This is a question which I’m sure, is a familiar question to almost every teacher or preacher of the Word of God and indeed a question most Christians have been asked or at least asked themselves at some point in their Christian journey. And I know this is a question which has been at the centre of many debates within the Christian churches for many years.
There are, for instance, many believers who are utterly convinced that there is one version which outshines and surpasses, and which will survive all others, and that is the revered K.J.V, that is the ‘King James Version’, and they advance what they regard as undeniable reasons for adopting this position.
1. The K.J.V, is the oldest of the English versions in use today, having stood the test of time. It has been with us for almost 400 years and its very durability is an eloquent testimony to its worth.
2. It’s still the most widely used and test loved of all the English versions.
3. It survived the early attempts of Roman Catholicism, made to prevent it from reaching the hands of the people, and has survived the subsequent attacks that have been made upon it by critics and unbelievers of all kinds.
4. The beauty of its English style is unsurpassed by anything modern scholars have produced, and, even from a merely literary point of view, it must be regarded as one of the greatest treasures of English literature.
Furthermore, enthusiastic advocates of the K.J.V. have sometimes claimed that it is the most accurate version yet to be produced from the original biblical languages. And, they point out, after all, is it not ‘the Authorized Version’? This is a notion which, in the thinking of some, must surely give it special status.
Now let me, say this, I know lots of Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who love the K.J.V. It’s the Bible version with which they were brought up with and in which, for many of them their memory work was done, and I personally respect them for that. The reason I’m saying this is because I wouldn’t like anyone to come to the conclusion that I’m in any shape or form ‘anti-K.J.V’.
Someone said that to ask this question is rather like asking, ‘which car should I drive?’ The answer is that the car you should choose depends on the use you have in mind for it. In other words, if you have little interest in car mechanics and simply want a vehicle that will transport you from ‘a’ to ‘b’ there is a vast range of suitable vehicles from which to choose. But, if you are a mechanically-minded car enthusiast, and you want a more technically-advanced, high-performance sort of vehicle, these too, are readily available. The choice is yours!
1. Think about the question in relation to personal Bible study and private devotion.
In other words, think about your spiritual needs. There are some versions that present the Scriptures in very plain and simple language which many readers find satisfactory because this meets their needs, and there are other versions that are clearly designed to meet the requirements of the more serious Bible student, who is prepared to make the effort to discover the deeper, subtler shades of meaning that are to be found in the vast richness of God’s Word.
A good friend of mine once told me that an Elder in a congregation once asked him, do you think that an Elder should know Greek? His reply was ‘yes if he wants to.’
In other words, among the many versions, there are some that offer the ‘sincere milk’ of the word for the young in the faith, and there are others which provide ‘strong meat’ for those of greater experience and riper years. There is a version to meet the need of each individual. Not everyone wishes to study the original Greek text but everyone can derive a blessing from the Scriptures in good, simple English.
2. If it’s a question concerning the choice of the version most suitable for congregational use, that is, for the reading of the Scriptures in public worship, I suggest that this is where sound judgment and sanctified common sense, need to be used.
Leaders of congregations should reach a carefully considered decision as to which version will be of the greatest benefit to those who listen when the Scriptures are read in service, and, in my view, this would mean ruling out the use of unfamiliar or unusual versions which the congregation cannot follow and to which it cannot relate.
If the majority of the church members are most familiar with the K.J.V, so be it! Read from the K.J.V.! But if the leadership decides to use a different, more modern version, I suggest that it has the responsibility to provide enough copies of that version to enable the congregation to follow the reading. It’s most frustrating and confusing when the reader has chosen an unfamiliar and little-used version of the Scriptures.
Having said all of this, I must point out that, no matter which version we use, in private or in public, we are likely to find things which make us feel uncomfortable, and perhaps even downright annoyed! But, if you think about it, the reason why some versions disappoint is obvious.
We acknowledge that the books of both the Old and New Testaments were originally written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and what they wrote was the infallible Word of God. But we must also recognise that the men who translated the original Scriptures into English in order to produce the versions we use today, were not inspired, and therefore the work they published inevitably contains the evidence of human fallibility.
Indeed, the translators themselves have always been the first to acknowledge their own limitations. I know of only one exception to this. The exception is Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. My friend has a Bible, published in 1867, which, on its title-page claims to be, ‘The Holy Scriptures, Translated and Corrected by the Spirit of Revelation; by Joseph Smith, Jr., The Seer’
I should point out that Joseph did not have access to either Hebrew or Greek manuscripts from which to translate. Furthermore, even if he had, there remained an insurmountable problem. Orson Pratt whom they called ‘The Apostle Paul of Mormonism’ even admitted, that the Prophet ‘knew neither Hebrew nor Greek!’
So, there are no divinely, inspired translations, not even the revered K.J.V. escapes this fact, and we are unwise if we think otherwise.
The version we know as the ‘King James Version’ was not the first English version to be produced, by any means. The names of Wycliffe and Tyndale readily spring to mind. There was, among the better-known versions, the ‘The Great Bible,’ ‘great’ because of its size. This was a translation made by Miles Coverdale on the orders of Thomas Cromwell and published in 1532, which, coincidentally, was the year in which Thomas became the ‘Lord Great Chamberlain’ to Henry 8th.
It was this ‘Great Bible’ that was securely chained in each parish church and which could be read freely by anyone who had the ability to read.
I mention this version because this was the Bible which, the following year, when a new edition was printed, stated on its title page, ‘This is the Bible appointed to the use of the churches’.
It’s in this sense that it became ‘the authorized version’, but there is no historical evidence to show that any English version was ever ‘authorized’ by either King or parliament, and, certainly, none was ever ‘divinely authorised’!
It’s not surprising, therefore, that when, in 1611, the ‘K.J.V.’ was produced, it also carried the same declaration on its title page, indicating that it was ‘permissible to read it in churches’.
Furthermore, we should note that the connection between the 1611 version and King James himself was quite tenuous! He neither commanded the translation to be made, nor did he provide any money to pay for the work to be done!
James, the 1st of England, but the 6th of Scotland, merely agreed to a proposal made by John Reynolds during the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, that, in view of the general dissatisfaction being expressed with existing versions, a new translation should be made, and it was this new Bible that made its appearance in 1611 which perpetuates the name of King James.
It’s recorded that the King expressed the hope that the new Bible would be a work, ‘of such excellence that the entire church would be bound to it and to no other.’
But this proved to be a vain hope. There was great controversy, and a great deal of criticism expressed because the new version simply did not please the many divisions that existed both inside and outside of the Church of England. And it most certainly did not please the church of Rome, whose leaders declared, ‘If it must be translated into English, Catholics are the fittest to do it.’
There is no doubt that the K.J.V. of 1611 was far from perfect. One scholar of that period, William Kilburn, declared in 1659, that in the six different revisions of the K.J.V. made during the 1650s, he had found no fewer than 20,000 errors. Another critic, Hugh Broughton, said after examining the translation, that it was ‘so poorly done that it would grieve him as long as he lived’.
No doubt most of these faults were trivial matters, probably printing and spelling errors, but there were also some serious faults, and the version passed through many more revisions before it was decided to produce what became known as ‘The English Revised Version’ of 1881.
What I find rather strange is that, although the K.J.V. of today is very different from the original 1611 edition, some of these textual errors remain. Look, for example at 1 Corinthians 13:5
Modern versions have correctly removed the word ‘easily’, because it is not found in the Greek text, and the ‘English Revised Version’ was the first from which the word was removed.
Another strange rendering is still found in the K.J.V. of Matthew 23:24, where we find, ‘strain at a gnat’, corrected, of course, in modern versions, to read, ‘strain out a gnat’.
I think many of us are also aware of the fact that the translators of 1611, deliberately avoided translating the words ‘baptismos’ and ‘baptizo’ with the English ‘immersion’ and ‘immerse’, or ‘dip’, because this would expose the practices of ‘sprinkling’ and ‘pouring’ for baptism as unscriptural.
They chose, instead to ‘anglicize’ the Greek words, and translated them ‘baptism’ and ‘baptize’, in this way hiding the correct action of the ordinance commanded by the Lord Himself.
There is one example which continues to frustrate me, especially when it comes to ‘the Breaking of The Bread.’ And I’m sure you’ve probably heard this too, sometimes the residing brother will read this text and then pray thanks to God for Jesus ‘broken body.’ This text is found in 1 Corinthians 11:24
Now to most people, this is no big deal, but it can be very misleading as we know that Jesus’ body wasn’t broken in any shape or form.
Since Christ was the Passover Lamb, we remember the word of Moses concerning the Lamb, ‘It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it.’ Exodus 12:46 and we see the fulfilment of Psalm 34:20 ‘He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.’
Some have argued that the Corinthian passage isn’t speaking about Jesus’ bones being broken, however, people can argue all they want because the actual word, ‘broken’ isn’t in the Greek text anyway.
It’s important to bear in mind that the original K.J.V was based largely on the work produced by Erasmus, almost a century earlier, who, in 1516, made use of medieval documents and did not have access to the Greek manuscripts that were available when the Revised Version was produced in 1881.
Today, there are more than 5000 Greek manuscripts available to scholars. Two of the three oldest of these, the ‘Alexandrian’ and the ‘Sinaitic’, are today in the new British Library in London.
Whether we like it or not, new versions will certainly be produced from time to time, simply because, unlike the Hebrew and Greek in which the Scriptures originally appeared and which are now ‘dead languages’, English is a living language in which new words are constantly being created, whilst old words become obsolete or even change their meaning.
Look, for example, at the word ‘let’ in Romans 1:13 of the K.J.V.
In 1611 the word meant ‘prevented’ or ‘hindered’. It’s surely commendable that biblical scholars are concerned to produce versions of the Scriptures in language which can understand and with which readers are comfortable.
The most ‘widely accepted’ version, I think, is the N.I.V, which appeared in 1978. When this version of the entire Bible first made its appearance, the publishers expressed the hope that ‘it would do for our time what the K.J.V did for its day.’
Considering the fact that it took many revisions, over many years, before the K.J.V. achieved popular acceptance, we perhaps should say that it is still too early to pronounce a verdict on this latest version.
Let’s say that ‘the jury is still out’, although I have noticed that it’s being used in certain congregations when a reader is allowed to use the version of his own choosing.
If the accuracy of translation is judged by the number of scholars engaged in a project, the ‘N.I.V.’ should be the most accurate Bible yet produced, because the largest group of translators in history was brought together to produce it. They were organised into 20 groups, whose work was examined by two Committees, who then passed it on to another Committee for final scrutiny before it was approved for publication.
And yet, all this organization and care didn’t prevent the appearance of questionable translations. For instance, Psalm 51:5 is rendered, in a way which gives the verse an entirely different meaning. Instead of the familiar ‘, I was born in sin’, we’re given, ‘I have been a sinner from birth’, a rendering which, although it eliminates a translation that is difficult to deal with, has caused serious debate among Hebrew scholars.
Foy E. Wallace, an American preacher who was a very vocal advocate of the ‘K.J.V’, was forceful in his condemnation of the ‘N.I.V.’ In an article which appeared in the ‘Gospel Advocate’ in 1975, in which he reviewed the work of translation in progress, he accused the translators of producing a Bible, ‘tinctured throughout with the erroneous doctrines of original sin, hereditary depravity, the restoration of national Israel, pre-millennialism and predestination.’
The obvious message, therefore, is, ‘handle with care’.
My own suggestion is that we should compare a version with a version, always bearing in mind that translations made by individuals are more likely to contain serious doctrinal errors than those made by groups of scholars, whose work is invariably even more closely scrutinised and corrected.
It saddens me when I hear of ‘K.J.V, users only’ slating other translations and saying things like ‘the N.I.V is of the devil’ or the N.I.V. users slate the K.J.V. by saying ‘it’s out of date because the language and words used are not used anymore.’ All this does is confuse and discourage young Christians.
There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect version’ every version has its strengths and weakness. I suggest that we use as many translations as possible and get familiar with the original Hebrew and Greek text actuals say.