How much should a pastor talk about textual variants when preaching through books of the Bible?

"...ministers can err in one of two directions....such specificity that we run the risk of undermining the confidence God’s people should have in the English translations of Scripture. Or...we can gloss over important textual variants and confuse believers as to what to do with them." - C.Leaders

1549 reads

There are 10 Comments

AndyE's picture

As a teacher, I find myself having deal with these two situations on a regular basis:

Variation between KJV wording and other modern translations due to translation choices

Variation between KJV wording and other modern translations due to text issues/choices

Having completed a series on the text and transmission of the Scriptures, most of those in my class have a foundation from which I can discuss these situations without much fear of being labeled a Bible denier or some such.  I tend to only bring up these variations if they impact the proper understanding of the text.  When I do so, I try to be fair to the KJV preferred position, and try to highlight places where I feel the KJV wording is better, so that I don’t come across as an anti-KJV bigot (which I am not).  Often I will show how the KJV itself will translate a particular word in other places in the way I suggest they should have done in the passage at hand. If it is a textual variant, I may try to show that taking either reading results in a orthodox teaching, but that we are trying to determine exactly what the teaching of this passage is and be faithful to it. I treat the uncertainty in variants like I do uncertainty in interpretation – present the options and explain why I take the view that I do. 

In general, I think by shying away from the existence of variants, we gave people the wrong impression of the situation.  There are ways to deal with variants that don’t offend people or undermine their confidence in the Scriptures. 

Regarding Mark 16:9-20, John 7:59-8:11, or 1 John 5:7b-8a, I would not teach those as inspired Scripture.

Bert Perry's picture

Really, I think more pastors ought to spend at least a little time differentiating between inerrancy in the autographs (the real 1st Fundamental) and the reliability of modern manuscripts and translations.  Explain that at many times, the ancient manuscripts are prevented from "wandering" by the very structure of declined languages (verb & noun endings and the like give you the subject) like Greek and Hebrew, and that the very quantity and distribution of manuscripts gives us additional confidence.

If someone is aware of the variants, even in the majority text (the one the KJVO guys say proves "thousands of identical manuscripts"), one is far less likely to "fall for" exclusivist textual claims.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think striking the balance is harder for pastors who are currently working on degrees or are fresh out of seminary. The complexities of textual criticism are much in focus in academia, as this article shows. But the complexities are a distraction in a church setting, where people have very different questions on their minds.

So, the key, in my view is to address the topic but keep it simple. There are relatively few things church members and regulars need to understand.

  • Before the printing press, Scripture was copied by hand and thousands of manuscripts were made.
  • Mostly minor errors/differences occurred among the manuscripts.
  • Many, many more manuscripts have been found since the KJV was made.
  • Translators have no choice but to make decisions about which manuscripts are correct, and preachers have to make decisions like that sometimes also.
  • Two main schools of thought exist as to which manuscripts are best: the older is better school and the more is better school. Most modern translations follow the older is better school.
  • When you see a difference in translation vs. KJV, it might be due to that. They'll often footnote those cases.
  • Differences among manuscripts rarely change the meaning of a verse substantially and none change core Christian doctrine.

One more piece will vary according to choices the pastor has made about his approach to translations and preaching. Mine has been something close to this...

  • When preaching, I'll generally only note manuscript differences when they're important for understanding the passage or likely to be a curiosity/distraction. If there's no need to decide which reading is correct, I won't bother. If there is a need, I'll very briefly explain what I believe is correct and why (like in a single sentence or maybe two). I'm happy to discuss the whys and wherefores with you in more detail if you're interested.

In a Sunday School series I went into the whole "manuscripts grouped into 'texts'" piece briefly (like 15 minutes). But mostly I've just spoken in terms of "manuscript differences." It's simpler, and text families tends to get into the weeds very quickly.

Of course, a church close to a Christian college and/or seminary is going to have a lot more people interested in the particulars, so the approach would have to be different. Most churches aren't in that situation, I don't think, and people are (rightly, I think) not worked up about the details... so there are just a few things they need to know.

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.

Jim's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I think striking the balance is harder for pastors who are currently working on degrees or are fresh out of seminary. The complexities of textual criticism are much in focus in academia, as this article shows. But the complexities are a distraction in a church setting, where people have very different questions on their minds.

So, the key, in my view is to address the topic but keep it simple. There are relatively few things church members and regulars need to understand.

  • Before the printing press, Scripture was copied by hand and thousands of manuscripts were made.
  • Mostly minor errors/differences occurred among the manuscripts.
  • Many, many more manuscripts have been found since the KJV was made.
  • Translators have no choice but to make decisions about which manuscripts are correct, and preachers have to make decisions like that sometimes also.
  • Two main schools of thought exist as to which manuscripts are best: the older is better school and the more is better school. Most modern translations follow the older is better school.
  • When you see a difference in translation vs. KJV, it might be due to that. They'll often footnote those cases.
  • Differences among manuscripts rarely change the meaning of a verse substantially and none change core Christian doctrine.

One more piece will vary according to choices the pastor has made about his approach to translations and preaching. Mine has been something close to this...

  • When preaching, I'll generally only note manuscript differences when they're important for understanding the passage or likely to be a curiosity/distraction. If there's no need to decide which reading is correct, I won't bother. If there is a need, I'll very briefly explain what I believe is correct and why (like in a single sentence or maybe two). I'm happy to discuss the whys and wherefores with you in more detail if you're interested.

In a Sunday School series I went into the whole "manuscripts grouped into 'texts'" piece briefly (like 15 minutes). But mostly I've just spoken in terms of "manuscript differences." It's simpler, and text families tends to get into the weeds very quickly.

Of course, a church close to a Christian college and/or seminary is going to have a lot more people interested in the particulars, so the approach would have to be different. Most churches aren't in that situation, I don't think, and people are (rightly, I think) not worked up about the details... so there are just a few things they need to know.

This is a good approach! I favor versions that footnote significant textual varients. The NET Bible app (IPhone) does for example.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I have NET in my Logos apps also and have found it very helpful for short, quick explanations of textual differences as well as translation decisions. I think I've seen more of the latter than the former, but they're both unique for concise information of that kind. 

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.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Of course, a church close to a Christian college and/or seminary is going to have a lot more people interested in the particulars, so the approach would have to be different. Most churches aren't in that situation, I don't think, and people are (rightly, I think) not worked up about the details... so there are just a few things they need to know.

I'm generally in agreement with your approach.  I think this point can be expanded to those churches that have a lot of people who have a college and/or seminary education, not just churches near those institutions.  Also, textual differences (and the whole issue) need more explanation if the church is near one or more KJV-only ministries and picks up some people from those.  The good news in a church with a lot of educated people is that it doesn't have to be continually gone over, but it may occasionally need more than 15 minutes on the topic.

Of course, maybe you're right and there aren't many people who care about these details.  I'm probably bringing in my own experience, as I am both college-educated AND an expatriate of a ministry that started out non-KJV-only, but slowly became KJV-only during the time I was there.  I still read a lot on the textual issue and get interested when the sermon covers a passage with one or more textual differences.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Andy, even though it's now over three years old, I just read your piece on William Whitaker and his views on the textual issue and translations.  I don't recall hearing of him before.  Thanks for writing that.

Dave Barnhart

AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:

Andy, even though it's now over three years old, I just read your piece on William Whitaker and his views on the textual issue and translations.  I don't recall hearing of him before.  Thanks for writing that.

Thanks, Dave. 

Don Johnson's picture

One of the reasons we are plagued with the KJO heresy is that pastors "got tired of talking about it," according to a friend of mine.

We need to teach our people what the issues are so they don't get bamboozled by the KJO crowd.

I also think that this is especially  so if you have a less well-educated congregation. They don't have the skills to figure it out on their own. You need to help them.

Of course, you have to take it down to their level and take the time to make it plain.

I often do this, explaining the differences between the KJV and the NASB when the issue is textual. I also sometimes take the time to do it with a mere translational difference, not a text issue, as I did last Wednesday night in 1 Pt 1.13. The verse has a translational issue where you can legitimately translate it one of two ways. Both ways are correct, because English doesn't exactly parallel Greek. But the two ways inform us about the point of the verse, so I used the translational difference to drive home the point.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3