What I Like About The King James Version

 

Introduction

For those who have heard my testimony, you know that I was fortunate enough to attend a Christian High School in Opelika, Alabama. There are several things that I appreciate about this school. One of the things that I appreciate the most is that the high school placed such a high emphasis on reading Scripture. While I appreciate this and several other aspects of my high school, I have come to disagree with some of the things that I was taught while there. One of those areas where I find myself disagreeing with some of my old teachers is in the area of the King-James Only controversy. While I was in high school, I had more than one teacher tell me that every English translation except the King James Version intentionally left out passages of Scripture and/or mislead people by removing passages of Scripture. The more I have looked into these claims, the more I find myself disagreeing with these teachers. For this reason, the next few blog posts are going to explore this topic. Before I begin critiquing the King James Only position, however, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not opposed to the use of the King James Version of Scripture. I am only opposed to the idea that the King James Version is the only inspired and/or uncorrupted version of Scripture in the modern day. In fact, there are several things that I appreciate about the King James Version. This first post in the series will explore some of these things that I have grown to appreciate.

High English

One of the things that I appreciate the most about the King James Version is the style of English in which it is written. Who hasn't read Shakespeare and been amazed by the mastery that Shakespeare had of the English language of his day? The same is true of the King James Version. There is something elegant about the English that is used by the translators of the King James Version. It may even be, as far as I can see, the height of the English language. The fact that we can use the two words "Thee/Thou" and "you" to determine whether the referent is singular or plural is one excellent benefit to using the type of English that the King James Version was written in.

On the other hand, English, as a language, has changed significantly since the King James Version was translated. In some cases, it is simply a matter of words that are not typically used today, or words that haven't enjoyed regular usage in over 100 years. In other cases, it is that the words themselves have changed in meaning over time.1 In many cases, people see these words and simply assume that they hold their modern meaning. That is not necessarily a safe assumption with the King James Version. The fact that the English language has changed significantly over time means that we need to be careful in assuming that the meaning a word holds today is the same meaning it had 400 years ago.

Familiar Memorization

Growing up, most of us memorized Scripture specifically from the King James Version. In fact, even many Christians who did not use the King James Version as their primary bible memorized the King James Version of the passages they did memorize. As a result, the King James Version has provided a kind of standard for memorizing passages of Scripture. On the first Sunday each month, when my congregation partakes of the Lord's Supper, I close with the Lord's Prayer after the Supper. From which translation do I take this prayer? I take it from the King James Version, primarily because I know that the entire congregation is familiar with this version of the prayer.

On the other hand, there is a potential danger in this. Where the King James Version may have an inaccurate translation, or where the "false friends" mentioned above are involved, we may memorize a passage that we then inadvertently misunderstand because of these factors. Ideally, if we are memorizing a passage in English, we would memorize the best translation of the passage, the one that leaves little to no room for misunderstanding the author's intent. However, this is not always the King James Version.

The Translation Itself

The final thing that I want to mention here is that I appreciate the King James Version itself, particularly as it came to exist in the context of the 17th century. There was definitely a need for an English translation of this kind. While not perfect, it was a significant improvement to the English translations that came before it.

I also appreciate the insights of the translators of the King James Version. The translators of the King James Version's translators recognized the need for an English translation in the (then-modern) English tongue, and recognized the weaknesses in some of the other translations, such as the Geneva Bible and the Bishop's Bible. This led them to produce a work in the (then-modern) English language that has endured for centuries.

On the other hand, just as every translation throughout the history of the church has had its limits, so also does the King James Version. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) was used by the early church. This was later replaced with the Latin Vulgate, as well as various translations made into different languages early in the church's history. The Latin Vulgate remained the dominant translation in the Western Church (and is still used today by many in the Latin portion of the Roman Catholic Church). However, during the Reformation, Martin Luther also produced a translation of the Bible into German, making Scripture more accessible. Thus, for this part of the world, the Vulgate was in essence replaced. Others, such as William Tyndale, fought for an English translation of the Bible that would be accessible to every English speaker. Over time, translations have been set aside as newer translations that make Scripture accessible to the common person took their place. It seems odd to me, then, when the KJV-Only advocate makes the King James Version the only exception to this practice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not against the King James Version of the Bible. I grew up on it. I think it is a good translation, all things considered. However, I have a high enough opinion of the King James Version to be a realist about it. While the King James Version is a translation that has endured because of its reliability, it not not the only infallible Bible in the English language. It is not the translation from which other translations should be translated.2 It is not even the only reliable English translation. It is a good translation that should be recognized as such, rather than idolized. As we go through this series, I would love to show you why this is my position.

  


Many of those who have written on this topic use the term "false friends" for this phenomenon. Some examples of false friends include: unicorn, halt, conversation, and leasing. 

2 As some, such as Peter Ruckman, have taught, along with the idea that we should correct the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures with the King James Version or that the King James Version contains special, advanced revelation not available in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It is important to understand, however, that Dr. Ruckman represents the most extreme expression of the KJV-Only movement. Others advocate for the use of the King James Version, but do not make claims that are as extreme as Dr. Ruckman's. Even those who do make some of these claims do not always support every claim made by Ruckman. However, since Dr. Ruckman was one of the most prominent figures promoting the King James Only viewpoint, many of the posts that follow this will address many of his claims, along with claims made by others in the King James Only movement.

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