The end of the Bible translation debate and a couple of final thoughts on the King James Version Only movement.
“To share the Gospel far and wide, the church needed to make it understandable for those who didn’t speak the same tongue, and in order to do that, it needed to be translated.”
I began this series with the quote above and as I bring it to a close I believe it would be appropriate to end with the same sentiment. During my early years as a Christian, I was adamant that the King James Version was the only true Bible. I thoroughly believed all modern translations were corrupt and “watered down.” I expressed this idea to many of my friends, even going as far as to prevent a good friend of mine from buying a Bible he really wanted. I deeply regret the things I said back then (thankfully my friend recently bought that Bible!) and if I could I’d go back and share with them the knowledge and wisdom the Lord has given me now regarding the translation of His Word. I say this because, as militant as the King James Only movement is, I understand them. However, as a movement, I’m convinced that it should have been dead and buried long ago. Sadly, because skepticism is strangely shunned by many believers to this day, it hasn’t died just yet. My purpose with this series was to share the findings of someone who eventually questioned what they thought was true and to celebrate the Bible we have on our shelves today. In summary, what I found was that:
- Throughout the history of Bible translation, Christianity had one goal in mind: to spread the Gospel message to every corner of the world. To do that the Bible had to be translated into different languages, including English.
- As each generation passed by the English language developed from one form to another and as a result, our Bibles did as well. The message never changed but the way it was told became more and more accessible.
- Translating from one language to another results in unavoidable liberties that translators must take in order to make the text clear and comprehensible. No English Bible is a “word-for-word” translation and the same can be said for any other language besides the original Greek and Hebrew it was written in.
- As more time passes the more Biblical manuscripts we find that date closer and closer to the time of Christ. We have more assurance of what the original Greek and Hebrew texts said now than we did during the reign of King James. That means we can publish Bibles that are even more accurate in translation than even the traditional KJV.
- Rather than take away from or alter God’s Word, our modern translations aim to restore it by translating from the vast amount of original manuscript evidence we now possess. Contrary to the skeptic’s popular objection, our modern Bible isn’t a translation of a translation but a single, fresh translation that relies on the vast amount of Greek and Hebrew scriptures.
- There are three philosophies of translation each of our modern Bibles falls under: literal equivalence, functional equivalence, and optimal equivalence. Each is just as reliably translated as the other.
- Every objection to the text of our modern translations I’ve come across is either the result of jumping to conclusions far too quickly, simple ignorance, or holding the KJV to such a high standard that even the KJV itself cannot keep up (i.e. it changed or removed certain texts that prior English versions contained and it itself has experienced multiple revisions, from the 1611 edition to the 1769 edition and etc.)
- That the translators of the KJV were unbiased instruments for God to work through is an unsupported myth. They had their own political biases and agendas to satisfy. That doesn’t mean their translation was wrong, it means that translators aren’t inspired the same way our Biblical authors were.
- Only the original Greek and Hebrew texts are inspired.
- Finally, all of our modern translations are accurate representations of God’s Word. This excludes translations such as The New World Translation of the Jehovahs Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation. Both feature significant changes that not a single piece of manuscript evidence supports.
I believe the driving force of the King James Only movement is nothing more than the simple fear of owning a Bible that isn’t perfect. When a single claim of contradiction is enough to shatter someone’s belief (i.e. Bart Ehrman) it’s easy to see why they can be so aggressive in their approach. We want 100% certainty and anything below that is unacceptable. If the KJV isn’t 100% accurate then how can we trust the Bible? The problem is this kind of thinking is not theologically orthodox. The church has never claimed that we have inerrant transmissions of God’s Word, just inerrant originals. However, some simply cannot live with even the smallest amount of uncertainty, which is why no matter how implausible or far-reaching their arguments are they will always keep using them if it means they can avoid facing the possibility that what they have in their hands isn’t perfect (or that they may be wrong).
When we step back and take a wider look at their position things become as clear as mud. Why is the KJV the only inerrant copy of God’s Word and not everything before it? What makes 1611 THE point in time where humanity finally received a perfect translation? Was everyone before then left in the dark? What about the sizable majority of Christians today who do not have access to a King James Version? Will they end up corrupted? What about Christians who cannot read English? Does God not want these people to have a reliable copy of His Word? If every one of our modern translations is corrupted why didn’t God prevent them from being published if He knew well-meaning believers will read them? If God took miraculous steps in making sure not a single change or error was made over the centuries and through the hands of thousands of scribes, why didn’t He go the extra mile to prevent other translations as well? Did He get tired and decided to hand the Bible to Satan once His job was done? The more questions we ask the more ridiculous our conclusions become.
Holding the KJV to this standard of perfection is not only logically absurd it can also potentially bend the understanding of believer’s today. Needless to say, our English language has changed dramatically in the 500 years humanity has experienced between now and the publication of the KJV. The way we say and interpret words has changed and the nuances inherent in our language today can cause us to unconsciously miss the nuances of the Victorian English of King James’ day. Let’s use 2 Thessalonians 2:7 as an example,
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7 KJV)
To the modern reader, this verse could be interpreted in a way that’s entirely contrary to its actual meaning. In modern English, “let” means to allow or permit. In Victorian times it was often used in the contexting of preventing or prohibiting something or someone. This needlessly complicates things for the modern reader and it presents difficulties that they needn’t encounter. The NIV removes any potential confusion by translating it in a way that makes sense to the modern reader.
For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7 NIV)
And “let” isn’t the only word that has taken on a completely different meaning today. Take “quick,” for instance. In the KJV is it used to communicate “life” or even a slight stir, but today we use it to talk about “speed.” “Prevent” is used in the KJV to communicate precedence (Psalm 119:148, Job 30:27) while today it is used to stop something from happening. We can go on until we’ve reinterpreted up to 800 words that are in common use today. The Bible should be made clear to anyone who reads it but when we parade the KJV as the only reliable translation we are hindering this important task. Can a translator not look at the various Greek manuscripts we have and translate them in a way that is most comprehensible? God is not a God of confusion, so why are we insisting that we use a version that is confusing to people today?
At the end of the day, I do not wish to prevent anyone from reading the Bible they most enjoy. If you’ve been reading these last few posts as a passionate fan of the KJV then the last thing I want to do is tell you to read something you may not be familiar with. However, we should not divide ourselves over this debate and we most definitely should not make others feel condemned over the Bible they choose to read. I’ve made those mistakes and I deeply desire to see you avoid the pitfalls I fell into. If there is one thing we can learn from our modern translations it is the wonderful truth that, although we may be different in some way, we are all united in the body of Christ.