I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10-11).
Readers of this blog may recall my encounter with the King James Only (KJO) advocates. (See our posts, King James Only?, and Between Christians.) This is a good example of what disunity and division looks like in the body of Christ.
Entering King James Only into the search bar yielded over 20 million hits. This debate was rather heated back in the 70’s and 80’s; and many thought it would eventually fade away. But it seems to have taken on cult-like status, and I had a sour reception when I tried to present a counter-argument to the claims of the KJO defenders.
In fact, the whole exchange left me feeling rather ill for days after. It was just a zealous, unloving attitude that greeted me in that particular group, a kind of resentment I have never encountered before — not even with the Witnesses nor Mormons. Brothers told me to dust off my shoes and move on. Those wiser than me have learned from experience that this is a fruitless debate, but it was the Holy Spirit who churned my soul to confront this error.
When I examine unorthodox doctrine I attempt to trace its theological origins. Is it found in Scripture? Did the Apostles teach it? Was it a dogma of the early church fathers, or not introduced until much later?
The names commonly associated with KJO date back to the 1800’s, or 200 years after the King James Bible was published. Succeeding generations found mostly fundamental Baptist preachers asserting the supremacy of the KJV translation. Not even the KJV translators believed that about their work as revealed n their 11-page preface. The Bible is written at the 11th grade reading level, but the average person only reads at an 8th grade level. We can see even from the outdated language why the Bible needs periodic revision.
Excerpts from The Translators To The Reader presented in the original King’s English as it read in the 1611 King James Bible.
So hard a thing it is to please all, even when we please God best, and doe seeke to approve our selves to every ones conscience. If wee will descend to later times, wee shall finde many the like examples of such kind, or rather unkind acceptance.
Happie is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrise happie that meditateth in it day and night. But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknowen tongue?
There were also within a few hundreth yeeres after CHRIST, translations many into the Latine tongue: for this tongue also was very fit to convey the Law and the Gospel. Now to the later we answere; that wee doe not deny, nay wee affirme and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English … containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.
… we have shunned the obscuritie of the Papists … whereof their late Translation … bee kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speake like it selfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar.
Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.
In other words … and this conforms with the translators’ desire to publish a Bible that people could understand lest they turn a deafe ear to the word of God …
1. Understanding the difficulty of trying to please all, the translators recognized that in later times their work may be received with unkind acceptance.
2. It was affirmed that the earliest Latin translations were very fit to convey the Law and the Gospel.
3. Even the meanest (poorly edited) English translation is the word of God.
4. Of primary importance was the need to publish a Bible that was in the vulgar (common) language.
King James presented to the translators a guideline of 15 recommendations that included the retention of all ecclesiastical words and phrases in order to preserve the hierarchical traditions of the Church of England. Where the Puritans insisted on a literal, word-for-word translation (for example, washing instead of baptism) the translators retained the word baptism to preserve the church rite of sprinkling.
We can’t ignore the political implications of the KJV translation. King James wanted the translators to not only produce a Bible that upheld church tradition, but also the Monarchy.
The King James translation, then, would serve a three-fold purpose:
1. Defend the Crown against the Papacy.
2. Uphold the ecclesiastical traditions of the Anglican Church.
3. Provide a readable Bible as in agreement with Augustine that a variety of translations would help the lay person more clearly understand the Scriptures.
The translators were instructed by James to rely heavily on the six English translations that were in circulation at the time: Bishop’s, Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Whitchurch’s, and Geneva.
The Bishop’s Bible was the cleric’s choice, but it was much too anti-Catholic. However, King James wanted the new translation to copy Bishop’s wherever possible.
Called the Bible of the Protestant Reformation, the Geneva Bible remained the most popular, best-selling translation until it stopped printing in the mid-17th century. It was the official Bible of the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; and was the Bible carried over on the Mayflower by the Puritans and Pilgrims who were fleeing persecution at the hands of the Anglican Church.
The KJV translators were not seeking to produce a perfect Bible. Their final product was, in fact, in agreement with 90-95% of the Bishop’s Bible; and they recognized that a later generation might seek to improve upon their work.
Indeed, there was no need for a new English translation; but because of the Catholic-Anglican rift, the Monarchy wanted a Bible that was not an instrument of the Popery. Still, the KJV was influenced by the Catholic Bible, and even included the Apocryphal books until the 1666 edition.
The KJO advocates will present a lengthy defense of their position, citing an exhaustive number of contested words and phrases, mixed in with a bit of guilt and doubt that simply leaves you feeling spiritually drained, unsure of your salvation and questioning the authority of your non-King James Bible. This was not the intent of the translators.
Paul told the church at Ephesus — by the way, King James wanted the translators to use the word church rather than the more literal translation, congregation or assembly. The Greek word for church (kyriakos) was not the word Jesus used to describe His body. In Matthew 16:18 where our Lord tells Peter, Upon this rock I will build My church, the Greek word is ekklēsian (ἐκκλησίαν) or congregation — but Paul told the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1–3).
Where is the tolerance insisting that the church recognize only one translation?
There is one verse, in particular, cited by KJO to defend their assertion that the KJV is the preserved word of God:
The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6).
This is simply not sound hermeneutics. Compare this verse to Proverbs 24:16:
For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.
The number “7” has Biblical relevance, but in these two verses it is simply expressed as a Jewish idiom. Shall the righteous man not rise the eighth time? Of course not. It simply is a Hebrew expression for many times like when Jesus said that we should forgive our brother seventy times seven.
The KJV, the argument goes, was the seventh English Bible, perfect in translation and purely refined. It is the Authorized Text from God.
The KJV translators, on the other hand, while noting the variances in Biblical text, stated that none of the textual differences that were present in the available translations altered essential Christian doctrine. They all were fit to teach the Law and Gospel.
With that I shall dust off my feet, and dig in to my (gasp!) NASB — oh, what blasphemy!
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