Jack McElroy has made yet another disingenuous accusation about a modern English version. This time involving Matthew 27:16. Let’s look at that verse in the NIV and also in the KJV:

Matthew 27:16 (NIV)
16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.

Matthew 27:16 (KJV 1900)
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.

Regarding the NIV’s use of “Jesus Barabbas” compared to the KJV and previous versions of the NIV’s use of simply “Barabbas”, McElroy writes:

“From the beginning until 2011, the robber Barabbas had only one name in the NIV. That all changed in 2011, when, according to the NIV, the Lord changed his mind, and decided to give Barabbas a new first name — Jesus.”

It is true that NIV editions prior to 2011 had only Barabbas as the name of the one who was released. It is also true that the 2011 revision of the NIV made the decision to use “Jesus Barabbas” both here and in Matthew 26:17. However, it is patently false to assert that the NIV committee believes that “the Lord changed his mind” and that they merely “decided to give Barabbas a new first name — Jesus”.

Let me pause for a brief moment to remind those who are familiar with me or to inform those who may not be aware that I was once a radical King James Version Onlyist. I held to a double inspiration view for a while and then moved to a view of perfect preservation of every single word. Those inconsistent, incongruent, illogical, and ahistorical positions were propped up by the writings of KJVO like Peter Ruckman, Sam Gipp, William Grady, and conspiracy theorists as Gail Riplinger. Then something amazing happened. I started validating their claims. I started checking their references (where they existed). In doing so, I discovered that some of these authors are not only unscholarly, but in some places have blatantly misrepresented facts, pulled quotes out of context, and made otherwise outrageous claims that were inconsistent with the historical record. Ironically, it was the writings of these King James Onlyists that our Lord used to push me towards a reasoned and historical view of Biblical inerrancy and preservation.

Therefore, in considering the merits of McElroy’s claims about Matthew 27:16, I naturally did what many others simply will not do. I picked up an NIV and noticed two things. One, my hands did not begin to burn. I had not touched the unclean thing and defiled myself. Secondly, I turned to Matthew 27:16 in the NIV and found where the text says, “Jesus Barabbas”. But that is not all that I saw. At Verse 16 in the NIV, there is a footnote. That is an ancillary piece of information printed at the bottom of a page found in scholarly works that is usually missing from poorly presented materials not dissimilar to Mr. McElroy’s work. The footnote for Matthew 27:16 says, “Many manuscripts do not have Jesus; also in verse 17.” I was shocked to find that right on the same page as this controversial text is a footnote that gives the reason for their reading. Did Mr. McElroy not notice the footnote in his research or did he choose to ignore it? The footnote assures the reader that, unlike McElroy’s assertion, the NIV committee did not believe the Lord changed his mind and decided to give Barabbas a new name. It also assures the reader that the NIV was not arbitrarily changed because someone on the committee decided to do so. It is because some manuscripts do read “Jesus Barabbas”. The NIV is brutally honest in their footnote by acknowledging that their reading is a minority reading. In fact, the vast majority of manuscripts only say “Barabbas”.

Why then is it included in the NIV’s 2011 revision? Because the committee analyzed the variants, considered the internal evidence, and came to the conclusion that “Jesus Barabbas” is a viable reading. They determined that it is more likely that “Jesus” was removed leaving only “Barabbas” for the sake of piety or perhaps so as to prevent confusion. They also determined that the natural reading of the text increased the likelihood of Barabbas having the same name as our Lord. Barabbas means, son of the father. Simon Peter was also called Simon Barjona meaning Simon the son of Jonah. Bartimaeus means he was the son of Timaeus. We can do the same thing for Barnabas and Barsabbas. The case is further strengthened by the language of the passage. In Matthew 27:17 and 27:22, Jesus is identified not just as ”Jesus”, but as “Jesus which is called Christ”. This would certainly provide perfect clarify as to who was being discussed if both of the men were named Jesus. Remember that “Jesus” is the Hellenized form of “Joshua” which was a popular name in the First Century AD. It would not have been uncommon for both of these men to share the same name. Consider how many people in the New Testament have the name Mary, Judas, or James. Given the internal evidence, the NIV committee made the decision to include “Jesus Barabbas” in Matthew 27:16-17. Yes, it is an extremely minority reading. Yes, previous versions of the NIV do not have it. But they used reason and logic to reach their conclusion — not whimsical change.

I am drawing no conclusion on whether or not the NIV’s reading is original. Their logic is sound, but the manuscript evidence is overwhelming. I do think it would be entirely appropriate to have a footnote like that found in the NIV that notes the variant. That is healthy and scholarly.

Lastly, it is prudent to call out McElroy’s note regarding the KJV on this verse where he states, “Of course nothing about Matthew 27:16 has changed in the King James Bible (any edition) for over 400 years.” McElroy goes on to quote Malachi 3:6 about how the Lord never changes. While this is true for Matthew 27:16, it is not true for many verses in the KJV. Despite what McElroy has written, there have been many changes to the KJV since its first edition in 1611. Further, the changes are not merely spelling corrections and corrections of printing errors. Words have been added, removed, rearranged, and more. Even today’s most popular printed editions, the 1769 Cambridge and the 1769 Oxford do not read the same in places. And both differ from the 1900 Cambridge that is most often found online and in Bible apps. Jack McElroy is either highly ignorant or highly dishonest in his slanted presentation of these supposed corruptions of scripture. He is also less than forthcoming when it comes to admitting that there have been significant changes to the KJV through its many editions over the centuries.

I call on Jack McElroy to acknowledge his misleading presentations in his book, “Which Bible Would Jesus Use?” and repent of his obvious error. I am not asking McElroy to embrace another English version. It is possible to prefer the KJV without misrepresenting others.

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