Personally, I don't like modern versions. Like others, I suppose, when I wanted to seriously study Scripture I went shopping for a bible at one of those Christian book stores. I wondered why so many different versions existed and why pastors and teachers didn't address the subject.
In the end, I think everybody has to look into this themselves and be convinced in their own minds. What follows is a summary of what led me to choose to use the NKJV.
First, we are not talking about just any old historical document. It is God's word. It is the Christian's standard. It is that which we are to search diligently as our basis for doctrine. We ought to be interested in retaining as much of the original as possible. For this reason the translation we use should be as literal as possible. Paraphrases are not translations. They are interpretations that freely add, delete, and change important detail, which ought not to be altered. Some versions, like the New International Version (NIV), do both. It uses what is called a dynamic equivalent of a phrase or word, which is a paraphrase of essential concepts used in Scripture. JI Packer calls this undertranslating. He wrote,
"WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAN LITERAL
"To paraphrase out a disputed feature would be, from one standpoint, to slant the version, and from another, to undertranslate.
"Paraphrasing out such semitechnical New Testament terms as propitiation, justification, redemption, reconciliation, and righteousness keeps the readers from realizing that these were among the apostolic teachers' keywords, and thus is a further instance of undertranslation."
The original documents were authored under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and were inerrant and infallible. The trouble is that we do not have any of the original documents of Scripture, called autographs. What we have are copies of copies - some 5000 copies, or manuscripts, in varying stages of completeness. We also have translations in various native languages that were used by Christians dating back to around the 4th century without all the texts from the manuscripts that support these translations.
Being fallible, those who copied the manuscripts were not inspired and may have, or may not have, made errors. This accounts for the differences between the copies of the manuscripts we have, called variations. Yet, the differences in these manuscripts are considered trivial and are not thought to be matters that affect doctrine. There seems to be an exception to this where the essential doctrine of the deity of Christ is concerned, though. There appears to be justification to think that a few ancient manuscripts attack this doctrine. These ancient manuscripts were ignored, or cast aside, by the Church historically and have only recently been given more weight by some.
Most modern versions of the Bible are translations, or revisions of translations, which rely on those ancient sources for its translations. These ancient sources differ from the sources used by the Christian Community historically, known as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text. The King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) use the Received Text.
Two schools of thought
1) The Received Text
The Received Text includes the manuscripts, Greek texts, and translations published up to, and immediately following, the Reformation, which were used by the Christian community for many centuries. Those who favor versions based on the Received Text see the continuity of the text throughout the centuries as God's providential care to equip believers with His word.
However, those who favor the ancient sources tend to either dismiss the Received Text or correct it using a few ancient sources. They point to areas where the Received Text has support of only a few manuscripts. These include:
1 John 5:8
John 7:53 - 8:11
To me, it is interesting to note that Bruce M. Metzger's criticism of the Received Text for its inclusion of 1 John 5:8 is that it only has support from 3 manuscripts. (Although, the footnote in the NKJV states that the modern translations omit the phrase because only 4 or 5 manuscripts support the reading.) The inconsistency here is glaring. Would it not be fair to turn the table and aim this same criticism at modern versions that rely on a few ancient sources? I think so.
Almost the same could be said for John 7:53 - 8:11 except there are more sources which have this passage.
There is something interesting to note about Mark 16:9-20 and one of the ancient manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus. This manuscript was not used and had been ignored historically by the Church. It contains an obvious intentional error. The place where Mark 16:9-20 is normally found is left blank in the manuscript. There is a large blank space that could fit this entire ommission. This is not typical. To save space it is normal for the words to run together. Blank spaces are not normal, especially large blank spaces. It appears that the scribe believed that this portion may be added later and left enough space to do so if necessary.
2) Ancient Sources
A few older manuscripts were discovered within the past 150 years, or so. Often you'll see these referred to as 'ancient sources' in the margins or footnotes of certain translations. These sources are thought to be better by some because they are older. Texts that rely on these include Westcott-Hort, and the Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies' (NU) text. The most well known ancient manuscripts are the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts.
Those who favor the Received Text consider these ancient manuscripts suspect because:
1. they were not used by the Church for 17 centuries,
2. they were discovered in an area known for heresy - i.e. denial of
the deity of Christ, and
3. they show obvious signs of alterations - like the one above.
The Codex Vaticanus had been put aside from the 4th century until just over a century ago. The fact that this and other manuscripts are older does not mean they are better. It is a mistake to think it means this. The fact that they are older could simply mean that they weren't used because they weren't believed to be reliable. It follows that if the manuscript wasn't used it would not wear out like other often used manuscripts considered to be more reliable.
These ancient sources are associated with a location in Egypt that was a hot bed for heresy at the time the manuscripts were produced. They denied the deity of Christ much like Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) do today. Consequently some have reservations about using these ancient sources.
There does seem to be some justification for this sentiment. The JW's New World Translation uses the Westcott-Hort Text (that is based on these ancient sources) for its 'word for word' translation. The JWs are naturally inclined to use a Text that supports their view, which denies the deity of Christ. 1Timothy 3:16 is a good example. The Received Text reads "God was manifested in the flesh" where Christ is described. The NU replaces "God" with "Who". It removes the essential doctrine that Christ was fully man and fully God from this key verse. So, there does seem to be valid reason for concern at this point.
Conversely, the Received Text is also called Antiochian because of its place of origin. When I read Acts I see Antioch as a hub of Christian activity.
I. Received Text:
King James Version (KJV) - 1611. The KJV, also called the "Authorized Version", adheres to the Received Text and is a literal translation.
New King James Version (NKJV) 1979 - 1982 - A revision of the KJV. Only the archaic language of the KJV has been changed. It is a literal translation that relies on the Received Text. Variations of the NU are shown in the margins.
II. Anscient Sources:
English Revised Version (ERV) of 1881-1895 - Translated from the Greek of the 1611 KJV and revised using a Greek Text that was in close agreement with the Westcott-Hort Text.
American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 - American alternative to the ERV. And because it is, it too is translated from the Greek of the 1611 KJV and revised using a Greek Text that was in close agreement with the Westcott-Hort Text.
The ASV was subsequently revised to produce: Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB).
New International Version (NIV) of 1973 - 1978 & Revised 1984 - Not a revision of any previous version. Uses dynamic equivalents not literal translations. Its New Testament is based on the NU text - which corresponds with the Westcott-Hort text.
English Standard Version (ESV) 2001 - This is a revision of the RSV. A translation that is more literal than the NIV. J. I. Packer is the editor and it carries the endorsement of R. C. Sproul, and other conservative theologians.
Today's New International Version (TNIV) 2002 - A gender-neutral revision of the NIV. The Old Testament is expected to be completed in 2005. This version has met the objection of James C. Dobson, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Vern S. Poythress, and R. C. Sproul in the beginning of this year for its mistranslations.
1. J. I. Packer, Thank God for Our Bibles, Christianity Today Magazine, October 27, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 12, Page 30.
2. Wayne Grudem, Sytematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, '94, p. 96.
3. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, '68, p. 101.
4. Gordon H. Clark, Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism, The Trinity Foundation, '86, p. 37-40.
5. David Otis Fuller, D. D., ed., Which Bible?, 5th ed., Grand Rapids International Publications, '70, p. 168.
6. Gordon H. Clark, Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism, The Trinity Foundation, '86, p. 15.
7. NKJV Preface.
8. Harry A. Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism, Thomas Nelson, '84, p. 78.
9. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, '68, p. 135.
10. This letter may be seen at http://www.keptthefaith.org/press_focus.htm