Have you wondered why the King James Version uses words that aren’t in any other version? Or why some verses you read make no sense (like James 2:3)?
Have you ever heard “The Holy Spirit has preserved the Word of God so as to give us this Authorized Version”? Or have you heard that others have come along and introduced the doctrines of men into the newer versions? Sometimes even saying that it’s theological bias?
In this post, I want to give an answer for you folk who are wondering: (1) Is there anything wrong with other Bible versions and (2) Is there anything wrong with the King James Version?
The Bible was written by different people across different cultures, across different times, and in different languages. That is sometimes surprising to people who think that the Bible was only written in Greek. In fact, it’s more complicated than that.
The New Testament was written in Greek but in different levels of Greek sort of like how we have different levels of English. Watch how a teacher speaks in college and then to his five year old. Or listen to a person who just learned how to speak English. Or street English. The New Testament Greek has all that variety.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew though our oldest Old Testaments are not written in Hebrew—they’re written in Greek! You see, the Jews faced problems like we do today: when you grow up in a different culture with different languages, you start speaking those languages and might forget the old language. So years before Jesus was born, they translated their Hebrew Bible to Greek.
And that was so many years before that it was a different Greek: words shifted meaning. Think about Old English and the English you speak today and you’ll get an idea. If that doesn’t make sense think about the words you know. Today if you say someone is gay you mean something very different from what people meant even a hundred years ago. Then, “gay” meant “happy, joyful, and exciting”. Gay clothes (James 2:3) makes better sense when we see nice or fancy or fine clothes.
That wasn’t the only issue those Hebrew-to-Greek translators had. They also had to figure out how to get the idea from the original language and translate it to the new language when that new language didn’t have the necessary words.
For example, In Spanish the word puerta is feminine. The English translation is door and not female door. But that’s a problem when you see the word gatas which means female cats. Call them queens and no one will get it. (More on that here.)
They would think up new words, and sometimes they disagreed and used other words, and, since there was no delete button or a find-and-replace, they had to do this by hand.
Do this enough times and you have a bunch of Greek Versions (called the Septuagint or the LXX) which are not only different from the original Hebrew; they’re also different from each other!
As Christianity spread outwards they used those translated texts and they translated them into other languages. Syriac, Latin, Gothic, Coptic—on and on.
By the time translators like Wycliffe, Luther, Coverdale, Tyndale, and Erasmus got involved there was a ton of manuscripts scattered throughout the world—but lots of it remained either untouched or not discovered. No standard Hebrew text; some texts not discovered; some were locked in vaults; and some weren’t even checked because no one knew that they had them. Once the printing press was invented (1440), people were revising and reprinting like mad but they didn’t know how much stuff was still out there.
When King James got angry (long story), and got a group together to revise the Great Bible they had a lot of good stuff available to them, but also not enough good stuff, and some outright messy stuff. Erasmus had translated a Greek Text but unfortunately it late manuscripts and it had a lot of additions in it (sometimes, if the Greek was missing something, he’d just translate from a Latin version!). Even though King James had experts like Lancelot Andrewes (who learned Greek at 6!), they were working with the information—messy as it was—that they had available to them. The King James Bible was the best Bible revision they could do but things could, and would, be better.
That actually answers the second question: Is there anything wrong with the King James Version? Sure, but that’s to be expected.
As years went by, new discoveries came along. People were allowed access to other manuscripts. Our understanding of languages got better as we wound up with even more manuscripts and word usage.
With these new discoveries translators were actually able to stop revising the Great Bible (like the KJV) and come up with new translations. Groups as large as 90 scholars, not including people in the field who are authenticating discoveries, working on new versions that get closer to the original documents but also try to help in making it understandable to modern readers.
Which brings me to the first question: Is there anything wrong with other versions? Sure, in that one day we might discover even better attested manuscripts (possible) and that language will evolve (most likely) which will necessitate newer translations for those future readers.
What we should be doing then is not decrying new versions as spoiled and older versions as perfect (or vice versa), but rather reading the Bible in multiple versions. If I were to give a list of which Bibles you should be parallel reading, I’d say the ESV, NASB,NET, HCSB, NIV and the NLB. But if all you have is an NKJV, then read it with plans of buying other versions.
To answer the Header: what’s wrong with the KJV (or other Bible Versions)? We’re not reading them even though they keep getting better and better!
Bruce, F. F. (1978). History of the Bible in English: From the earliest versions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hills, E. F. (1983) The King James Version Defended! http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/kjvdefen.htm
Metzger, B. M. (2001). The Bible in translation: Ancient and English versions. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.
Rogerson, J. W. (2001). The Oxford illustrated history of the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wallace, D. (2001). The Majority-Text Theory: History, Methods and Critique Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol 37 (Issue 2).Accessed Here.
Wallace, D. (2001). History of the English Bible