The KJV: Is it THE Bible? Part 9: Paraphrases and Biased Renderings
In the last post we looked at textual errors in the KJV over the years. This post is a kind of “part 2” in which we examine paraphrases.
In many ways, the KJV is a very accurate translation, especially considering the limited knowledge of ancient language and access to manuscripts the translators had. But it is not free from paraphrase. It is not a fully literal translation, though many people are under the assumption that it is. For example, the KJV renders Gen. 25:8 as “Abraham gave up the ghost,” whereas every other translation more literally renders it “Abraham breathed his last“. Paraphrases like this one may harmless, but they do remind us that nobody can rightfully claim the KJV is a literal translation. Every translation—and I mean every translation—has passages that are paraphrased. Jack Lewis affirms that “no translator would argue for a completely literal translation, but the degree of paraphrase is always under dispute” (1).
Furthermore, some of the paraphrases and re-renderings of words and phrases in the KJV are potentially harmful to the soundness of the Gospel message itself. People can read these passages and be led to believe that Christianity teaches something it does not, or just be confused about the teaching. This is true of any translation, but if one believes any translation to be perfect, an error may go unchallenged.
Traditionally there have been KJV-only advocates who argued that although there may be errors and paraphrases in the KJV, none of them are “doctrinally significant”. But the question is, whose doctrine is at stake? Who are the people making these claims, what do they believe, and which passages are they looking at? As Lewis says, “to take a Bible version, check it by a limited number of Shibboleths, and then declare that it is free of doctrinal problems is to act arbitrarily. ‘Doctrine’ means ‘teaching,’ and any failure to present the Word of God accurately, completely and clearly in a translation is a doctrinal problem [and] it is naive to claim [the translation issues] have no doctrinal significance” (2). We must not allow our bias toward a translation or our traditions affect our “testing of the spirits”.
The “King Calvin” Translation?
Previously we mentioned that King James’ views on predestination. It’s no wonder that his translation bears some testimony of this bias. Several passages in the KJV reflect leanings toward the teachings of “5-point Calvinism”, including these:
- Luke tells us in his account that the Lord “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NASB).
But in the KJV, we are told that he only “added to their number such as should be saved“. Should be saved? How is determined that they should be saved before they are? Do they earn it? Were they made that way?
- In the KJV Gal. 5:17 says the spirit and flesh are against one another “ye cannot do the things that ye would” rather than saying “so that you do not do the things that you wish” (NKJV). Cannot do the things we would do? What is stopping our will?
Lewis does give the KJV credit for the fact that the few verses with Calvinist leanings are few and isolated, but part of the problem is that people take verses out of context in the first place. We must help prevent this poor “cherry picker” proof-texting by using translations in which verses wholly reflect the original meaning as best as possible. We want to prevent the disputes and quarreling we are warned about, (Rom. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:20), and one way is to use reliable translations of passages that leave less doubt as to the meaning of the original words.
Are we sinless?
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). At least, that’s how the KJV tells it. This rendition seems to posit the idea that we were sinless, when clearly it was Christ who was without sin. Modern translations phrase it correctly. Consider the ESV: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If someone wanted to preach that we could be sinless before knowing Christ and being made righteous, the KJV of rendition of this verse is a place they could go.
Church or Churches?
In the interest of church unity, we should stick with the Greek meaning of Acts 9:31 that modern translations have, in which “the church [was] multiplied,” rather than the KJV, in which “the churches [were] multiplied.”
Abstain from things that might look evil?
In the KJV we are told to “abstain from all appearances of evil” (1 Thess 5:22), and many people have quoted that passage in order to further the idea that Christians are not to do anything that looks evil to somebody else. The idea runs that, as Paul said, if it appears evil, we should not do it. This reasoning would not make sense, because different things look evil to different people. In order to be consistent, we would have to do practically nothing, nothing at all, except maybe breathe. Some people go as far as using this passage to condemn playing card games because it looks like gambling, drinking root beer because it looks like real beer, or slow dancing at prom because it looks like you’re just another quarterback trying to get laid afterward. Only the correct version of the passage is found in versions like the NLT: “Stay away from every kind of evil.” Paul was telling people to stay away from evil in any of the forms that it takes, not to stay away from things that someone else might assume is evil. If the teachings of Christ are clear that to judge unrighteousness judgement is wrong, it would not make sense to place such a burden on his followers like making them avoid anything anyone else might label “sinful”.
Don’t think about the next day at all?
Jesus told us not to be anxious about tomorrow, but focus on what we can do today (Matt. 6:34). This was a command. But in the KJV, Jesus says, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow.” But that would mean that we are not allowed to think about the next day at all, to plan anything for the following day. That would be reckless. How could one plan a journey, or the building of a house? That would be dangerous.
Hell—or is it death?
Consider the inconsistency with the words “Hell” and “Hades.” The Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades are not synonymous with the Hebrew Gehenna. Revelation 20:13-14 in the King James says that Hades was cast in to the lake of fire (which is Hell), referring to Hades as death, meaning that for the Kingdom, death “goes to Hell”, and is not a part of the Kingdom of everlasting life. This confusion of wording in the KJV and other translations has contributed to misunderstandings and a perpetuation of hot debates about the Biblical view of the afterlife. Lewis elaborates:
“The distinction between the intermediate state of the dead in ‘Sheol’ or ‘Hades’ and the final state of the wicked in gehenna, ‘hell’, (used eleven times [in the KJV]) was introduced to English religious language through the RV(ASV). These changes have doctrinal implications. The reader of the KJV has no knowledge of what ‘Hades’ really is unless he knows Greek or is acquainted with later English versions. He thinks of the final place of punishment when he reads ‘hell’ (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14) when he should think of the intermediate state of the dead” (3).
Nero—God ordained him?
1 John 5:19 tells us that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one”. Yet if we’re reading our KJV, Romans 13:1 contradicts 1 John and says that the rulers of the world were “ordained” by God. You can see why the KJV writers penned it this way, under pressure from an earthly King to create a Bible translation under his rule. And the KJV is not the only translation guilty of this. The ASV does it too. The ESV does worse, saying that God “instituted” the powers of the world. A more accurate rendering of the Greek word tetagmenai would be “set in place”. The GWT, for example, says that “the governments which exist have been put in place by God,” not taking the liberties the KJV does with the manner in which they are put into place. The word actually means “to ordinate”, not “to ordain”. It’s not saying that God anoints the world’s rulers, gives them orders, and approves of them, but that he moves them about, puts them in their place. In other words, he’s ultimately in control no matter how much they seem to be. It’s not an endorsement of human rule by God; it’s a subversion of human rule by God. As Yoder points out, the passage really tells us that God “brings [the powers] into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purposes” (4).
The Holy Spirit—Did you get it twice?
Acts 19:2 reads correctly (in versions like the NASB) Paul asking the Ephesians “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” According to the King James, Paul asks, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit since ye believed?” There is a tremendous difference between these two phrases. According to James White, “entire theologies of the second reception of the Holy Spirit have been based upon this one rendering of the KJV” (5).
Didn’t John tell us Jesus performed signs?
Central to John’s account of the Gospel is that Jesus performed signs of God’s presence that demonstrated his Lordship and his role as the Messiah. John deliberately chose to call all the miracles “signs”. But in the KJV, more often than not, the word “miracle” appears instead of “sign“. This clouds a very central argument of John’s message, that Jesus revealed his glory through signs, showing people who he was through what he could do.
Is the Gospel about Love or Charity?
Inconsistently, the KJV translators took the word agape and made it “Charity” in some places (like the famous “love is patient” passage 1 Cor. 13), and “love” in others. This distinction clouds our understanding of both love and charity. The deep, selfless love from God that Christians are touched by and share is much different from the act of giving to another, although the two are related. And I have yet to attend a wedding where 1 Cor. 13 was read in the KJV.
Do other translations contain such paraphrases and biased renderings? Absolutely, and some more than others. But no translation is free of them, including the KJV. If we blindly assume there is one translation that does not contain such, we will read such passages as perfect renderings, and give ourselves no alternatives otherwise.
In our next post we will take a look back at when the English Bible first became divided into chapters and verses, and how this effects our reading of the scriptures.
1 Lewis, Jack P (1992). The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation. 2nd Ed. Baker Book House. p.45
2 Ibid. p.61
3 Ibid. p.64
4 Yoder, Howard John (1994). The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI. 2nd ed. p.201-202.
5 White, James R. (1995). The King James Only Controvsery. Bethany House Publishers. p.230.