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  • Caleb Chamberlain

A King's Translation, But Not The King's Translation: Part I

The Bible is the Word of God. All Christians should believe this, although these days there are some who claim the title of "Christian" who reject this idea, but that is for another time. The position of the Authority of Scripture is a fundamental principle to Christianity. So, I want to say at the onset of this article that I do believe that the KJV as a Bible is the Word of God. It is because of this belief that I do not want to in anyway disparage the KJV. I believe that the KJV is a valuable text, and it has been for a very long time. Yes, I do not use it very often for personal studies, but I just want to say that I do appreciate the KJV in many ways, and I do even enjoy reading it from time to time. The more poetic style and elegance I find beautiful.

This all being said, I want to be upfront and explain the purpose of this article. My aim is to address the KJV-Only position, and to explain why I think the KJV is not the best translation, and why I think you shouldn't either. This is not to say that you should not read from the KJV. On the contrary, within it contains the truth, wisdom, and loving instruction of our Lord; it is no sin to read from only the KJV, although there may be a few drawbacks from doing so if you aren't well-versed in "The King's English." If you were raised in a church that taught from the KJV, you may be more comfortable with the language of the work, and there is nothing wrong with that. My dad is a pastor, and so I am no foreigner to the text myself. My dad once gifted me with a giant, beautiful King James Bible, and a Strong's Concordance of almost the same size to go along with it. These were wonderful gifts, and I cherish them, though I rarely use them because I find that the KJV at least is not the best representation of the texts to modern ears.

To modern ears... this should give you pause and maybe even cause you to reconsider if you hold to a KJV-only position - a position, I won't sugarcoat it, that has caused unnecessary division within the Body of Christ. To be sure, I will say this about any translation. If you hold that one translation above any other is the "more inspired" version of scripture, then you set up for yourself a dividing wall that was never put in place by our Lord. Ultimately, this is a position that cannot be easily defended, and there are several ways of showing this. I hinted at one of them already.

As I said a little bit ago, there may be some drawbacks from reading only from the KJV, and the KJV is not the best representation of the texts to modern ears. The KJV is now an older text with some language that is almost completely foreign to the common man. As Mark Ward says in a response to a criticism of his book, "Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible":

I am certain [Riddle] agrees that vernacular translation of the Bible is an essential correlate of those doctrines—that Tyndale’s plow boy still today deserves a Bible he can read. I even think Riddle would agree, in general, with my use of the apostolic principle, stated repeatedly in 1 Corinthians 14, that edification requires intelligibility.

Mark Ward's point is that the KJV largely uses outmoded English, and it should be our generation's duty to provide for future generations a resource that they can 1) understand and 2) relate with. This isn't to say that we should add in nonsensical gibberish that is common for each generation (eg. The Passion Translation), but what it does mean is that we must provide a text that they can readily understand without any training to comprehend the words on the page. This isn't to say that we don't need teachers and scholars to help understand the context of a passage through proper exegesis or ANE context, but it should at least be easy to follow the progression with language appropriate for the reader.

As Ward points to 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul says (KJV):

9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Or in common terms (ESV):

9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.

10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

If the language is hard to understand for the average Joe, then what good is the translation to him? As Mark Wade stresses (in the above link), "I, of course, argue that this is due to no fault in the KJV and no fault in us, but due solely to the ineluctable process of language change."

The translators and scribes of the King James understood this just as well. I know this is a long quote, but consider the following passage from the preface to the KJV.

But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? as it is written, Except I know the power of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh, a Barbarian, and he that speaketh, shall be a Barbarian to me. [1 Cor 14] The Apostle excepteth no tongue; not Hebrew the ancientest, not Greek the most copious, not Latin the finest. Nature taught a natural man to confess, that all of us in those tongues which we do not understand, are plainly deaf; we may turn the deaf ear unto them. The Scythian counted the Athenian, whom he did not understand, barbarous; so the Roman did the Syrian, and the Jew (even S. Jerome himself calleth the Hebrew tongue barbarous, belike because it was strange to so many) so the Emperor of Constantinople calleth the Latin tongue, barbarous, though Pope Nicolas do storm at it: so the Jews long before Christ called all other nations, Lognazim, which is little better than barbarous. Therefore as one complaineth, that always in the Senate of Rome, there was one or other that called for an interpreter: so lest the Church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen 29:10]. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob's well (which was deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, Read this, I pray thee, he was fain to make this answer, I cannot, for it is sealed. [Isa 29:11]

From the "Translators to the Reader" preface of the King James' Version of the Bible.

If they understood this, and found the translation a necessary thing because of "unknown tongues", why then is there a resistance against more modern renderings of the texts so that even "Tyndale's Plow Boy" can easily understand the Word of our Lord? It is because of this that we should appreciate other trustworthy translations of the texts, such as the updated NKJV, and the ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, and so many more. We have a plethora of resources available to us to dig into, and we should think of this as a blessing and not a hindrance to the Kingdom of God.

Now I think that this reasoning is enough to show that updated translations are a necessary and even healthy part of the Christian tradition. We do not want to shut out anyone from the Kingdom because of our favorite translation. But perhaps you, if you reading this are a KJV-Onlyist, are more suspicious of these other texts for reasons greater than a need for an updated translation.

In Part 2 of this topic, I'll address any concerns and suspicions with the second, more common, though more controversial, approach of showing that a KJV-Only position is without foundation by diving into the world of textual criticism.


Caleb Chamberlain, a follower of our Lord, The Ultimate Dragon Slayer, Jesus the Christ

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