By Paul Miles
To put it concisely, I love the King James Bible because I'm an English nerd; I'm not King James Only because I'm a biblical language nerd who reads the 1611 KJV.
Why KJV Is Nifty
In an earlier article about English Bible translations, I gave the KJV a rating of 4 out of 5 William Tyndales.1 There's a certain flavor in the King James that simply can't be duplicated in modern English translations. I'm trying to bring back words like, "raiment," "nigh," and "contrariwise," but usually I just get weird looks when I drop them into a conversation.
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 1 Tim 6:8
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Jas 5:8
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 1 Pet 3:9
I'm also a fan of word study tools that were originally written for the King James translation. James Strong lived from 1822-1894, and wrote the original Strong's Concordance to line up with the KJV, which was the most popular English translation of the day. His Greek and Hebrew word numbering system has been used in several lexicons and dictionaries since then.
Something that's even more important is the philosophy of translation. The King James Bible is a literal Bible translation as opposed to dynamic equivalent or paraphrase. The less literal a translation gets, the more likely it is to express the theology of the translator rather than the original author. This is enough of a reason to take a KJV over any dynamic equivalence for personal Bible study. Why KJV Lacks Niftyness
I was in a church with my 1611 KJV a few weeks ago, and the speaker had us turn to Psalm 127. Here's a picture of that page in the 1611 edition:
Image from kingjamesbibleonline.org.
As you might be able to see in the above picture, there are little notes at the beginning of each chapter. If you actually have the book in your hand, then you can see that the left page has the last bit of Ps 120 through the first bit of Ps 124. In these two pages, the commentators managed to call Israel the "Church" four times2 (twice on the above page in the notes for chapters CXXVI and CXXIX). Now, in modern editions that don't have the 1611 notes, the Replacement Theology is less evident, but still, the theological presuppositions3 of the translators still leak through from time to time.
But, if we get rid of the 1611 notes completely, then we lose an important attribute of the translation. The translators realized that they couldn't get every word correct in the translation, so they would often write alternate translations in the margin. You can notice them along the margins on the left and right sides of the text. That the translators left alternate translations for the readers is a strong indication that the translation is not necessarily 100% accurate.
Schools of Thought Among KJV (And Non-KJV) Readers
Not all who read the KJV do so for the same reason. There are a handful of most common reasons that our brothers and sisters read the King James, and I have questions for all of them.
Reason 1: "I like how the King James sounds."
Question: Rock on! I like how the King James sounds, too. My question for you is, "Do you mind if I use words like, 'raiment,' 'nigh,' and 'contrariwise' around you?"
Reason 2: "Only the Textus Receptus texts are correct."
Question: Really? Which one? The term Textus Receptus refers to a collection of over 20 Greek New Testaments, and the King James prefers different readings in different passages.4 Of course, usually the differences are so insignificant that they don't change the meaning of the text, those that do change the meaning usually have no effect on theology, and all of those that affect theology can be verified with other passages that confirm the doctrine in question, but still. Would you ever consider looking into textual variants for yourself? There are some really good tools that are available online for free to help you along if you'd like to. Also, the King James Bible isn't the only English translation that uses Textus Receptus (but, it sure is a good one).
Reason 3: "The King James Translation is divinely inspired."
Question: This is a popular idea, and I really don't understand it fully. If you believe KJV is inspired, maybe we can grab coffee sometime and talk about it. I'd want to understand your point of view better. All lighthearted sarcasm aside for a second now, what makes you think the KJV is inspired? Are you saying the entire KJV is inspired to include the original translation of the Apocrypha? Is it just the KJV that's inspired, or are previous Protestant versions (Geneva, Tyndale, etc.) also inspired? Did inspiration cease with the publication of the KJV?
And, of course, there some are reasons people don't like the KJV, which I've got some responses to as well.
Reason 1: The King James English is difficult to read.
Response: No it's not. But, if it was, then good! It will help you slow down and read it thoughtfully.
Reason 2: I prefer dynamic equivalence or paraphrased translations.
Response: The less literal a translation becomes, the more likely it is that the translators' theology will come out in the translation. Even if you don't go for the KJV, I'd encourage you to find a translation with a literal translation philosophy.
Reason 3: The English is too difficult AND it's a poor translation of the original languages.
Response: So... you're telling me that your Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek skills are good enough to criticize the most popular English translation in history, yet your English isn't good enough to read that translation? I'm not buying it.
So here's my challenge to readers. Read the Book of 3 John five times. It's only 15 verses, so you should be able to do that in one sitting.
If you don't usually read King James, the read 3 John in the King James Version. If you usually read the King James, read 3 John in the New King James. After you've read it four times, then switch back and read it once in the translation that you usually use.
Now, we aren't trying to get you to switch translations, but to explore around a little bit. As John said:
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.(3 John 4 NKJV)
Or, as the King James translates it:
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.(3 John 4 KJV)
Keep walking in truth, brothers and sisters.1 As you probably learned in grade school, William Tyndales are the British unit of measurement for Bible translation quality. To convert to metric, simply multiply the William Tyndales by 3.6, subtract 17, round up to the nearest eighth of a percent, carry the two, then add seven to get the figure in metric Cyrils, and of course, one Cyril over a meter squared per second is equivalent to a metric Methodius.
2 Replacing Israel with the Church is a theological fallacy known as "Replacement Theology" or "Supersessionism." We won't go into the details here, but if you'd like to read more, you can check out some articles by Ronald Diprose here, here, and here.
3 want to know more about what King James though? Check out "The New Jacobean Order."
4 Check out pages 248-262 of this book.