Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

The King James Bible Controversy

I’d like to share some of my thoughts about the controversy surrounding the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. I never intended to get involved with this issue, but I keep seeing Filipinos post links from KJV-only websites on Facebook.

Let me first say this: I grew up hearing the KJV preached and taught in church—this is what most of us used during my childhood years. I’ll always have fond memories of this translation.

But one of the best gifts I ever received was a New International Version study Bible. I was a teenager at the time, and found it much more edifying to read a translation written in modern-day English.

I’m deeply concerned about the KJV-only movement in the Filipino ministry context. I’m afraid some of my Filipino brethren are being coerced into reading a translation that is very difficult to understand. I’m also concerned some of you are being misled by very manipulative KJV-only websites.

So here’s the deal: If you are 100% convinced that all modern Bible translations are perversions of the truth, then this post is not for you. But if you are honestly seeking some answers with a reasonably open mind, read on.

Let me deal with five primary areas of concern:

1. The 1611 “Authorized Version”

Some KJV-only advocates use the term “1611 Authorized Version.” But the 1611 King James translation is not the one we currently use. I’ve seen a copy of the original 1611 version—it is virtually impossible to read!  Don’t believe me?  Check it out:

The 1611 version also included the Apocrypha, books that are universally rejected by Protestants (including KJV-only advocates) as part of the canon.

The KJV has been edited/revised (at least four times) since 1611. I believe the 1769 version is the one currently being used. This brings up important questions: Which King James Version is the “one and only” inspired Bible? Why were any revisions needed if God Himself has “preserved” this translation?

2. Archaic English

Let’s just pretend that the KJV translators used the most reliable manuscripts for translation (I don’t believe they did, but we’ll get to that later). It still would not change the glaring, obvious fact—we don’t talk like they did in past centuries. Anyone here still use “thee,” “thou” or “thereunto” when you talk? I didn’t think so.

The problems don’t stop there. We simply use some words differently than they did in the 1700’s. Let me give you a simple example:

John Chapter Five is the account of Jesus healing a man at the pool near the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem. Let’s look at verse 3:

In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk . . . (King James Version)

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie . . . (New International Version)

How do we describe those with physical handicaps: “impotent,” or “disabled?” “Impotent” means something far different to a modern audience.


3. The “Missing Verses” Controversy

I often see websites discussing the “missing verses” in modern translations. Unfortunately, some of these websites present this as a satanic conspiracy to “attack the Word of God.” But this is simply not true.

I’ll first need to give a little background. The original copies/manuscripts of the Books of the Bible are called autographs (I’m referring to the very first copy, written by the biblical author himself–such as the original copy of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians). Unfortunately, we don’t have these anymore. What we do have is thousands of copies we can use to compare and see what the autograph said. The process of comparing the manuscripts is called textual criticism. Modern translations reflect what the vast majority of Bible scholars believe to be the best translation of the most reliable manuscripts (you can check out the links below for more in-depth articles).

“Missing verses” is not a very precise term for two reasons:

1. The Bible was not originally divided into chapters and verses. This was done in the 1500’s to make it easier for us to locate sections of the text.

2. Technically, the so-called “missing verses” are included in new translations. You’ll see them at the notes on the bottom of the Bible’s pages—it will say something like “Some late manuscripts,” followed by the “missing” text. These are known as a textual variants—it simply means these phrases were found in late manuscripts, but were not likely part of the autograph.

Here’s something important to keep in mind: none of the textual variants have any real impact on Christian doctrine. In other words, the foundations of our faith do not change with the inclusion or exclusion of the textual variants. We shouldn’t make a big deal out of the minor variations between the KJV and “modern” translations. This brings me to my next point.

4. Doctrinal Perversions?

Some KJV-only websites are fond of nit picking through modern translations in an attempt to show theological inaccuracy. Here’s a quote from one such website:

KJV
Luke 2:33
“And Joseph and his mother marveled…”
NIV
“The child’s father and mother marveled…”

Anyone who believed that Joseph, not God, was Jesus’ true father would love the NIV (or any other of the Alexandrian perversions).

Well, anyone who wanted to say Joseph was Jesus’ biological father would have to ignore Luke 1:26-38. I find arguments like these to be completely manipulative and intellectually dishonest.

KJV-only advocates also make a big deal of the NIV’s translation of “morning star” in Isaiah 14 (verse 12). “Morning star” is a term used to describe Lucifer in Isaiah, but Jesus is identified by this same term in the New Testament. Do modern translations confuse Jesus with Satan? Only if you take them completely out of context!

Isaiah 14 is a passage about the judgment that comes to the proud. There are different interpretations as to the identity of “Lucifer,” but it seems to have a dual meaning (both a reference to a historical figure and to Satan).

“Morning star” may be terms the Assyrians used to refer to their king. Or the term may refer to the fact he will fade like a morning star when the sun rises. The tone is sarcastic (see verses 16-17), and tone is part of context.

Jesus is referred to as the “Morning Star” in the New Testament (Revelation 22:16). But again, these are entirely different contexts. There is no sarcasm in this title found in the Book of Revelation—Jesus is the true Morning Star! And the title here is one of victory, not one who has fallen. To say the NIV is confusing Jesus with Satan is completely asinine.

Context is critically important when studying the Bible. For example: The text in Isaiah identifies Lucifer as the one who has “fallen from heaven.” John 3:13 refers to Jesus as the one who “descended from heaven.” Does that mean we should confuse them? Of course not–it’s completely different contexts.

5. Literal vs. “Smooth” Translations

Should the Bible be translated as literally as possible? This is issue comes up in the KJV debate, and it’s one all (honest) scholars struggle with. “Literal” sounds like it would be better. But like it or not, there are times when translating something word-for-word is the worst way to get the meaning across.

Here’s an example for my Filipino friends. Suppose you are helping an American missionary teach street children with limited English comprehension. The missionary says, “My nose is running.” How will you translate? “Tumatakbo ang ilong niya?” I don’t think so. You’d probably say, “May sipon siya (he has congestion).” This is not a literal, word-for-word translation, but it conveys the meaning of the idiom.*

I run into similar issues when explaining the title of my first book, Basta LoveLife, to American audiences. “Basta” is a wonderful little word with several possible English translations:
“Just”
“Anything pertaining to”
“As long as”

There’s no real English equivalent for “basta”—you have to speak Tagalog to completely understand it.

These are the same issues we encounter when translating the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) into English. There’s really no such thing as a “perfect” translation if you don’t speak the original language.


Which is the best translation of the Bible?

There’s really no such thing as one “best” translation for all people. I’d encourage you to simply look for two things:

1. Look for a translation that has been endorsed by a large group of scholars and accepted by the Christian body at large. A few examples would be the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New Living Translation (NLT).

Avoid translations that come from one person, church, or religious group. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have created their own translation of the Bible. It is called the New World Translation, and it contains blatant errors.

2. Look for a translation you can understand. Each translation has its own merits (including the KJV), so the best thing to do is to check out a few and see which one is easiest to read for you. Most of the time I use the NIV or ESV, but I also enjoy the smooth, easy-to-read NLT.

Final Thoughts

I have no issue with those who use the King James Bible as a preference.  But all this talk of it being the “one and only” translation is simply nonsense.

Here are a few websites you may find helpful:

The Debate Over the King James Version

KJV Advocates Refuted

Note: I’ve decided to close comments on this post because I don’t have time to debate about this. Feel free to email me with questions, concerns or hate mail.

*I’ll explain this a little further for those unfamiliar with Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.  People in the Philippines do not use the term “my nose is running” to refer to nasal congestion.  Translating that phrase literally would suggests your nose is about to sprout legs and start running away from you.  Needless to say, this would not make any sense at all.  Phrases/idioms like this are one of the challenges translators face.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Kevin,
    This is a good post and a controversial topic. I too have had similar battles with KJV-only advocates. I tried meeting them on their terms and discussing scripture using the KJV but still I had problems with them simply because they knew I used other translations as well (RSV in particular). Sometimes you just can’t win. Just thought I’d let you know you are not alone in this.
    All the best…John

  2. Thanks for stopping by, John. I agree with you–sometimes you just cannot win.

    On that note, I’m closing the comments on this particular post.

    Blessings!!

Comments are closed.