I confess that my natural tendency leans toward King James. A few
years ago one of my great desires was to find a T-shirt inscribed with the
words, "1611 -- Straight from Heaven."
But favoritism aside, the King James Version is not perfect. Some
folks would argue with that statement, and many churches have divided over
the "King James only" issue. In brief, the "King James only" stance
asserts that no other translation is truly the Word of God.
THE BIBLE: GOD'S WORD TO MAN
In discussing in what respect the Bible -- or any translation of it --
can be the Word of God, we must distinguish between the inspiration of the
text of the original manuscripts and the inspiration of the wording chosen
by a translator working with another language.
The apostle Paul declares that "All scripture is given by inspiration
of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). The English word "scripture" comes from the Greek
word GRAPHE, meaning "that which is written." The term "is given by
inspiration of God" actually comes from a single Greek word,
THEOPNEUSTOS. Literally, THEOPNEUSTOS means "God-breathed" or
"breathed [out] by God." The terminology used here emphasizes that the
written text originated from (or out of) God. The Holy Bible is a
revelation from God, not merely a collection of human insights.
While God has conveyed His message to us through human thoughts and
words, nowhere does the Bible imply that the languages used in the Old and
New Testaments are somehow the languages of Heaven. Hebrew and Greek are
human tongues, with both the limitations and the richness that these
languages possess. In giving us His word, God used two very different
languages (and the thought-forms which underlie them), instead of one
language only, which should protect us from the trap of ascribing
perfection to any human language.
INTRODUCING THE KING JAMES VERSION
Probably few people know it, but the King James Bible we universally
accept today is not an exact copy of the edition released in 1611. The
Bible which circulates as the "Authorized" King James Version is actually
the fourth revision of 1769. A simple way to verify this is by reading
John 3:7 in your KJV. The 1611 text read as follows: "Marueile not that I
saide vnto thee, Ye must be borne againe." Similarly, the spelling,
punctuation, capitalization, and use of italics have been changed
In addition, the original 1611 edition contained marginal notes
offering more precise or alternate translations. (For example, it
indicated that "a worshiper" in Acts 19:35 is literally "the temple
keeper" in Greek.) Also, verses which had poor manuscript support were
noted, such as Luke 17:36. All the marginal notes and alternate readings
have been removed from modern editions of the KJV, along with the
Apocrypha, the opening Dedication to James I, and a lengthy introduction
from "The Translators to the Reader."
ARGUMENTS FOR THE SUPERIORITY OF THE KJV
Those who argue for the superiority of the King James Version usually
stand on one of three platforms:
(1) KJV is better because it is more memorable, popular, etc.
(2) KJV is better because it relies on a better textbase for the NT.
(3) KJV is better because its translation was inspired by God.
The first platform appeals to the beauty of the KJV, the felicity of
its cadences and rhythms, its rigorous faithfulness to the original
languages, the way the text lends itself to memorization, and to the
desirability of having a single version among the English-speaking people.
There is something to be said for this viewpoint. If you can
appreciate Shakespeare, you can appreciate the English of the KJV. On the
other hand, there are several spots where the KJV could bear improvement.
The KJV translation often confuses HADES (the realm of the dead) with
GEHENNA (the punishment of fire); likewise TEKNON (child) with HUIOS
(son), and DUNAMIS (power) with EXOUSIA (authority). The deity of
Christ is obscured in the KJV rendering of Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. And
at several points the KJV contains interpolations where there is no
corresponding text in any known Greek manuscript.
DOES THE KJV USE A BETTER TEXTBASE?
The second platform concerns the Greek textbase used by the
translators of the KJV. Please note: this is strictly a debate over the
best manuscripts to use in translating the New Testament. There is usually
little objection to modern translations of the Old Testament, because the
Hebrew (Masoretic) text used in 1611 is still considered the standard
Many people defend the King James because its translators relied in
large measure on a printed edition of the Greek New Testament now known as
the Textus Receptus (or "Received Text"). The TR can be traced back to
Desiderius Erasmus. In 1516 Erasmus published the first Greek New
Testament, based on half a dozen Greek manuscripts and the Latin (Vulgate)
translation of the NT. Later, Stephens (1551) and Beza (1598), employing a
dozen more manuscripts, still produced fundamentally similar texts. It was
their texts which were used by the translators of the Authorized Version.
From the immense body of New Testament material (5,366 Greek
manuscripts; over 2,200 lectionaries; over 36,000 citations from the church
fathers), scholars have adopted a means of categorizing the various
manuscripts. This provides assistance in determining which wording and
spelling should be preferred in cases of disagreement. New Testament
scholars have arranged the manuscripts into four main families (or
textbases), based on similar phraseology, spelling and grammatical
peculiarities, and other common features.
The Textus Receptus is derived from the Byzantine family (which
represents about 95% of all Greek manuscripts). However, it does not truly
represent the Byzantine textbase, mainly because the sixteenth-century
scholars examined so few of these manuscripts. Most contemporary
translations (RSV, NASV, NIV, etc.) rely on manuscripts from the
Alexandrian, Western, and Caesarean families in addition to the Byzantine
texts. Manuscripts from these families are often more ancient, but there
are fewer of them than those of the Byzantine tradition. (For a detailed
study of this subject, I strongly recommend "A General Introduction to the
Bible", by Norman Geisler and William Nix [Moody Press, 2nd ed., 1986].)
Before proceeding further, I should emphasize that these four text-
types are not in great opposition to one another. In over 90 percent of
the New Testament, readings are identical word-for-word, regardless of the
family. Of the remaining ten percent, MOST of the differences between
the texts are fairly irrelevant, such as calling the Lord "Christ Jesus"
instead of "Jesus Christ," or putting the word "the" before a noun. Less
than two percent would significantly alter the meaning of a passage, and
NONE of them would contradict or alter any of the basic points of Christian
doctrine. What we have, then, is a dispute concerning less than one-half
of one percent of the Bible. The other 99.5% we all agree on!
IS THE KING JAMES TRANSLATION DIVINELY INSPIRED?
The third level takes us into another dimension. At this stage, we
hear people saying that the English wording used by the KJV translators was
chosen by God.
One way to recognize people coming from this platform is that they
totally reject all other English versions of the Bible, even those which
rely on the Textus Receptus, because they believe the King James
translation is perfect. For example, Tyndale's translation (1535), the
Bishops' Bible (1568), Young's Literal Translation of the Bible (1898), the
King James II Version (1971), and the New King James Version (1982) are all
based on the Textus Receptus. But a true fanatic will reject all of these
translations, even if he's never seen them, because he presupposes that
only the 1611 Authorized Version is true.
If you want to argue for the superiority of the Textus Receptus over
the Alexandrian manuscripts, fine. That's Level 2, and we are still
talking about the TEXT being the standard, while the job of the
TRANSLATION is to reproduce the thoughts of the text. But in Level 3,
the TRANSLATION is the standard, and if the translation doesn't agree
with the text, it's because the Greek is in error. This is the OPPOSITE
of Level 2. On Level 3, the Textus Receptus has mistakes in it, but the
KJV translation is perfect.
One well-known defender of this view is Peter S. Ruckman. For example,
in "A Christian's Handbook of Manuscript Evidence", Ruckman has a chapter
entitled, "Correcting the Greek with the English." He claims, "Where the
majority of Greek manuscripts stand against the A.V. 1611, put them in file
13" (p. 130). "When the Greek says one thing and the A.V. says another,
throw out the Greek" (p. 137).
In Acts 19:37, every known Greek manuscript has HIEROSULOUS,
"robbers of temples," which the KJV incorrectly rendered as "robbers of
churches." Ruckman defends the KJV reading, saying, "Mistakes in the KJV
are advanced revelation" (p. 126). In other words, the Greek has errors,
but the KJV doesn't.
MOTIVATION FOR KING JAMES ONLY
The average believer might wonder how such an extreme defensiveness
for the King James Version could come about. I think one of the chief
reasons people are unwilling to admit even a speck of error in the King
James Version is to prevent the man in the pew from being at the mercy of
the "textual critic." Too often, they've heard lines like this: "Well, you
believe XYZ because it says that in your version of the Bible. But you
don't know (a) the subtle meaning of the original Greek word, or (b) that
we've discovered new manuscripts, and a different word was used there."
Thus, a number of people from conservative Christian persuasions have
decided that "the buck is gonna stop RIGHT HERE," with the universally
distributed KJV. I suspect this is the real reason for their insistence on
the perfection of the King James Version.
Rather than respond by pointing to a "flawless" KJV, however, a better
solution is to teach the man in the pew how to prove and defend his beliefs
from Scripture. In the first place, no major Christian doctrine hinges on
one or two verses. The fundamentals of the faith appear repeatedly
throughout the body of Scripture, in principle and presupposition as much
as in explicit statements. There should be no need to rely on one or two
prooftexts to prove your point.
Second, if there is a need to go to the Greek or Hebrew, we must be
willing to take the time to learn how to use study helps (lexicons,
concordances, encyclopedia, interlinear Bibles, etc.). Make the effort to
telephone an instructor at a Bible college or seminary to settle a dispute.
Most of them are glad to answer questions from non-students, so don't be
afraid to look for outside help.
Third, remember that the greatest barrier to doctrinal agreement among
Christians is not caused by textual uncertainty ("what does the text
say?"), but by hermeneutic and presuppositional issues ("what does it
mean?"). In other words, the main reason for conflict is due to
interpretation, not translation.
Finally, every major belief of Christianity can be just as easily
proven from the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard
Version, or the New International Version, as from the King James. Any
major translation is sufficiently accurate to enable a person to believe in
Jesus Christ and receive the new birth through faith in Him. Moreover,
most translations accurately convey the character of God, the nature of
man's fall, our need for redemption, the signs of the Christian, and the
foundational things we ought to do and ought to avoid to please God.
Bible scholars tell us that the accuracy of the text of the New
Testament (excluding spelling variations) is greater than 98 percent. The
NT is far more accurate than ANY other ancient writing. In fact, there
is more evidence for the integrity of the New Testament than there is for
the works of Shakespeare or any 10 other pieces of ancient literature
On a foundational level, we can be assured that the everlasting and
incorruptible truth of God's Word has been preserved for us in the
Scriptures. The real argument for inerrancy, far from being the opinions
of backwoods country bumpkins, rests on the promise of the Lord Jesus
Christ and verifiable historical evidence. Accurate and authoritative, the
Word of God is a "lamp unto our feet" as we walk the Christian path.
# # #
NOTE: For further reading on the King James controversy, I recommend the
following: "The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism", by D. A.
Carson (Baker Book House, 1979); "Demystifying the Controversy Over the
Textus Receptus and the King James Version of the Bible," I.B.R.I. Research
Report No. 3, by Douglas S. Chinn and Robert C. Newman (Biblical
Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA, 1979); and "The Truth About the King
James Version Controversy", by Stewart Custer (Bob Jones University Press,
Computers for Christ - Chicago