The brief answer to the question above is: use any Bible that translates faithfully and accurately from the same Hebrew and Greek texts used in the production of the King James Bible in 1611.

The principal Hebrew text used for the Old Testament was the Masoretic Text collated by Jacob ben Chayim and first published in 1525. The principal Greek text was a 1598 revision by Theodore Beza of what is now retrospectively termed the Received Text or (in Latin) Textus Receptus.

A series in the Lampstand in 2011 traced the historical background and development of the King James Bible and concluded that the events leading up to its publication were divinely helped. A window of opportunity in English history occurred between 1604 and 1614, as attested by a number of writers.1 With regard to the Received Text it is claimed:“ The Texts Receipts was the providential provision of God to place the Reformation on the solid foundation of the Greek text”.2 The writer of these words, is among many who advocate that knowledge of the Greek text in particular has increased to the extent that the 1598 Received Text is now obsolete. Whilst some changes have taken place with regard to the Old Testament, most developments have occurred with the New. For this reason,this series of articles will concentrate largely on the New Testament, and examine the above claim of obsolescence.

For some 270 years (1611 to 1881) the King James Bible was to all intents and purposes called the English Bible, to the extent that it was often called the Common Version. Generations of English-speaking people were nurtured on that version even well after 1881 (the year the Revised Version was first published). Brother Thomas came to a knowledge of the Truth through it. The great majority of Christadelphian readers could attest to the fact that they learned the Truth through the King James Version. Their education may have been ‘basic’. In turn many of them were taught by parents and by Sunday School teachers who themselves had nothing more than a Year 9 education if that. Yet today we have a (supposedly) much better educated generation who sometimes assert that they cannot understand King James English! That is a surprising claim!

Whilst the King James Bible was a providential publication, it was/is by no means infallible. In the Oracles of God, Brother John Carter wrote, “But while the book (the Bible) could not have been produced without inspiration, copying is a matter of which man is capable. Inspiration is necessary for the one, human carefulness for the other” (page 81, 1966 Ed.). There are errors in the King James Version! For example a book published by the New International Version Committee on Bible Translation (NIVCBT) lists 91 “misleading or obscure readings in the KJV”.3 Only three are doctrinal (Rom 5:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet 1:1), and in these three cases the doctrines set forth by the NIV are false. Whilst the concept of “doctrinal” differs between “us” and “them”, the King James Bible does contain doctrinal errors. These are verses that we deal with in our First Principles. The only major textual error is 1 John 5:7-8 “the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth”. This is a well-known error where the words italicised in the AV were added, and there are many reasons why it is generally regarded as spurious.

A Review of Arguments Used Against the King James Version

(1) It was published by the Church of England

Whilst Anglican theologians predominated among the 54 translators, they didn’t get everything their way. The suggestion for a new translation was made by a Puritan, John Reynolds and taken up enthusiastically by King James, despite the opposition of Anglicans. All 54 translators believed in the full inspiration of the Bible, a far cry from the translators of today.

(2) The words are hard to understand

Every field of human activity has its own ‘jargon’. Electricians, dentists, doctors, economists, you name it; you have to learn the meaning of terms associated with that subject. Early in your working life a teacher will explain those terms. There are a number of words that are rarely if ever used outside Bible discussions: justification, propitiation, intercession, atonement, grace, faith and (not surprisingly) evil, wickedness and sin, to name just a few. To their credit the most popular of the ‘new’ versions (English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version and the New King James Version) leave these words unchanged. They leave it to the Bible student to determine their meanings. That is how it should be. Other versions leave their readers with no choice but to accept their interpretation. For example The Living Bible renders “propitiation” in Romans 3:25 as “to take the punishment for our sins and to end all of God’s anger against us”. Hardly the sort of version with which to teach/learn the Truth!

(3) Many of the words are obsolete

All of us were born knowing nothing! All that we now know has been learnt from others. The reason the older generation understand the ‘obsolete’ words is because their ‘poorly educated’ parents taught them, usually by doing the readings as a family. The obvious solution is to use a dictionary. In fact there are now specialised ‘dictionaries’ (for want of a better term) that define those ‘hard’ words.4 The moral of the story: be proactive and find out. The Bible is a book intended to be meditated upon (e.g. Psa 1:2; 119:97). It is not a light novel! In the King James Version we have a translation that tells us what the Bible says. We need more teachers (more than versions) to tell us what the Bible means.

(4) The King James Version is not very readable

Literary experts will grade a piece of writing on the basis of readability formulae. Even if the above claim is true, there is a challenge to find out what those verses of Scripture mean. Some of the writings of Brother Thomas are difficult to understand. For example what does the following mean? “ The angelo-elohal cherubic executors of the mandates of the Eternal Power, through His effluence, created our terrestrial system, which is subject to their secondary administration in all its relations, until a new order of cherubim shall have been manifested to supersede them”.5 It teaches a very succinct principle in just a few words. If we don’t know what it means, we get to find out. A dictionary will also be helpful in understanding the Pioneer Writings. A hard (but not too hard) piece of writing demands more of our attention, but often gives more in our retention.

The discipline of determining readability is based upon a complex mixture of syllables per word and words per sentence. A technical journal for example will have long (and little used) words, and long sentences. People in that discipline will consider and discuss deeply its contents. On the other hand a comic will have short words and short sentences. Not many people would medi- tate on the profundities of a comic! Based upon three measurement criteria (Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning’s Fog Index) a 1994 study compared the King James Bible to six contemporary versions. Overall the most readable was found to be: the King James!6 The New International Version is often claimed to be “easy to read”. But note Leviticus 14:57 (also 13:59 and 14:2). Whereas the King James states, “this is the law of leprosy”(6 words), the NIV renders it,“ These are the regulations for infectious skin diseases and mildew” (10 words)! Apart from imposing its interpretation as to what it thinks ‘leprosy’ might be upon the reader, one could be forgiven for thinking that the NIV Committee used the services of a Public Health bureaucrat!

(5) Shouldest we upgrade the “wouldests” and “couldests” etcetera?

Up to a point thou couldest! In the above example we simply take out the “est” for those verbs ending with “est” and a word like “maintainest” becomes “maintain” or “maintains”. Similar rules will apply for the words like “falleth” (falls) and “hatest” (hate or hates). Versions like the New King James (NKJ) do just that. If all the contemporary versions did was to update the English language, there would be next to no problem.

However the NKJ and other contemporary versions fail on the “thee”, “thou” and “thy”. Those pronouns represent the second person singular that has all but disappeared in the English language. That second person singular was in use in 1611 but had lost its currency by 1881. The use of “thee”, “thou” and “thy” tell us who was talking to whom. Examples (assume you have never read these verses before):

Ezra 7:25 NKJ

The King of Persia said, “And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them”.

According to the above, Ezra is to teach “those who do not know them”. King James: “And thou Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not”. According to the King James, it is the duty of both Ezra and the magistrates and judges to teach “them that know them not”. This may seem a minor matter but it is not correct and this is serious to a Bible lover.

Matthew 26:64 NKJ

In answer to the High Priest’s question:“Jesus said to him, It is as you said, Nevertheless, I say unto you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

According to the above, Jesus is addressing Caiaphas. King James: “Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the King James, Jesus initially addresses Caiaphas, then turns to “the chief priests and elders” (v59) and addresses them as well.

Whilst the English Standard, New American Standard and the New King James appear unaware of the problem, the NIV generally uses some ingenious ways of getting around the dilemma. The latter version usually uses interpretive additions to solve the diffculties.

On the other hand the 21st Century King James is upfront in recognising the conundrum, and defines the issue in its preface: “Note, however, that certain words which are not used in general conversation today, such as thee, thy, thou, hath, art, cometh, etc have been retained in the KJ21, because … by retaining these words, we have preserved distinctions in meaning found in the King James Version, but abandoned in contemporary versions. Witness that in modern English the pronoun you may be either singular or plural, whereas in both the King James Version and the KJ21, thou and thee are used to address an individual, and ye and you are used to address more than one person.” More detail on these issues may be found on http://ecclesia.org/truth/thou.htm

(6) The same Hebrew and Greek words are not consistently translated into the same English word

English is one of the few languages where many of our words have many synonyms, so much so that English is one of the few languages where an effective writer needs (and is able to obtain) a thesaurus. That should be a source of rejoicing for English speakers. A translator can therefore use a range of words of different nuances, or shades of meaning. That latitude of choice allows a more appropriate translation.

The issue can be demonstrated by referring to the back of Young’s Concordance. Look at, for example, the Hebrew “nephesh” (Strong 5315) with 22 options. It means many things depending on the context. On eight occasions the KJV correctly translates “nephesh” as “dead body”. That rendition would not fit in other verses where nephesh is used (eg Gen 2:7 “and man became a living soul (nephesh)). Take again the Greek “pneuma” (Strong 4151) with 7 options. The word is used twice in John 3:8: “The wind (pneuma) bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell where it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit (pneuma).” It would be a nonsense to translate pneuma ‘consistently’ in this verse.

(7) The rendition of some passages has little or no textual justification for it (for example 2 Tim 2:19;Rev 16:5)

Assuming that to be true, the alternative ‘preferred’ renditions do not affect doctrine. In the first example “the name of Christ” is otherwise rendered “the name of the Lord” (NIV ). In the second, “and shalt be” becomes “the Holy One”. The same cannot be said for similar types of passages in some of the contemporary versions. That will be considered in a later article.

(8) There are some “family unfriendly” words in the King James Version (for example in Heb 12:8; Eze 7:23; John 5:29)

Many of us have learnt to read over the offending words, just answered “ecclesia” for “church”, “spirit” for “ghost” and “Yahweh” for LORD/GOD (some 7000 times). As it is, we have “family unfriendly” chapters,  for example Judges 19 and 20. Do we ignore such sections of Scripture, or do we discuss and treat them with sensitivity?

On the other hand the Living Bible is notorious for its vulgarity and colloquial expressions, which in many cases are unprintable in more polite circles (eg 1 Sam 20:30; Isa 5:11; John 9:34. 7th printing 1972). Here is one “family unfriendly” Bible we should be aware of!

The next article in this series will look at the core issue of the 1598 Received Text, the basis of the King James Version.

References

  1. “Which Version is the Bible?” Floyd Nolen Jones p.85 (2004 Edition). “God’s Secretaries” Adam Nicolson pp. 182, 220 (2003 Edition). “Wide as the Waters” Benson Bobrick pp 215, 267 (2001 Edition)
  2. John E Ashbrook “The History of the Texts Receptus” p 106 in “From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man” (James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor 1999 Edition)
  3. “The NIV the Making of a Contemporary Translation” Kenneth L Barker Editor, Chapter 14. “Isn’t the King James Version Good Enough? The KJV and the NIV Compared” Edwin H Palmer (1986 Edition)
  4. For example “4, 144 Definitions from the Defined King James Bible” DA Waite Jr (2003 Edition). BFT #3010 www.BibleForToday.org
  5. “Phanerosis” John Thomas p 75 (1954 Edition – “Phanerosis and Other Writings”)
  6. “The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version” DA Waite Jr (1996 Edition) BFT#2671 www.BibleForToday.org