Thankfully Past the KJV

Bible and PenI have had the privilege of growing up in a family where both parents had experienced the new birth in Christ. One particular evidence of this reality was that we faithfully attended and supported our local church. That church, like so many other good churches, used the King James translation of the Bible. In fact it still uses that translation. It is a good translation. Up until the time of its publication in 1611 no other person or group had employed such resources in the completion of a translation. The men who were tasked with the responsibility of this new translation were the best biblical scholars of their day. They were also men with a reverent love for God. Even so, they utilized a series of checks and balances wherein their work would be reviewed by others. In many ways the King James translation is the finest example of how translation work should be done.

But this does not mean that the King James translation is the finest translation.

It especially doesn’t mean that the King James is the “only” translation that contains the word of God. The King James translators themselves viewed other translations as God’s Word. They write that even the “meanest” translation “containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with like grace. . . . But we weary the unlearned, who need no know so much; and trouble the learned, who know it already.” So the King James translators themselves did not view their translation as the only right and good translation. Indeed, they recognized the need for improvements in all translations since “nothing is begun and perfected at the same time.” This truth is born out in history since between its publication in 1611 and 1800 the number of editions of the KJV as a whole or in part “reached nearly a thousand and produced tens of thousands of minor variations from the original edition” (David Beale, A Pictorial History of Our English Bible p. 43). And yet for all its revisions and editions many mistranslations still exist today within the text (though they are generally minor). The problem is that while the translators themselves were the best of their time they were working with defective tools. Their knowledge of the ancient languages that they sought to translate was insufficient regarding verb tenses and idioms. They also had no access to materials that would help them understand the dialect of the Greek of the New Testament. The three most ancient and greatest Greek manuscripts were as of yet unavailable to the King James translators.

codex_sinaiticusSo why do so many persist in using it? For some it is comfort and ease. They have been using it all their lives and can’t imagine switching to another translation. They struggle with the idea of a new translation (as so many struggled to accept the King James translation when it was published). For others it is the misinformation that the KJV remains the best possible translation. That is a farce but not a destructive one as long as it is not held as a means to judge others. Even so it is a farce that should be done away with.

Another reason one might persist in using the KJV is the (almost laughable) belief that every modern translation is of the devil or irreparably flawed. I will ignore the charge that new translations are the work of the devil because it is as preposterous as it is ignorant. Let me simply address one example of the concern that modern translations are irreparably flawed. Not long ago I heard a good man question the trustworthiness of the English Standard Version because it was based on the RSV (a translation not held in high esteem). That the ESV utilized the RSV at all was seen as a fatal flaw and a reason to continue using the KJV. And yet the KJV itself was based on the Bishops’ Bible, a translation initiated and overseen by the Romanist Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. The truth that I am pointing out is that we do not judge a translation solely on what lies behind it, but upon its faithfulness to the original text of scripture. In that regard both the ESV in our time (as well as many other fine translations) and the KJV in its time are faithful and dependent. Therefore I am thankful for the KJV as I thankfully move past the KJV.

In writing all this I have failed to address a primary concern: What should motivate us in choosing a translation?

Here are a couple short but excellent resources on the subject:

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3 comments

  1. Kendall, I’m one of those old folks who still loves my KJV. It’s the one I use the most, and it’s the one I’ve memorized down through the years. However, I don’t believe it is the only Bible that gets a person to heaven. I don’t believe God ever intended a specific version to be worshiped. It is heartbreaking to me how this and many other issues have caused divisions in churches, friendships, and even families. Satan is always busy.

    1. Thanks for the comment Linda! It really is sad that we let something so small as our preference for a particular translation rule our fellowship and form the basis for judgement of others. There are too many other real controversies that ought to be dealt with.

  2. Kendall,
    I find your article very interesting but, I have to say that your article is flawed.
    I found it interesting that in this blog about the Word of God that it no Bible quoted. Thats sad. How can one defend such a huge issue without saying what God has to say about it? Can I ask you, where is, “Thus sayeth the Lord..? ”
    I also found it interesting that you were quick to point out the so called “errors” of the translators of the KJV while leaving out of your article the unquestioned doctional correctness of the KJV. You also did not mention the doctrinal flaws found in modern translations.

    I would encourage you to remember that the Word of God is THE “real controversy.” It is the basis of what I believe. Our nation was founded upon the Word. The Bible is not a small preference or secondary issue.
    As God says,
    “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” Psalm 119:89
    “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”- Matthew 5:18

    Thomas Delp
    I Cor. 9:16

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