Luke 2:22 and King James Onlyism

by Luke Wayne
10/31/18
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For most King James Onlyists, the English of the KJV is the ultimate standard and no Greek text or manuscripts really matter. They may use the Greek manuscripts as convenient tools in their arguments, but when pressed it always comes out that they don't really care what the manuscripts say. For example, if a modern translation sides with the earliest manuscripts (which are smaller in number, as fewer had yet been produced in the early days and even fewer survived from that long ago until now) over against the later majority of manuscripts produced in large numbers in medieval Eastern Orthodox monasteries, the KJV Onlyist will attack the modern translation for relying on "a minority of manuscripts." Yet, when one points out, for example, that the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8 in the KJV is found only in a tiny number of Greek manuscripts (and all of them 16th-century or later) they will change their tune and claim that a few apparent allusions (not even actual direct citations) by some early church fathers trump the entire Greek manuscript tradition. Far from a majority, one now does not need to have any manuscripts to support a reading. If one points out places where those same church fathers explicitly cite texts differently than the King James, they suddenly return to the "majority of manuscripts" again, or else retreat somewhere else.

It is a shell game. None of the evidence really matters, so it need not be used in any consistent way. If the KJV English says it, that is all that matters to many King James Onlyists, and they will twist all reason to defend whatever reading they find. Any argument is a good argument if it seems to support the KJV. The exact same argument is a bad argument elsewhere where it seems to show the KJV to be incorrect. This is the M.O. of the majority of King James Onlyists. It almost has to be, as there is no consistent methodology that can defend the strict King James Only position.

Luke 2:22, while representing only a minor variant, is an important case study in KJV Only methodology. It is a clear demonstration of the lengths to which the King James Onlyist will go to defend the indefensible.

Her or Their?

The issue here is a rather simple one. In Luke 2:22, the KJV uses the singular pronoun "her" while the vast majority of modern translations use the plural pronoun "their:"

"And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord," (KJV).

"And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord," (NASB).

This actually does have implications on the interpretation of the text, but our main issue here is simply this: which of these two reflects what Luke actually wrote? If every word inspired by the Holy Spirit matters (and every King James Onlyist will say that it does) then it matters which pronoun Luke used. The truth is that the Greek manuscript tradition is virtually unanimous that the pronoun was plural. The earliest manuscripts read "their" and the late majority text agrees completely. The printed editions of Erasmus read "their," as do those of Stephanus after him. This is why the early Protestant English texts before the KJV read:

"And when the time of their purification (after the law of Moses) was come they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to ye Lord," (Tyndale New Testament, Matthew Bible, Great Bible).

"And when the days of their purification after the law of Moses, were come, they brought him to Jerusalem, that they might present him unto the LORD," (Coverdale Bible).

Beginning in Geneva, however, the last couple translations before the KJV read differently:

"And when the days of her purification after the Law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord," (Geneva Bible, Bishops Bible).

Likewise, the Roman Catholic Douay Rheims translation came out, reading:

"And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord," (Douay Rheims).

Thus, by 1611, against the Greek evidence, this had become the popular English reading, and the KJV adopted it. Where did it come from? What were the grounds for this sudden change? And what does that tell us about King James Onlyism? The answers are most enlightening!

Theodore Beza and the Complutensian Polyglot

When Queen Mary took the throne in England in the mid 16th century, she sought to lead the nation back into Roman Catholicism. Protestants suffered violent persecution, and many Protestant scholars fled to the Swiss Canton of Geneva where they would be free to continue their work. It was here that the famous Geneva Bible, the most important English Bible before the KJV, was translated by these exiled Christian scholars.1 This is where the work in textual criticism by Theodore Beza, a significant leader in the church at Geneva who would later become John Calvin's successor, first found its direct influence on English Bible translations. The translators in Geneva had personal access to Beza and his influence as a scholar. They also made particular use of his 1556 Latin New Testament.2 Thus, even before Beza had formally published his Greek New Testament (the first edition of which didn't come out until 1565), his textual choices had already begun to shape Bible translations.

It was through Beza that the Geneva Bible adopted the reading "her" instead of "their" at Luke 2:22. The later Bishop's Bible and King James Version followed suit (by then having Beza's Greek NT available to them as well). But what led Beza to make this change? On what basis did he come to the conclusion that the original text said "her" in this place? He doesn't leave us to guess. Theodore Beza notes in his text that all the Greek manuscripts do indeed read "their" rather than "her," but that this reading did not make sense to him as, strictly speaking, the law of Moses required only the mother to be purified. He, therefore, explains that he followed the Complutensian polyglot, which possessed the reading "her."3 So, what is the Complutensian Polyglot?

The Complutensian Polyglot is a 16th-Century printed edition of the Bible. The Complutensian New Testament was printed in Greek and Latin in parallel columns. The project was one of the chief accomplishments of Francisco Jimenez de Ciseronos, a Roman Catholic Cardinal in Spain. Indeed, while the first edition of Erasmus' New Testament was the first printed Greek edition to be published, the Complutensian was actually the first to be printed. With it's Old and New Testaments together, the Complutensian was a massive work, taking up six whole volumes.4 The Complutensian text differed in numerous places from that of Erasmus and what would later come to be known as the "Textus Receptus" or "TR," (the printed Greek texts often defended by King James Onlysists as the only true Greek New Testament.) Thus, when Beza opted to follow the Complutensian printed text over the Greek manuscripts and every previous edition of the TR, he was making a text-critical decision to disagree with the TR here, and so were all the translators who sided with him (including the KJV translators in 1611). Ironically, this is exactly what King James Onlysists forbid modern translators the right to do.

But the bigger question is, where did the Complutensian Polyglot get its reading? The Complutensian text contains the reading "her" in both its Greek and Latin texts,5 Specifically, the Greek pronoun "αὐτῆς" is used alongside the Latin "eius." The only known Greek manuscript to contain this reading is Minuscule 76, a 14th-century manuscript that is believed by some to have been one of the manuscripts used by Jiminez and his team. But Jiminez had a number of other manuscripts available to him, all of which read "αὐτῶν" or "their" rather than "her." Even if they did possess Minuscule 76, why did they think that was the original over against the others? Unlike Beza, Jiminez doesn't tell us so we cannot know for sure, but there are good reasons to think he would be biased toward this reading. 

Cardinal Jimenez, the man behind the Complutensian Polyglot, held the office of supreme inquisitor in Spain,6 He was zealous and unyielding in the execution of his office in the Spanish Inquisition against the perceived "heretics," but he was highly regarded for having never used his position to promote his own personal wealth or power.7 This means he was acting out of Roman Catholic conviction rather than a personal lust for self-aggrandizement, as some others in the age did. He really believed Roman claims. This matters because the Roman Catholic church was convinced that the Latin Vulgate was the true, infallible sacred Scripture. Jimenez Himself is quoted as having said that, in the Complutensian Old Testament, he placed the Latin text in the middle between the Hebrew text of the Jews and the Greek Septuagint of the Eastern Church just as Christ was placed between two thieves on the cross. Jimenez had a very high view of the Latin Vulgate. In the Latin Vulgate, the reading is unanimously "her." Thus, it is unsurprising that Jimenez and his team would prefer the reading that matches the text they already presume to be correct. Of course, Jimenez may have had additional arguments to support his choice, perhaps even ones similar to Beza's. We cannot be sure because he and his team did not plainly tell us, but the fact of the matter is that, before the printing press, the reading of "αὐτῆς" is found only in this one very late Greek minuscule. Every other ancient or even medieval Greek source is against it.

The Latin Tradition

The Latin tradition is almost unanimously in favor of the reading "her." While one Old Latin witness (itq) supports "their," the rest of the Old Latin and all of the Vulgate tradition contain "her." A minority of Latin manuscripts actually contain the name "Mary" rather than the pronoun, but even these point back to "her" as their basis. This is why the Roman Catholic Douay Rheims translation, based heavily on the Vulgate, reads:

"And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord," (Douay Rheims).

And why the 14th-century John Wycliffe Bible, based on Latin rather than Greek manuscripts, reads:

"And after that the days of the purgation of Marie were fulfilled, after Moses law, they token him into Jerusalem, to offer him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord," (Wycliffe Bible).

Not surprisingly, then, the Latin Fathers also tend to quote or allude to the passage this way:

""And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord," (Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Section 12).

"When the days of her (His mother’s) purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord," (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, Book 2, Chapter 5).

"when they had gone with Him to Jerusalem after the purification of His mother, and when those things had been performed in the temple which are recounted by Luke," (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, Book 2, Chapter 11).

The seventh-century apocryphal "Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew" (or "the Infancy Gospel of Matthew"), which is also preserved only in Latin, similarly reads:

"Now, after the days of the purification of Mary were fulfilled according to the law of Moses, then Joseph took the infant to the temple of the Lord," (Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 15).

Thus, we can confidently establish that "her" was the Latin reading from an early date, at least as far back as the 4th century and maybe earlier. The reading is quite old, at least in translation, but does it go back to the Greek or did it originate with the Latin translators? The overwhelming evidence seems to be toward the latter, as we have such early and so many manuscripts that uniformly read "their." When we put it all together, "her" appears to almost certainly be a reading of Latin origin. Ancient, sure, but not original to Luke's gospel.

A Third Option?

So, at this point, the King James Onlyist may begin to argue that we should ignore the earliest Greek manuscripts because they are all corrupt. Contradicting their usual approach, they may also tell us that we should ignore the majority text. They will be unlikely to give too much praise to the Vulgate, but they may say that the presence in an early translation like the Old Latin is, in this particular case, highly important and outweighs anything that any Greek manuscript might say. More than likely they will latch onto the existence of quotations in the early church fathers like Jerome (never mind that he is here merely another witness to the Latin). They will also likely try to obfuscate by claiming that modern translators pick readings on this limited kind of evidence all the time. Even if that were true, are they then saying it is okay for modern scholars to do so? Yet, more importantly, even if we temporarily grant them these things for the sake of argument, it doesn't solve the KJV Onlyists problem.

First of all, the traditional Greek reading of "their" also appears in equally ancient translations (Syriac, Coptic, and, as noted above, even one Latin witness). It appears in other ancient translations, too, like the Armenian, Gothic, Georgian, and Ethiopic. It appears in church fathers earlier than Jerome, like Tatian8 and Ephraim the Syrian.9 Even on the KJV Onlyist's new set of special rules for this passage, the reading "their" has just as early translational witnesses (and more of them) and even earlier church fathers. "Their" still wins out no matter how you reset the rules.

Yet, there is still another problem for the KJV Onlyist. There is yet another available reading we have not yet discussed. Some witnesses to Luke 2:22 have no pronoun at all! Instead, they read more like the NIV:

"When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord," (NIV).

It does not say "her purification" or "their purification." It doesn't specify whose purification at all! Now, the NIV may have simply been paraphrasing here or trying to avoid the issue, but maybe not. There actually are ancient witnesses that concur! The 12th or early 13th century Greek Minuscule 435 has no pronoun, so this reading has one Greek source just like "αὐτῆς" does, and this one is slightly earlier! The no-pronoun reading is likewise found in the Bohairic Coptic tradition, a rather early translation. It is also notably cited by Irenaeus, a church father of the second century:

"When the days of purification were accomplished, they brought Him up to Jerusalem, to present Him before the Lord," (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 4).

Thus, the no-pronoun reading found in the NIV has an earlier Greek manuscript, an earlier church father, and an equally early ancient translation on its side. Why should the KJV Onlyist reject the NIV here? They can't appeal to the majority of Greek manuscripts. The majority are, in this case, on the side of the NASB and other modern translations in holding to the reading "their." They can't appeal to the earliest Greek manuscripts. Those, too, are on the side of the reading "their." They can't even appeal to the alleged superiority of the TR! Before Beza, the TR also said "their," and Beza openly pulled his reading from outside the TR to make the change! No, the KJV Onlyists must here admit to themselves that they believe the reading is "her" not based on manuscripts, ancient versions, or church fathers. No, they believe it only because the King James English says it. They have, without fully realizing what they were doing, effectively imparted a group of 17th-century English translators with a sort of papal infallibility that supersedes even the Scriptures themselves, at least as they were possessed by all earlier generations. The KJV Onlysists are not defending the inspiration of the first-century Apostles but rather the inspiration of the 1611 translators alone (and perhaps those behind the 1769 Blaney Revision printed today). This is a problem that my KJV Only brothers must see and begin to overcome. But if they overcome this problem, they will cease to be King James Onlyists.

  • 1. David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge University Press, 2011) 19
  • 2. ibid, 20
  • 3. https://www.originalbibles.com/Zip/Zippy.php?../SpecialBibles/Zip1/BezaNewTestament1598.zip?BezaNewTestament1598_Part135.pdf (Page 2155, accessed 3/27/2018).
  • 4. Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity - Vol. 2 (Harper Collins, 1985) 112
  • 5. http://bdh-rd.bne.es/viewer.vm?id=0000013439&page=1 Volume 5, Page 2155, line 6 (Accessed 7/6/2018)
  • 6. Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 6 (Hendrickson Publishing, 1907) 539.
  • 7. ibid.
  • 8. Tatian, the Diatessaron, Section 2, Verses 30-31
  • 9. Ephraim the Syrian, Nineteen Hymns on the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh, Hymn 19, Verse 13