The King James Only debate.
The purpose of this study is not to disprove any translation but rather to look realistically at the facts and give the reader clear information and clear up misinformation so we are informed concerning this controversial issue. I realize that this topic can be emotionally charged and that some will never read this beyond the point where ideas that are held sacred begin to be challenged. Even so, this is a worthy topic and hopefully others will benefit from this information.
This first part will address the history behind the KJV debate and part 2 will look at the questionable scriptures that are used as evidence against modern translations. If you have heard or read about the New Age and pagan influences that polluted the modern translations, you my find interest in part 2.
I have heard dozens of arguments claiming the KJV is the only true word of God. The arguments range from claims that God only allows one translation per language up to the claim that modern versions are part of a New Age conspiracy. Rarely will the KJV be compared to the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic that the scriptures are translated from. Instead, all translations are compared only to the KJV. Some go as far as to claim that the KJV writers corrected the errors in the Greek and therefore it has become the standard of measure. Shortly we will look at the examples that claim to be errors in the NKJV and examine these in detail, but first I want to take a moment to address the claims I mentioned above.
Not the First
Some die-hard KJV only supporters that I have encountered claim that God only ordains one translation per language and that once God has given scripture to a language, no other translations are necessary. The KJV is an excellent translation, but it is not the first English translation. Here is a list of early English translations of the Bible:
- Tyndale’s English New Testament 1525 AD
- Coverdale Bible (first complete English Bible) 1535 AD
- Matthews Bible 1537
- Great Bible (the first Authorized version) 1539
- Geneva Bible 1560
- Bishop’s Bible 1568, intended to replace the Geneva Bible which had become too popular according to Church authorities.
- Douay-Rheims 1582, first Catholic version of the New Testament
- King James Version with Apocrypha 1611
Tyndale was the first English translator. Prior to 1525, the Bible was primarily available in Latin and out of the hands of the common man. The church establishment greatly opposed Tyndale’s effort and he suffered persecution for his commitment. King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas Moore were enraged over Tyndale’s unauthorized effort and sought to prosecute him. He fled and remained on the run in various countries in Europe while he translated the scriptures into English. He was eventually captured and martyred in 1536. His translation paved the way for the reformation and influenced later translations of the Bible.
KJV Corrected the Original
I also have repeatedly heard the claim that the KJV translators were inspired by the Holy Spirit and corrected the errors in the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic text. In reality, the translators borrowed information and used work from those before them. This is perfectly acceptable in writing as long as credit is giving to those who have done the work. Biblical historian Laura H. Wild states:
A few of Wycliffe’s phrases are here [in the KJV], but Tyndale is largely responsible for the Bishops’ Bible which was used as its foundation. [Through the Great Bible] Coverdale put his delicate touch on [the KJV, and] the sturdy tone of the Geneva Text and the sonorous Latinisms of the Rhemish New Testament modified certain sentences. But Tyndale was the genius who penetrated to the very heart of the Scripture, finding priceless treasures, then sent it on its way in English waters like a ship laden with life-giving fruits.
This agrees with the title pages written by the translators of the 1611 printing of the KJV:
The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and reuised, by his Majesties speciall Commandement. Appointed to be read in Churches.
The translators themselves testify that they carefully compared their work with the work of the text available to them and the work of former translators. They did not supernaturally begin to write, but they studied all available information and put together the best possible translation by using well respected scholars and previous work of others. Once they finished the translation, they did not rush it to press, but read the text and argued among themselves for months over the correct wording and hashed out their educated assumptions as to the meaning of each line of text.
Even after agreeing on a translation, they did not claim infallibility or divine accomplishment. There were seventeen thousand cross references and marginal notes, which dealt solely with linguistic and textual matters such as alternative renderings or variant readings from other manuscript sources. As we will discuss a bit later, there are multiple words that can be rendered from most Greek or Hebrew words. Based on the context of the passage, historical settings and other variables a translator assumes the meaning that was intended.
Another consideration is that most of the text the King James Version draws upon is Latin. In the 19th century, archaeology unveiled thousands of 1st and 2nd century manuscripts that were not available in the 1500s and 1600s.
The 1611 version of the KJV had 80 books because it was published with the Catholic Apocrypha. If someone demands that the work of the 1611 translators were inspired by God and are infallible, they must also accept the Catholic Apocrypha or stand in contradiction of their own claims. In reality, the KJV translators were a part of the established church of the day and translated the entire church Bible including the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha was not accepted as canonical but was used by the established church from around the 3rd century until the Reformation period and is still accepted in the Catholic Church today. However, the point to be noted is that the KJV only debate claims that the 1611 translation was infallible, yet rejects the Apocrypha. Both cannot be true.
Modern Translations are Corrupt
One of the common arguments we hear today is that the modern translations are a corruption of God’s word. Ironically, this is exactly what the church said about the 1611 version of the KJV. Some critics argued that the translators relied too much on the Greek Septuagint rather than the original Hebrew. The Septuagint was the project of 70 Jewish scholars that translated the Old Testament into Greek around 400 BC. Many called the translators ‘blasphemers’ and “damnable corruptors” of God’s word. The Puritans rejected the KJV because it was translated by ‘high church’ people whom they eyed with suspicion. They remained loyal to the Geneva Bible translation.
One of the highest criticism came from a well respected Bible scholar named Hugh Broughton. He published a vicious critical analysis against the completed KJV calling the translators timid and afraid to publish strong words. He claimed that they placed better renderings of words in the marginal notes rather than in the read text. He said they were answer on the Day of Judgment for their slackness and use of idle words. He said that the organizer of the translation, Richard Bancroft, would find his eternal abode in hell.
Errors and Corrections
In 1611, two versions of the KJV made it to press. This created a controversy that was not resolved until the Oxford Standard Edition was published in 1769. This version is the standard that most people use today. One example of the two varying 1611 versions is Ruth 3:15. One printing read, “he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and he [Boaz] went into the city.” The other read, “and she [Ruth] went into the city.” The text allows for both and since the context is not completely clear, modern translators still are divided on which is accurate.
In 1613 over 300 variants were corrected from the original 1611 version. One printing of the KJV had one of the 10 commandments which read, “thou shalt commit adultery. This was soon labeled the “wicked Bible”. In another printing, the error was made in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God,” and was soon called the Unrighteous Bible. In 1702 the England Puritan leader said that “scandalous errors” has affronted the Holy Bible itself.
The 1611 has undergone various revisions that intended to improve the text. For example, Matthew 16:16 in the 1611 version said, “Thou art Christ” and was revised to read, “Though art the Christ”. Mark 5:6 said, “He came and worshiped” in 1611 but was revised to read, “he ran and worshiped”. As you can see, these changes are minor and do not alter the doctrine, but it does show that even the translators and publishers of the KJV recognized the need to sharpen the translation for accuracy and readability. Another example of modernizing for the reader is Psalm 23. Here is the 1611 edition of this passage:
The LORD is my shepheard, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie downe in greene pastures: he leadeth mee beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soule: he leadeth me in the pathes of righteousness, for his names sake.
Yea, though I walke through the valley of the shadowe of death, I will feare no euill: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staffe, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oyle, my cuppe runneth ouer.
Surely goodnes and mercie shall followe me all the daies of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for euer.
It is not uncommon for people to refer to the KJV as the 1611 Authorized version, but this is not entirely accurate. It is based on the 1611 version, but it has been revised repeatedly from 1611 until 1769 when Oxford University published the Oxford Standard edition that was accepted and remains until today.