This is not a “KJV Only” position. It is a “high respect for the KJV” position. We do not believe the KJV is “advanced revelation” or that its 17th century English is divinely inspired. We do not believe the KJV is “given by inspiration.” The term “given by inspiration” in 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek that was written by the holy men of old as they were moved by the Spirit. We believe that the KJV is an accurate, lovely, and God-superintended translation of the divinely-inspired Scripture, and we give priority to it.
To be most effective in his work, the Bible student must have complete confidence in his Bible. It must be studied as the verbally-inspired, plenarily-inspired, absolutely authoritative Word of God. That means that in the midst of the multiplicity of Bibles today one must know where to find the right Bible. There are dozens available in English alone.
Most commentaries and study courses use the smorgasbord approach to Bible versions, basically saying the student should use his own discretion in choosing a Bible. For example, Howard Hendricks, author of Living by the Book, advises reading the Bible in multiple versions. He specifically mentions the King James, the New King James, the Phillips, and the Cotton Patch Version. He gives no effectual warning about textual errors or faulty methods of translation.
But it is dangerous to read the Bible in defective translations.
Some foundational facts about the Bible version issue:
A foundational fact about Bible versions is this: All of the versions of the Protestant Reformation (English King James, German Luther, French Olivetan, Spanish Enzinas, etc.) were based on the same Greek text whereas all of the modern versions (except the New King James) are based on a different Greek text.
Generally speaking, the KJV Greek text was the text commonly used among God’s people through the centuries. It is called the “majority text” because it represents the vast majority of existing Greek manuscripts. It is called the “received text” because it was received from previous generations.
The modern Greek text is called the Egyptian text or the Alexandrian text, because it came from Egypt and the Egyptian city of Alexandria, which was a center of learning during the early centuries of the church age. The article “Textual Criticism and the Alexandrian Text” at the www.earlham.edu web site summarizes the standard view of textual criticism as follows: “This text arose in Egypt and is generally conceded to be the most important one. Westcott and Hort, who named this the Neutral Text, thought that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus had preserved a pure form of the Alexandrian type of text.” Jacobus Petzer says, “… the vast majority of textual scholars today agrees that the Alexandrian text is most probably the closest representative of the original text available today” (Petzer, “The History of the New Testament Text,” New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis and Church History, edited by B. Aland and J. Delobel, 1994, p. 25). Peter van Minnen, in Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts, concludes, “It is to be noticed that all the manuscripts listed above come from Egypt. The papyri ... Sinaiticus ... B [Vaticanus] ... We owe the early Egyptian Christians an immense debt.”
But Egypt is not the place where the Spirit of God gave the New Testament Scriptures. God chose to deliver the Scriptures to churches in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and Europe. Not one book of the New Testament is associated with Egypt.
The modern Greek text is called the “critical text,” because it is the product of “modern textual criticism.” This was invented in the 19th century (largely) by theological modernists and Unitarians. It was not based on the belief that the Scripture is the infallible Word of God and that God has preserved the Scripture. Modern textual criticism treats the Bible as just another book and uses naturalistic tools to determine its text. We will say more about textual criticism and the textual critics.
The modern Greek text favors two Greek manuscripts above all others, and those are the Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Vaticanus (B), which are the two oldest nearly complete Greek New Testaments, dating to the 4th century. Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844 by Constantine von Tischendorf in St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Vaticanus was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1475. Its history is unknown. The translators of the New International Version, for example, call the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus “the two most reliable early manuscripts” (footnote to Mark 16:9-20).
The first popular edition of the modern Greek New Testament was that of Westcott and Hort (1881). The Westcott-Hort was largely the basis for the Nestles’ Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament. The Nestles and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testaments are almost identical to the W-H text of 1881 in significant departures from the Received Text and in passages that have extensive doctrinal significance. Jack Moorman counted only 216 instances in which the Nestle-Aland 26th edition apparatus departs from the Vaticanus and Aleph. The W-H and the UBS delete or question almost the same number of verses (WH--48, UBS--45), the same number of significant portions of verses (WH--193, UBS 185), and the same number of names and titles of the Lord (WH--221, UBS--212).
A different Greek text accounts for thousands of changes in the modern versions. It is shorter than the Reformation Greek text by 2,886 words, which is the equivalent of the omission of the entire books of 1 and 2 Peter. We will say more about this.
On the Old Testament side, changes began to be introduced from the Septuagint (Greek translations), the Talmud, and other sources.
The first prominent modern English version based on the modern Greek text was the English Revised Version of 1881, but it never threatened the popularity of the King James Bible. The same was true for the American Standard Version of 1901, the Revised Standard Version of 1952, and the New American Standard Bible of 1960. It was not until the publication of the New International Version in the 1970s that a modern version began to be widely used outside of theologically liberal circles.
There are two fundamental principles in choosing the right Bible translation. It must be based on the right Hebrew and Greek texts, and it must use the right translation methodology.
The following is a summary of the book Why We Hold to the King James Bible, available from Way of Life Literature:
- The KJV is superior in its Hebrew and Greek texts
- The KJV is superior in its history and process of translation
- The KJV is superior in its purity of translation
- The KJV is superior in its English
- The KJV is superior in its distinction between the singular and plural second person pronoun
- The KJV is superior as the basis for serious study tools
- The KJV is superior in its influence
- The KJV is superior in its convicting, life-changing power
I. The King James Bible is superior in its Hebrew and Greek texts.
It is based on the Hebrew Masoretic and the Greek Received Text.
We aren’t going to give the evidence for this here, but having looked at the evidence, we are convinced that the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Received Text was the text given by divine inspiration and preserved through the centuries. It was published at the advent of printing, translated into the major languages, and sent to the ends of the earth during the Reformation and the modern missionary era.
Consider the witness of John Burgon, one of the greatest biblical scholars of the 19th century. After devoting much of his life to investigating the history of the Bible with the objective of determining what biblical text has come down through the centuries, John Burgon concluded:
“Call this text Erasmian or Complutensian,--the text of Stephens, or of Beza, or of the Elzevirs,--call it the ‘Received,’ or the Traditional Greek Text, or whatever name you please;--the fact remains, that a text has come down to us which is attested by a general consensus of ancient Copies, ancient Fathers, ancient Versions” (The Revision Revised, p. 269).
This testimony cannot be taken lightly. Burgon was a truly eminent textual scholar. Called “that grand old scholar,” by Frederick Scrivener, Burgon was a brilliant man, fluent in many languages, and he traveled throughout Europe and parts of the Middle East collating ancient manuscripts. He personally examined the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. He did probably the most extensive personal textual research into the biblical quotations of “church fathers” that has ever been accomplished.
John Burgon was not only a great scholar, he believed in the absolute infallibility of biblical inspiration.
In my estimation, no man has come up to Burgon’s standard since his day. I am not in a position to reproduce Burgon’s textual researches. I don’t have the skills or the opportunity that Burgon had. I have done my best to test the conclusions of the textual scholars using the resources at hand, but at the end of the day I must lean upon the research of other men. I accept Burgon’s conclusion that the Traditional Text has come down to us attested by a general consensus of ancient Copies, ancient Fathers, and ancient Versions. When the strange theories of modern textual criticism are rejected, it is evident that the Traditional Reformation Text has far more historic authority than the modern critical text.
Consider the witness of Edward F. Hills, who had a Ph.D. in textual criticism from Harvard: “The God who brought the New Testament text safely through the ancient and medieval manuscript period did not fumble when it came time to transfer this text to the modern printed page. This is the conviction which guides the believing Bible student as he considers the relationship of the printed Textus Receptus to the Traditional New Testament text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. ... It is inconceivable that the divine providence which had preserved the New Testament text during the long ages of the manuscript period should blunder when at last this text was committed to the printing press” (The King James Version Defended, 4th edition, pp. 199, 200).
The Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Text were unrivaled from the dawn of printing until the late 19th century. Then it was challenged by a text that is the product of modern textual criticism, which was deeply influenced by theological modernism and unitarianism. It is a naturalistic principle that is not founded on faith in the divine preservation of Scripture. Modern textual criticism is clearly the product of end-time apostasy. We have documented this extensively in books such as The Modern Version Hall of Shame, available from Way of Life Literature.
Consider the example of the editors of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament: Bruce Metzger, Matthew Black, Allen Wikgren, Carlo Martini, Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, and Johannes Karavidopoulos. Martini was a liberal Roman Catholic cardinal and the others (excepting one) were theological modernists. Consider Bruce Metzger. His 1997 autobiography, The Reminisces of an Octogenarian, omitted any reference to a personal salvation experience. He said the O.T. contains “a matrix of myth, legend, and history,” denied the worldwide flood, called Job an “ancient folktale,” claimed there are two authors of Isaiah, called Jonah a “popular legend,” and in a great many other ways attacked the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. (See The Modern Version Hall of Shame.)
Men like this have no spiritual discernment and no business handling the Word of God.
The Greek Testament produced by modern textual criticism is shorter by 2,886 words. This is equivalent to removing the entire books of 1 and 2 Peter from the Bible (Jack Moorman, Missing in Modern Bibles: Is the Full Story Being Told?, Bible for Today, 1981).
Modern textual criticism removes or questions dozens of entire verses:
Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14
Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28; 16:9-20
Luke 17:36; 23:17
John 5:4; 7:53-8:11
Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29
1 John 5:7
It further removes a significant portion of 147 other verses.
The modern Greek text contains many readings that weaken the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ and thus give evidence that they are representatives of manuscripts that were corrupted by heretics in the early centuries. Consider some examples of this:
Mark 9:24 -- “Lord” omitted in Aleph (Sinaiticus) and B (Vaticanus)
Mark 16:9-20 -- These verses are omitted in Aleph and B, thus making Mark’s gospel end with the disciples in fear and confusion, with no resurrection and glorious ascension.
Luke 2:33 -- “Joseph” is changed to “the child’s father”
---- 23:42 -- “Lord” is changed to “Jesus,” thus destroying this powerful reference to Christ’s deity
---- 1:27 -- “is preferred before me” omitted
---- 3:13 -- “who is in heaven” omitted
---- 6:69 -- “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is changed to “the Holy One of God”
---- 9:38 -- “Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him” omitted
Acts 2:30 -- “according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ” omitted
Romans 1:16 -- “of Christ” omitted
1 Corinthians 15:47 -- “the Lord” omitted
Ephesians 3:9 -- “by Jesus Christ” omitted
Colossians 1:14 -- “through his blood” omitted
1 Timothy 3:16 -- “God” omitted
Hebrews 1:3 -- “by himself” omitted
1 John 4:3 -- “confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” changed to “confesseth not Jesus”
Jude 1:4 -- “God” omitted
II. The King James Bible is superior in its history and process of translation.
The KJV is the product of nearly 400 years of godly Bible scholarship (Wycliffe 1384, Tyndale 1525, Geneva 1560, Bishops 1568, KJV 1611, KJV revision of 1762-1769 by Cambridge and Oxford presses).
The KJV was produced by a committee of more than 50 of the greatest biblical scholars in England. They sought help from many other scholars. They were divided into six committees, and each committee was in charge of a segment of the Bible. Each segment was subsequently reviewed by the other committees. The KJV was further revised in the 18th century. This history and process is unique in church history.
The KJV translators as a whole were masters not only of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, but also of the cognate or associate languages that are necessary for research into ancient documents relative to the Bible. These include Persian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Chaldee.
The KJV translators had perfect confidence in the inerrant inspiration of Scripture. They were breathing an atmosphere of biblical faith. This is in dramatic contrast to the field of biblical scholarship since the 19th century, which is permeated with skepticism as to the Bible’s infallibility, even among “evangelicals.” To my knowledge, a loftier testimony of the Bible’s divine inspiration has never been written than that which is contained in the Preface to the 1611 King James Bible.
“It is not only an armour, but also a whole armory of weapons, both offensive, and defensive; whereby we may save our selves and put the enemy to flight. It is not an herb, but a tree, or rather a whole paradise of trees and the leaves for medicine. It is not a pot of Manna, or a cruse of oil, which were for memory only, or for a meal’s meat or two, but as it were a shower of heavenly bread sufficient for a whole host, be it never so great; and as it were a whole cellar full of oil vessels; whereby all our necessities may be provided for, and our debts discharged. In a word, it is a Panary of wholesome food, against fenowed [moldy] traditions; a Physicians-shop (Saint Basil calleth it) of preservatives against poisoned heresies; a Pandect* of profitable laws, against rebellious spirits; a treasury of most costly jewels, against beggarly rudiments; Finally a fountain of most pure water springing up unto everlasting life. And what marvel? The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the enditer [composer], the holy spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the Pen-men such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principal portion of God’s spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God’s word, God’s testimony, God’s oracles, the word of truth, the word of salvation, etc., the effects, light of understanding, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the Saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance immortal, undefiled, and that never shall fade away; Happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night” (“Translators to the Reader”). [* A pandect is a treatise which contains the whole of any science.]
Consider some examples of the KJV translators’ scholarship:
Lancelot Andrews, chairman of the KJV translator committees, was the master of 15 languages. “Scholars of the greatest eminence, such as Casaubon, Grotius, and Vossius, have eulogised his extensive attainments.” Of Andrewes, it was said that “such was his skill in all languages, especially the Oriental, that, had he been present at the confusion of tongues at Babel, he might have served as Interpreter-General.” Andrews spent five hours a day in prayer.
Miles Smith (1524-1624), who was on the 12-man final revision committee and also wrote the Preface, was expert in Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. These were as familiar to him as his own mother tongue. A fellow bishop called him “a very walking library.”
John Bois could read the Bible in Hebrew at age five (taught by his father). During his student years at Cambridge, he commonly studied in the library from four o’clock in the morning until eight at night. Bois was an exact grammarian who had read sixty grammars (Paine, The Men Behind the KJV, p. 67).
Lawrence Chaderton was thoroughly skilled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and was thoroughly acquainted with the writings of the Jewish rabbis. As a young man, Chaderton began a series of afternoon sermons at the church of St. Clement’s, Cambridge, that continued for 50 years. “Sermons were timed by an hour glass, which stood beside the pulpit. Chaderton’s biographer tells how once having preached for two hours, he feared he had worn out his listeners’ patience and stopped. But the entire congregation cried, ‘We beg you, go on!’ Chaderton continued for another hour” (Opfell, The King James Bible Translators, p. 47). When he announced that he was retiring from these lectures, forty of the clergy, who said they owed their conversion to his preaching, begged him to reconsider.
John Rainolds was called “the very treasury of erudition” and was spoken of as “a living library, and a third university” (after Oxford and Cambridge). “It is stated that ‘his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf, page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read” (McClure, Translators Revived).
Henry Savile was a weighty Greek scholar, “one of the most profound, exact, and critical scholars of his age.” He was the first to edit the complete works of Chrysostom (with help from others). Toward this end he searched out the best manuscripts of Chrysostom’s works throughout Europe and assembled more than 15,000 sheets of them, which he gave to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. He was the tutor in Greek and mathematics to Queen Elizabeth.
Consider a few testimonies about these translators and their work:
John Selden, in Table-talk (1689), said: “The English translation of the Bible is the best translation in the world, and renders the sense of the original best.”
William T. Brantly, a leader in the Baptist denomination in America, said (1837): “... the forty seven professors and divines, who were appointed by James I, to re-translate, revise and correct preceding versions ... were profound philologists, men of ripe scholarship, and well skilled in critical acumen. ... it is difficult to imagine, how any individual, professedly acquainted with the literature of the reigns of Elizabeth and James, could be purblind to the fact, that so far from the Hebrew and Oriental languages falling into neglect and disuse during those periods, au contraire, they were among the first and prominent studies at Oxford and Cambridge; and that men, profoundly skilled in both, composed the conference who sat in solemn and nature deliberation at Hampton Court. ... we believe it will be difficult for the most incredulous mind to evade the conviction, that the venerable translators were eminently qualified, both by their learning and their piety, to produce an accurate and faithful version of the Bible in the English language...” (Objections to a Baptist Version of the New Testament, 1837, pp. 42-45).
Alexander McClure, author of Translators Revived, 1855: “As to the capability of those men, we may say again that by the good Providence of God, their work was undertaken in a fortunate time. Not only had the English language, that singular compound, then ripened to its full perfection, but the study of Greek, and of the oriental tongues ... had then been carried to a greater extent in England than ever before or since. ... it is confidently expected that the reader of these pages will yield to the conviction, that all the colleges of Great Britain and America, even in this proud day of boastings, could not bring together the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety for the great undertaking. Few indeed are the living names worthy to be enrolled with these mighty men. It would be impossible to convene out of any one Christian denomination, or out of all, a body of translators, on whom the whole Christian community would bestow such confidence as is reposed upon that illustrious company, or who would prove themselves as deserving of such confidence.”
Edward F. Hills (1956, 1979), who had a doctorate in textual criticism from Harvard: “Judged even by modern standards, their knowledge of the biblical languages was second to none” (The King James Version Defended, p. 114).
The KJV translators did not trust in their great scholarship but in the Spirit of God.
“To that purpose there were many chosen, that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise . . . And in what sort did these assemble? In the trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of wit, or deepness of judgment, as it were an arm of flesh? At no hand. They trusted in him that hath the key of David, opening, and no man shutting; they prayed to the Lord, the Father of our Lord, to the effect that St. Augustine did, O let thy Scriptures be my pure delight; let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them. In this confidence and with this devotion, did they assemble together; not too many, lest one should trouble another; and yet many, lest many things haply might escape them” (“Translators to the Reader”).
The translators were not paid for their work. Except for one case in which a KJV translator (John Harmer) was paid 50 pounds, only the 12 men who did the final revision received any direct financial payment and their wage was a weekly stipend of 30 shillings for basic expenses as they met in London for the nine months required to complete that portion of the work. This was paid by the king’s printer Robert Barker.
III. The KJV is superior in its purity of translation.
The King James Bible employs literal or “formal equivalency” rather than dynamic equivalency. It is not woodenly literal, but it aims for exactness. The translators respected every word of the original text.
Consider some testimonies about the accuracy of the King James Version:
Adam Clarke, 1810: “Those who have compared most of the European translations with the original, have not scrupled to say, that the English translation of the Bible made under the direction of king James I, is the most accurate and faithful of the whole. Nor is this its only praise; THE TRANSLATORS HAVE SEIZED THE VERY SPIRIT AND SOUL OF THE ORIGINAL AND EXPRESSED THIS ALMOST EVERYWHERE WITH PATHOS AND ENERGY. The original, from which it was taken, is alone superior to the Bible which was translated by the authority of king James. ... Besides, our translators have not only made a standard translation, but they have made their translation the standard of our language. ... This is an opinion in which my heart, my judgment, and my conscience coincide” (General Introduction to his Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1810-26).
John Burgon (1883), one of the greatest biblical scholars of the 19th century: “... the plain fact being that the men of 1611 produced a work of real genius: seizing with generous warmth the meaning and intention of the sacred Writers. ... Verily, those men understood their craft! ‘There were giants in those days.’ ... the Spirit of their God was mightily upon them” (The Revision Revised, 1883, pp. 167, 196).
John Dowling, Baptist leader in America and author of History of Romanism, 1850: “The fact is that the common version which it is proposed to amend, is, taken as a whole, a wonderful translation, and although it may be conceded that it is not perfect--for what human performance is so?--yet it is exceedingly doubtful, whether a translation has ever been made from any ancient book, Greek, Latin, or Oriental--which in point of faithfulness to its original can be compared with this, or which has fewer errors in proportion to the entire amount of its contents. ... to attempt to supplant it by a ‘new version,’ or to introduce any material alterations, would be like ‘gilding refined gold’...” (The Old-Fashioned Bible, or Ten Reasons against the Proposed Baptist Version of the New Testament, 1850, pp. 11, 12, 13).
Joseph Philpot, 1861: “They [the KJV translators] were deeply penetrated with a reverence for the word of God, and, therefore, they felt themselves bound by a holy constraint to discharge their trust in the most faithful way. UNDER THIS DIVINE CONSTRAINT THEY WERE LED TO GIVE US A TRANSLATION UNEQUALLED FOR FAITHFULNESS TO THE ORIGINAL, AND YET AT THE SAME TIME CLOTHED IN THE PUREST AND SIMPLEST ENGLISH” (Gospel Standard, February 1861).
Professor Gerald Hammond of the University of Manchester, England, said the KJV translators “have taken care to reproduce the syntactic details of the originals,” and, “At its best, which means often, the Authorized Version has the kind of transparency which makes it possible for the reader to see the original clearly. It lacks the narrow interpretative bias of modern versions, and is the stronger for it” (“English Translations of the Bible,” The Literary Guide to the Bible, eds. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, Harvard University Press, 1987, pp. 664, 656).
When Harvard University Press published The Literary Guide to the Bible in 1987, they selected the KJV for the literary analysis of each of the Bible books. “... our reasons for doing so must be obvious: it is the version most English readers associate with the literary qualities of the Bible, and IT IS STILL ARGUABLY THE VERSION THAT BEST PRESERVES THE LITERARY EFFECTS OF THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGES” (The Literary Guide to the Bible, p. 7).
The style of the King James Bible is not that of the 17th century but is an English style molded by the Hebrew and Greek.
“... the English of the King James Version is not the English of the early 17th century. To be exact, it is not a type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. IT IS BIBLICAL ENGLISH, which was not used on ordinary occasions even by the translators who produced the King James Version. As H. Wheeler Robinson (1940) pointed out, one need only compare the preface written by the translators with the text of their translation to feel the difference in style. And the observations of W.A. Irwin (1952) are to the same purport. The King James Version, he reminds us, owes its merit, not to 17th-century English--which was very different--but to its faithful translation of the original. ITS STYLE IS THAT OF THE HEBREW AND OF THE NEW TESTAMENT GREEK. Even in their use of thee and thou the translators were not following 17th-century English usage but biblical usage, for at the time these translators were doing their work these singular forms had already been replaced by the plural you in polite conversation” (Edward Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 218).
“Hallam ... [declares] that the English of the Jacobean version [the King James Bible] ‘is not the English of Daniel, or Raleigh, or Bacon’--in fact, that ‘it is not the language of the reign of James I.’ ... this is strictly true, and for the reason that he assigns, namely, ‘in consequence of the principle of adherence to the original versions which had been kept up since the time of Henry VIII’” (Albert Cook, The Authorized Version of the Bible and Its Influence, 1910).
“This English is there to serve the original not to replace it. It speaks in its master’s voice, and is not the English you would have heard on the street, then or ever. It took up its life in a new and distinct dimension of linguistic space, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GREEK (OR, FOR THE OLD TESTAMENT, BETWEEN ENGLISH AND HEBREW). These scholars were not pulling the language of the scriptures into the English they knew and used at home. The words of the King James Bible are just as much English pushed towards the condition of a foreign language as a foreign language translated into English. It was, in other words, more important to make English godly than to make the words of God into the sort of prose that any Englishmen would have written, and that secretarial relationship to the original languages of the scriptures shaped the translation” (Adam Nicholson, God’s Secretaries, pp. 210, 211).
The KJV is not only a translation, it is a dictionary in its own right,
What does the Hebrew and Greek mean? It means what the KJV translators says it means. Their objective was to give an exact translation of the Hebrew and Greek words in their proper context. Dictionaries such as Strong’s, Wuest’s, Robertson’s, and Vincent’s give one man’s definition of biblical words. For example, in Romans 1:17, Wuest says, “The Greek text has it, ‘Moreover the just out of faith shall live.’” This sounds like the King James reads, “The just shall live by faith,” but the Greek really says, “The just out of faith shall live.” That isn’t true. The KJV is just as much a reading of the Greek text as Wuest, and I give first consideration to the KJV’s translation of the Greek rather than to any one man. I use Strong, Wuest, Robertson, Vincent, etc. I learn from them; I find them helpful, though I am cautious in using them. But I first consult the work of Lancelot Andrewes, John Bois, Lawrence Chaderton, Richard Kilby, John Rainolds, Henry Savile, Miles Smith, and their learned friends on the KJV translation committee.
The vast majority of Bible students are not expert enough in the biblical languages to understand all of the fine details for themselves. They are dependent on translations, dictionaries, grammars, and commentaries. Some only glance at the KJV, then run quickly to these other tools. But I have learned first to look carefully at the riches that the KJV translators have given me. Only then do I look to other resources to help me better understand the passage. Consider the part of speech in Greek called “anarthrous,” which “refers to a word or group of words which appear without a definite article” (i.e., “the”). (Greek has no indefinite article -- “a” or “an” in English.) Spiro Zodiates, who was a native Greek and an expert in biblical Greek, observed, “Sometimes it is best to translate an anarthrous word by supplying ‘a’ or ‘an’ before it. In fact, due to reasons of English style or Greek idiom, the word ‘the’ is even an appropriate translation in some cases. However, there are many times when supplying an article would be incorrect” (Complete Word Study Bible). There are various types of articular infinities, which is a special use of the preposition, etc. Consider the following summary of the ways that an aorist participle can be used: “An aorist participle can be used as an Attendant Circumstance or as a number of different Adverbial uses, such as Temporal, Means, Conditional, Causal, and Concessional, as well as others. In many of these uses, the action of the aorist participle does *not* take place before that of the main verb. However, when it is used as a Temporal Adverbial participle, then the time element of the participle’s ‘tense’ is more prominent than with most of the other uses of the participle (where the ‘kind of action’ may be more important). In this case, you can say that the action of the aorist participle precedes that of the main verb. (However, please note that if the main verb is also in the aorist tense, then the modifying aorist participle may indicate contemporaneous time.)” (“The Time Element of Aorist Participles,” blog.ntgreek.org).
IV. The King James Bible is superior in its English.
I have about 100 books in my library that extol the excellence of the King James Bible and its English. The following statements could be greatly multiplied.
In his book The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton: Crossway Book, 2002), Dr. Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College, continually applauds the KJV, praising its beauty, dignity, and power. He uses it as an example of what good Bible translation is all about. He calls for modern translation work to be done after “the King James tradition” (p. 282, 284). The book contains many quotations exalting the KJV, such as the following:
“peerless literary masterpiece” (p. 270)
“unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world” (p. 267)
“the noblest monument of English prose” (p. 258)
“incomparably the best English translation in its rhythm” (p. 259)
“when it comes to stylistic range and flexibility, the King James Bible is peerless” (p. 227)
“the touchstone of affective power” (p. 206)
“matchless in its literary qualities among all English translations” (p. 188)
“the supremely literary English translation” (p. 163)
“immeasurably superior” (p. 163)
“the touchstone of literary excellence” (p. 62)
“stylistically the greatest English Bible translation ever produced” (p. 51)
Joseph Philpot, 1861: “[I]t is because the language of our Bible is such pure, simple, unaffected, idiomatic, intelligible English that it has become so thoroughly English a book, and has interwoven itself with our very laws and language” (Joseph Philpot, Gospel Standard, February 1861).
William Muir, Our Grand Old Bible, 1911: “The influence of the Authorised Version, alike on our religion and our literature, can never be exaggerated. ... The Authorized Version has often been called A WELL OF ENGLISH UNDEFILED, and much of its purity is due to the fact that its water was drawn from the ancient springs. It has the universal note which gives it a place among the immortals. IT HAS THE DIVINE TOUCH, EVEN IN ITS DICTION, WHICH LIFTS IT ABOVE THE LIMITATIONS OF LOCALITY AND TIME, AND MAKES IT VALID AND LIVING FOR ALL THE AGES. Like A RARE JEWEL FITLY SET, the sacred truths of Scripture have found such suitable expression in it, that we can hardly doubt that they filled those who made it with reverence and awe, so that they walked softly in the Holy Presence. ... THE ENGLISH BIBLE IS STILL FRESH AND MIGHTY, EVEN IF IT HAS ARCHAIC OR OBSOLETE WORDS. IT HAS WAXED OLD, BUT IT HAS NOT DECAYED. ITS YOUTH ABIDES, AND THE SUN NEVER SETS ON ITS SPHERE OF INFLUENCE. Many volumes have perished since it first saw the light; but its message is as modern as ever. It has not only kept up-to-date, it has anticipated every need of men, and still responds to every new demand” (Muir, Our Grand Old Bible, 1911, pp. 131, 192, 238).
John Livingston Lowes (1867-1945), American scholar of English literature, 1936, called the King James Bible “THE NOBLEST MONUMENT OF ENGLISH PROSE.” This was the title of the chapter that he contributed to Essays in Appreciation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936).
Arthur Clutton-Brock, essayist, critic, and journalist, 1938, said: “The Authorized Version of the Bible is a piece of literature without any parallel in modern times. Other countries of course, have their translations of the Bible, but they are not great works of art” (Vernon Storr, editor, The English Bible: Essays by Various Writers, Clutton-Brock, “The English Bible,” 1938).
Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956), “the most prominent newspaperman, book reviewer, and political commentator of his day,” said this about the King James Bible: “It is the most beautiful of all the translations of the Bible; indeed, IT IS PROBABLY THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF WRITING IN ALL THE LITERATURE OF THE WORLD. ... Its English is extraordinarily simple, pure, eloquent, lovely. It is a mine of lordly and incomparable poetry, at once the most stirring and the most touching ever heard of” (Gustavas Paine, Preface, The Learned Men).
Gustavus Paine, author of The Men Behind the KJV, 1977, wrote: “... not only was theirs the best of the English Bibles; THERE IS, IN NO MODERN LANGUAGE, A BIBLE WORTHY TO BE COMPARED WITH IT AS LITERATURE. ... indeed the 1611 rhythms have been potent to affect writing, speaking, and thinking ever since the learned men produced them. ... They knew how to make the Bible scare the wits out of you and then calm you, all in English as superb as the Hebrew and the Greek” (pp. 169, 171, 172).
Jonathan Yardley, book critic for the Washington Post and Pulitzer Prize winner: “King James Bible is THE GREATEST WORK EVER WRITTEN IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, PERIOD” (quoted in Adam Nicholson, God’s Secretaries, in the section “Praise for God’s Secretaries” which follows the table of contents).
The slight antiquation of the KJV should not be looked on as a handicap but is an advantage.
Edward F. Hills, Ph.D., textual criticism, Harvard: “The Bible is not a modern, human book. It is not as new as the morning newspaper, and no translation should suggest this. If the Bible were this new, it would not be the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible is an ancient, divine Book, which nevertheless is always new because in it God reveals Himself. Hence THE LANGUAGE OF THE BIBLE SHOULD BE VENERABLE AS WELL AS INTELLIGIBLE, and the King James Version fulfills these two requirements better than any other Bible in English” (The King James Version Defended, p. 219).
Leland Ryken, Wheaton College: “I believe that it is correct for an English translation to preserve AN APPROPRIATE ARCHAIC FLAVOR as a way of preserving the distance between us and the biblical world. Joseph Wood Krutch used an evocative formula in connection with the King James Bible when he spoke of ‘an appropriate flavor of a past time.’ ... A SACRED BOOK SHOULD SOUND LIKE A SACRED BOOK, NOT LIKE THE DAILY NEWSPAPER. It should command attention and respect, and to do so it cannot be expressed in the idiom of the truck stop. The failure of modern colloquial translations is frequently a failure of tone” (Ryken, The Word of God in English, pp. 182, 278, 279, 280).
“Before I started reading the KJV my English was OK. Not terrible, just better than average. Since reading it as my main Bible, however, my use of English has become both more precise and more concise” (A.S. Neworth, Royal Navy).
V. The KJV is superior in its distinction between the singular and plural second person pronoun.
A large part of the antiquated feel of the King James Bible is due to the retention of the old English distinction between the singular and plural second person pronoun (thee, thou, thine - ye, you, yours). This was done to enable accurate translation of the Hebrew and Greek. Modern English has lost this distinction.
Pronouns beginning with “t” are singular (thee, thou, thine), and those beginning with “y” are plural (ye, you, yours). One way to remember this is that a “t” resembles one stick, while a “y” resembles two sticks.
Consider some examples of why this distinction is important: John 3:7 - “Marvel not that I said unto THEE, YE must be born again.” Modern English versions don’t maintain this distinction. ESV “Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.” John 3:11, 12 - “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, WE speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and YE receive not our witness. If I have told YOU earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall YE believe, if I tell YOU of heavenly things?” Exodus 4:15 - “And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.” This accurate version makes it clear that God was going to speak to Aaron by the mouth of Moses (thou) to teach both of them and Israel was a whole (you - ye). But again the modern versions destroy this distinction. NJKV - “Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do.” Here it appears that God is going to speak to Moses only. Jeremiah 5:14 - “Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because YE speak this word, behold, I will make my words in THY mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” The people (ye) were speaking this word, and God would make Jeremiah’s (thy) mouth fire. NKJV “Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts: "Because you speak this word, Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, And this people wood, And it shall devour them.” Acts 13:34 - “And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give YOU the sure mercies of David.” God is not speaking to Christ but to all of His people. 2 Chronicles 7:17-19 - “And as for THEE, if THOU wilt walk before me...and do all that I have commanded THEE...Then I will establish the throne of THY kingdom...But if YE turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments...and shalt go and serve other gods...” God is first speaking to Solomon (thee, thou, thy), then He is speaking to all of the people (ye). 1 Samuel 17:46-47 - “This day will the LORD deliver THEE into mine hand; and I will smite THEE, and take THINE head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give YOU into our hands.” In verse 46 David is speaking of Goliath (thee, thine), but in verse 47 he speaking of the Philistine people (you). Genesis 18:3-4 - “And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in THY sight, pass not away, I pray THEE, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray YOU, be fetched, and wash YOUR feet, and rest YOURSELVES under the tree.” In verse 3 Abraham is speaking to and of the Lord (thy, thee), but in verse 4 he is speaking of all three of the persons who appeared to him, including the two angels (you, your, yourselves). Luke 22:31-32 - “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have YOU, that he may sift YOU as wheat: But I have prayed for THEE, that THY faith fail not: and when THOU art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” In verse 31, Jesus says that Satan wanted to sift all of the disciples (you), and in verse 32 he focuses on Peter alone (thee, thy, thou). Exodus 29:42 - “This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout YOUR generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD: where I will meet YOU, to speak there unto THEE.” God promised to meet with all of the people who approached Him at the tabernacle (you), but He would speak to Moses (thee). Luke 5:24 - “But that YE may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto THEE, Arise, and take up THY couch, and go into THINE house.” Jesus was saying that it was for the purpose of showing all of Israel (ye) that He would command the sick man to be healed (thee, thy, thine). John 14:9 - “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with YOU, and yet hast THOU not known me, Philip?” Jesus first refers to all of the disciples (you), then to Philip personally (thou). 1 Corinthians 8:9-10 - “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of YOURS become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see THEE which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols.” Paul first addresses the whole church at Corinth and believers in general (yours), then focuses on the individual believer and his individual responsibility (THEE).
The verbs of singular second and third person subjects require special endings.
Singular Present tense - I save (1st person); thou savest (2nd person); he saveth (3rd person)
Singular Future tense - I shall/will save (1st person); thou shalt/wilt save (2nd person); he shall/will save (3rd person)
Singular Past tense - I saved (1st person); thou didst save (2nd person); he saved (3rd person)
Singular Passive voice - I am saved (1st person); thou art saved (2nd person); he is saved (3rd person)
In a nutshell, the -st endings are used for the second person singular present and past and the -th endings are used for the 3rd person singular.
See Job 30:15-27
“they pursue” (v. 15) third person plural
“my welfare passeth away” (v. 15) third person singular
“it bindeth me about” (v. 18) third person singular present
“thou dost ... thou regardest” (v. 20) second person singular present
“thou art” (v. 21) second person singular passive
“thou wilt” (v. 23) second person singular future
“my bowels boiled” (v. 27) first person singular past
VI. The King James Bible is superior as the basis for serious study tools.
The King James Bible was the basis for the first exhaustive concordance in church history. That was the Strong’s of 1890. James Strong created a numbering system for the Hebrew and Greek words so that those who cannot use Hebrew and Greek dictionaries directly can still study the words. This numbering system became the basis for a wealth of other Bible study tools (e.g., Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words, Englishman’s Hebrew and Greek Lexicons, Theological Dictionary of the Old and New Testament, New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon, Complete Word Study Dictionary).
The KJV was the basis for the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which was first published in about 1836.
These were invaluable tools for the Bible Institute movement that began in the late 19th century and spread quickly in the 20th. The Bible Institutes were based on the English Bible and educated countless preachers and Christian workers who were zealous Bible students, though not well trained in the Biblical languages. The Bible Institute movement produced a large percentage of the missionaries that went to the ends of the earth in the modern missionary movement.
VII. The King James Bible is superior in its influence.
David Daniell, Professor of English, University College London: “On a historical scale, the sheer longevity of this version is a phenomenon, without parallel. ... IN THE STORY OF THE EARTH WE LIVE ON, ITS INFLUENCE CANNOT BE CALCULATED. ITS WORDS HAVE BEEN FOUND TO HAVE A UNIQUE QUALITY, of being able both to lift up a dedicated soul higher than had been thought, and to reach even below the lowest depths of human experience” (The Bible in English, 2003, p. 427).
A. The KJV had a powerful influence upon Britain, producing spiritual reformation and making it into a great missionary-sending nation. It was the Bible of the British Empire.
B. The KJV had a strong role in the creation of the United States of America, a nation that in former days, particularly, was a spiritual light to the world. The King James Bible had a powerful influence upon America’s founding political documents, and it built the hundreds of thousands of churches that once made her great, morally, spiritually, intellectually.
C. The KJV united the English speaking people for nearly four centuries.
D. The KJV had a powerful influence upon the English language itself.
The English language is filled with sayings that come directly from the King James Bible. These have become so much a part of the language that most English speakers are not aware that they come from the Bible.
A few examples are “lick the dust,” “land of the living,” “from strength to strength,” “pride goeth before a fall,” “the skin of his teeth,” “a thorn in the flesh,” “the scales fall from your eyes,” “salt of the earth,” “fight the good fight,” “turn the other cheek,” “the pride of life,” “labor of love,” “the root of all evil,” “a soft answer,” “the fat of the land,” and “a land of milk and honey.”
Consider the following testimony to the literary effect of the King James Bible from Cleland Boyd McAfee’s The Greatest English Classic: A Study of the King James Version of the Bible and Its Influence on Life and Literature (1912), chapter IV, “The Influence of the King James Version on English Literature” --
“The first and most notable fact regarding the influence of the Bible on English literature is the remarkable extent of that influence. It is literally everywhere. If every Bible in any considerable city were destroyed, the Book could be restored in all its essential parts from the quotations on the shelves of the city public library. There are works, covering almost all the great literary writers, devoted especially to showing how much the Bible has influenced them.
“The literary effect of the King James version at first was less than its social effect; but in that very fact lies a striking literary influence. For a long time it formed virtually the whole literature which was readily accessible to ordinary Englishmen. We get our phrases from a thousand books. The common talk of an intelligent man shows the effect of many authors upon his thinking. Our fathers got their phrases from one great book. Their writing and their speaking show the effect of that book. ...
“First, the style of the King James version has influenced English literature markedly. Professor Gardiner opens one of his essays with the dictum that ‘in all study of English literature, if there be any one axiom which may be accepted without question, it is that the ultimate standard of English prose style is set by the King James version of the Bible’ (Atlantic Monthly, May, 1900, p. 684). You almost measure the strength of writing by its agreement with the predominant traits of this version. ...
“The second element which English literature finds in the Bible is its language. The words of the Bible are the familiar ones of the English tongue, and have been kept familiar by the use of the Bible. The result is that ‘the path of literature lies parallel to that of religion. They are old and dear companions, brethren indeed of one blood; not always agreeing, to be sure; squabbling rather in true brotherly fashion now and then; occasionally falling out very seriously and bitterly; but still interdependent and necessary to each other’ (Chapman, English Literature in Account with Religion). Years ago a writer remarked that every student of English literature, or of English speech, finds three works or subjects referred to, or quoted from, more frequently than others. These are the Bible, tales of Greek and Roman mythology, and Aesop's Fables. Of these three, certainly the Bible furnishes the largest number of references. There is reason for that. A writer wants an audience. Very few men can claim to be independent of the public for which they write. There is nothing the public will be more apt to understand and appreciate quickly than a passing reference to the English Bible. So it comes about that when Dickens is describing the injustice of the Murdstones to little David Copperfield, he can put the whole matter before us in a parenthesis: "Though there was One once who set a child in the midst of the disciples." Dickens knew that his readers would at once catch the meaning of that reference, and would feel the contrast between the scene he was describing and that simple scene. Take any of the great books of literature and black out the phrases which manifestly come directly from the English Bible, and you would mark them beyond recovery” (McAfee, The Greatest English Classic).
E. The KJV was the basis for the greatest spiritual revivals in modern history (the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, the revivalist movement of the latter 19th century and early 20th century, the fundamentalist movement).
The KJV was the Bible of the dispensational movement that restored a literal interpretation of prophecy to prominence in Bible-believing churches.
The KJV was the Bible of the great missionary movement of the 17th to the 20th centuries. The King James Bible was almost the exclusive Bible of English-speaking missionaries for four centuries, in which the gospel went to the ends of the earth. In many cases, the King James Bible was the basis for translations into other languages.
On the other hand, the modern English versions are the Bibles of unitarianism, theological modernism, the cults, the ecumenical movement, theistic evolution, the Charismatic movement, New Evangelicalism, Christian rock, contemplative prayer, New Reformed Calvinism, etc.
F. Even in the 21st century, the King James Bible continues to be the Bible of many thousands of congregations throughout the world and of thousands of missionaries. It continues to be used as the basis for foreign-language translations. In recent decades, translations have been made from the King James Bible into Korean, Nepali, Thai, and other languages.
The KJV was challenged by the English Revised Version (1881), the American Standard Version (1901), and the Revised Standard Version (1947), but it held its place of preeminence until late in the 20th century. It is still extremely popular in spite of a bewildering number of competitors and the fact that there are no big advertising dollars pushing it, in contrast to the modern versions. In 1995, Philip Stoner, vice president of Biblical and Religious Reference Publishing, Thomas Nelson, told me in a letter that “all general distributors sell more KJV than NIV.” And this does not include the private publishers who print only the KJV, such as Bearing Precious Seed.
VIII. The King James Bible is superior in its convicting, life-changing power.
The King James Bible has been the spiritual fountain for the regeneration of countless souls and the establishment of countless Bible-believing churches over the past four centuries. More than any other version, it has demonstrated itself to be the “quick and powerful Word of God.”
It still has that power in the 21st century. Consider the testimony of Marybeth Lane:
“In my thirties, I was leading several groups of women and teenagers. The main question that I kept hearing from these women had to do with which version of the Bible was the most accurate. I decided I was going to read a new version of the Bible every six months. I read the majority of the popular Bible versions over the next few years. It was interesting to see how my views on God would change with each version. For instance, when I read The Message version I found myself becoming very mystical in my response to God…sound doctrine was slowly replaced with pseudo-spiritual experiences. Due to my exposure to the Message Bible, along with reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (and other similar books), I found myself studying Roman Catholic contemplative mystics. This ultimately led me into a full-blown contemplative prayer life. Tozer praises the Catholic mystic Teresa of Avila (who levitated and had physically painful visions of demonic entities stabbing her) as a godly example to follow. After reading some of her writings, I began studying the works of other authors, such as Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, and Richard Foster. I continued down this path until I began studying the writings of Thomas Merton (a Buddhist, Catholic monk) and Thomas Keating. These men were clearly both practicing and teaching interfaithism. Finally, after reading through many versions, I was faced with the fact that the only well-known version that I had left to read was the dreaded King James Version!! I thought the KJV was going to be very difficult to read, but after doing some research on the reason behind some of the language that is used, I began to appreciate the ‘ye’ and the ‘thou.’ The most shocking verse for me to read was Acts 8:37. I couldn’t believe that the other versions that I had been reading did not include this extremely important passage on believer’s baptism. Consequently, I started to research what else was missing, and I was flabbergasted to find all of the changes that had taken place. … Brother Cloud’s writings on the subject were especially helpful to me during this season. My husband, Ed, was supportive of my research yet extremely skeptical of my discoveries. ... Ed had been an attorney for over 20 years and was trained in law school to search for evidence, no matter the cost. Ed started digging into the research that I presented him, and within six months he became convinced of the authenticity and reliability of the King James Version of the Bible. The greatest testimony to me regarding the truth of the King James Bible was far more than simply the facts that I uncovered, but it was the unexpected FRUIT that began to manifest in my life, my husband’s life, and in our marriage. This word truly was quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword. Nothing in the KJV was watered down. My husband was led to give up his full time law practice to become a street evangelist, while at the same time God was leading me to keep my place in the home. … Our Father truly knows what we need, and we have never been without. The fruit in my life was the greatest convincing factor that I was reading the perfect, infallible word of God. No other version of the Bible yielded the kind of fruit that Ed and I were experiencing.”
For more on this, see Why We Hold to the King James Bible and Faith vs. the Modern Bible Versions (Way of Life Literature), and Touch Not the Unclean Thing by David Sorenson.
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials