As noted in part two of this series of posts, there definitely are variations of statements found among the manuscripts of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, particularly the statement made in I Corinthians 11:24. And there are also many presumptions about those variations too, namely that the older manuscripts which support modern translations are better than the later manuscripts which support the King James Version (KJV).
According to Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, in their highly acclaimed book, The Text of the New Testament: It's Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, the manuscripts which provide the textual support for the KJV translation are "generally regarded as an inferior form"1 and "the least valuable"2 among all that have been preserved.
The question still remains, how does one assess the value or inferiority of a given rendering so that they can be sure it's the correct one? This post will focus on answering that question, or at least leading into a focused answer to that question; and I will do so by continuing the discussion about varying theories of textual transmission (which I mentioned briefly in the last post).
Also, keep in mind that, as I noted carefully in the last post, I am not a "KJV-only" theologian. I cannot stress this fact enough. I am, in fact, very much opposed to KJV-only-ism because there is simply too much scholarly evidence which conflicts with that ism. The main reason why I repeatedly mention the KJV is to illustrate an english translation based upon a older theory of textual transmission -- a theory which is no longer popular today. The popular modern theories of textual transmission operate on a presumption that certain older manuscripts are "superior" than others. I wish I could, in all honesty, agree with that presumption. That would certainly make this translational difficulty much more convenient to resolve. But I don't agree with that presumption because there isn't enough uniformity among the older, allegedly "superior" manuscripts to convince me that the oldest manuscripts represent an authentic copy of what Paul wrote.
As far as manuscript evidence is concerned, the translations found in the ESV and KJV are not the only options available. There are a few choices to be found among the manuscripts which contain I Corinthians 11:24. Some manuscripts say "This is my body which is for you." Some manuscripts say "This is my body which is broken for you." One manuscript even says "This is my body which is shattered for you" (literally, "this is my body which is broken-in-small-pieces for you"). And finally, some manuscripts say "This is my body which is given for you," as it's found in Luke's gospel.
But which manuscripts provide the "superior" preservation of Paul's words?
Modern textual critics contend that the oldest copies of manuscripts available to us today represent the most "superior" and "valuable" manuscripts ever copied in the history of textual transmission. Because of this, the text contained within these older manuscripts are considered to be the most superior as well.3 They don't claim that the oldest are perfect, but when compared with manuscripts dating hundreds of years after the first century, the oldest are presumed to be more authentic and closer to what was originally written. In this sense, the older manuscripts are more-perfect, and presumably so, because they were copied in a time which was much closer to the date of the original perfect manuscript. I think this is a huge presumption, and, in many instances of translational disputes, it's an unnecessarily clumsy one as well.
As Dr. Jakob Van Bruggen has succinctly noted in his book, The Ancient Text of the New Testament:
One of the first things a student must learn regarding the textual history, is the distinction between the age of the manuscript and the age of the text offered in that manuscript. A rather young manuscript can give a very old type of text.
...You would expect that... people in the modern New Testament textual criticism would hardly argue from the age of the manuscript. However, the opposite is the case. Time and again you come across a comparison between "older manuscripts" and "many, but younger manuscripts." The common argument used against the Byzantine text-type [which underlies the KJV translation] is even that this type is only found in young manuscripts. This argument, however, does not say anything as such. One must prove that the text-form in these manuscripts is also of a later date.4
1. Bruce Metzger & Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: It's Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration [Oxford University Press: New York, NY; 2005] p. 67
2. Ibid., p. 70
3. No scholar has ever affirmed (at least, not to my knowledge) that the manuscripts underlying the King James Version are not as old as the manuscripts discovered since then (i.e. manuscripts which are used as the basis for all modern translations). It's obvious that modern translations use older manuscripts. The real contention comes into play when the age of the underlying text within a manuscript is being disputed, which is the case in point when considering a modern translation of I Cor. 11:24. Based on external evidence, the text which underlies the KJV is considered a "late text" on the alleged grounds that it is not found in the old majuscules and is not followed by the Church Fathers before Nicea in their New Testament quotations. Based on internal evidence, it has also been alleged that the text which underlies the KJV has the tendency to conflate, harmonize, and assimilate readings, and that also leads scholars to believe it is a "late text". These allegations, pertaining to both external and internal evidence, have been clearly and cogently refuted by many reputable and competent New Testament scholars. Jakob Van Bruggen, Harry Sturz, and Wilbur Pickering are but a few scholars who contend with these allegations of external and internal evidence.
4. Jakob Van Bruggen, The Ancient Text of the New Testament [Premier Publications: Winnipeg; 1994, fifth printing] p. 22. Words in brackets are mine.