The KJV: Is it THE Bible? Part 7: Which KJV Are We Talking About?
“Few people seem conscious of the fact that a currently circulating King James Bible differs in significant details (though not in general content) from the one issued in 1611; they assume that the King James is a fixed phenomenon like ‘the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3; ASV).”
-Jack Lewis (1)
Today you may find that your King James Version uses italics for words that have been added. Some other versions do the same. When you buy a copy of the KJV at a store, it’s not your great great great granddad’s KJV, and it’s certainly not King James Stuart’s KJV. But this shouldn’t worry KJV enthusiasts any more than it worried the scholars who made the KJV, who declared in their preface, “Nothing is begun and perfected at the same time.”
In the last post we asked whether it was actually vulgar to use another translation. We will now show that the KJV we have today is indeed another translation.
If we were to assume that the KJV is the one and only divinely guided version, we would then have to agree on which King James Version. The King James Version we have today is the “original” filtered through revisions made in 1760 (Cambridge), 1769 (Oxford), and 1881 (Canterbury), and differs from the original 1611 translation in over 70,000 places. Does it need to be revised again? And by who? If divine inspiration is exclusive to the KJV because of it’s “precise” wording and alleged lack of errors, at which point did it acquire such status? In 1611? In 1769? At some random year in between?
The very first printings of the KJV in 1611 had one huge blunder in particular. Matthew 26:36 read “then cometh Judas”, when it really should have said “then cometh Jesus”. How does a flawless translation confuse the savior for his betrayer in its first “handed down” edition?
Then there are some other infamous editions of the KJV, named after their textual blunders:
- The “Wicked Bible“— commands “thou shalt commit adultery”
- The “Unrighteous Bible“— tells us the “unrighteous” shall inherit the kingdom
- The “Vinegar Bible“— includes the “Parable of the Vinegar”
There are at least 232 cases of emendations in the KJV (emendations are failures to rely on the Greek and Hebrew renderings) (2) — Two-hundred thirty two places where the KJV translators did not translate from early, original-language manuscripts. These changes make the idea that the “Authorized Version” (KJV) was translated through special divine guidance very weak. What assurance do we have that God justified them through special providence not given to other translators for other translations?
Are we in this case ascribing perfection to God, or rather to the work of men for God? And if we say that a work of men can be deemed “thoroughly perfect”, what right or criteria allows us to define “perfect”, not as adequate completeness of men’s understanding, but rather flawlessness production of men’s communication? We may find this criteria forces us to throw out all KJV editions, as well as all other English editions. We would be without a Bible in English, and would have to either learn Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, or perish one and all.
I turn once again to Jack Lewis, who tells us that
“THE KJV, as a currently circulating book, becomes a phantom, a figment of an imagination clinging to the past. Which of all these revisions is considered to be the real King James? If we are to use only the KJV and read the other versions for comparison, which King James shall we use? If revision has been tolerated and even encouraged in the past, why should it be terminated now?” (3)
If it is by the grace and providence of God that his message could remain perfect through many variations of the KJV, what reason is there to deny this grace existed for ALL the English Bibles that came before, and ALL the English Bibles that came after? As “English” becomes increasingly different from the language Brits spoke in 1611, at what point will we be willing to accept that the KJV must either be updated and changed to compensate?
If we strain out the gnat by mistrusting a change from 17th century English to 21st century English, how great is the camel we have swallowed in the first place by accepting the change from 1st century Greek to 17th century English and allowing a non-Greek Bible to be made and read at all!
In the next post we will begin to look at some of the badly translated words and phrases in the KJV and their effect on understanding (and maybe even doctrine), just as all the other translations do.
1 Lewis, Jack P (1992). The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation. 2nd Ed. Baker Book House. p.37.
2 Pryce, James D. (1986). Textual Emendations in the Authorized Version. Heckman Bindery, Inc. 1986.
3 Lewis, Jack P. p.40.