King James Only?
Some of the most peculiar movements in the world are the King James Version Only groups that have sprung up lately. It is an extreme oddity to me that I would have run into these people in Southeast Asia, when we served there, and now in Germany. In America these are rather small splinter groups out of the conservative Christian movement of which I consider myself a member. But they have erred in exalting an English translation of the Bible over the Bible itself.
I believe that many of them are sincere believers, duped by leaders who have extremely inadequate academic credentials (if they have any worthy credentials at all). A few websites available to all on the internet help clarify these matters – and there is no reason for me to repeat them here. I recommend you read:
The articles are not against the King James Version, but only against those who claim that the King James and only the King James is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It is “King James Only-ism” that is the concern.
When I was a child, I grew up in church using the King James. I still read it almost daily and it remains in many ways my spiritual heart language. There has not been, nor will there likely be again, an English translation that is as beautifully written as the King James. I tend to be biased toward its interpretations of scripture in many, if not most cases. Yet the Bible itself was written in Hebrew, Greek and some parts in Aramaic, not in Elizabethan English.
The largest concern that the KJV emphasis brings up is the tendency of modern translations to use the “dynamic equivalent” method of interpretation rather than the word for word method. I understand the argument and anyone who has heard me preach knows that I prefer the word for word most often, and often in preaching I return to the King James whenever I feel that the modern translation has taken the matter too far. But to me this is not a cut and dried matter. Having worked as a language missionary in the Philippines – in two languages – and having spent most of my ministry outside of the USA, I tend to take a practical view of language translations. Sometimes a word for word translation is best, and at other times it makes the text impossible to understand.
I am thinking of the common Cebuano expression for the spirit world, “ang mga dili ingong nato” which means literally “the ones not like us.” To give the word for word translation makes no sense in English, or in any other language other than, perhaps, another Philippine dialect. There is a meaning implied that has centuries of customs and culture behind it, something that needs the dynamic equivalent of saying “spirit beings” rather than the literal translation. This is the nature of languages, that idiomatic expressions or cultural matters or simply archaic ways of doing things – swords and chariots instead of automatic weapons and tanks – often make a strict word-for-word translation impractical.
I do not believe the translators of modern translations have committed sacrilege in seeking to use the dynamic equivalent in some places. I have used the NIV since 1982, and am now beginning to use the ESV. Weekly, as I prepare my messages, I return to the Hebrew and Greek, to get a clear understanding of the passage. I will say that The Message and The Living Bible should both be understood as paraphrases and not translations, where the dynamic equivalent method entirely dominated the translation. But understood in this way, these are not harmful. A paraphrase version is generally done by one person, and he seeks to communicate the word thought by thought.
A “standard translation” refers to those types of translations that are done by a collection of biblical scholars, based upon the very best Hebrew and Greek texts, across a wide range of denominational and theological perspectives. The most commonly used standard translations of today are: Revised Standard Version; New American Standard Bible; New International Version; English Bible, and the English Standard Version. Contrary to common understanding, the Good News Version, or Today’s English Version, was an attempt at a standard translation for those for whom English is a second language.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is the translation that is commonly complained about by us more conservative students of the Word, for their tendency to “lean to the left” in certain passages when there were various ways a word or phrase could be understood – “young woman” instead of “virgin” and “expiation” for “propitiation”. The translators seemed to have an ax to grind with conservative Christianity, so it is not used as often among us conservatives.
Personally, as far as a paraphrase goes my preferred New Testament version is the Phillips’s translation, prepared by the English Anglican pastor and biblical scholar John Bertram Phillips, as he served as minister at the Church of the Good Shepherd in London, some of which was written in bomb shelters during the London Blitz. Philips tended to combine biblical scholarship, theological acuity, and a pastor’s heart in his translation.
While I am biased toward a basic word-for-word translation, and have studied to have a basic grasp of the original Hebrew and Greek, I am also biased that, to the degree possible, the Bible should be put in the “street language” of the everyday person. The Greek of the New Testament is called Koine’ Greek, or the average, everyday Greek that was used in the market places of the first century Mediterranean world. The Bible belongs to the world, and we should not get so carried away with theological correctness to the point that we make it beyond the ability for the average person to understand, for it was certainly not written that way originally. Paul asked for prayer “that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col. 4:3-4, NIV). Our goal must be to translate the Bible and communicate the gospel in a way that the average person can grasp its meaning.
Here are my concerns with the KJV.
First, the language itself is becoming archaic, with much of it already passed out of common usage. Words like “trow,” “gat,” “algum,” and “wot” appear, which modern man does not use or understand. When I was a teenager I memorized James 1:3, “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” I wondered for years what types of temptations divers had, until I found out that was the ancient spelling of diverse.
Secondly, the KJV was finished in 1611, relatively new into the Protestant reformation, dating roughly 100 years after the beginning. For centuries, leading up to 1500, the study of the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible had been neglected for the study of the Latin. Scholarship began to rediscover the original texts of the Bible, but centuries of neglect left them weak in their knowledge and the King James had mis-interpreted a few sections of Scripture. None of these were areas of major doctrine.
For example, Dr Combs in his paper published by the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary states:
For instance, in Isaiah 13:15 the KJV reads “joined” (“every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword”). There is no support for this reading in any Hebrew manuscript, text, ancient version, or rabbinic tradition. Instead, the correct reading is “captured” (“anyone who is captured will fall by the sword,” NASB). Possibly, the KJV translators misread one Hebrew letter for another, mistaking the word såpåh … “capture,” for såpa˙ … “join.” Whatever the case, the reading of the KJV is not the reading of the autographs and is thus an indisputable error.
Thirdly, there have been several archeological discoveries since the writing of the King James that have shed light on the texts that the KJV translators used. We have today a better and more accurate Greek text than did they. Again, these are only a few spots, and most believe that they do not affect doctrine. (For example, 1 John 5:7-8, based on the Latin Vulgate, but not present in Greek manuscripts prior to the fifteenth century.)
Fourthly, the KJV is just one language’s translation. English is not the only language in the world and the entire argument for “KJV Only” is just a bit strange. What about people who do not speak English? Where do they go? What about those who do not speak early seventeenth century English – which is virtually all of us – where do we go? I am sorry, and I don’t mean to sound rude, but the entire argument just seems silly to me.
I do not feel compelled to argue this matter further. Let me simply say that if you prefer the King James to other standard English translations, then that is your decision. If, on the other hand, you insist that only the King James Version is the inerrant Word of God, then you are moving into the realm of cultism, for you have exalted a translation of the Bible over the Bible itself. And this is what some are declaring, that to use a different translation of Scripture, is heresy and they are concluding that such preachers and believers are not true Christians at all.
If you would be passionate about the Scriptures, and defend their integrity and inspiration, then you should return to the original Hebrew and Greek – not to a translation by biblical scholars. No matter how loved the King James is, it is still a translation made by human beings. My own position is that we will have modern translations, and we are better off to use the best translations available today. To continue in the KJV when we no longer understand the English creates problems in and of themselves – being legalistic about matters where we have misunderstood the English.
There are some who are KJV Mostly, but I find them a bit rigid, more concerned that the English of the seventeenth century is preserved than the clear meaning of the Scriptures is proclaimed and applied today. Though I do not agree with his rigidity in his positions, for a more clearly stated defense of the KJV Mostly position, you can read:
King James Only?