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FAQ – Masoretic Text

Rev. Yap Beng Shin

 

1.   What is the Masoretic Text (MT) ?

 

The original Old Testament Hebrew was written, using only the consonants without vowels or accents. Scribes and scholars were appointed to put in the vowels and accents.  They are known as Masoretes.  The OT they produced is known as the Masoretic Text.  The Masoretes began their work in the 7th century and successive Masoretes managed to finish it in the 11th century.  Within the Masoretic Text there are different families (eg. Ben Asher, Ben Napthali etc).

 

2.   What is the difference between a Text and a Manuscript?

 

A manuscript is a handwritten copy of another manuscript without making any changes.  A Text is a compilation of several manuscripts. It inevitably involves making changes when two manuscripts differ. The Scribe would need to decide which word is in the original. This process is known as Textual Criticism.  The MT is a text, not a manuscript.  MT is the result of Textual Criticism.  Both the Ben Chayyim Text (the primary OT Hebrew text underlying the KJV)  and the Textus Receptus  are the products of Textual Criticism.

 

3.      What are the available manuscripts of the MT?

 

There are thousands of OT Hebrew manuscripts. Below is a list of some important MT manuscripts.[1]

 

Names

Date

Contents

Aleppo Codex

925 A.D

All of the OT except most parts of Torah

Leningrad

1008 A.D.

All of the OT

British Museum 4445

925 A.D.

Most of the Torah

Cairo Codex

896 A.D.

Former and Latter Prophets

Sassoon 507

10 cent. A.D.

Most of the Torah

Sassoon 1053

10 cent. A.D.

Most of OT.

Petersburg Codex

916 A.D.

Latter Prophets

 

4.   Are the MT manuscripts identical?

 

No two manuscripts are completely the same.  Nevertheless it must be noted that the differences are very small.

 

5.   It is true that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the same as the MT?

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls are pre-Masoretic.  Masoretes only appeared in the about the 7th A.D., whereas the Dead Sea Scrolls belongs to the B.C. era.  The texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls can be divided into 3 categories: i. A Text that is close to the MT. ii. A Text that is close to the Septuagint (LXX). iii. A Text that is close to the Samaritan Pentateuch.

 

6.   Did the New Testament writers use the MT exclusively?

 

The answer is no! The New Testament writers made use of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT).  This is noted by the KJV translators and is mentioned in the Preface of the 1611 edition.  The Masoretic Text in Exodus 1:5 reads “seventy souls,” whereas the LXX reads “seventy five souls.”  Luke in the book of Acts follows the LXX and has it as “seventy five” in Acts 7:14.

 

In Psalm 8:6 the KJV translators opted to follow the LXX instead of the Ben Chayyim Text. 

 

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels (מאלהים  mi'ĕlôhîym God), and hast crowned him with glory and honour (KJV).

 

The author of the book of Hebrew also chose to quote from the LXX and has the word “angels” instead of elohim which is the Hebrew word for God.

 

In Gen 15:6 the KJV translators rendered it exactly as what the Hebrew says.  

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness (KJV).

 

Note that in James 2:23 and Romans 4:3, both James and Paul quoted form the LXX which has the word “God” instead of the word “LORD”.

 

James 2:23 …Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness:

 

Romans 4:3   For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

 

The KJV translators are aware that the Apostles not only did not condemn the LXX, but chose to quote from it.

 

See what the KJV translators say in the Preface of KJV 1611 edition.

 

The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it, . . .

 

The NT inspired Authors show an acceptance of LXX. This attitude is completely different from the KJV-only camp.  This is an example we should follow with regard to translations which use other OT texts or manuscripts.  The attitude of the KJV-only camp contradicts the position held by the Apostles.   The use of the LXX by the NT inspired authors also debunks the KJV-VPP theory. 

 

7.   Which MT did the KJV translators use?

 

The OT Text used by the KJV translators is the Ben Chayyim Text, printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 1524-1525.[2] It belongs to the MT tradition.  This Ben Chayyim Text has been identified by the KJV-VPP proponents as OT text underlying the KJV (The Burning Bush 2007, Vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 79, 97).

 

8.   How did the Ben Chayyim Text come about?

 

The Ban Chayyim Text, also known as the Second Rabbinic Bible is an improvement of the First Rabbinic Bible (1516-1517). It is based on some late manuscripts.  As a text it also went through the process of textual criticism whenever the manuscripts differed from one another.

 

9.   Did the KJV translators believe the MT or the Ben Chayyim Text underlying the KJV was perfect or exactly the same as the Autograph?  Were they guided by the Holy Spirit to make all the correct decisions regarding textual matters, resulting in a perfect MT that is free from error?

 

The answer is a definite no!  They did not believe that the text underlying the KJV was perfect. Neither did they create a new MT.  If they did, they would have mentioned it in the Preface of the 1611 editions.  These are the reasons why we believe the KJV translators did not believe in a Perfect OT Text or Apograph.

 

a.    The KJV translators never claimed that the OT or NT text they used was Prefect.

 

b.    The KJV translators provided numerous marginal notes where they chose not to follow the Hebrew word for word.  They frequently used dynamic equivalence in their translation.

 

 

marginal notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The passage above is taken from Job chapters 11 & 12 (KJV 1611 edition). Note that the literal translation of the Hebrew is in the margin.  In this short section there are 3 incidents of dynamic equivalence.

 

References

Marginal notes by Translators

KJV 1611

 

Job 11:17

shall arise above the noone day 

shall be clearer then the noone day

Job 11:19

entreat thy face

 

make suite vnto thee

Job 11:20

flight shall perish from them

 

they shall not escape

 

 

a.    The preface of the 1611 KJV edition indicated that the translators were uncertain in some areas and were open to the view of the Septaugint (LXX). 

 

“Again there are rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c. concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, 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, as S. Hierome somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such 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 thing as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the of judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scripture: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good; yea, is necessary, as we persuaded. (preface KJV 1611 edition, updated spelling)

marginal notes judges.tif

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marginal Note by Translators

KJV 1611

2. Or a yeere and foure moneths,

Heb. dayes, foure moneths

2. …foure whole moneths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This section is taken from Judges 19:2-5. The translators were not certain whether it should be a year and four months or just four months.

 

b.    The translators provided alternate readings on the side margin of the 1611 editions for the wise to make their own judgments. In fact they objected to sticking to one reading when they are uncertain. This is further proof that they do not believe the MT used by them was perfect. 

 

“We know that Sixtus Quintus expressly forbiddeth that any variety of readings of their Vulgar edition should be put in the margin; (which though it be not altogether the same thing to that we have in hand, yet it looketh that way;) but we think he hath not all of his own side his favourers for this conceit.  They that are wise had rather have their judgments at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.” (Preface of the KJV 1611 edition)

 

c.    The translators defended their decisions to include marginal notes where there are uncertainties.

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 the show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken.  But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point. (Preface of the KJV 1611).

 

d.    The later editions of the KJV made changes to the 1611 editions including changes in words, numbers, gender and tenses and not just spelling.  The changes do affect the meaning of the text (See Appendix i).  They also raise the question about the perfection of the text underlying the KJV, since the KJV 1769 edition differs from the KJV 1611 edition.

 

e.    There were 14 extra books of the Apocryphal added in the 1611 edition.  It has 80 books in total.  The claim that the Holy Spirit guided the KJV translators to make all right textual decision and there is no error in the text underlying the KJV cannot be true.  How could the Holy Spirit guide the KJV translators to add 14 extra books which He did not inspire?  Please see the content page of KJV 1611 edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a reproduction of the content page of KJV 1611 edition.

 

 

 

The 7 points above make it clear that the KJV translators did not believe that the Holy Spirit guided them in all textual matters so as to be free from error.  How could the Holy Spirit guide the translators to add 14 extra books to the Old Testament? If there were a perfect apograph believed by the KJV translators they would have mentioned it in their preface.  If they had created a new MT they would have made it known to the public. 

 

10.    Did the KJV translators follow the MT or the Ben Chayyim Text completely?

 

The answer is no!  There are verses where the KJV translators chose not to follow the MT in favor of the Latin Vulgate, Septuagint, and others.

 

Yes!  There are many verses where the KJV translators chose to disagree with the MT.  Isaiah 19:10 is one such example, where the translators took an entire verse from the Latin Vulgate.

 

 

 Isaiah 19:10   והיו שׁתתיה מדכאים כל־עשׂי שׂכר אגמי־נפשׁ׃ [he Hebrew MT read from right to left]

                                   soul            sad     earning wages     all       crushed to pieces  its foundation   they will be

NKJ Isaiah 19:10 And its foundations will be broken. All who make wages will be troubled of soul.

KJV Isaiah 19:10 And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish.

 

VUL Isaiah 19:10 et erunt inrigua eius flaccentia omnes qui faciebant lacunas ad capiendos pisces

 

In this verse the KJV translators deliberately chose to depart from the MT or Ben Chayyim Text entirely, and follow the Latin Vulgate whereas the New King James remained true to the MT.  The word “fish” in Isaiah 19:10 comes from the word “Picses” from the Latin Vulgate.  The marginal notes show that the translators knew the Hebrew word, but preferred the reading of the Latin Vulgate over the Ben Chayyim Text.  Look at the chart below.

 

Other verses: 

 

References

Masoretic Text

KJV 1769

Isa  44:8

or is there any Rock

there is no God

Jer  48:12

tippers

wanderers

Hos  7:16; 11:7

upward

the Most High

Hab 1:12

Rock

O mighty God

Mal 2:12

awake and answer

the master and the scholar

Judges 3:19

idols

quarries

2 Sam 5:21

carried them away

burned them

Eze 19:7

widows

desolate palaces

Pro 19:24

bowl

bosom

1 Kg 22:38

harlots took their bath

they washed his armour

1 Kg 1:25

Let king Adonijah lives

God save king Adonijah

 

There are many verses where the departure from the MT is justifiable, but there are also many cases where the departure to favor the Vulgate, Targum, or Septuagint is not justifiable.  In either ways the notion of a Perfect MT underlying the KJV is impossible.  No translators who hold to the view that the MT or Ben Chayyim Text is perfect will ever choose to deviate from the MT in so many instances.  A single departure will render perfection impossible. For a detailed list where KJV translators chose to ignore the MT please read King James Onlyism: A New Sect (pgs. 563-590).  There are at least 200 departures from the Ben Chayyim text.  There are too many departures to explain away.

 

It is obvious that the KJV translators did not regard the MT as perfect.  Neither did they believe in a perfect text underlying the KJV.  The KJV translators would never consciously and deliberately choose to depart from the MT or Ben Chayyim Text if they had believed it to be perfect. There is absolutely no ground for the KJV-VPP people to claim that the text underlying the KJV is perfect. KJV-VPP proponents should stop putting words into the KJV translators’ mouths.

 

 

11.Are there scribal errors in the MT?

 

Yes, there are, but they can be easily corrected by internal evidence.  The two accounts in Kings and Chronicles will help track any scribal errors and correct them.  Look at the example below.

 

 

a.    How old was Jehoiachin when he became king?

 

2 Chronicles  36:8 says that Jehoiachin became king at the age of 8.  He reigned for 3 months and did evil in the sight of the LORD.

I was amazed that a child at the age of 8 could be so wicked.  2 Kings 24 said that he became king at the age of 18, and reigned for 3 months and 10 days. 

 

Jehoiachin cannot be king and reign for 3 months at the age of 8 and 18 at the same time.  Either the age in 2 Kings is the right age or the one in 2 Chronicles.  Both cannot be correct at the same time.  It is likely that the answer is 18.  God gave us two separate accounts in Kings and Chronicles.  By comparison scribal errors can be identified.

 

2 Chronicles 36

8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother's name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem.

9 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done.

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged.

 

2 Kings 24

9 Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.

10 And when the year was expired, king Nebuchadnezzar sent, and brought him to Babylon, with the goodly vessels of the house of the LORD, and made Zedekiah his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem.

 

b.    Michal or Merab (These are the names of the daughters of King Saul)

2 Samuel 21:8 states that king David took 5 sons of Michal, the daughter of Saul, and gave them to the Gibeonites to be hanged.

 

First, Michal is childless so she could not have given birth to 5 sons.  Second, the husband is identified as Ariel who is actually the husband of Merab.

 

The conclusion is that the scribe must have mistaken Michal for Merab.  See the verses below.

 

1 Sam 18

19 But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife.

 

2 Sam 6

23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

 


2 Sam 21

8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:

 

12.    Do we have the total content of the inspired OT Autograph today?

 

We believe the entire inspired Word of the Autograph is embedded in the manuscripts.  By the use of external evidence (comparing various manuscripts and ancient translations) and internal evidence (eg. comparing Kings and Chronicles) we might finally arrive at the Perfect text, but without the inspired Autograph to compare with we cannot make such a claim.  We can at best make a speculative  statement, but we have no right to condemn other texts that differ, because the content of the Autograph is in the multitude of manuscripts, not one.

 

Conclusion:

 

  1. The KJV translators did not believe that the OT Masoretic Text  or the Ben Chayyim Text underlying the KJV was perfect.  They did not follow the MT totally and chose to depart from it wherever they deemed fit.
  2. The numerous deviations from the MT by the translators make the claim that the text underlying the KJV is perfect untenable.  The differences between the 1611 and the 1769 editions of the KJV also make it impossible for the KJV to be perfect either.  The preface and marginal notes of the 1611 KJV translators clearly indicate that they do not accept either the text underlying the KJV or the Translation itself to be perfect.
  3. No MT can live up to the claim of perfection.  A single error will render the claim false.
  4. God could have preserved a perfect text in a single manuscript somewhere, but it cannot be the Ben Chayyim Text or the Text underlying the KJV.  We believe that that God has preserved the entire Bible in the multitude of the manuscripts. 
  5. It is wrong to take a text or a translation that cannot live up to the standard of perfection and insist that it is perfect.  It is worse to use it to condemn those who differ or to split the Church of God. Doing so is sinful.

 


APPENDIX I

 

Partial list of all the differences between

KJV 1611 and 1769

 

 

One Word Changed for Another of Different Meaning

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Exod 31:10             clothes                                     cloths

Exod 38:11             hoopes                                      hooks

Num 6:14               lamb                                         ram

Josh 3:15              at                                             all

2 Chr 3L10            place                                        house

2 Chr 32:5            prepared                                  repaired

Ezra 2:22              children                                    men

Job 30:3               flying                                        fleeing

Psa 69:32              good                                         God

Jer 49:1                God                                           Gad

Ezek 44:23           men                                          them

Ezek 46:23           new                                          row of

Mark 5:6               he came                                    he ran

1 Cor 4:9               approved                                  appointed

 

Changed a Singular for a Plural Form (or vice versa)

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Gen 23:10              gates                                        gate

Gen 39:1                hand                                         hands

Gen 47:6               any man                                     any men

Exod 23:13            names                                       name

Exod 29:26            consecrations                            consecration

Exod 35:29            hands                                        hand

Lev 2:4                  unleavened cake                        unleavened cakes

Lev 10:14               sacrifice                                   sacrifices

Lev 22:10              priests                                     priest

Lev 25:31              walls                                         wall

Num 1:2                 poll                                           polls

Num 4:40              houses                                      house

Deut 16:4              coasts                                      coast

Deut 23:25           neighbours                                neighbour

Deut 28:42           locusts                                      locust

Josh 7:14              households                                household

Judg 11:2               his wives sons                           his wife's sons

1 Sam 20:5            fields                                       field

1 Sam 28:7            servant                                     servants

1 Kings 3:12           word                                         words

2 Kings 9:23          hand                                         hands

2 Kings 21:21         ways                                         way

2 Kings 23:36        year                                         years

2 Kings 24:13        treasure                                   treasures

2 Chr 31:6             tithes                                       tithe

 

Changed One Article for Another

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Prov 25:24            a corner                                    the corner

Ezek 42:17            a measuring reed                      the measuring reed

Hos 13:3                a whirlwind                               the whirlwind

Luke 19:9              the son                                     a son

Rom 14:6               a day                                        the day

 

Changed One Pronoun for Another

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Gen 39:16              her lord                                    his lord

Ruth 3:15              he                                            she

2 Chr 28:22          this                                          his

Job 39:30             he                                            she

Prov 6:19               him                                           he

Jer 51:30              their                                        her

Ezek 6:8               that he may                              that ye may

Ezek 24:5             him                                           them

Ezek 26:14            they                                         thou

Ezek 48:8             they                                         ye

Hos 4:4                 this people                               thy people

Joel 1:16                your                                          our

 


Added Negatives:

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Ezek 24:7            poured it upon the ground   poured it not upon the ground

Matt 12:23          Is this the son of David?    Is not this the son of David?

 

Inconsistencies in the Names and Titles of God

(Capitalization of the first letter is reserved for names referring to the one true God.)

 

Reference             1611 Edition                     Current Editions

Gen 6:5                 God                                          GOD

Exod 23:15            LORD God                                 Lord GOD

2 Sam 7:22            Lord GOD                                 LORD God

2 Sam 12:22          God                                          GOD

2 Chr 13:6             his LORD                                  his lord

2 Chr 17:4             LORD God                                 LORD God

2 Chr 28:11            God                                          LORD

Neh 1:11                O LORD                                    O Lord

Neh 3:5                 LORD                                       Lord

Neh 8:10               our LORD                                 our Lord

Psa 2:4                  LORD                                       Lord

Isa 49:13              God                                          the LORD

Zech 6:4               LORD                                       lord

 

 *for details please read King James Onlyism, A New Sect by Dr James D. Price.



[1] Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 56.

[2] Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 12.