Saturday, June 23, 2007

Response to Kurschner on Revelation 5:9-10

Response to Mr. Alan Kurschner
On Revelation 5:9-10
The Present Author Slightly Favoring
The Reading of the Authorized Version



Introduction

In a recent article (link), Mr. Kurschner argued that the Authorized Version (aka the KJV) has several incorrect readings at Revelation 5:9-10. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Kurschner, and I believe that the Authorized Version generally has the better reading, based both on the internal and external evidence. Before I continue, I should point that although I believe that the KJV (in the 1792 edition) is the present paragon of excellence in translation of the Bible in the English language, I am not a KJV-only (KJVO) advocate. I have explained why I am not, previously (link). It is possible that some readings of the KJV could be improved, but this is not such a case, in my opinion, although I leave open the possibility that I could be wrong.

Reference English Readings


For reference, the Authorized Version's reading of the disputed passage is:

Revelation 5:9-10
9And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.


In contrast:

Revelation 5:9-10 (NASB, notes omitted, italics and quotation marks original)
9And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

For further comparison, here is the Westcott & Hort translation, "The Twentieth Century New Testament," (revised ed. 1904) for comparison (formatting omitted):

And they are singing a new song -- 'Thou art worthy to take the book and break its seals, for thou wast sacrificed, and with thy blood thou didst buy for God men of every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, and didst make them at Kingdom of Priests in the service of our God, and they are reigning upon the earth.'

Analysis

For reasons that will be clear rather quickly, Mr. Kurschner begins with the second, rather than the first verse. I'll proceed in the order in which the verses would be read.

With respect to verse 9, Mr. Kurschner takes the position that the omission of "us" is the better reading, with the sole external evidence being the lone testimony of "A". The problem with Mr. Kurscher's view here is that it fails to account properly for the transcriptional evidence. The harder reading is "us" (not its omission). It appears that A (in the Apocalpyse) was copied by ear.

In evidence of the auditory copying of A, note, for example, who A also has a unique spelling of αδουσιν as αδωσιν. Two obvious explanations for this error spring to mind. One would be an error of the eye, the other of the ear. A, if it is as old as is claimed, was copied from an Uncial manuscript written in all capitals. If so, it would be difficult to confuse omicron-upsilon with omega. Accordingly, we can discard the error of eye hypothesis. Instead, it seems more that is simply an itacism, and that the scribe misheard the vowel pair as omega, and copied phonetically. (It is interesting to note, by way of comparison, that A alone likewise omits ημων in the phrase "our God" in verse 10, at which point Mr. Kurshner, Messrs. Westscott and Hort, and the NASB do not follow A.)

Once we recognize that A was copied by hearing, it would be reasonable, then for A simply to fail to hear the word ημας composed, as it is, entirely of vowels and soft consonents, and accidentally omit it.

Mr. Kurschner provides a counter argument that:

there was a scribal tendency to "clarify" ambiguous readings. And in this case, it makes much more sense that a scribe would add an object to clarify who is being purchased, rather than a scribe omitting the object of God's purchasing.

There is a significant problem with Mr. Kurschner's argument here. While it may be possible that a scribe would attempt to clarify who is being purchased, it is unclear why (if the scribe had before him) a text reflected by the NASB, the scribe would choose to insert "us" rather then "men" or "them," unless the scribe had a reason for believing that "us" was intended by the context. If one accepts NASB text as accurately reflecting the context, one is left wondering how "us" could have been the intent.

Furthermore, the internal evidence favors the reading from the standpoint of difficulty. Omission creates no serious difficulty, but insertion creates the difficulty that one must explain how (apparently and on its face) the twenty four enders and four beasts were redeemed out of every kindred, etc.

Furthermore, the versional testimony in favor of "us" is overwhelming. The Vulgate (all versions and old translations I could find except the Vatican II edition), Horner's translation of the Coptic, all the translations of the Peshitto I have (Murdoch's, Lamsa's, and Etheridge's translations), and my copy of the Slavonic.

When we come to verse 10, the reason for Mr. Kurschner's opposition with respect to verse 9 becomes apparent. In verse 10, there is a mixture in the external evidence as to whether the pronoun should be "us" or "them." The majority of the early Greek texts have "them." There are, however, very few early Greek texts of the Apocolypse. Unlike most of the Bible, there are no lectionaries of the Apocalypse presumably because it was not read in church, and accordingly there is no lectionary data at all for the text of the Apocalypse. Thus, the remaining evidence are patristic quotations (which favor "us") and versional evidence, which is mixed with the Coptic, Peshitto, and Armenian favoring "them" and the Slavonic and Vulgate favoring "us."

Furthermore, if we have established that reading of 9 is "us," then the internal evidence favors "us," because it makes more sense. This, of course, raises a slight transcriptional argument in favor of corruption of the text to smooth between 9 and 10, and this raises a slight amount of evidence that "them" could be the original in 10.

However, I'm not persuaded by that transcriptional argument, because the more likely transcriptional variation would flow from the verb "shall reign" (which, in many instances, is 3rd person plural), which is more directly connected with being made kings, than is the foregoing redemption.

This brings us to the final textual variant, the conjugation of the verb "to reign" in verse 10. Again, the same versional information applies in favor, the Vulgate and the Slavonic favoring the third person singular. There is a further split among the Greek witnesses and versions on this very verb, however. At least the following are presented among the various witnesses and versions: basileian, basileis, basileusousin, and basileuiusin (in addition, of course, to basileusomen).

Mr. Kurschner selects basileusousin, but this is not the reading provided by A (his favored text elsewhere in this same argument). A has basileian.

In view of the variety of textual evidence for and against the conjugation of "to reign," I leave open the possibility that the KJV may have the wrong tense expressed. Nevertheless, I'm inclined to believe that the verb conjugation has been corrupted, and that we should restore the verb ending by the context. In the context, the preferred verb ending is first person plural, future.

Conclusion


Accordingly, I conclude that the KJV reading is slightly preferably here, primarily on the weight of the versional testimony of the Vulgate and Slavonic versions, against the apparently accidentally corrupted Greek text.

Almost by way of an afterword, it is important to note that Mr. Kurschner includes an argument that would be better omitted, as it can only weaken his position. That is Mr. Kurschner's argument that suggests that KJVO advocates insist on the KJV's reading here because of an a priori commitment to pretribulation premillenial theology. It seems completely unreasonable to suppose that such a commitment would force one to adopt the KJVO position - it would be sufficient simply to dispute the translation of the text (as, for example, the present author has done above). On the other hand, Mr. Kurschner could more readily be accused (and the accusation would be a false one, in my own estimation) of seeking to maintain a corrupt reading in the text in order to oppose pretribulation premillenialism. Because the KJVO position does not permit monkeying with text, suggesting that it is motivated by the readings of particular passages is not a reasonable critique.

I would encourage Mr. Kurschner to omit this argument in future versions of this same presentation, reserving it instead, for posts such as this one of his, on another site (link).

I would also continue to encourage Mr. Kurschner to address the actual problems with the KJVO position, rather than trying to find fault with Authorized Version. In most, if not all, of the cases of alleged incorrect readings of the KJV there is going to be a substantial argument in favor of the KJV, even when that substantial argument is wrong.

It would seem better to go after the root of the problem: the lack of a reason to suppose that the KJV (in any of its edititions) is entirely free from even the most trivial errors of reading.

-Turretinfan

6 comments:

natamllc said...

Turrentinfan

one question:

of what were they orally speaking, what manuscripts?

As I read this post of yours I am curious to know, apparently some one faithful Saint was with his ear listening to some one faithful Saint read the Word for the purpose of creating an exact original from an original?

My igorance is glowing now isn't it?

Turretinfan said...

Michael,

Yes, that's one practice we know existed at least at certain times in the history of the transmission of the Bible.

But not always one to one. Instead, a room full of saints would listen and copy down the Bible from a reading scribe.

Thus, several copies could be made at once from a single original.

-Turretinfan

natamllc said...

Do we have an proof text that establishes from what extant writing they were reading and thus recording of what was read?

Oh, what happened over at TJH's?

I am now missing from there?

Turretinfan said...

Michael,

No proof text.

-Turretinfan

natamllc said...

Turrentinfan

thank you,

what earliest text you have read?

Have you had the privilege of going to an archive?

Turretinfan said...

Dear Michael,

I try not to make this about me personally. All the well-known earliest texts are available in facsimile reprint, if you look hard enough.

-Turretinfan