variant reading. Beside the words “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left,” the margin reads: “This 36 verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies.” This is the same note which is found in the NKJV. In fact, nine of the thirty-seven textual notes in the 1611 KJV are also found in the NKJV. Yet Waite and Grady castigate the NKJV for doing the same thing the 1611 KJV did.

Again, the Preface of the 1611 KJV proves to be an embarrassment to the KJV-only position since in the Preface the translators approve the use of explanatory notes—including textual ones—that KJV-advocates harshly condemn.

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DavidO's picture

I'll have to dig out my NKJV, but I'm pretty sure the introductory notes to mine say that in some passages the TR reading has been set aside for that of another manuscript. Yes? No?

Also, is the TR the NKJV does use the Scrivener version?

These would likely be (some of) the KJVO sticking points with the essay above.

Aaron Blumer's picture


... but what does that prove?
There are multiple editions of the TR, each differing in several words from each other, yet everyone considers all of them to be "the TR." So I don't think it follows that if NKJV went with majority in a few places it is not a TR based translation.

But I'm not finding any indication of that in the preface to my electronic version. Here's an excerpt:

The King James New Testament was based on the traditional text of the Greek-speaking churches, first published in 1516, and later called the Textus Receptus or Received Text. Although based on the relatively few available manuscripts, these were representative of many more which existed at the time but only became known later. In the late nineteenth century, B. Westcott and F. Hort taught that this text had been officially edited by the fourth-century church, but a total lack of historical evidence for this event has forced a revision of the theory. It is now widely held that the Byzantine Text that largely supports the Textus Receptus has as much right as the Alexandrian or any other tradition to be weighed in determining the text of the New Testament. Those readings in the Textus Receptus which have weak support are indicated in the side reference column as being opposed by both Critical and Majority Texts (see “Popup Notes”).
In light of these facts, and also because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.
The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Also, is the TR the NKJV does use the Scrivener version?

Misunderstood your question earlier... I know that the text the KJV team used did not match any of the published ones available at the time. TRs were published later that matched the KJV team's textual choices. But I can't remember which edition that was.
Looks to me like NKJV uses the same one though.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture


This info is from Wikipedia but appears to be well documented. Still, I'd want to verify before calling it "fact."

  • Erasmus' TRs ending in 3rd edition: 1522
  • Robert Estienne's TRs (a.k.a. Stephanus) ending with 4th edition: 1551
  • Beza's TRs beginning (using Stephanus 3 as starting pt.) ending in Beza's 9th: 1604
  • The term "textus receptus" came from the Elzivir edition of 1633 (applied retroactively to Erasmus and later)

So... my guess is that the Elzivir 1633 is the closest match to the KJV Greek text.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

wcombs's picture

In 1881 F. H. A. Scrivener attempted to reconstruct the Greek text behind the KJV. He used Beza’s 1598 (5th) edition as his basis. However, in a number of instances (about 190) the KJV differs from Beza. In those cases Scrivener changed the text of Beza to conform to the English of the KJV except when he could find no other Greek text that supported the KJV reading. This means that in some places his Greek text does not follow the reading in the KJV. For example, in Acts 19:20 the KJV has “God,” but Scrivener kept the reading of Beza (“Lord”) and all Greek MSS, because there are no printed Greek texts that have “God.” Scrivener suggests that here the translators followed the Clementine edition of the Vulgate, which has Dei (“God”).The translators of the NKJV used the reconstructed TR of Scrivener (H KAINH ΔIAΘHKH, The New Testament: The Greek Text Underlying the English Authorized Version of 1611). Since the NKJV follows Scrivener, it differs from the KJV in a few instances such as reading “Lord” and corrects the previously mentioned errors (p. 74) in Matt 23:24 (“strain at a gnat”) and Heb 10:23 (“confession of faith”). Scrivener’s Greek NT was reprinted by the Trinitarian Bible Society in 1976, and this is the edition of the TR commonly used by TR/KJV-only people.

Bill Combs

DavidO's picture


My post doesn't prove anything except to demonstrate that to the KJV-TR only folks, the NKJV would not be a TR based translation if it isn't based on the TR of which they approve (Scrivener's 1881). Brother Combs, I think, has clarified which TR the NKJV used and how it differs from the KJV. Interesting, that.

Having had several substantial exchanges with Pastor Brandenburg on this matter, I understand his position pretty well, and believe it to be the most viable of the KJV only positions, although I don't agree with him.

As to extant, complete manuscripts the KJV committe would have had available to him at the time, its moot. Thou Shalt Keep Them (Brandenburg, et al.) style KJVO allows for the recognition of the very Words from various manuscripts and does not require a single perfectly preserved manuscript or visible line of them. Hence they call the KJV itself a version of the TR and hence their glomming on to Scrivener's Greek "reverse engineered" from the KJV.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Having had several substantial exchanges with Pastor Brandenburg on this matter, I understand his position pretty well, and believe it to be the most viable of the KJV only positions, although I don't agree with him.

Maybe you can explain it to me. I've had several exchanges with him on the subject of preservation in particular (and read Thou Shalt Keep Them) but I have not yet been able to arrive at an understanding of that view that didn't include some severe internal-consistency problems. In short, the view did not seem to cohere and as I probed, it seemed to cohere less and less. Eventually moved on.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

DavidO's picture

I'm not saying it doesn't have problems. I think it does, otherwise I'd have a harder time disagreeing with it.

Basically, they believe:

1. God has promised, in the Scripture, to perfectly preserve his Word for us down to the very words.
2. This perfectly preserved word will be generally available (but not necessarily ubiquitously) on earth from the time of the original autographs until Jesus returns (and beyond?).
3. This/these perfectly preserved word/s will be recognized by the true church(es), whether in one complete manuscript, or manuscripts of individual books, or part of this manuscript with part of that manuscript, etc.
4. The TR has been so preserved and available, and was recognized by the true churches when the English speaking segment(s) of it accepted the KJV.
5. Ergo the Greek behind the KJV is/are the preserved Word/s and althought we do not have a single historical manuscript that duplicates it, so what, it doesn't mean it/they didn't exist.
6. To the extent you don't have a Greek text that has all the Word/s you don't have the complete Word of God, and to the extent your Greek text has more than the actual autographs contained, your Greek text adds to the Word of God--better watch out cuz Thomas Ross will yell (or use lots of caps and footnotes anyway) at you, not to mention you're under the curses at the end of the book of Revelations.

This is really pared down, but 1-3 are based on their exegesis of Scripture, and 4-6 are the implications of that exegesis. Actually, parts of 2-3 may also be more implication than exegesis.

Anyway, that's the nutshell (no aspersions cast in that term) version.

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