Over the past few years, the controversy surrounding only using the KJV has grown into a full battle within the Church world. First, let me state, we have much more significant battles to fight…mainly the devil and not each other. Let me also state that I have no problem with those who choose to use the KJV exclusively. I believe it is a matter of preference. Let me further state, by way of transparency, that I study, preach and teach from many translations/versions, including NLT, NIV, KJV, NKJV, TPT, The Message, and the NASB.
My frustration stems from the fundamental lack of understanding that most Christians have regarding the KJV’s origins. So I will begin with a bit of background. There were only the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek translation, and the Vulgate, a Latin translation in ancient times. After the Great Schism of the Catholic Church in 1054, the church split between east and west. If we put this into modern terms, we went from having a Catholic Church to a Roman Catholic (West) and an Orthodox Church (East). The west using the Vulgate or Latin translation, and the east using the Septuagint or Greek translation….this is a general statement. Other translations within the Orthodox Church came along as the church spread into Armenia, Russia, and other places.
Jumping ahead to the Reformation of 1517, the Roman Catholic Church controlled Europe spiritually and politically. There is a quote historians use, “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Such is the case with the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther, a Catholic Priest, felt that His faith was missing something and he saw a need to deal with corruption in the church. Leading him to post his 95 theses on the Wittenberg door. This act began the reformation and the Protestant movement.
With this came many practical challenges, including the lack of translations in the vernacular of the ordinary person. Luther immediately, if not beforehand, began a translation of the Bible into German. Others followed in their native tongue. The reformation came to England in 1531 following the denial of the Pope to grant an annulment to King Henry VIII. Thus the Church of England was born. Here again, there was no translation in the ordinary person’s language, in this case, English.
At the same time as the establishing of the Church of England, reformation took hold in other areas such as Switzerland. Shortly after, William Tyndale and others translated early English versions, most notably the Coverdale Bible and the Matthew Bible. The Geneva Bible came about under the direction of John Calvin and was translated by English scholars living in Geneva. Large portions of this translation borrowed from the earlier versions.
Following the death of Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, her cousin James I (James IV of Scotland) ascended to the throne. King James felt that there was still a need for a Bible mass-produced within England. So in 1604, he put together a group of scholars working in England to develop the King James Version. It should be noted that this version was written in Old English, and no modern English speaker could read it.
Over the next several years, the translation was completed and mass-produced for the Church of England. Some may wonder how it became more dominant than the Geneva Bible. Essentially by an edict of the King, who was also the legal head of the Church. A KJV Bible was ordered to be placed in every Anglican (Church of England) Church. Thus, over time, the KJV became the Bible of the people.
Here we need to address a few questions that KJV-only proponents commonly raise. First, they say it is the only authoritative Word of God. To say this is both ignorant and arrogant. I mean this, no one in France uses the KJV, nor does anyone in any other place in the world that is not English-speaking. So essentially, they say that only English speakers have the “real” Word.
Second, as much as we would like to think of this Bible translated into English, I refer back to my previous statement; it was translated into Old English, a foreign language to you and me. So you are not reading the original. You are reading a translation or version of the original.
Third, many of the men involved in this translation were not Godly men…please understand that this does not negate the fact that it is an accurate translation, but it does bring into question the KJV only motivation. King James was an evil King…morally. I am a descendant of this King; unfortunately, his daughter was born to a scullery maid or someone, not his wife. Many historians believe that King James was also a bisexual. There are many reasons for this belief. Sir Walter Raleigh stated, “King Elizabeth has been succeeded by Queen James.” Again, I reiterate that the King was immoral does not mean that the KJV is not a correct translation. The King only commissioned it.
When you translate the most remarkable book of Poems ever complied, who would you use but the greatest Poet? It is long believed that William Shakespeare was the one that translated the book of Psalms. He possibly even signed his name in Psalm 46, where verse 3 uses the word “shake” and verse 9 uses the word “spear.” If this is indeed the case, the person that translated the Psalms was a womanizing crossdresser. Again, this does not make the Psalms an inaccurate translation, but it could question some of the Spiritual verbiage used. When an ungodly man translates a Godly text, what is the result? It may be an accurate translation that MAY lack spiritual insight.
Fourth, the purpose of the KJV was to put a readable translation into the hands of each Parish in the English-speaking world. It was to be in the language of the people. We no longer speak in King James English. Maintaining that we must study the Word of God in a dialect that is no longer understandable is asinine. For people to fall in love with the God of the Bible, they must understand its truths. Language changes, even in my lifetime. Even more so over the past 500 years.
By looking at the history of the KJV Bible, the argument can be made against the KJV as the only viable translation. I stand on my previous statement if you prefer the KJV use it, but do not belittle the other versions. At least until you study where it came from and how translations come about. Our modern translations are based on the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. They do not go to the KJV and modernize the language. They go to the original. As in the NIV or the NKJV, Versions are language modernizations of older texts; the NKJV is based on the KJV and the NIV off of the International Version.
In the end, all of our modern translations are very accurate. In 1947 the Great Isaiah scroll was discovered near the Dead Sea. As they compared this scroll with our modern versions, very few differences were found. The majority of these were minor tenses or punctuation. This scroll probably predates Christ, so it shows that God preserves His Word despite years, man, or anything else.
Our knowledge of ancient Hebrew and Greek has improved with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient text and artifacts. So, where the KJV may use one correct word, the NIV may use another word that is also correct but clearer. Just a note here many scholars and universities use the NASB and consider it to be the most accurate translation available. Some versions translate phrase for phrase. The NASB is word for word, making it longer and wordier as Hebrew does not always translate word for word.
Finally, I want to look at one of the main arguments against modern translations, the NIV in particular. Many KJV advocates do not like the NIV because it adds or leaves out verses. On careful examination and further study, the NIV will notate all places where this occurs, in most with an explanation. When the NIV was translated, scholars looked at the prevalence of these verses in ancient texts. Meaning, if a verse did not appear in the most ancient text, it was placed as a footnote but not in the main text. In the same way, if a verse or word was left out of the KJV but appeared in most copies of the ancient text, the word was added with a footnote.
In the end, this is a matter of preference. The Word of God is the word of God, whether you pick up a copy of the La Bible du Semeur in France, the KJV in England, an NIV in America, or a Chinese Union Version in China. God’s word is accurate. He, the God of the Bible, declared:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (NIV)
Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. (NLT)
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (KJV)
Edited and updated from a blog I wrote in 2014.
Evans, Craig, The Dead Sea Scrolls, B&H Publishing, 2010
Gonzalez, Justo L., The Story of Christianity Volume 2, Harper Collins, 1985.
Wilson, Daniel, The People’s Bible, Lion Hudson, 2010.
http://www.en.wikipedia.org (used for date verification only)