Wednesday, November 16, 2011

KJV Only

Is the King James Version of the Bible the only translation of the Bible that we should read? As a child I was taught that it was the only accurate Bible, and my BA degree in Bible came from a KJV only college. I love the KJV, and it is the only translation I have ever taught or preached from. But is it the only Bible we should read?

Before I begin, I want to be clear that this is by no means an exhaustive review of this topic, for that could go on and on. This is just designed to point out a few surface level points.

The KJV only crowd likes to criticize the newer translations by asserting that they are leaving out words, phrases, or verses, and that they change words. The problem with this line of thinking is that they are comparing these newer translations to the KJV and not to original texts. For example, when the KJV-onlies criticize some for leaving out verses 9-20 of Mark 16, they are missing the fact that those verses do not appear in any ancient texts. Those verses were actually additions by the KJV translators who were worried that Mark’s gospel didn’t include any eye witnesses of the resurrection.

Other words and phrases that were allegedly left out are actually just phrases where the old English of the KJV was unnecessarily repetitive. 

KJV only defendants use verses like “I am the Lord, I change not” to defend their point. If that verse means that we should not change from the Bible that we have, then we had better all become fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek. As I will point out here, they make the mistake of believing that the KJV was the first Bible ever produced.

They also use biblical commands to not add to or take away from the Word of God. They use these verses to usher in strong warnings about these newer translations, but again, theirs is the one that has added to. [1]

So the question isn’t whether the NIV left out verses, but whether the KJV added them. It isn’t fair to attack a translation for leaving out something that was not inspired in the first place.

Websites like have a list of verses that are left out of the NIV, but the reality is that these verses were added by the KJV.

In the same way that the KJV translators added verses for clarification, they also tweaked other words to please King James. John the Baptist should be known as John the Immerser, but King James did not believe in immersion for baptism, so the word was changed.

KJV-onlies like to say that theirs is the most formal translation. They believe that there is more holiness in their thee’s and thou’s and their adding “eth” to every other word. The King James Version has many words that have other meanings today, and all of this together makes the document difficult to understand.

On this point, I once had a KJV only pastor point in my face and scream at me, “If you can’t understand the KJV with a simple dictionary, you have problems.” But the real problem is the fact that the KJV requires a dictionary. The New Testament writers chose to write in a style of Greek known as koine, which was the most common and understood form in its day. It would be the equivalent of an elementary school comprehension level.

So while I agree that the KJV is very poetic in its sound, especially in the Psalms, that is not a reason to condemn other translations. The Bible was never meant to be something that required a Master of Divinity to understand; it was written by common people for common people.

Even though I preach from my King James, when I come to a passage that mentions a donkey, I say donkey out loud, but we all know that there is another three letter word used for donkey. The king James also refers to men as those who “[urinate] against the wall.” Of course, their word for urinate is a word most of us would wash our children’s mouth out with soap for using. On this passage I once heard a pastor say that those words aren’t foul because the Bible says all the words of Christ are wholesome words. Once again, this mindset shows that the KJV-onlies think that Jesus spoke King James. The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire those words, He inspired them in Greek and Hebrew, and now, hundreds of years after their English translations, those words have a different meaning.

Other words in the KJV are different. The KJV uses the word conversation to mean lifestyle, and it makes a huge mess out of Hades by always translating it as hell.  When newer translations try to update these words, the KJV only proponents get upset. But this is contradictory because the KJV translators themselves used to do this.

1611 was the year that the KJV was authorized and translated into English. Every few years a team of scholars met to update the words in that translation, always being careful to make sure that the words had their true meaning and that it was on the common man’s level. But 1798 was the last year that this happened. So when the New King James Version (NKJV) was released, it was nothing more than what the KJV scholars had done for almost two complete centuries, and yet the KJV-onlies were against it. All the NKJV did was change the thou’s to you’s and leave off the eth’s (they also corrected the hell/Hades problem).

To be clear, I do not support every translation that comes down the pike. My last blog (The Message by Eugene Peterson, shows that, and my next blog will as well. I am a textus receptus fan, which I will blog about next, and that is where the KJV came from. A KJV only pastor, who was one of my college professors, said that he supported the KJV because it came from the textus receptus. I asked him if he would support a newer translation if it came from the textus receptus, like the NAS, and his reply was, “Just stick to the KJV.”

It has become apparent to me that the real reason that people are KJV only is that they were raised that way. When confronted with simple logic that refutes their beliefs, they become explosively angry and spout out verses like, “Forever, oh Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” (That verse in no way proves their point, and once again shows that they think that Paul and Peter directly wrote the King James) There is no logic that affirms that the KJV is the only accurate English translation.

This blogeth wast copyrighted; thou shalt not add unto nor taketh away from, lest thou be smitten with copyright infringement.

[1] To be clear, these commands are in reference to people changing God’s Word for their own gain. When translating a document from one language to another, there will always be words added or subtracted. There are thousands more Greek words than there are English words, so entire phrases have been added to English Bibles. Good translations will italicize those added words. 


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you said. I would however recommend that you lose the sarcasm. It accomplishes nothing. I would also like to hear your thoughts on how God plays apart in all of this. If something is different then it can't be the same. So which one is right? Our God who is very capable has given us his preserved word, right? So which is it? Again, something that is different can't be the same.

Tommy Mann said...


Thank you for your comment, and I’m glad you stopped by. I appreciate your suggestion about losing the sarcasm, but to be honest, I didn’t think there was any sarcasm used. I always try to use a little humor, especially when dealing with a topic that makes people a little feisty, because the humor can relax people when they begin to get angry.

I believe that all Scripture is inspired, or “God-breathed,” as the word means. But the Scripture that God breathed was first in Hebrew, then in Greek. Every translation, from the Latin Vulgate and Greek Septuagint, down to the KJV and every other English translation, has had to deal with the issue of simply doing the best they could do. My next blog is going to look into this translation problem further.

But I believe that the English translations that have used the textus receptus to translate from are both reliable and accurate. When little words and phrases are added for clarification that does not constitute a contextual problem.

For example, “que pasa?” is a Spanish expression. It is literally translated into English as “what is passing?” But in order to translate the meaning of que pasa we would write “what’s up?” or “what’s going on?” I don’t have a problem with using different words to get the actual intent, even if words have to be added.

My point, though, is not that the KJV added words, but that its defenders criticize the newer translations for leaving out the words that the KJV added.

I said all that to say, whether a few words are added here or there or subtracted by others, if these texts use the best ancient manuscripts then they are still accurate.

I will write more about this later, but I wanted to answer your question.

Amber Lee said...

Well said, but for my own knowledge, where did you find the info about KJV was added to?

Tommy Mann said...

Amber Lee,

Hello, and thank you; good to hear from you again. The info about the KJV being added to was not from a source, but just from my own work. The website I linked to from had a list of words that the NIV "left out," so I looked those passages up in the Hebrew and Greek using Bibleworks, and the ancient texts didn't have them. When I looked up the same passages in the NASB and the ESV their footnotes said that the oldest and best manuscripts do not contain this verse. Did that answer your question?

Anonymous said...

Good stuff brother! I really enjoyed this. I had a very similar conversation with a good friend about all of this today. I will lead him to your blog. I have read some great books on the different translations of the bible, and you are spot on. There are many verses and phrases, and even whole paragraphs added to the KJV. Many were from ancient manuscripts, which were added to by early church leaders. In some cases, the notes or teachings on a certain passage were even added to the passages, but in my study they did not pervert the meaning whatsoever. There is nothing wrong with the KJV, but it is ridiculous to say that it is the ONLY acceptable translation. I can assure you we will not read from it, nor will it be quoted in eternity! Keep up the good work.
Donnie F

Tommy Mann said...

Thank you Donnie, and good to hear from you!

I agree, as I said in my first comment above, that these additions have not affected the Gospel. You might also enjoy my post next week, which will be called Literal Translation vs. Dynamic Equivalence