Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: marginal readings

Some clarifications and an illustration

The Bible translation produced in 1611 was never given an official name. In England, Scotland and many other places it is referred to as the Authorized Version, but that name does not appear in the Bible itself.

The text now in common use dates from 1789. Typographical errors had crept into the various printed versions. Spelling of some words had changed, for instance in Old English a u was often used where we use a v, and sometimes a v where we would use a u. This was not a revision of the text, but a standardization of spelling and punctuation plus some modernization of spelling.

The text of this Bible is not copyright, except in England and Scotland. In England the copyright is a royal prerogative granted to Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. In Scotland it is Collins. The royal prerogative is more meant to guard the integrity of the text than to diminish competition.

I use two electronic Bible programs. The Online Bible, based in Canada with a European branch in the Netherlands, is the oldest. The other is e-Sword, based in the USA. Both apps are free and offer a multitude of Bible translations and supplementary material. The Online Bible offers the Authorized Version and includes the marginal notes in italics after the relevant verse. The e-Sword offers the King James Bible and the marginal notes are an option that one can download and they will appear in a window beside the text.

The marginal notes with alternate readings are not plentiful. There is no question about the text of most of the Bible. But there are places where the alternate reading should cause us to stop and reflect on what we may have assumed to be unquestionable fact.

To illustrate this, I will begin with the account of Jephthah in Judges 11 and 12. Children’s Bible Story books, Egermeier’s for example, try so hard to assure children that it was wrong for Jephthah to offer his daughter as a burnt offering that they have convinced generations of people that Jephthah was a horrible man who killed his daughter and got away with it. If that were true, it would make it kind of hard to trust the mercy a and righteousness of God.

We really shouldn’t need the marginal readings to tell us that there is something wrong with this version of Jephthah’s story. God used Jephthah to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites and then he judged Israel for the next six years until his death. Many years later, when Israel demanded a king, God told them that whenever they had been oppressed He had provided a deliverer, giving a short list of Jerubbaal (Gideon), Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel (1 Samuel 12:11). In the New Testament he is included in the list of the heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:32).

Human sacrifice was anathema to God, how then can this man be named in the Bible in several places as a great man of faith, with never a hint of condemnation? Do you think perhaps the story books got the story wrong?

A close look at the account in Judges will show that it is never said that he offered his daughter as a burnt offering. Judges 11:39 says he “did with her according to the vow which he had vowed.” What was that vow? Verse 31 says “whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house . . . shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The marginal note says “or I will offer it.” A little more study reveals that there is no conjunction in the Hebrew text, one is needed for coherence in English, so the translators offered us a choice of and or or.

The end of chapter 11 tells us that it became a custom for the daughters of Israel to go once a year “to lament the daughter of Jephthah.” The reading in the margin is “to talk with.”

Here is what Adam Clarke says in his Commentary about Judges 11:40. To lament the daughter of Jephthah. “I am satisfied that this is not a correct translation of the original. Houbigant translates the whole verse thus: ‘But this custom prevailed in Israel, that the virgins of Israel went at different times, four days in the year, to the daughter of Jephthah that they might comfort her.’ This verse also gives evidence that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed; nor does it appear that the custom or statute referred to here lasted after the death of Jephthah’s daughter.”

The real story here is that Jephthah sacrificed any hope of posterity (the daughter was his only child) in order to deliver God’s people from their oppressors. The daughter spent two months bewailing her virginity, the fact that she would never bear children. Then she was dedicated to the service of the tabernacle, much as Samuel was later.

Leviticus 27 gives detailed information for the redemption of a child when the father had made a vow. Both Jephthah and Samuel’s parents could have availed themselves of this provision, yet they had vowed to dedicate their child to the actual service of God, but certainly not as a burnt offering.

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

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I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

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 judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . 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, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. 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 judgement, 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. . . . 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? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . 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 judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

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