The KJV: Is it THE Bible? Conclusion
“Those who feel they can escape the problem of translations by retreating into the citadel of the KJV have a zeal for God that is not in accord with knowledge. The same sort of attacks that are now made on the new translations were made on the KJV when it was new. If the same kind of fine-tooth combing that is expended on the new translations is used on the KJV, we see that the problems of the KJV are as numerous and as serious as those of the new translations. The need for new translations lies in the inadequacies of the KJV. Though shortcomings of the KJV complicate the task of learning, they have not kept the person who is willing to expend the effort from learning what God would have him do. At the same time, there are no valid reasons for one to insist fanatically that everyone should read only the KJV; to declare that it is a mark of orthodoxy to use the KJV as a standard, consulting other translations only for comparisons; and to look with suspicion on the person who calls attention to the shortcomings of the KJV or who has other preferences in his readings[…]
It is not the original Bible. The translators worked neither by inspiration nor with special divine approval. There is no valid reason why God’s Word should be frozen in seventeenth-century English by those who have educated themselves to understand it while men perish for want of understanding. The King James Preface asks, ‘How shall men meditate on that which they do not understand?’ Progress has been made since 1611. It is now possible to have a more accurate and a more readable translation than the KJV.”
-Jack P. Lewis (1)
Known by many as “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language,” the King James Bible is a competent translation that adequately meets the criteria for an accurate, clear, dignified translation. Although we can not conclude that it is the best translation, as we cannot conclusively say that there is one upon which God placed his certain stamp of approval, it remains a solid, acceptable translation. God’s word has been preserved, and the King James Authorized Version is one of the English translations which speak for and exemplify this great truth.
However, the KJV is not without many flaws, the largest of them being its increasing inadequacy to reach uneducated, “unchurched” readers. For contemporary audiences, the clarity of the KJV is waning as the English language goes through another swift transition. There are a good number of versions that equal its accuracy, dynamics, and beauty of language.
The second largest flaw (if not the first) is that the KJV is alleged flawlessness—that is, with its many flaws, many hold it in such a high regard that the flaws are not acknowledged, making those flaws even more dangerous, not to mention hypocritical, when it comes to examining other translations. Those who hold it the closest are those who are potentially the most dangerous in wielding it. Jack Lewis elaborates:
“The reader of the KJV reads into it the meaning he has been taught to receive[…] Its readers take great pleasure in debating[…]” (2)
Why do people feel the need to have this one version?
We can see why it is so compelling to believe the in the myth of a singular consistent manuscript tradition and of a singular faithful English translation that is flawless and will never fade. Some may assume that if we do not have this, we cannot trust the Bible. If you look at the work of Sam Gipp, for example, his narrative is very compelling: All manuscripts came from either Antioch or Egypt, and since Egypt is bad and Christians were in Antioch, we trust the Antioch manuscripts, which gave us the KJV, unlike all other translations, and since other translations don’t have some verses that the KJV does, they are all bad and the KJV is flawless. It sounds good. It sounds like we can make all this translation talk easy by just pointing to one that has been around forever and say, “that’s THE one we can trust, and that’s how I know the Bible is real.”
The “KJV Inerrancy” narrative is compelling and well-intentioned
But his narrative is completely ignorant of the reality of manuscript history, and makes a grave assumption about what it means for God’s word to faithfully be preserved in the hands of men. As Dr. White says in the video below, KJV-only-ism “undercuts serious Biblical apologetics” and “cannot withstand meaningful scrutiny”. I’ve tried to take this meaningful scrutiny, demonstrated by others, and present it in a comprehensible and digestible blog form, however lengthy.
The beginning of a critique of Sam Gipp’s inerrancy narrative by James White
As we can see, KJV-only activists like Sam Gipp share a level of Biblical scholarship on par with Dan Brown. It is a dysfunctional absurd fundamentalism that is not only embarrassing, but shameful.
So what should we do with the KJV?
I have stated that the KJV is a wonderful translation, and I stand by that, but I do not recommend that any American church make the KJV its primary translation for preaching and teaching. Now, that is a recommendation, not a decree or a basis with which to deem a church worthy in the eyes of God. I make this recommendation based on the growing limitations to contemporary readers, as well as the problematic nature of sticking to only one translation.
Many people stumble and stutter when reading the KJV, and that should not be the case when there are other English translations available that are as reliable as the KJV. Relying solely only on the KJV creates a culture in which congregations must focus on maintaining an outdated form of the English language in order to access the Word of God. This is not only unnecessary, but clogs our study and experience of God’s word. As Coleridge once said (at least, in being quoted by H.M. Whitney) “A truth couched in archaic diction is, largely or wholly, to some or to many, out of view.”
Two of the gifts given to the apostles by Christ were the ability to both speak and hear in different tongues. These men were blessed with awesome gift of being able to speak and hear in languages they had not studied. They didn’t make other peoples learn Greek and/or Hebrew in order to hear the Word, nor did they refuse to speak with those who did not learn their language. Many American, English-speaking Christians would do well to hear those words. We need to do a better job of reflecting in our efforts what those gifts reflected. We urgently need to adapt our witness of the Gospel to the linguistic and literacy needs of others. One of my regrets is that I never effectively learned another language. What a great help it would have been to my witnessing the Gospel! As Early Modern (Shakespeare’s era) English increasingly becomes like a foreign language to American English speakers, the need for relying on translations other than the KJV becomes more real.
When do you recommend the KJV?
Now, for many people growing up the KJV Bible was the only one they had access to. It was the version through which they memorized versage, the language through which they were taught to pray, and the language through which they sang their favorite spiritual songs. To many Christians the English of the King James translation is special to them.
If you are going to evangelize to the population of Jamaica, for example, you’d better have a KJV, because most of them will refuse to be taught with any other translation. But this is for purposes of being an effective witness, not being faithful to the Word. In similar fashion, if you were evangelizing to a Muslim, you would not want to take a Bible scribbled with notes all throughout.
So although it is absurd to bind on anyone the tradition-based practice of using “minding your ‘thees’ and thous’”, we must remember that for many people—particularly our older generations—the distinction of Jacobian English is a way for them to sanctify God’s word in their heart because growing up it has been their way of feeling like they are using a special, set-aside vocabulary for God.
This has both positive and negative traits. On one hand, we feel like we’re treating God special. On the other side, this enables us to separate the holy and “secular” life, as if Bible talk and civic/interpersonal talk are completely different things. “Thou shalt” language may help some remember how holy God’s commands are, but sometimes “thou shalt” language seems distant to the contemporary problems we deal with, relying on 400-year-old English that seems distant to our experience.
Jesus told us to pray not just for lofty things, but for our daily bread. God doesn’t just visit us as a pillar of cloud or fire, but also as three guys sitting under a shrub to eat yogurt and share news about expecting mothers.
So if someone prefers to say their prayers with ‘thee’s and thou’s’, let them do so. It’s part of their specific spirital heritage and it is close to their heart. But if they try to bind it on you, educate them with truth and love. After all, many a decent prayer has been ruined because folks were indirectly raised that a good prayer is one that minds its “thees” and “thous” and uses KJV words, rather than one that speaks from the heart. Many people feel embarrassed and confused because they cannot speak a public prayer or read scripture out loud without stumbling over the 400-year-old English of this particular translation. Don’t push these souls to the margins or cause them to drift away because we prefer the way our great granddaddies read the Bible.
Every translation is dangerous, because the Word is a sword, and swords are dangerous to handle. Handle all translations with care and judge them by their fruits. Most of the most popular modern translations are not conspiracies to change the truth of God’s word, but human efforts to render it as best as possible to reach various readers. There is no best translation, really, no matter how you try to weigh the pros and cons, and the KJV is no exception.
God’s word is dynamic and alive!
We could believe that God’s word is so delicate that it will be lost forever unless it is preserved in one translation in a language other than the one it first came to the world in. We can, on the other hand, believe that God is so powerful that his message can be preserved despite the inevitable flaws of the men who receive and preserve it. Texts have errors in them, but the truth prevails because of the Grace of God working through the faithfulness of his followers. We have the Word.
While the KJV Bible is reliable and readable in its own ways, only a fool has the grounds to claim it as superior than any other English translation of God’s word. As Lewis says, it has “stood the test of time”, but this test of time only serves to deem it excellent, not exclusive. As the Good Book teaches, we shouldn’t even have to be having this conversation. It is my prayer that I actually didn’t have to write this series.
The KJV translators sought to create the most readable translation of their time, and succeeded in doing so. Part of this success came from their willingness to revise the translation as the years went by. Their aim was to produce an English Bible “for the vulgar”, meaning the “unlearned”. How shall men meditate on that which they do not understand?” they asked, for “indeed without translation into the vulgar [unlearned] tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw with.” Reaching the lost with a language that is simple, comprehensible, and relatable to their linguistic context is more important than making folks in the church feel like they have a special kind of English they use for “church talk” based on medieval forms of English.
The New Testament was primarily spoken and written in the language of carpenters like Jesus, in the language of fishermen like his disciples, in the language of prostitutes like the one he spoke with when no one else would. If we cannot come to terms with this, what is our relationship with the Word?
I leave you with the words of William Tyndale, the first known English Bible translator:
“And if they perceive in any places that I have not attained the very sense of the tongue, or meaning of the Scripture, or have not given the right English word, that they put to their hands to amend it, remembering that so is their duty to do. For we have not received the gifts of God for ourselves only, or for to hide them; but for to bestow them unto the honoring of God and Christ, and edifying of the congregation, which is the body of Christ” (3).
1 Lewis, Jack P (1992). The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation. 2nd Ed. Baker Book House. p.67
3 Qtd. in Friedrich, Gerhard. “Prehistory of the THeological Dictionary of the New Testament.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. G.W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eedrmans. 1976. Vol. 10:613.
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