There has been much confusion and much ignorance regarding the King James Version of the Bible. Some Christians believe very strongly that the KJV is the only true Word of God in English, that all modern translations should be avoided, or, at least, that the KJV is superior to all other translations. In the defense of the KJV, much false information has been disseminated. Hopefully the following facts about the KJV will help clear up any confusion or faulty beliefs about the KJV. Also some of the weaknesses of the KJV will be exposed.
In 1604, King James I called a meeting (known as the Hampton Court Conference 1, p. 68; 2, p. 339) with representatives of the diverse religious groups to deal with the issue of religious toleration. It was there that the king authorized the making of a new translation to solve intense bickering among the diverse religious groups over which translation was the best. The king would allow the new translation only under the condition that he lay down the main requirements to be followed by the translators and that they be strictly observed. In 1607, the work officially began 1, p. 68. Fifty-four scholars were selected (47 actually participated 3 and were divided into six groups 1, p. 68; 3). Each group was assigned different portions of Scripture to be translated. Each group was to then pass its work to the other groups to be reviewed and revised. The work was completed in two years and nine months, and the first edition was printed in 1611 A.D. The KJV at that time was the best translation available and represented the best of biblical scholarship and literary excellence. Be that as it may, there are many valid reasons why it is no longer the best translation available today.
The area of textual basis seems to be a major sticking point with those who advocate the superiority of the KJV over all other translations. Before some of their main arguments are addressed, it is important to know a little about what texts the KJV translators had to work with during the time of their translation, what texts modern translators have to work with today, and to know a little about manuscript families.
At the time of translation, there were only four Hebrew manuscripts (Masoretic, so-called because these are Hebrew MSS that were copied by the Masoretes) of the Old Testament available to the translators 3. Only one of the five major uncial (Greek MS in all capital letters – indicating its age because this was the style of copying from the 1st – 9th centuries 1, pp. 16-17) manuscripts of the Greek New Testament was available in 1611 4. In total, the translators had only about 25 Greek manuscripts 4 to work with, and all of these originating no earlier than the 10th century AD (with the exception of the one uncial). 5
Since the KJV was completed, whole Greek MSS (manuscripts) of the NT dating back to the fourth century AD and partial MSS dating back to the early second century have been discovered 5 (e.g. Codex Sinaiticus – 340 AD, Codex Vaticanus – 350 AD, codex Alexandrius – 450 AD, Codex of Eaphream – 450 AD) 6; 1, pp. 18-22,72. We now have around 5,400 Greek manuscripts and fragments, some dating as early as the second century AD 4. Besides the discovery of many older Greek MSS, many older NT versions (translations of the NT into other languages) have been discovered since the time of the KJV. As far as the Old Testament goes, we have discovered a few Masoretic MSS of the OT that are a little older than those used by the KJV translators. Also, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. These contain portions of the Hebrew OT that date as far back as 200 BC. These predate the Hebrew MSS that the KJV translators had in their possession by over 1,000 years. Clearly, the textual evidence in our possession today greatly exceeds what the KJV translators had.
There are basically three major families of Greek MSS of the NT. They are called families because all of the MSS of a particular family share similar traits (phraseology, spelling, and grammatical peculiarities) and can presumably be traced back to the same MS copy. As a MS is copied, there are bound to be mistakes made by the scribe in copying. As copies of this copied MS are made, the later copies would share the same mistakes as the previous copy. These would form a family. All MSS can basically be traced down to three distinct groups/families. The KJV is based on the Textus Receptus (“received text” – This is a term coined to refer to the Greek texts printed by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and others. They are all based on and essentially similar to Erasmus’ printed text.). The “Textus Receptus” is a descendant of the Byzantine family [actually, this is not completely true because one of the half dozen MSS that Erasmus had to work with was independent of the Byzantine tradition] and, therefore shares many of the similarities of the other Byzantine MSS. The majority of our MSS belong to the Byzantine family. The earliest Byzantine MSS date only to around 500 AD. The number of MSS in agreement with each other does not necessarily equal textual certainty. There may be a thousand MSS in agreement with one another on a particular reading, but if they can all be traced back to the same MS copy which is believed to be in error on that particular reading, then the majority of MSS would be in error on this reading. However, most of our oldest manuscripts such as the Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Ephreami belong to the Alexandrian family. 6
The argument is often put forth (by those who try to establish the superiority of the KJV over modern translations) that the KJV is based on a better Greek text. This is probably one of their biggest gripes about modern translations. The argument usually goes something like this:
The KJV is based on the Textus Receptus. Modern translations rely heavily on three or four much older manuscripts (i.e., the codex Sinaiticus – 340 AD, codex Vaticanus – 350 AD, codex Alexandrius – 450 AD, and the Ephreami Rescriptus – 450 AD). Even though the Textus Receptus is of a later origin, it is considered to be more accurate than manuscripts of much earlier origin because it comes from the Byzantine family, which was used more by the churches. Think about it. The reason why we do not have any Byzantine texts of earlier origin is that since they were used more, they would naturally wear out quicker and not last as long. The reason why the older texts we have today lasted as long as they did is because they were not used by the churches as much (if at all) in their services, and this, no doubt, was because they weren’t considered as reliable. If you had two Bibles and you knew one to be more accurate than the other, which one would you use and which would you keep on the shelf? You’d use the more reliable one and shelve the less accurate one. Consequently, the less reliable one would last longer since it was kept on the shelf, and the more accurate one would wear out quicker since it got used more. In defense of the KJV, John Morris puts it this way: ‘The fact that these two manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) may have been older does not prove they are better. More likely, it indicates that they were set aside because of their numerous errors. Thus they would naturally last longer than the good manuscripts which were being used regularly’. 7
This argument is an attempt to judge the motives and intentions of those who last held the Bible MSS before they were rediscovered. It is based entirely on faulty logic and speculation and has no historic record as evidence to prove it. Through such speculation, the contrary can be quite effectively argued. One could say that the very reason an older MS was placed on the shelf is because it was thought to be the most accurate and, therefore, the most valuable. Instead of being employed for daily use, it was put away for safe-keeping. Since it was considered more accurate and more valuable, a different copy was made and put into common use while the more valuable MS was put back on the shelf for safe keeping. The valuable MS was eventually forgotten since it had been stored away for safe keeping. That is why the MS lasted so long. Before the printing press (especially near the time of the original writing of the NT), copies of the NT were rare because of the tedious and time-consuming process of hand copying. If I were alive at that time and had in my possession a MS I knew to be extremely accurate, I would take much better care of it than I would of a MS I deemed less accurate. Such is all speculation though.
The most logical and plausible conclusion regarding the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and other older MSS is that since they are older and, therefore, closer to the time of the original writings, they more accurately reflect the original documents of the NT (especially when in unanimous agreement with one another on a particular reading). Unlike the argument speculating on motives and intentions, this argument is based on the known nature of copying by hand and the effects that time gaps tend to have on the reproduction of a work of literature. The Greek New Testament was handed down to us through hand copying. Through the process of hand copying, there are bound to be errors made in copying. The passage of time and repeated copying only multiplies those errors (Have you ever played “telephone” – where people line up and the first person whispers something into the second person’s ear and so on down the line until you get to the last person?). This explains why no two MSS in our possession today are exactly the same. Since there are less copies and less time in between the older MSS and the original Bible documents, they are more likely to be the most accurate.
Others attempt to vilify such ancient MSS as the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus by saying that they were the works of heretics (false teachers) who purposefully mutilated the texts to support their false teaching. They claim that the Alexandrian church was the most heretical in its beliefs. Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and others originated from this church. Also, if you were to take just a few verses in the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Ephremi and compare the three MSS with each other, you would find many disagreements between the three. These are supposed to be the oldest and most reliable texts, but how can we trust them because they are in such disagreement with each other? What the KJV-only supporters fail to tell you, however, is that in over 99% of the cases, the “disagreements” have to do with mere differences in spelling or word order and in no way affect the actual meaning of the sentences. The KJV-only supporters say that the texts the KJV is based on are in complete agreement with each other. However, if you were to randomly take a few of the many Byzantine MSS and compare them with each other, you’d find just as many “disagreements”. So their claim that “the texts that the KJV translators had were in complete agreement” is just plain false. In fact, in the 1611 KJV, the translators actually point out in some of their marginal notes that the MSS in their possession did not agree with one another on certain readings 8; 9. Later, this issue will be addressed more.
KJV defenders also like to point to small textual variations between the TR (Textus Receptus) and older MSS through the use of verse comparisons between readings in the KJV and readings in modern versions (e.g., “the KJV has “judgment seat of Christ” for Rom. 14:10, while the NASB, based on older MSS, has “judgment seat of God.” By the way, this was not a conspiracy on the part of the NASB translators to de-emphasize Christ because they translate 2 Cor. 5:10 as “The judgment seat of Christ” in accordance with the most accurate MSS). Such variations in no way prove the Alexandrian texts to be the work of heretics. As already stated, the same kinds of variations are found in the dozen or so MSS used in the TR as well as among the hundreds of MSS in the Byzantine family, from which the TR was derived. If any early MS is suspected to be the work of heretics, it would be the Codex Bezae, the one and only early uncial (Greek MS in all capital letters) in the possession of the KJV translators! Neil R. Lightfoot has this to say about the Codex Bezae: “Codex Bezae has the dubious distinction of being the most curious of all the early manuscripts. Its additions and omissions at times put it in a class by itself. Beza (the discoverer who presented this MS to the University of Cambridge in 1581) himself looked with suspicion upon his manuscript, as did many of his contemporaries” 1, p. 23.
While there is no real evidence to suggest that the texts behind which the modern translations are based are unreliable, there is clear evidence to question the reliability of the TR, the text on which the KJV is based. Allow me to quote Daniel Wallace:
The Greek text which stands behind the KJV is demonstrably inferior in certain places. The man who edited the text was a humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that some monks were just about to publish their edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. Two places deserve special mention. In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek MS (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole NT anyway). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been. Secondly, for I John 5:7-8, Erasmus followed the majority of MSS in reading ‘there are three witnesses in heaven, the Spirit and the water and the blood.’ However, there was an uproar in some Roman Catholic circles because his text did not read ‘there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.’ Erasmus said that he did not put that in the text because he found no Greek MSS which had that reading. This implicit challenge – viz. [namely], that if he found such a reading in any Greek MS, he would put it in his text – did not go unnoticed. In 1520, a scribe at Oxford named Roy ‘made’ such a Greek MS (codex 61, now in Dublin). Erasmus’ third edition had the second reading [and so changed it] because such a Greek MS was ‘made to order’ to fill the challenge! To date, only a handful of Greek MSS have been discovered which have the Trinitarian formula in I John 5:7-8, though none of them is demonstrably earlier than the sixteenth century.” 10
Lightfoot confirms this in How We Got The Bible p. 37.
Ironically, one of the big gripes of many KJV-only advocates is that modern translations leave out the phrase “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit” from 1 John 5:7-8, as if it were some large conspiracy on the part of modern translators to destroy the teaching of the trinity (which it is not. There are plenty of places in the Bible to back up the teaching of the trinity). Evidently, they are unaware that the textual evidence simply does not support the Trinitarian reading of 1 John 5:7-8.
[Note: The above arguments over textual basis deal primarily with the New Testament. There is usually little debate about the textual basis behind the Old Testament of modern translations because both modern translations and the KJV use the Hebrew Masoretic texts (so-called because these are Hebrew MSS that were copied by the Masoretes) as their basis. However, the 1995 updated edition of the NASB makes use of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which would give it an advantage (in terms of textual basis) over the KJV, since some of the Dead Sea Scrolls predate by over 1,000 years the Hebrew MSS that the KJV translators had to work with.]
At the time of the KJV translation, there was no science of textual criticism 11. (Textual criticism is also known as lower criticism, the goal of which is to recover the exact words of the author’s original composition by comparison and study of all the available evidence. Scribes tend to make errors in copying and add words and phrases. “The New Testament text-critic seeks, in short, to weed out the chaff of bad readings from the genuine Greek text” 1, pp. 28-29). Because of the science of textual criticism and the discoveries of many older manuscripts, the Greek and Hebrew texts of today more closely represent the original Bible text than do the texts of King James’ day.
Keep in mind that in this whole discussion about differences and variations in the Greek MSS, we are dealing with a very small portion of the New Testament. There is very little in doubt as to what was part of the original autographs (original Bible documents written by the apostles and associates), and we can be confident in the Bible we have today regardless of what MS family it comes from. Of all the MSS and families, where there are significant differences (differences beyond mere spelling or orthography), these differences make up less than one half of one percent. We know where in our text these differences exist so that we can be absolutely certain about the authenticity of the rest of the text. Even where there are significant differences between MSS, none contradicts or alters any basic point of Christian doctrine 1; 9; 10. One can be saved and come to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith no matter which translation he reads.
Knowledge of the original languages
“In the seventeenth century, Greek and Hebrew had only recently become subjects of serious study” 1, p.73. Our knowledge of the original languages of the Bible (Greek and Hebrew) has dramatically increased since the time of the KJV translation. Many archaeological finds and recent discoveries have shed much light on the meanings of words and the rules of grammar in Greek and Hebrew 4. In 1611, the KJV translators only knew of classical Greek. The New Testament was written in Koine (common) Greek, so-called because it was the dialect of the common man in everyday usage at the time the NT was penned. It was the common trade language throughout the Roman Empire. The KJV translators knew very little about this, and as a result, were unable to accurately render some words and phrases of the NT 5; 6. For example, Mark 6:20 of the KJV says that Herod put John in prison and “observed him”, but we now know that the correct rendering is “kept him safe.” 1 Thes. 5:22 of the KJV has “Abstain from all appearance of evil”; whereas, the correct rendering is, “Abstain from every form of evil.” The KJV persistently renders “hell” for both “Hades” (the realm of the dead) and “Gehenna” (the punishment of fire), but there is a definite distinction in the meanings of the two words 1; 9. The KJV often confuses “teknon” (“child”) with “huios” (“son”) 9. In Matt. 23:24, the KJV has “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel,” but the Greek has “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” 10. Clearly, the KJV translators were in error here.
The character and beliefs of those behind the translations
KJV supporters often oppose modern translations because they say that these translations are the work of liberal scholars. They say that B. F. Wescott and F. J. A. Hort (two Cambridge scholars who compiled and published a Greek NT in 1881 that many modern translations rely in part on) held liberal, religious beliefs and were evolutionists. Some KJV-onlyites even go so far as to say that Wescott did not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, but expended his energies attacking and discrediting the Scripture. That Wescott held some faulty beliefs, will not be disputed, but that he didn’t believe the Bible to be the Word of God and attacked and discredited it is completely false, as can be seen from reading Wescott’s own writings (this is also proven in the article “B.F. Wescott and the Inspiration of the Bible” by James May). KJV-onlyites also claim that many of the people who were responsible for the modern translations like the NASB (New American Standard Version), the NIV (New International Version), and the RSV (Revised Standard Version) held liberal views; therefore, their works cannot be trusted to be accurate. In logic, this is an ad hominem attack (an attack against the person), a logical fallacy which renders the argument invalid. Just because a person has liberal, religious views, it does not mean that the person is incompetent as a Greek scholar or that he cannot do an accurate job of translating from one language into another or that he must necessarily include his views in his work.
Based on this logic, we should reject the KJV as well. First of all, the KJV relied heavily upon a printed edition of the Greek NT compiled by Desiderius Erasmus 9. Erasmus was a humanist and a Roman Catholic 12. Erasmus was into the occult – he was involved in kaballism and astrology 12. Erasmus also was openly opposed to evangelical Christianity 13.
Second, it was King James I who commissioned and authorized the KJV. He personally laid down the guidelines and instructions as to how the KJV was to be translated. King James was an open homosexual and often engaged in drinking binges 14. If anyone’s prejudices were likely to show up in a Bible translation, it would be King James’ prejudices, and it would be the KJV that would be corrupted as a result.
Third, the KJV was a product of the Church of England. The translators were members of the Church of England which taught such erroneous doctrines as infant baptism, baptism by sprinkling (instead of immersion), and baptismal regeneration (the teaching that faith in Christ as Savior is not enough to be forgiven of one’s sins and be saved, but that one must also be baptized).
A favorite argument that KJV supporters like to make is that modern translations corrupt the Word of God and attack such fundamental doctrines as the trinity, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, etc. They will pick out certain verses in the KJV and compare them with the same verses in modern translations (as has already been mentioned, but bears repeating in order to deal in depth with this specific issue) and then proceed to show where modern translations “omitted” and/or “changed” certain words. Such comparisons are then touted as “proof” that any translations made from modern Greek editions (like Wescott & Hort’s or Nestle’s, both of which take into consideration the older MSS) are corrupted. In the words of Gary Hudson, “Very rarely is the true manuscript evidence of such variations discussed by KJV-onlys; they simply assume a text is “wrong,” not because it differs from what may have been original, but because it differs from the TR/KJV!” 16
Here is an example of such verse comparison:
Matt. 19:16-17 in the KJV says, “And behold, one came, and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God…” The NASB (following the better manuscript evidence) reads: “And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good…’”
“See,” says the KJV defender, “They removed the word ‘good’ from ‘teacher’ and the words ‘that is God’. This is clear evidence of an attack on the Deity of Christ!”
This is hardly the case, as the NASB translates a parallel passage, Mark 10:17-18, “…A man ran up to him and knelt before him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’” See also Luke 18:18-19 in the NASB. The likely explanation for the different reading of Matt 19 in the KJV is that some later scribe noticed that it did not conform with the other parallel passages and attempted to “correct” it.
The KJV-only argument actually works both ways. By comparing verses to see what has been “omitted”, we can “prove” that the KJV “attacks” the Deity of Christ. The NASB in Jude 1:25 reads: “to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.” The KJV says, “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.” Not only does the TR/KJV leave out “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, it also leaves out the phrase “before all time.” “See, there it is, black-and-white proof that the KJV denies not only the Lordship of Christ, but also the doctrine of His pre-existence.” Such arguments are obviously ridiculous. Consequently, there is extremely good manuscript evidence to back up the NASB reading “before all time” (Gk. “pro pantos tou aionos”). Dr. Bruce Metzger states, “Several of the later uncials, as well as most minuscules (followed by the Textus Receptus), omit ‘pro pantos tou aionos’, perhaps because the expression did not seem to be appropriate in a doxology. The words are strongly supported by [Gk. MSS] Aleph, A, B, C, L, 5, 378, 436, 467, 623, 808, 1827, 1845, 1852, vg, and [NT versions] syr(h), cop(sa,bo), arm(eth), Ephraem.” 17
Besides having an inferior textual basis, another weakness of the KJV is the fact that the language it uses is quite outdated and, consequently, makes it very difficult for modern English speakers to comprehend. The English language has changed quite a bit since the writing of the KJV. As a result, the KJV is full of archaic words and phrases that are no longer in use today. Many are still intelligible, but are cumbersome and distracting. For example, “howbeit,” “holden,” “peradventure,” “wherefor,” “wheresoever,” “whither,” “whence,” “henceforth,” “aforetime,” “because that,” “for that,” “haply,” “verily,” “thee,” “thou,” “thine,” etc. Other words are hardly intelligible. For those who say they have no problem understanding the KJV, could they please tell me what the following words mean. I challenge them to find them in a modern dictionary:
- Agone – 1 Sam. 30:13
- Alamoth – 1 Chron. 15:20
- Almug – 1 Kings 10:11-12
- Asswage – Job 16:5
- Astonied – Ezra 9:4
- Bewray – Isa. 16:3; Prov. 29:24
- Cocle – Job 31:40
- Collop – Job 15:27
- Lowring – Matt. 16:3
- Neesing – Job 41:18
- Pressfat – Hag. 2:16
- Scall – Lev. 13:30-37; 14:54.
Grammar changes including sentence structure and word order also make reading the KJV cumbersome and difficult at times. Where we might say, “Don’t go there.”, the KJV might say something like, “Go ye not there.” In the KJV, “which” is used for “who” (e.g., Phil. 4:13 – “I can do all things though Christ which strengtheneth me.”), and “his” for “its” (e.g., Matt. 5:13 – “salt has lost his savour”). The KJV employs verbal forms we no longer use today (e.g., forms of “to speak” – speaketh, spake, hath spoken; forms of “to show” – shew, shewest, sheweth, hath shewed). Literally, hundreds of examples could be given.
Words have changed meaning
Not only is the KJV full of obsolete language, but many of the words in the KJV that are still being used today have dramatically changed meaning so as to make the KJV misleading, if not, unintelligible in some places. Below are a few examples.
- “Allege” meant “to produce as evidence or to prove” (e.g. Acts 17:3 – KJV). Now it means “to claim or assert without proof.”
- “To let” meant “to hinder” (e.g., 2 Thes. 2:7 – KJV). Now it means “to permit.”
- “To prevent” meant “to precede” (e.g., Matt. 17:25 – KJV). Now it means “to stop or hinder.”
- “Conversation” meant “manner of living” (e.g., Gal. 1:13 – KJV); now it means “informal discussion.” (Gundry)
- The KJV (in Matt. 17:25) has “Jesus prevented him”, which in modern English is, “Jesus spoke first to him.”
- The KJV (in Acts 21:15) has “we took up our carriages” for “we got ready.”
- The KJV (in Acts 28:13) has “we fetched a compass” for “we sailed around.”
- The KJV (in Lk. 5:17) has “doctors” for “teachers.”
- The KJV (in Acts 17:34) has “clave unto him” for “joined him.”
- The KJV (in Acts 17:3) has “must needs have” for “had to.” 1, pp. 74-75
The KJV has more than 300 such words. 18
One would be hard pressed to explain the meaning of “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12 – KJV) without consulting a commentary or a more modern translation. How about “ouches of gold” (Ex. 28:11 – KJV)?
Even if the KJV rested on a better text base (which it does not, as has been previously demonstrated. Besides if it did, the differences would be very minor anyway.), the use of archaic language would nullify many times over any advantages that a better text base would give it. What good does it do to have an accurate text base if you can’t understand the language?
KJV is a revision of previous translations
Many supporters of the KJV are unaware of the fact that it is not an original translation. The 1611 KJV was never intended to be a new translation, but merely a revision of previous translations. “The scholars were instructed to revise the Bishops’ Bible, changing it only where required by the original Hebrew or Greek, using earlier translations where these were closer to the originals. In practice, the translators made extensive use of the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, and the Rheims NT (a Catholic translation, by the way, which KJV-onlys love to hate).” 11
Here are some specific instructions issued by King James I to the translators:
“The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit. These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop’s Bible, viz. [namely] Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Wilchurche’s, Geneva” (Lewis’ History of the English Bible).
The KJV translators themselves state this in “The Translators to the Readers” (published in the preface of the original printing of the 1611 Authorized King James Version):
“Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one…”
The KJV was itself a revision of a previously existing version – the Bishop’s Bible (1602 ed.), which was, in turn, a revision of the Great Bible (1539), which was, in turn, a revision of Matthew’s Bible (1537), which, in turn, was a revision of Coverdale’s Bible (1535) and Tyndale’s Bible (1534) – Lightfoot, pp. 66-68. Neil R. Lightfoot in his book, How We Got the Bible, states that “nine-tenths of Tyndale’s translation is preserved today in the King James Version” (p. 70).
KJV of today is not the same as the 1611 edition
Many who say that only the KJV should be used in public worship and preaching sometimes point out that if we allowed for the use of more modern translations in public worship and preaching, then it would throw the churches into confusion and divide the body of Christ. The reason being, there are so many new translations that church members wouldn’t know which to choose and would have a hard time following the preacher if they happened to have a different version in their hands than the preacher was using. However, if we decided to use the KJV, we would have the same problem. The question would be: “Which King James Version should we use, the 1st 1611 edition, the 2nd 1611 ed., the 1613 ed., the 1629 ed., the 1638 ed., etc. ??!!”
Many KJV supporters are unaware of the fact that there have been numerous revisions of the 1611 KJV. The “Authorized Version” that most people hold in their hand is quite different from the “Authorized Version” published in 1611. There were revisions published in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1762, 1769, 1850, and others 3. The one in most common use today is basically the same as the 1769 edition. Since 1611, many errors have been found and corrected. (Yes, the original 1611 version actually had errors in it! There were so many that it was necessary to publish a new edition in 1613. The 1613 edition contained more than 400 variations from the original 1611 version 1. Since that time, many other errors have been found and corrected. “As early as 1659, William Kilborne found 20,000 errors in six KJV editions.” 4). Many changes have been made as well. Most involve changes in spelling, but there are many significant changes as well.
A few familiar passages:
- Matt. 5:18 (1611 KJV) – “Till heauen and earth passe, on iote or one title, shall in no wise passe from the law until all be fulfilled.”
- John 3:7 (1611 KJV) – “Marueile not that I saide vnto thee, Ye must be borne againe.”
- John 3:16 (1611 KJV) – “For God so loued ye world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.” (Mie spelle chek just uent crazie!)
Some significant changes:
- 2 Kings 11:10 (1611 KJV) – “in the temple.” Current KJV – “in the temple of the Lord.”
- 1 Chron. 7:5 (1611) – “were men of might.” Current KJV – “were men of valiant might.”
- Matt. 12:23 (1611) – “Is this the son of David?” Current KJV – “Is not this the son of David?”
- 1 John 5:12 (1611) – “he that hath not the Son, hath not the life.” Current KJV – “he that hath not the Son of God…”
KJV translators didn’t consider the translation infallible
Some KJV-only advocates go so far as to say that the KJV translators were inspired by God and that the KJV is the inerrant, inspired Word of God in English, the final authority. Some go even further and say that the KJV is the only true, inerrant, inspired Word of God and more accurate than the Greek text on which it stands! Obviously, such claims are unfounded (not to mention just plain ridiculous). As has already been pointed out many errors have been found in the KJV, necessitating many subsequent revisions. Not only that, but the 1611 KJV included the Apocrypha (pseudo-scriptures inserted by the Catholics into the OT in 1546 AD). So to say that the 1611 KJV is THE Word of God is to also say that the Apocryphal books are also the Word of God! No God-fearing Protestant or Jew would ever make this claim. This is an important point because KJV-onlys like to criticize older translations like the Latin Vulgate (Latin translation from the 4th cent.) and the Alexandrian Septuagint (Greek OT) because they contain the Apocrypha.
The translators were evidently unaware that they were inspired by God. Speaking of their translation in the preface of the 1611 KJV, “The Translators to the Readers,” the translators acknowledged: “For whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or Apostolic men, that is men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand?” (This is a rhetorical question, meaning in modern English: “Nothing that mere men do here on earth is perfect, with the exception of what the apostles and their associates did under the power of the Holy Spirit, who guided their hands so that what they wrote was infallible.”)
The original 1611 KJV contained marginal notes offering more precise or alternate translations (e.g., it indicates in Acts 19:35 that “a worshiper” is literally “the temple keeper” in Greek.) 9. The fact that the KJV translators often made use of marginal notes shows that they recognized that their work was not perfect and that they were often uncertain as to how words and verses should be translated into English 8; 9; 15. Many KJV supporters are unaware that there were such marginal notes in the original 1611 version. This is because all of the marginal notes and alternate readings have been removed from most modern editions of the KJV, along with the Apocrypha, the opening “Dedication to James I,” and “The Translators to the Reader” 8; 9.
One of the arguments put forth by the KJV-only crowd has to do with the marginal notes in modern translations. They claim that the use of marginal notes in modern translations is likely to destroy people’s confidence in the Bible. To put notes in the margin offering alternate meanings can cause confusion as to what God has to say to us. Even worse, to put in marginal notes that say things like “Many older MSS do not contain the words…” or “some MSS add…” can cause people to wonder if their Bible is trustworthy. It can cause them to doubt the Bible and maybe even doubt their faith. Some KJV-only people even insinuate evil intentions on the part of the translators. They say, “Modern translators put such footnotes in there in order to cause the reader to question and doubt God’s word.”
However, the KJV translators put the same kinds of marginal notes in the 1611 Authorized Version. For example, the 1611 KJV has a marginal note for Luke 17:36 that says, “This verse is wanting in most manuscripts.” For Luke 10:22, we see in the margin, “Most manuscripts add these words…” For Acts 25:26, “Some copies read…” For Eph. 6:9, James 2:18, 1 Pet. 2:21, 2 Pet. 2:2, and others, we see in the margin, “some copies read…” Many more examples could be given. Ironically, many of the marginal notes in the NASB are identical to the marginal notes in the 1611 KJV! So the very thing that KJV-onlys criticize modern translations for doing, the 1611 KJV is guilty of as well.
Of course, these claims are clearly false. The purpose of marginal notes is to inform the reader of the manuscript evidence and to give possible alternate meanings so that the reader can gain a greater understanding of God’s Word and be aware of the MS evidence. As has been pointed out, the KJV translators made extensive use of marginal notes for such purposes. There are over 8,000 marginal notes in the 1611 version, including the Apocrypha. In the OT, 4,111 of the marginal notes give the more literal meaning of the Hebrew or Aramaic, 2,156 give alternative translations, and 67 give variant readings. In the NT, 112 give the literal rendering of the Greek, 582 give alternative translations and 37 give variant readings. 19
KJV translators were in favor of having a current translation
The KJV translators recognized the rapidly changing nature of the English language. They also realized that our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is continually expanding. Their desire was to provide a translation that was most accurate and “understandable” to the people of their time. They wanted a translation that reflected the changes in the English language. They expressed this desire in their preface, “The Translators to the Readers”, “No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it” (emphases mine). [It is interesting to point out again that they recognized that there were likely to be errors in their translation (which there were), but that this was no reason to not have a current translation.] The translators also wrote: “But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very common people.” Ironically, they also argued against the use of obscure language which keeps a translation from being understood such as that used in the Roman Catholic’s English translation of 1582 15.
It is for these very same reasons that the KJV translators stated for making their version of the Bible that many modern translations are made today. Should the common man be denied a translation that makes the Bible more understandable to him?
KJV translators were in favor of having multiple translations
Many KJV supporters are opposed to the use of other translations in the churches and argue that it would throw the churches into confusion and divide the body of Christ. Perhaps, they should take a bit of advice from the men who authored the work they hold so dear. “The KJV translators quoted Augustine in their preface. ‘Variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures’” 15; 20. In defense of other translations, the KJV translators argued: “The translation of the Seventy differs from the original in many places, neither does it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty, yet which of the Apostles condemned it?” 15. Notice that the KJV translators actually defended the Septuagint (“The Seventy”, the Greek translation of the OT). Some KJV-only people say that the Septuagint is Satan’s work and a “fake” Bible (partly because it contains the Apocrypha). Perhaps they should realize that some of the passages in the NT that are quotes from the OT are actually taken from the Septuagint. And they should read what the KJV translators had to say about it themselves.
The KJV translators affirmed the validity of other English translations: “Now to the latter (the Puritans) we answer that we do not deny; nay we affirm, and avow that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay is the word of God (“the Translators to the Readers”).” To say that we should do away with all other English translations and use only the KJV is to go against the very reasoning of the KJV translators as to why there should be another translation, namely, the KJV.
KJV translators did not consider the KJV to be exempt from improvement
The translators wrote: “Truly (Good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that hath been our mark.” Their inclusion of the phrase “not justly to be excepted against” shows that the translators did not believe their work was exempt from improvement, or that another translation would not be necessary at a later time.
The KJV was not well received at first
KJV supporters are constantly attacking and resisting modern translations. They often point to the popularity of the KJV. It is interesting to note that the KJV was not well received at first. “The KJV was initially opposed by the Puritans, the Geneva Bible being preferred” 18. The Geneva Bible was actually the most “popular” Bible of the common people, until the 1640’s. Many questioned the new version as to its accuracy and as to the need for a new translation 15. The very same people who defend the KJV today would have probably opposed the KJV in 1611 had they been alive then.
The KJV of the Bible is not only not the only true version of God’s Word but, in fact, is not the best version either!
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