One of the more common questions I receive concerns the various translations of the Bible. Many ask me what version I use, what version I recommend, or what version is the best. My usual answer to this is “yes.” That is, I use a number of different versions for reading, for study, and for preaching. I am not particularly interested in “falling in love” with any one version. Rather, I desire a version that accurately communicates the word of God in a way that is easy for readers and listeners to understand. Readability is useless if the version is not accurate to the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. By the same token, accuracy has no value if the words cannot be understood by common people. This is the reason I personally use so many versions since I am try to find this utopia of accuracy and readability for any given text. It is important for us to recognize that the word of God is without error, perfect, and infallible. However, the scholars who translate the perfect word of God into the English language are not perfect and are fallible. Therefore, not all versions are created equal and some translations do a better job with certain parts of the scriptures while other translations may excel translating other texts of the Bible. I have been asked repeatedly to give my perspective and opinion on the translations. I want the readers to understand that these articles are my personal opinion about the Bible versions. While I will cite various sources, much of my critique is subjective and should not be considered binding by any means. I hope these articles will simply be a guide to help people find the right version for their own reading and study. Our first article will begin with the King James Version.
The name “King James Version” (KJV) comes from the fact that the king of England, King James I, commissioned a new English version for the benefit of the Church of England. Wikipedia says, “King James proposed that a new translation be commissioned to settle the controversies; he hoped a new translation would replace the Geneva Bible and its offensive notes in the popular esteem. After the Bishop of London added a qualification that no marginal notes were to be added to Rainold’s new Bible, the king cited two passages in the Geneva translation where he found the notes offensive. King James gave the translators instructions, which were designed to discourage polemical notes, and to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. Eventually four different editions of the King James Version were produced in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. It is the 1769 edition which is most commonly cited as the King James Version (KJV).
King James’s instructions included requirements that:
- The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit….
- The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, etc.
- When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which has been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of the faith….
- No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text.
- Such quotations of places to be marginally set down, as shall serve for the fit references of one scripture to another….
- These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop’s Bible, viz. Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Whitchurch, Geneva.
King James’s instructions made it clear that he wanted the resulting translation to contain a minimum of controversial notes and apparati, and that he wanted the episcopal structure of the Established Church, and traditional beliefs about an ordained clergy to be reflected in the new translation (emphasis mine, BBK). His order directed the translators to revise the Bishop’s Bible, comparing other named English versions. It is for this reason that the flyleaves of most printings of the King James Bible observe that the text had been “translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised (by His Majesty’s special command.)” At least 80% of the King James New Testament is unaltered from Tyndale’s translation.
The King James Version was translated by 54 scholars (although only 51 are known) working in six committees, two based in each of Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Westminster. They worked on certain parts separately; then the drafts produced by each committee were compared and revised for harmony with each other. The scholars were not paid for their translation work, but were required to support themselves as best they could. Many were supported by the various colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.
Current printings of the King James Bible are typically based on an edition published at Oxford University in 1769, edited by Benjamin Blayney, rather than on the 1611 text. The Oxford edition applied the device of supplying italics for absent words much more thoroughly, corrected a number of minor errors in punctuation, and made the spelling more consistent and updated (that is, to the standards of the 18th century).”
I think most people realize that the King James Version is a beautiful literary work. For hundreds of years the KJV was the standard version that could not be matched. However, one must recognize that this work uses 17th century which can cause confusion to the average reader today. Here are a couple examples:
“And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium” (Acts 28:13;
KJV). The NASB renders this verse: “And from there we sailed around and
arrived at Rhegium.” In the 21st century it sounds like Paul and Luke bought
a compass rather than continued their journey by ship.
James 1:21 is one of my personal favorites: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (KJV). The point is that the KJV can cause confusion to many readers. There have been many people who have claimed that the Bible is too hard to understand. Many times, in my experience, the reason why a person thinks the Bible is hard to understand is because they are using the King James Version and do not know what these 17th century words mean.
We must realize that every version has its problems. The King James Version also has its difficulties. For example, the KJV renders Acts 12:4 as, “And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” It boggles most scholars’ minds as to why the KJV translators changed the word “Passover” to “Easter” in this passage, when the other 28 times this Greek word is used, the KJV retains the proper word “Passover.” All other versions accurately translate this verse as “the Passover.”
Another problem is found in Isaiah 14:12, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! ” The term “Lucifer” came into biblical tradition from Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate.”Lucifer” does not appear in the original language of the scriptures. Shamefully, the New King James Version maintains “Lucifier” in its modern update of the KJV. Most versions translate this passage, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn.” Unfortunately, one can see where the false concept came from concerning Satan’s name being Lucifer who fell from heaven. Lucifer is not a biblical name for Satan. Reading the context of Isaiah 14 one will see that Isaiah is prophesying against the king of Babylon and is not at all referencing the Devil.
Until just the past couple years, the King James Version has been the number #1 selling version each year. It truly is a magnificent literary work. If you have used the KJV and understand these difficulties and understand 17th century English, then this is an excellent version to use. However, if you have found the KJV hard to understand, then you ought to know that there are other versions available for you to use that make the Bible easier to read. Lord willing, we will look at some of these modern versions in upcoming articles.