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Why I Like the NKJV
By Gary F. Zeolla
Part One of this article looked at the translation principle and readability of the New King James Version (NKJV). This second half of this article will discuss two additional reasons I like the NKJV.
Greek Text Type
There are three different published Greek texts that are used to translate the New Testament from: the Textus Receptus (TR), the Critical Text (CT), and the Majority Text (MT).
Historically, the TR is the oldest of these. It was first complied in the 1500's using about 20 different Greek manuscripts. These manuscripts reflected what is known as the Byzantine text type. Byzantine refers to the eastern part of the former Roman Empire.
The next Greek text to be published was the CT in the early 1800's. It was based mainly on a handful of the then newly discovered Alexandrian (Western) manuscripts. These tended to be of a much earlier date than the Byzantine texts used to compile the TR.
The MT is the newest of the three Greek texts. There are now some 5000 discovered Greek manuscripts. Not all of these have been collated, but of those that have been, the MT, as its name implies, is based on the readings found in the majority of these manuscripts. Since most of these manuscripts reflect a Byzantine text type, the MT is closer to the TR than to the CT.
In other words, when there are differences between these Greek texts, the MT more often than not agrees with the TR against the CT. But there are times, when the MT and CT agree against the TR and times when all three texts disagree.
But it should be noted that the vast majority of the time, all three Greek texts agree. So there is no question here as to the overall reliability of the New Testament text in general. For the bulk of the New Testament, there really is no question as to what the correct reading is. And when there are differences, most of the time they are very minor. In fact, a majority of the differences are so minor that they wouldn't even show up in translation.
However, there are times when there are significant differences between the Greek texts. And in most such cases, the MT and TR agree but differ from the CT. So the main debate is between the MT/TR versus the CT. And it is because of these important differences that this complex issue has generated many heated arguments between advocates of the different Greek texts.
Personally, I prefer the MT to the other two. It is for that reason that I used the MT to translate my own Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament (ALT) from. Meanwhile, the NKJV is based on the TR while most other modern-day versions are based on the CT. Given that the MT and TR are more closely aligned than the MT and CT, this is another reason I like the NKJV over most other modern versions.
Overview of Textual Arguments
The issues surrounding the debate between the different Greek texts can get rather complicated. I discuss each point in detail in my book *Differences Between Bible Versions. So here, I will simply summarize the reasons I prefer the MT to the CT and refer the reader to my book for the details.
1. A far greater number of manuscripts support the MT versus the CT.
2. This numerical superiority of MT manuscripts could represent God's "providential preservation" of the MT manuscripts.
3. The numerical superiority of MT manuscripts also could represent that the scribes who copied the manuscripts considered these manuscripts to be the most reliable and thus used them rather than ones representing the CT.
4. The CT manuscripts tend to be of an earlier date than the MT manuscripts. But this could simply represent the fact that they did not wear-out due to them not being used much since they were know to be unreliable.
5. Manuscripts supporting the CT have been found mainly in one area of the former Roman Empire (i.e. the western part), while manuscripts supporting the MT have been found throughout the former Roman Empire.
6. The areas in which the CT were found are know to have been populated with Gnostics and other early Christian heretics. And from the writings of the early Church Fathers, we know that such heretics were in the habit of purposely producing corrupt texts.
7. Although most MT manuscripts are of a later date, earlier manuscripts support many unique MT readings.
8. The two supposedly "most reliable" CT texts (aleph and beta) differ significantly from each other. Both texts also have many "corrections" on them from later scribes indicating further that the scribes did not consider them reliable.
9. The "transcriptional probabilities" standards CT scholars use to determine their text are very subjective in nature.
10. Although the primarily consideration in determining the correct reading by MT scholars is which reading has the greatest number of manuscripts supporting it, many other standards are also used, especially when the manuscripts are nearly evenly split between readings. So it is not a single approach method.
As for the MT versus the TR, when there are differences it is generally because the reading found in the TR is not found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts that have been discovered and collated since the TR was developed. So the MT simply has overwhelming greater textual support than the TR reading.
Given that there are three different Greek texts used to translate the New Testament from, many modern-day versions include textual footnotes to indicate these differences. However, sometimes these footnotes can be rather misleading. For instance, a footnote in a CT based version might say that "some manuscripts" have an alternative reading. The alternative reading is usually a MT reading. But rather than just "some manuscripts" having the reading, the vast majority of the manuscripts actually have the alternative (MT) reading.
But that is why I like the NKJV's practice. The NKJV simply indicates when there are differences between the TR it is based on the MT and CT without any further comment. For the CT, the NKJV uses the abbreviation NU, which refers to "Nestle-Aland/ United Bible Societies. These are the two main organizations that publish a CT-type of Greek text.
Now some supporters of the MT or TR do not like the practice of footnoting textual variants. They say it gives too much "credence" to the CT. But personally, I have always found it helpful. This is especially so when I am in church or a Bible study. When the leader of the service or study reads from his/ her Bible and it differs from mine, having the textual footnotes lets me know why this is so, if it is due to a translation difference or a textual difference.
In fact, I liked the NKJV's practice so much that I copied it for my ALT. But I did make a couple of changes. First, I simply used the abbreviation CT for the Critical Text. And second, rather than footnotes, I placed the textual variants in a separate appendix in the back of the Bible. That way, those who do not like the footnotes could more easily ignore them, but they would still be readily accessible for those like myself who do like them.
For the forthcoming (in the Fall of 2004) second edition of the ALT, the textual variants appendix will include a list of the "Most Important Textual Variants." To give the reader an idea of the importance of knowing about such variants, below are the entries for First Corinthians. A careful reading will show that a couple of the differences seen in 1Corinthians 11:23-36 quoted in part one of this article between the ALT and NKJV versus the NLT were actually due to textual variants and not translation differences. And if one keeps reading in the same chapter, a couple of more textual variants show up.
2:4 MT/ TR: human - CT: omits
6:20 MT/ TR: and in your* spirit, which are God's. - CT: omits
10:28 MT/ TR: "for the earth [is] the Lord's, and its fullness." - CT: omits
11:24 MT/ TR: Take, eat - CT: omits
MT/ TR: being broken - CT: omits
11:29 MT/ TR: unworthily - CT: omits
MT/ TR: of the Lord - CT: omits
15:55 MT/ TR: sting? O realm of the dead, where [is] your victory? - CT: victory? Death, where [is] your sting?
16:24 MT: Jesus. So be it! - TR: Jesus. So be it! To [the] Corinthians first was written from Philippi through Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus and Timothy. - CT: Jesus.
By way of update, for ALT3 I moved the textual variants list to the Companion Volume. That way, it is still accessible, but it does not clutter up the Bible itself.
Formal equivalency translation principle, a high degree of readability, a good Greek text base, and the use of textual variants footnotes. These are four of the reasons I like the NKJV. It is an accurate rendering of a good Greek text that is easy enough to read for the average person. And the textual footnotes provide helpful information to those who are interested.
My book Differences Between Bible Versions goes into much greater detail on each of these four points. It is available for download in eBook form from the Darkness to Light Web site and in eBook and paperback forms from the publisher AuthorHouse (www.AuthorHouse.com ~ 888-280-7715). And various edition of the NKJV are available at reduced prices from Books-a-Million.
Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible: Second Edition. Copyright © 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
Why I Like the NKJV. Copyright © 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was posted on this Web site July 16, 2004.
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