The KJV: Is it THE Bible? Part 11: “Which Translation Do You Prefer, if Not the KJV Only?”
Both the Old Testament (Deut. 4:2) and the New Testament (Rev. 22:18-19) forbid intentionally tampering with God’s word. Therefore, translating the Bible into any language is a serious matter. The English language (like any language) constantly changes, therefore it is dangerous to assume that one version shall always remain the preferred, most accurate, most approachable. New translations come and go.
We have no right (and no authority) to claim one translation of the Bible as the most accurate version or, worse yet, bind it upon others as the only acceptable version and the only one inspired of God. This is not an issue worth destroying churches over. This is not a tradition worth killing the growth of churches over.
Said Edward Hills, “if we believe in the providential preservation of the scriptures and make this the leading principle of our biblical textual criticism, we obtain…all the certainty we need” (1). If we believe in the power of the Spirit and in the providential preservation of the scriptures as a working, living text in all its renderings and make this the leading principle of our biblical textual criticism, we obtain all the certainty we need that it is God’s word. Whenever we encounter translations and versions of the Word, we will do so with sobriety and humility, and especially when we are discerning the meaning of words, we will turn to comparing different translations, as well as studying the original copies in their original language (when our scholarship abilities permit us to do so wisely and accurately).
Jack Lewis outlined the reasons that translations of God’s word will always need to be revised:
The discovery of additional [ancient] manuscripts
The rise [and growth] of the study of archaeology
The developments of comparative Semitics [the study of language differences].
Changes in the English language
Historical pleas for revision [Trench, Elicott, Plumptre, Schaff, Eadie all urged for the Revised Version]
Other changes brought by the passage of a hundred years (2)
What other versions are out there, and what do they have to offer? Because this series is mainly about debunking myths about the KJV, I will not go deeply into other translations, but here is an overview of some of the common, contemporary translations and their characteristics:
I can not post this series, discussing the flaws of the KJV, without then demonstrating the flaws of contemporary English translations as well. My purposes has not been to show the KJV’s flaws in order to cast it, but to demonstrate how it contains flaws of similar nature as all the others.
Things to consider about popular translations and versions:
The ASV: The American Standard Version Came in 1901, as Americans and British yearned for a more modern translation that would do well, yet remain very literal. However, they still used Elizabethan English, and despite being an improvement of Elizabethan English in rendering it was still passed over by the tradition of the KJV. It has also become the standard Bible by many “Jehovah’s Witness” groups, since it renders God’s name as “Jehovah”. It was made at the wrong place at the wrong time, just before a long explosion of advances in Biblical scholarship. Even more so, it seems to have tried to mimic the KJV style, and thus is so artificially Jacobean that it’s awkward. The translators even created new “ancient” words not found in the KJV: “howbeit”, “peradventure”, “aforetime”, “would fain”. This version was later revised as the RSV [see below], and by now the ASV has fallen short of many other more contemporary versions. It only made my list here because of it’s unique place in the “line” of 20th century translations.
The NRSV/ESV: The New Revised Standard Version, which later became the English Standard Version, is one of the best and most reliable, in which paraphrases are used sparingly. It comes from a tradition of the first modern English edition (ASV) to really refresh what the KJV had done 400 years prior. Designed to revise the ASV while keep the “flavor” of the KJV. It was not considered a new translation, but a revision. Unlike the KJV, it does not separate each verse into a paragraph, but creates paragraphs out of “sections” of chapters. People were split about it when it first came out (as with most translations), but the NEW RSV edition focused on new findings like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The NRSV also eliminated the archaic “thee”s and “thou”s, as well as strives for more gender-inclusive language in some passages (using the awkward phrase “humankind”, for example). Most agree it is an improvement on the ASV. When it was revised as the ESV, the translators went for what they called an “essentially literal” translation, making room for meaning-for-meaning when it was necessary for syntactical and idiomatic reasons. Issues to consider: a) The biggest issue folks have with the NRSV deals with Isaiah 7:14, in which the version says “a young woman is with child” rather than “a virgin is with child”, which virtually every other version says. The reasoning is that the Hebrew word almah means “young woman” or “veiled lass”, and most scholars agree it is not a term directly associated with virginity. Many people have been upset by this, claiming that he NRSV denies the virgin birth, all because of this one verse. But the rest of the NRSV clearly upholds the teaching of the virgin birth, including their translation of Matthew, the writer who chose to quote the Septuagint Old Testament, written by translators who reflected belief of the virgin birth in their choice of using the word parthenos (the Greek word for “virgin”). In the ESV, “virgin” is used. b) In the NRSV 1 Cor. 16:2 asks each member to contribute only “as he prospers”, leaving it open that you’re not obliged to give anything if you make your normal wage, in contrast to the Gospel’s call for real financial sacrifices. c) The “one-woman” man of 1 Tim. 3:2,12 and Tit. 1:6 is he who is “married only once”, excluding from elder or deacon service one who has, for example, lost a wife and remarried. This issue is resolved in the ESV.
The NEB/REB: In the New English Bible, later called the Revised English Bible, the focus was on balancing strict scholarship with modern “meaning to meaning” rendering: not word-for-word; not a paraphrase. It was not meant for public reading, but for access by “unchurched” people who would not be as engaged with the older English. Still, it was advertised to be used for all purposes, and despite its claims of translation method balance there is quite a lot of paraphrase. Some say the most unique thing about the NEB is the creative vocabulary, especially when it comes to Hebrew words. Many agree its greatest flaw is its excessively and confusingly unreliable variety of translation. It’s not a good translation to use for exegesis. Also, being a British translation, it is less accessible to Americans. Plenty of other modern translations do better. There isn’t really any good reason to use it. Issues to consider: a) Some of the colloquialisms are messy, and would be fine if this version declared itself a folk version of some sort and not a full translation: Phrases like “brushed me aside” (Deut. 3:26), “bad luck” (Jonah 1:7), and “feel the pinch” (Luke 15:14). There is an embarrassing reading of Joshua 15:18. It’s also even less clear than the KJV in some places: “Machinations of the Jews” (Acts 2019); “bedizened with gold” (Rev.17:4). b) The translation of Gen. 3:15 misses the virgin birth prophecy, especially since Paul refers to it in Rom. 16:20. c) Gal. 2:16 “Only through faith in Jesus Christ” might lead some to believe in “faith only” salvation. However, the rest of scripture shows that faith must produce action, works. d) “You are Peter, the rock” (Matt. 16:18) sounds like a push for papal authority.
The NASB: The New American Standard Bible Claims “to follow the principles used in the ASV” but is actually closer to the RSV. Meant for public worship and private study. The translators wanted ti be faithful to the original languages, grammatically correct, understandable, and unbiased. There was a conflict in these noble goals that creates confusion in many places. There is a lot of variety in rendering different words. An updated revision in ’95 made many improvements, and is used by many protestant and conservative churches. It’s an improvement on the ASV and KJV, but we cannot say it is the best one we have. Issues to consider: a) Strange use of tense, as in saying “he began to give them his attention” in Acts 3:5. b) The translators took advantage of emphasizing Messianic passages rather than let them speak for themselves, which hampers evangelizing to Jewish audiences. Also italicizes a lot of words unnecessarily, for emphasis or addition, and has a lot of marginal readings. c) Premillenialist readings of passages like Isaiah 2:2; Gal. 6:16; Mark 13:30; Mark 13:29; Rev. 5:10; Rev. 20:4. d) Acts 10:43 reads that one who believes “has received forgiveness of sins” , leading one to conclude that salvation occurs at (or even before) the moment of belief [KJV and ASV reads “has received”]. e) Contradictory renderings of Matt 5:7 and Eph 2:15, as both read “abolish” where the word “suspend” should be given.
The NIV: The New International Version was aimed at balancing between too much awkward exactness (like the NASB) and too much paraphrase (like the NEB). It is a popular version on a low enough reading level that it is enjoyed by all ages. The conversations are easier to follow in passages, and is one of the best in terms of having a reasonably contemporary style, though it is not without several weaknesses. The translation committee invites change suggestions from readers every five years. The NIV has been and will be improved over the years due to the expressed attitude of the committee. The most recent update was in 2011. Denying the deity of Christ? Contrary to the opinion of some (based mostly on the absence of the phrase “begotten”, which the KJV translators added, and used inaccurately in Heb. 11:17), it most definitely puts forth a Messianic view of the Old Testament. Some have called it the “non-inspired version” because of its weaknesses, yet it is similar weaknesses that belong to other translations, which would make all translations “non-inspired”. We don’t call the KJV “non-inspired” even though it leaves out the name of Jesus in John 12:41. If the NIV denied the deity of Christ, why then would it add the name Jesus in John 12:41? The deity of Christ is so strong in all of scripture that a version would have to try ten times harder than the NIV allegedly does to erase it. Issues to consider: a) Awkward renderings of the Lord’s name in some passages. b) It makes the KJV’s mistake of confusing Sheol, Hades, Hell, and the grave. c) It does not have as much uniformity in translating the same word the same way across both testaments as it should. d) Although improvements have been made over the past 30 years, from the beginning the largest problem lies in the translation of Paul’s letters. An example is Eph 1:13, which says, “you also were included in Christ when you heard the word,” though the rest of scripture tells us only those who follow Christ are included in Christ. e) Some passages (like Proverbs 8:18) seem to preach the Prosperity Gospel (or “Olsteenism”). For example, Mark 10:24 leaves out that it is the rich who have a hard time getting to heaven.
The ESV: The English Standard Version (see NRSV). Work on this one began in the early 1990s, with an “essential literal” translation philosophy. It has become popular to use in new study Bibles, and continues to be regarded as a very valuable and faithful translation. Issues to consider: The most famous controversy is the rendering of monogenes in John 3:16 as “only” rather than “only begotten” (KJV and ASV). However, scholars debate whether the term means “only” or “only begotten”, and these debates are strictly linguistic, not theological. And as far as KJV advocacy is concerned, Luke 7:12 and 8:42 read “only” rather than “only begotten”.
The NKJV: The New King James Version came advertized as the first major revision of the Bible in 200 years. Those who worked on it signed a document declaring that they believed in the verbal inspiration of the Word. Many improvements are made in accuracy or understandability. Ex. 20:13, “not kill” becomes “not murder”. Rom. 12:8, “give with simplicity” becomes “give with liberality”. It is a very honorable translation, but surrounded by some other modern translations it is something of a step backward in scholarship. Issues to consider: a) Still relies too much on the textual study practices of 1611, mostly only catching up to modern times by rewording the KV. There is not as much consideration of new archaeology or linguistic knowledge as there should have been. Like the KJV it relies too much on Erasmus and the Latin Textus Receptus. b) The attempt at modern language isn’t always consistent (Gen. 1:6; Isa. 49:1; Job 28:25, and others). To quote Peacock in alluding to Isaac, “the voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (3). c) In the psalms, the attempt to capitalize all references to the Godhead lead to confusion as to whether some passages are referring to an earthly king or the Messiah.
A graphic representation of the range of translation philosophy as provided by Vertical Thought magazine.
Versions I would never recommend at all for public reading or serious study, but just might recommend for the sake of curiosity in the beliefs of others or the casual introduction of some believers to the Word by the reading of selective passages:
The TEV/GNB: The Today’s English Bible, also called the Good News for Modern Man, was advertised as being as easy to read as a newspaper, and is very cheap to buy. It comes will simple illustrations as well. For those who object to the illustrations, there is nothing controversial about them (especially compared to the original KJV of 1611, which had illustrations of Neptune commanding the seas). It’s actually a safer translation than the others on this second list, but mainly because the translation philosophy is loose, not because of denominational motives. The basic teachings of Christ are made clearly presented to very uneducated and/or ESL (English as a second language) readers. Also, once they become studied Christians, they can still return to this translation for passages that still remain confusing in more reliable ones. For the most part, it says what needs to be said, especially to the very unlearned, but is not very precise in most passages.
The JB and the NAB: The Jerusalem is explicitly Roman Catholic. It only serves a denomination of Christianity with a history of tampering with the traditions of the teachings of Christ. At the time it was the best translation Catholics at large had encountered, but only serves a Catholic audience, and only serves them to a degree. It does help the rest of us come to understand why many Roman Catholics believe as they do, and so is handy to have around. The New American Bible is a better version than the JB, but is still also explicitly Catholic.
The NWT: The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is an explicitly Jehovah’s Witness version. How silly it is that the very translators who insist that both the translation and their denomination name God “Jehovah” and nothing else also admit that “Jehovah” is a misspelling of a translated word! In this translation, the word Greek word proskuneo is translated “worship” when referring to God the Father, but only translated “gave obeisance to” when referring to Jesus. Why? In order to support the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine that Jesus was an angel God created, and not part of the divinity of God himself.
The NLB: The New Living Bible is a very loose paraphrase created by Kenneth N. Taylor out of a frustration with the KJV. This is a useless translation for serious study of doctrine. It can be quoted from for the purpose of paraphrase, but one can just as easily paraphrase on their own accord. You can see how some people grow so frustrated with the KJV that they’ll turn to anything that’s modern and colloquial. Turning to a paraphrase like this one presents many dangers.
The AB: The Amplified Bible is okay if you want to have an entire lexicon attached to each word. I exaggerate, but it is annoying to try and read.
The M: The Message is a recent dynamic equivalent version spearheaded by Eugene Peterson, who himself stated that his goal was to bring about a New Testament for “two types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat’“. He and his team emphasized that it is not a study Bible, but “a reading Bible”. In Christianity Today Peterson even explained that he didn’t want congregations to “pulpiteer” with The Message, saying, “when I’m in a congregation where somebody uses [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy[…]It surprises me how many do” (?). Considering the use restrictions they suggest, I think it serves fairly well as a “reading Bible”. If you ever quote it “in the pulpit” please read first from a stricter translation and segway to it (“or as The Message puts it…”). When quoting any paraphrase, treat it always as you would treat yourself paraphrasing a passage: “In other words, Jesus was telling them…”. After all, all Gospel preaching is made up of quotation, paraphrase and commentary.
The Jefferson Bible: Thomas Jefferson decided to do God a professional courtesy by cutting the parts out that he didn’t feel belonged. He strips the Good news of the miracles, as well as indications of the divinity of Christ and the resurrection.
The Patriot’s Bible: An idolatrous pro-Empire Bible that takes the NKJV and injects it with kingdom-of-man propaganda. The Gospel has to share a space with articles praising the barbaric “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, the allegedly God-sanctioned crusade that was the invasion of Iraq, the claim by Pres. Cleveland that Christ taught us to be hardcore patriots, and “For God so loved the world” being fulfilled in the exporting of soldiers overseas to spread napalm and bullets.
The Joseph Smith Bible: A Bible redone by Joseph Smith to conform the Gospel to the teachings of Mormonism. Smith died before it could be completed, thankfully.
The Queen James Bible: An entire edition of the Bible was invented just for one agenda: Re-do any passages that might lead us to have homophobic leanings (even though homophobia describes an anxiety around homosexuals, not a belief that homosexual acts are immoral). Even in the preface, the translators assume that King James Stuart was a bisexual, even though there is very little evidence to suggest he might possibly have been. Such a statement reveals the bias with which adherents to a particular movement attempted to deliberately tamper with translation for a particular agenda.
The Conservative Bible: This is a development of Conservapedia (the so-called “Trustworthy Encyclopedia”) whose deliberate mission is to rewrite the Bible without any of what they call “liberal bias”. In other words, the Bible is too liberal for these people. If this perversion ever gets completed, you can expect a bona fide “translation” that emphasizes the alleged Capitalist agenda in the parables, argues that it’s actually quite easy for a rich man to get into Heaven, and erases the words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The Blasphemous Bible: I don’t think I have to explain why this version is messed up beyond redemption.
The most important thing to learn from all these comparisons is that no translation can really be called THE right one by any church. Translation is not a divinely inspired process, though we may call it a process graced with providence and carried out with faith. All translations have errors. This does not damage the reputation of the Word, but allow to see that in spite of the failure of humans to be perfect we can produce true and holy renderings of the Word given to us. God’s truth can shine through even our weaknesses. If he can shine through imperfect men in doing his word, he can shine through imperfect men in communicating his word.
I suggest that more than one translation always be used for purposes of study and comparison. I have a King James Bible (KJV) that I have transcribed many notes in, and plan to pass on to my children. I also have a New King James Bible (NKJV) with most of the same notes that I plan to hold on to all my life. Unless I’m embarking on a heavy study, I usually carry a smaller New American Standard Version Bible (NASB) to worship and study. I used to carry an English Standard Version (ESV) that I still have, as well as a New International Version (NIV—which is on an 8th grade reading level, very useful for children and some adults). As of now I am reading the New Testament and Psalms from the Today’s English Version (TEV), just because of it’s very plain English style as I read to focus on the narrative aspect of the Gospel (I have no plans to use this version for any study beyond the narrative reading). I also have a Greek New Testament and an Interlinear Hebrew/Greek Bible, though I can’t read from them very well. I go to a bible class on Wednesday nights in which people bring different translations. Often we’ll ask one another, “what does your translation say?” and compare the readings to bring about a better understanding. Of course, this can also have its flaws.
I say all this not to impress you with the number of Bible copies I have. Bibles can be found cheaply in Ameria and anyone with cash to spare can buy a bunch of them up. I say this to demonstrate that I do not prefer just one translation, but believe in taking advantage of the great resources that is the number of translations out there which seek to render God’s word authentically in our language. The King James translators even admitted themselves that other versions in English are very useful (4).
With over 5,000 Greek manuscripts available, we have more than plenty evidence with which to obtain an accurate rendering of God’s word, yet we must also be careful of how we do so. I’ve heard it said that a translation should be accurate, clear, and dignified. And I agree.
What to look for in a translation:
Accuracy—”Authority of any translation,” says Pryce, “is measured by its conformity to the Greek and Hebrew texts” (5). A good translation worth its salt will be prepared by those whose will was to translate words and phrases that faithfully reflect the meanings of words in the original languages.
Clarity—A good translation worth its salt will be approachable and digestible to honest seekers of truth among the linguistic audience it was intended for.
Dignity—A good translation worth its salt will respect the Word and its author in its choice of wording. Some translations deliberately attempt a mockery translation. Obviously, avoid those.
Our next post will be the last in this series. We will conclude with final thoughts on the role of the KJV in Christian living, and what it really means to have “one Bible”.