The King James Version: A calmly considered defence
As a young Christian I worked for a number of years in a warehouse. The work was monotonous, low paid and the conditions unpleasant. I looked forward to the fifteen-minute tea-break and a chance to sit down. Being surrounded by unbelievers it wasn't long before I grew tired of listening to their favourite topics of conversation: Football, TV, drunkenness and fornication! I rightly concluded that there must be a more edifying way of spending my fifteen-minutes, so I decided to use what free time I had, to read my Bible.
I got home from work and had a look around the house for a Bible that was small enough to fit in my pocket. I was using the NIV at the time and had taken a small NIV New Testament to work, but I really wanted to study the whole Bible. After some searching I found a Bible just the right size to fit in my jacket pocket. It just so happened to be an old King James (Authorized) Version that I had picked up in a second-hand Bookshop. It might interest you to know, that I saw no insurmountable obstacles in using the KJV. I was not in any sense paralyzed by such fears as:
- How am I ever going to understand the archaic Elizabethan (strictly speaking, it's Jacobean) language?
- Shouldn't I check with a reliable Textual Critic to see whether it's still an acceptable translation?
- Is it going to be culturally relevant enough to a young person like me?
- Will God be able to speak to me through it?
- Will I start praying "thee" and "thou?"
It was great; and whilst the language took a bit of getting used to, my mind simply adapted to the challenge and I got on with studying God's word. I was blissfully unaware of the controversy surrounding my choice of translation (hadn't my Grandma used the same version?) and was busy getting into the Scriptures. Whilst I still used the NIV as my main Bible, I began to have reservations about the political correctness of its text. It often strove to be (unnecessarily) non-gender specific, it sometimes used ambiguous or woolly phrases etc.
I was advised to "try a more literal translation" than the NIV. I wasn't sure which one would fit that description so I experimented with a few different ones; the RSV, NRSV, and finally the NKJV. I liked the NKJV very much, but often I would find myself comparing verses with the old KJV and asking myself, so how is this modern rendering of the verses better and why are there changes that go beyond simply updating? More and more I was discovering that, archaic language aside, the KJV was still clearer and stronger than its modern "successor."
For most people (although not all) who use the KJV, that is their position. They like it as a translation and they are busy studying it, reading it, memorizing it and resting on its promises. Many KJV users (although not all) are not going around trying to ram it down peoples' throats. The irony is that, more often than not, they are being required to defend their translation against other Christians, who level criticisms which are sadly based on ignorance.
- "Why are you using that old translation, it's flawed!"
- "Modern translations have replaced the AV!"
- "The 1611 King James is not as accurate to the Greek Text!"
The last one is one of my personal favourites. Wait for the stony silence, when you ask them which particular Greek Text they are referring to!
Sometimes the KJV is mocked as being the translation of Red-necks, bigots and the not-too-bright. It is surely ironic that the same critics also claim that the KJV is "difficult to read" and "hard to understand!"
- In one sense, it seems preposterous to me to have to make a defence for a translation that has:
- Been the bulwark of the English-speaking church for the past four-hundred years.
- Spawned countless Bible Colleges and Seminaries.
- Brought millions of people to Christ.
- Been the foundational building block of missions, the world over.
- Been the spiritual sword of such luminaries as, Jonathan Edwards, DL Moody, John and Charles Wesley, CH Spurgeon, John Bunyan, William Booth, A.W. Tozer etc.
- Been the chosen translation of Christians of all ages and backgrounds, not just in the 17th century; but right up to the present day.
- Is still, four-hundred years later, the world's number one bestselling version of the Bible!
But perhaps it is a sign of the times.
Allow me to make a defence for my preferred translation of the Bible that will incorporate some of the issues involved. I hope you will find it informative and interesting.
What is so good about the King James (AV) Bible?
One of the reasons that I use this translation is that it utilizes superior texts. Namely, the Textus Receptus (TR) and the Masoretic Text (MT.)
Superiority of the TR
Textus Receptus (Latin: "received text") is the name retroactively given to the succession of printed Greek language texts of the New Testament which constituted the textual base for the original German Luther Bible, for the translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale (1526), Myles Coverdale's Bible (1535), Matthew's Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), The Geneva Bible (1557 - 60), The Bishops' Bible (1568), and the King James Version (1611), and for most other Reformation-era New Testament translations throughout Western and Central Europe. The Textus Receptus has been translated into hundreds of languages.The origin of the term "Textus Receptus" comes from the publisher's preface to the 1633 edition produced by Abraham Elzevir and his nephew Bonaventure who were printers at Leiden:
Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum: in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus. Translated "so you hold the text, now received by all, in which nothing corrupt."
The two words, "textum" and "receptum", were modified from the accusative to the nominative case to render textus receptus. Over time, this term has been retroactively applied to Erasmus' editions, as his work served as the basis of others that followed. Many supporters of the Textus Receptus will name any manuscript which agrees with the Textus Receptus Greek as a "Textus Receptus" type manuscript. This type of association can also apply to early church quotations and language versions.
Textus Receptus type manuscripts and versions have existed as the majority of texts for almost 2000 years.
It has often been charged by the proponents of the Critical Text position that Erasmus did not have access to the vast number of manuscripts available today, and thus confined his researches to a mere four or five Greek minuscules.
This position, is, of course, contravened by historical fact. Erasmus was a man engaged continually in dissertation with other scholars and a man of wide-ranging personal correspondence, who travelled, visiting libraries and centres of learning and did all that was necessary to discover everything possible about the Bible which he loved.
"He [Erasmus] was ever at work, visiting libraries, searching in every nook and corner for the profitable. He was ever collecting, comparing, writing and publishing. ... He classified the Greek manuscripts and read the Fathers." (David Otis Fuller, Is the KJV Nearest to the Original Autographs?)
"Hence although the Textus Receptus was based mainly on the manuscripts which Erasmus found at Basel, it also included readings taken from others to which he had access. It agreed with the common faith because it was founded on manuscripts which in the providence of God were readily available." (Dr. Edward F. Hills Th.D., Th.M.)
"Nothing was more important at the dawn of the Reformation than the publication of the Testament of Jesus Christ in the original language. Never had Erasmus worked so carefully. 'If I told what sweat it cost me, no one would believe me.' He had collated many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and was surrounded by all the commentaries and translations, by the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine. ... He had investigated the texts according to the principles of sacred criticism. When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary, he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Cecolampadius. Nothing without Theseus, said he of the latter, making use of a Greek proverb." (J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, New York: Hurst & Company, 1835, Vol. 5, p. 157.)
Greek manuscript evidences point to a Byzantine/Textus Receptus majority:
- 85% of papyri used Textus Receptus, only 13 represent the text of Westcott-Hort
- 97% of uncial manuscripts used Textus Receptus, only 9 manuscripts used text of WH
- 99% of minuscule manuscripts used Textus Receptus, only 23 used text WH
Superiority of the MT
The current received text finally achieved predominance through the reputation of the Masoretes, schools of scribes and Torah scholars working between the 7th and 11th centuries, based primarily in Palestine in the cities of Tiberias and Jerusalem, and in Babylonia. These schools developed such prestige for the accuracy and error-control of their copying techniques that their texts established an authority beyond all others. Differences remained, sometimes bolstered by systematic local differences in pronunciation and cantillation. Every locality, following the tradition of its school, had a standard codex embodying its readings. In Babylonia the school of Sura differed from that of Nehardea; and similar differences existed in the schools of the Land of Israel as against that at Tiberias, which in later times increasingly became the chief seat of learning. In this period living tradition ceased, and the Masoretes in preparing their codices usually followed the one school or the other, examining, however, standard codices of other schools and noting their differences.
In classical antiquity, copyists were paid for their work according to the number of stichs (lines of verse). As the prose books of the Bible were hardly ever written in stichs, the copyists, in order to estimate the amount of work, had to count the letters. For the Masoretic Text, such statistical information also ensured accuracy in the transmission of the text, with the production of subsequent copies that were done by hand.
It is fitting that God allowed these ancient scriptures to be preserved by the Hebrew Masoretes, as Paul puts it, "What advantage hath the Jew?...Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Romans 3:2)
Superiority of the Translators
"The population from which scholars can now be drawn is much larger than in the seventeenth century, but it would be difficult now to bring together a group of more than fifty scholars with the range of languages and knowledge of other disciplines that characterized the KJB Translators." (Bible - The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 Oxford, Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press 2010.)
The task of translation was undertaken by 47 scholars, although 54 were originally approved. All were Bible believing Christians and the finest experts in ancient languages of their day. All of the Translators were university graduates with Oxford and Cambridge claiming nearly equal numbers of them as alumni. Some believed in pre-destination and Limited Atonement as taught by John Calvin, while others believed in Free Will and Unlimited Atonement as taught by Jacobus Arminius. They all had a familiarity with Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and cognate languages.
The scholars worked in six committees, two based in each of the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and Westminster. The committees included scholars with Puritan sympathies, as well as Churchmen; all were Protestants. Forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible were specially printed so that the agreed changes of each committee could be recorded in the margins. The committees worked on certain parts separately and the drafts produced by each committee were then compared and revised for harmony with each other.
"The King James Bible is a product of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. The special providential hand of God was clearly at work at the time of the Reformation not only in the separation of the true church from the false church, but also in the invention of the printing press, the renewed interest in the study of the original languages, the identification of the purest Greek Text (Textus Receptus) which became the source text for the KJV. These products of the Protestant Reformation bear the divine imprimatur." (Dr. Jeffrey Khoo - Dean Burgon Society.)
So you're King James Only?
Using the KJV does not necessarily make one "KJV Only." I believe in free-will and that includes the freedom for individuals to use whatever Bible they wish. Hey, it's a free country (sort of)! In fact that has been the essence of the point I have been making all along. Nevertheless, what I have outlined here are good, historical, translational and intelligently robust reasons for choosing the KJV.
I do not believe that the KJV has replaced the Greek and Hebrew texts, but rather that it is a more accurate and a fuller translation of them, not least because it retains many of the verses that are left out of so many Modern Versions.
As a church we hold to a position that has sometimes been called "King James Preferred."