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When Did the Oxford and Cambridge Texts Diverge?

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

In 2008 I began to take a closer look at the differences between the Oxford and Cambridge Texts of the King James Bible. I had long known there were differences but I began to make inquiry to Oxford and Cambridge themselves. Both institutions have a standard reply. Neither one has any institutional memory of how their texts came about. Cambridge however did hire an historian, David Norton of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and gave him remarkable access to their libraries and vaults. His resulting book The Textual History of the King James Bible gives tantalizing clues into those resources, but eventually it morphs into an infomercial for his lackluster New Cambridge Paragraph Bible.

I emailed David Norton in September of 2008 with what appears to me now to be a pretty ignorant question. A bible salesman for Baker Book House, the authorized distributer of Cambridge Bibles in the United States had often made the boast that Cambridge's text was unchanged from 1769 onward. I asked David Norton if he could verify that boast. He was kind enough to respond that no one associated with Cambridge could recollect any such boast.

As it turns out, the salesman was acting like a salesman. He was wrong. The current Cambridge text is a post WWI product. David Norton's thesis was very vague about the current Cambridge text. To his credit, it was not really the impetus of his research. In his reply email he expressed mild surprise that there was much difference between an Oxford and a Cambridge text. There are about 300 differences in the texts. It was obvious that his research did not extend into modern times.

With Oxford having a complete blackout of their own history, and with no credible historian to consult, I did the next best thing. I went to the American Bible Society in downtown Manhattan and got permission to go into the climatically controlled library vaults and to look for myself. I went to the shelves that housed the Oxford Bibles as they were released year by year, and I looked to see when they changed from the Blayney Text of 1769 to the current Oxford text.

The 1893 Oxford King James Bible read exactly as the 1769 Blayney Bible, but when I pulled out the 1894 Oxford Bible it had changed into what Oxford prints today. So obscure is the history of this change that the Historical Catalogue of Printed Bibles, known as the Herbert Catalogue has no knowledge of it. (See an earlier post entitled A Helpful Reference Tool.)

A Scofield Reference Bible is the most common use of the Oxford Text in American Fundamental circles. It suffers from bad readings (Nahum 3:16, Joshua 19:2 for examples) and it suffers from having deleted the postscripts from the Pauline epistles. It does a bad job with capitalizations.

What is truly remarkable for a book such as the King James Bible that has been as studied so closely by historians, is how obscure the origins of our modern texts really are.

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