The King James Version of the Bible
While the King James Bible stands as, perhaps, The Gold Standard of Literary Significance, in some Christian circles; it holds a nearly mythological status, wherein the King James Version is perceived to possess an inherent superiority over other English translations. This is a pervasive myth, born in error and propagated in ignorance.
It is widely believed within the message, that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true “Word of God”. This belief includes the rejection of newer translations as having been “watered down”, “perverted”, or “twisted”. These are serious claims, not to be taken lightly, as the integrity of the written Bible is, obviously, of paramount importance. There are many English translations available today, so as responsible Christians, how do we know we are reading what God intended? It is expedient that we know the truth about this subject. Is the King James Version Bible the only accurate translation? If not, is it, perhaps, the most accurate? Is it somehow divinely inspired in a way that other translations are not? Or have some confused its other name, the Authorized Version to mean, as if by King Jesus, instead of King James I?
First of all, it is important to understand that there is no “original” English Bible. All English versions of the Bible have been translated from the Greek or Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, or in some cases, from a previous English translation. The Bible was originally written in Koine Greek. Even the ancient Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts had been carefully translated into Greek by Jewish scholars long before Jesus’ birth, for the benefit of the Jews who had scattered from Judea.
The translation work that was commissioned by King James 1 in 1604 was carried out by a group of 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. The Old Testament was translated largely from the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and the New Testament was translated from what is now known as the Textus Receptus. The Textus Receptus came from the work of Erasmus, who compiled five or six very late Greek manuscripts dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. Earlier, more accurate, manuscripts had not yet been discovered. The completed translation was first published in 1611, and became the third official translation into English. By the mid-18th century, this Authorized Version was the undisputed leading English version of the Bible. It underwent a revision in 1769, resulting in the text that is commonly referred to as the King James Version, even today.
Over the last few centuries, since the publication of the original King James Version, many Greek manuscripts from as early as the second and third century have surfaced, showing the improved consistency and accuracy one would expect from much older manuscripts. In fact, it is widely believed amongst Bible scholars that this compilation of manuscripts is far superior, both in reliability and accuracy, to the Textus Receptus. Most translations completed in the last 100 years have made full use of the superior Greek texts, for both the Old and New testaments, and often use a hundred or more scholars, from many different church backgrounds, to ensure that the original meaning is faithfully transferred into the current English language.
Undertaking a translation is a gargantuan project, and the results are readily available to be critiqued by other scholars with knowledge of the original scriptures. This precludes doctrinal bias or other intentional “tampering” within Bible translations. To intentionally twist or change passages to accomplish a specific bias would be certain professional suicide for such scholars, and the idea circulated amongst some King James Only proponents that this type of manipulation happens regularly in modern translations is, frankly, steeped in ignorance.
None of this information mitigates the impact that the King James Version has had in the Christian world. The King James Bible stands as perhaps the greatest literary work in history. It was a monumental and lasting achievement, and deserves to be, not only recognized as such, but should be preserved, read, and remembered. All of the evidence suggests that the translators who worked from 1604-1611 to complete the KJV did faithfully render the best available manuscripts (at that time) into an accurate and accessible English version for the English speaking world of the 17th century. However, this is equally true of the vast majority of the translations today; they have rendered the best available manuscripts into accurate and accessible translations for the English speaking world of the 21st century. We do not live in the 17th century. The inherent need for the written Word of God in the daily lives of Christians for instruction, and devotion, is as real today as it was in 1611, and deserves the accuracy and readability of a current translation. It is important to note, here, that the translators of the King James Version would have dearly loved to have had access to the superior early manuscripts available today, and equally important to note that, if living today, they would be translating the original Greek into modern, accessible English, just as they did then.
So why do some Christians still insist on using the KJV, and only the KJV? For some, it’s as simple as a preference. The KJV is what they grew up hearing and memorizing, and nothing else sounds as regal, as authoritative as the KJV. Still other KJV only advocates believe that the Textus Receptus itself was especially inspired, and therefore the manuscripts on which it is based are divinely superior to the earlier manuscripts. The problem with this theory is that there is no solid evidence to support this claim and substantial evidence to the contrary. The Textus Receptus was copied much later, and not only has less overall consistency among manuscripts, but in addition, had a number of words added that do not appear in the earlier manuscripts. As it would be impossible to take away words that had not yet appeared in scripture, it is clear that the additional words have been added over the years. So those who subscribe to the Textus Receptus superiority theory are unwittingly usurping the divine inspiration of the original writers; Paul, Luke, Moses, etc., in favor of the idea that mere scribes copying scripture centuries after the authors penned them, possessed some additional, divine, insight from God; not exactly firm ground on which to stand.
Others apply the following logic: if Brother Branham used the KJV, and he was vindicated of God, then, surely God was vindicating the version of the Bible that Brother Branham used.
53-0325 ISRAEL.AND.THE.CHURCH.1_ JEFFERSONVILLE.IN IC 1-34 WEDNESDAY_
Though William Branham did preach and quote primarily from the King James Version, he himself never claimed the King James Version was the only real Bible, and in fact, used several different versions, including the Darby Translation, and the Amplified Bible. His quote above simply states that he was satisfied to keep the KJV, because it had stood the test of time. That is a personal preference, and, especially in 1953 when he said it, an understandable position. Regardless, the Bible itself did not need vindicating, by William Branham or anyone else. Christians have always, and will always, believe the original manuscripts to be the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. Therefore, any faithful translation into English is, by definition, also the Word of God. So what constitutes a faithful translation?
There are a number of translations available today, that are not only much clearer to read, but also more faithful to the original texts than the King James Version. In Part II, we will further explore the idea of a faithful translation, why we have so many, and what it means for today’s Christian.