King James Only—Refuted
Part 3: The Benefit of Newer Translations
Many KJV-Os claim that if anybody wants to read the true Holy Bible, they must learn to read English. Does this mean that things must be translated one way and one way only? Does this mean that the English is a more superior language to any other? Does this mean that English speakers have God’s special favor? King James Only-ists refuse to allow language evolution to develop the text into more understandable readings. Is this what God had in mind for us?
This third part of refuting the King James Only movement will demonstrate why it was acceptable, even beneficial, for us to have newer translations. In explaining this, it will be useful to look at some of the history of the writing of the King James Bible.
The Bible itself indicates that there is not just one true way to render a story, narrative, or remark.1 This does not necessarily prove bad translation, but it does prove that there is more than one way to accurately translate the same thing. That is exactly why we can have a story from three different Gospels told in three distinct ways, yet with all three perfectly inspired. Realizing this will go far in demonstrating the point at hand that even though no translation is perfect, many can portray God’s message in a wonderfully accurate way. As Mark was particular to his writing style and audience, Matthew was also particular to his writing style and audience.
There is certainly value in reading the text as closely to the original language and culture as possible. But this takes time and dedication. The beauty of the Bible is that the more you learn about the context of the Bible, the more the meaning of it deepens and enriches. At the same time, a person need not have much context knowledge in order to receive profound truths from it. It is powerful in its simplicity at times. It is also deep enough to keep scholars digging into its depths for a lifetime while sensing that they’ve barely scratched its surface.
Today, why do some say that translations should not be particular to their language? Could it be… tradition? One of the great barriers to receiving God’s truth has been (faithless, unauthorized) tradition. The Pharisees made the word of God of no value because of their traditions. They rejected the Messiah because of their traditions. The Catholic Church superseded Scripture itself by their tradition. And at that time, new Bibles were met with hostility because of their tradition. When tradition works for people, it is sometimes hard for people to break the trend and allow for eternal truths to be ascertained in new contexts.
Of course, this leads up to me implying that there are people that refuse to break away—or allow breaking away—from the King James because of their traditions. But I must acknowledge that the logic doesn’t flow that simply; and the point will be developed further. To be fair, the King James Bible was that Bible that broke tradition at the time that it was first printed in 1611. If the King James could be the groundbreaking Bible of its time due to advances in translation techniques, then could later Bibles not also carry forward this legacy?
For some of the history of the King James Version, we rewind to 390 A.D. Jerome was commissioned to translate the Bible into Latin, which became the Latin Vulgate (meaning “common”). This version was the benchmark for 1100 years. There have actually been more Latin manuscripts found than any other type. During that time, some people said that the Latin Vulgate was truer than the original Greek, and such things which the KJV-Os have unwittingly mimicked. As the Catholic Church became apostate and controlling, it required that the Scriptures be read in Latin (aka Latin Mass). Therefore, the bold men who translated the Bible into English were found and killed by the Roman Catholic Church (which I’m sure the Church would apologize for now). Most notable among these courageous warriors were John Wycliffe in 1384 and William Tyndale in 1526.
In 1516 the protestant reformation began, which hinged on the idea of informing the common person about the content of the Bible—including salvation by grace through faith. That same year, a Catholic priest named Erasmus was on duty to produce a continuous Greek New Testament using Greek manuscripts. How many Greek manuscripts did Erasmus have to work with? About six! None of these contained the entire text of the New Testament. In fact, he would learn that he didn’t even have the totality of the New Testament. The Latin Vulgate bailed him out on the ending of Revelation. The Greek manuscripts that Erasmus had to use were from no earlier than the 12th century. These Greek manuscripts were known as some of the Byzantine texts, which were sometimes called the Majority Text. Erasmus’s completed document was known as the Textus Receptus, or “Received Text.”
The Textus Receptus would become the foundation of the King James Version of the Bible. First the TR went through 5 editions, to correct some of the hasty work that had been done on it. The most notable change occurred after the original edition was in print. The Church was insistent that 1 John 5:7 read, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” To Erasmus’s knowledge, this was not in any Greek manuscript. He said that if it was in a manuscript, then he would have included it. Lo and behold, a 16th century manuscript surfaced, and Erasmus was obligated by his word to include the change (the comma Johannium) in his next edition.
This change would also be included in the King James Bible, which began about 90 years later. The Church of England did not yet have an official Bible on which they could put their stamp of approval. Thus, they would produce an Authorized Version. This would be the first English Bible to be translated from the Greek (rather than the Latin). Though we read the language as archaic now, at the time is was the latest language of the day (making some of the Geneva Bible “Only-ists” cringe). The King James version would reign as the dominant English Bible for at least two and a half centuries, until new manuscript evidence and changes in language sparked the need for translations that reflected this new knowledge.
In the previous section, I showed how the King James has errors of deviation from the Textus Receptus. Hopefully by this point the reader can understand that the Textus Receptus itself (and the Byzantine manuscripts from which it derives) are not the best that we could produce from the original Greek text. In short, certain scribal errors still carry over and numerous things seem to be added to the most original form of the text. What is the assumption of those devoted to the King James at all cost? The King James reflects the original, but scribes removed things from the text before we could have any evidence that they did so. I shouldn’t have to go into great detail for the reader to grasp this flaw of reason—the double standard, circular reasoning, and argument from silence.
The six late manuscripts produced a surprisingly accurate Bible in the Textus Receptus and the King James Version. It certainly worked for the original intent of the “Authorized Version”. According to James White the 54 authors of the King James Bible acknowledged, “This is the best we can do at the time; revisions will be necessary in the future.” The introduction to the King James Bible makes humble statements regarding the limits of the translation. The stated purpose of the King James translation was “not to make a bad version good, but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one.”
Today, instead of having six or so manuscripts to authenticate the reading of the text, we have 5,839 (and the number keeps rising). We have over half of the New Testament which can be read on 2nd century manuscripts. We have more scholars than ever; and knowledge is constantly on the rise. We have an English language that has never been spoken quite how it is spoken today. The language has flowed and developed so much in the 400 years since the King James Version that, according to Daniel Wallace, at least 300 words in the King James no longer carry the same meaning that they do today2.
We have found things out about the text that they may not have known in the 1600s. When we realize something about the text that we may not have always known—like early manuscripts not containing a phrase—it is our Christian duty to be as honest as possible with the beautiful text that we are carefully trying to describe. The KJV realistically did what was appropriate for the time, but, frankly, we can do better now. It seems that if a person or organization wants to exercise their knowledge of manuscript reliability and knowledge of Greek and Hebrew in order to make yet another translation of the Bible—go for it! If you are translating accurately and with reverence toward God, I trust that we will be able to read that text and receive God’s truth through it.
1Matthew 15:6- “And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” The parallel passage in Mark reads: “And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered.” The Greek reads: και ου μη τιμηση τον πατερα αυτου η την μητερα αυτου και ηκυρωσατε την εντολην του θεου δια την παραδοσιν υμων. The parallel passage in Mark reads: ακυρουντες τον λογον του θεου τη παραδοσει υμων η παρεδωκατε. NASB and Nestle-Aland have harmony between Matthew 15:6 and Mark 7:13. The disharmony should not be a problem, but it is something that backfires on the KJV-Os. They say that some of the evidence of corruption in modern translations is that they don’t have the exact same wording in parallel passages. If this is the standard that they set, they themselves, again, cannot live up to it.
2 Matt 6:25: “Take no thought for your life” (KJV) or “Do not be worried about your life” (NASB)
Gen 28:17: “[The house of God is] dreadful” (KJV); “[the house of God is] awesome” (NASB).
Phil. 4:6: “Be careful for nothing” (KJV) or “Be anxious for nothing” (NASB)
John 3:36: Those that don’t “obey” (NASB) or “believe” (KJV) Jesus have the wrath of God? απειθεω (Un-persuaded) (KJV and NASB) is the word for “obey” elsewhere in the KJV (Rom. 2:8- “not obey the truth”)
Rev 17:6: Martyrs are getting murdered by the woman (Babylon). John watches the woman with “admiration” (KJV) or “wonder” (NASB).
Rom. 16:18- “Deceive the hearts of the simple”? ακακος is in the TR (KJV) and the NA28 (NASB). Κακος is bad or evil. Ακακος is the opposite, non-guilty. It’s hard to make the connection between simple and innocent.
Rom 16:19- Be “simple concerning evil”? ακεραιος is literally un-mixed, and means pure, innocent. Again, “simple” does not do well to portray the meaning any more.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 1 Jn 5:7). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mt 15:6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mk 7:12–13). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Stephen’s 1550 Textus Receptus: with morphology. (2002). (Mt 15:6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Stephen’s 1550 Textus Receptus: with morphology. (2002). (Mk 7:13). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.