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Why read the Bible in the King James Version?

Abbreviations:
    • English Standard Version (ESV)
    • Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
    • King James Version (KJV)
    • New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    • New International Version (NIV)
    • New King James Version (NKJV)
    • New Living Translation (NLT)
    • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    • Today's New International Version (TNIV)
For nearly 400 years the King James Version remained unchallenged as the standard Protestant English Bible.  Newer translations did come out from 1611 to the mid 20th century but none of those gained widespread acceptance among the English-speaking Protestant churches.  Then starting in the mid 20th century new translations began to gain in popularity.  The Revised Standard Version (both testaments published in 1952) was the first serious contender against the King James Version.  Then in the 1960's-1970's came the New American Standard Bible, Living Bible, New International Version, New King James Version, and eventually scores of others.  Many of those mid 20th century translations had lost their popularity by the 21st century.  Some of the top contenders today by number of sales are the 2011 update to the New International Version, English Standard Version, and New Living Translation.  With so many newer translations available, many Christians think of the King James Version as an irrelevant relic from a bygone era.  However, in the midst of this coming and going of new translations, the King James Version has withstood the test of time and continues to have a solid reader base, and for good reasons.  This page describes the superb features of the King James Version.


Doctrine


No Demonstrable Error

Books such as The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? by James R. White and The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism by D.A. Carson point to alleged translation and textual errors in the KJV.  While the stated goal of these types of books is to refute KJV "only-ism" (the idea that Christians should use only the KJV), these authors are not neutral in terms of assessing the translation and textual choices in the KJV.  James R. White was a consultant for the New American Standard Bible and D.A. Carson was a translator of the New Living Translation.  Although there may be different opinions on translation or textual choices (as proposed by these authors), every reading in the KJV can be justified by reasonable alternative theories.  This website refutes over 150 allegations of errors to show that the KJV is demonstrably inerrant.



Fuller, Doctrinally Superior Text

The New Testament of the KJV, as with the NKJV, is based on the Textus Receptus, a variety of the Byzantine family of New Testament manuscripts.  Many popular translations (e.g. NASB, NIV, ESV, HCSB) are based on the Nestle-Aland text (i.e. NA 27, UBS 4), which is based on the Alexandrian family of manuscripts.  Translations based on these Alexandrian readings omit or cast doubt on many important words and verses: e.g. The ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), The story of the adulteress (John 8:1-11), The conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13), The angel at the pool (John 5:4), The confession of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37), Matthew 12:47, Matthew 17:21, Mathew 18:11, Matthew 21:44, Matthew 23:14, Mark 7:16, Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 11:26, Mark 15:28, Luke 17:36, Luke 22:43, Luke 22:44, Luke 23:17, Acts 15:34, Acts 24:7, Acts 28:29, Romans 16:24, 1 John 5:7.  It is generally accepted even by proponents of the Alexandrian texts that the Textus Receptus readings are doctrinally superior.  The main page of this website has links to pages defending the Textus Receptus.


Accuracy


Literal Translation

The KJV is an essentially literal translation.  Many new translations (NIV, NLT) are based on a translation philosophy called “Dynamic Equivalence” made popular by Eugene Nida of the American Bible Society.  With Dynamic Equivalence, translators act as interpreters rather than translators.  Thus readers of these dynamic translations end up reading the interpretations of scholars rather than the actual biblical text.  The NKJV, NASB and ESV are also essentially literal translations.  For an excellent introduction on the subject, please read this [online booklet] written by Leland Ryken, a member of the ESV committee.



Person Distinction

The KJV uses “thou” and “ye” and inflected verbs to distinguish between the second person singular and the second person plural.  “Thou, thee, thy” refer to one person whereas “ye, you, your” refer to more than one person.  Other modern languages such as Spanish (“tú” and “vosotros”), French (“tu” and “vous”), German (“du” and “ihr”) and Chinese ("你" and "你們") still maintain this distinction.  Without this grammatical distinction, the reader cannot identify whether an individual or a group is being spoken of in passages such as Exodus 4:15, Exodus 29:42, 2 Samuel 7:23, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:31-32, John 3:7, 1 Corinthians 8:9-12, 2 Timothy 4:22, Titus 3:15, Philemon 21-25.



Use of Italics

The KJV translators italicized words that do not appear in the original languages but were added in order to convey the meaning of the text.  Most modern translations (i.e. NIV, ESV, TNIV) do not indicate added words with italics.  For example, Psalm 16:2 in the KJV says, “Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee” (“extendeth” is italicized).  In the latter part of this sentence the original Hebrew only has the words “my goodness,” “not” and “to thee.”  The KJV translators added “extendeth” to convey the meaning of the sentence and they indicated the addition by the use of italics.  The notes to the Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV say that the Hebrew is uncertain in Psalm 16:2.  Thus, Bible versions do not translate this verse in the same way.  However, most modern translations do not use italics to notify the reader concerning words added by the translators.  The NASB and NKJV also use italics to indicate added words.



No Quotation Marks

Go to the page: Quotation Marks

Quotation marks (" ") identify spoken statements.  The KJV does not enclose any words in quotation marks.  "Why is this a good thing?" one might ask.  The KJV does not use quotation marks because the original Hebrew and Greek texts do not use them.  There are many passages where translators must guess as to whether a statement is spoken by the narrator or the character.  Sometimes the placement of quotation marks are misleading, or at the very least rob a reader of another valid interpretation of the text.  Please refer to the page linked to above for examples of passages where quotation marks can be misleading.


Style


Complex Compound Sentences

The KJV seldom splits complex sentences as they are found in the Greek.  For example, Romans 1:1-7 and Hebrews 1:1-4 are each one sentence in the Greek and in the KJV, but even the most literal of modern translations, the NASB and the ESV, split each sentence into several sentences.  Complex sentences convey relationships between ideas more effectively and keep the author’s thought process more apparent.



Hebraisms

The KJV preserves lexicographical and syntactical Hebraisms (William Rosenau, Hebraisms in the Authorized Version of the Bible).  Many contemporary translations, in an attempt to make the Bible sound more familiar to readers, dilute the Hebrew feel of the Bible.  Much of the peculiarity of the language of the KJV is due to its faithful mimicry of the Hebrew language.  Some Hebraic expressions such as the Hebraic anticipatorial accusative (“God saw the light, that it was good” Genesis 1:4) and Hebraic double prepositions (“Abram went up out of Egypt” Genesis 13:1) are completely removed even in translations that are purported to be essentially literal, such as the NASB and the ESV.  Acclaimed Greek teacher John Dobson, author of Learn New Testament Greek, 3rd ed, invites his students to pay close attention to the Hebraic influence in the Greek New Testament.  Due to his apparent preference for dynamic translations, he does not seem to prefer the KJV.  However, he acknowledges that the KJV “follows Hebrew style more closely than a modern translator would normally do” (305).



Conformity with Greek Structure and Style

In the New Testament, the KJV often follows the Greek word order more closely than most translations.  For example, Matthew 17:19 says, “Then came the disciples to Jesus.”  This syntax, which has the verb preceding the subject, may seem peculiar to contemporary English-speaking audiences; but the word order in the KJV follows the Greek word order (“τοτε προσελθοντες οι μαθηται τω ιησου”).  Mimicking the exact style and structure of the Greek can sometimes preserve what is emphasized in the Greek.  Another feature common in the KJV is the historical present tense.  The KJV often uses the present tense to describe past action: e.g. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John” (Matthew 3:13).  This is because the KJV faithfully translates the Greek which is also in the present tense.  Greek writers used the historical present tense to add emphasis to important past actions.  The historical present tense has the effect of making past narratives more vivid.  Modern translations unfortunately tend to translate the historical present tense in the simple past tense.



Poetry

The Bible is a very poetic book.  The obvious poetic books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.  But even the Old Testament prophecies and Revelation are full of poetic features such as rich imageries, parallelisms, hyperboles, and similes.  The books of the Pentateuch are also ripe with poetry, according to Everett Fox, the author of The Five Books of Moses.  He believes that the Pentateuch is full of “oral” poetic qualities that often go unnoticed to Western readers.  In fact, Jews throughout the centuries sang the Torah using cantillation marks.  In the New Testament, we find poetic features such as parables, similitudes, beatitudes, Pauline metaphors, Peter’s apocalyptic utterances, John’s juxtaposition of darkness and light, etc.  A truly poetic translation such as the KJV does justice to the poetry of the Bible.


Background


Authorized by a Bible-believing Christian King

King James who authorized the KJV was a Bible-believing Christian king who unapologetically upheld the doctrines of biblical inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency (sola scriptura).  On biblical inerrancy he said, “When ye read the Scripture, read it with a sanctified & chaste ear: admire reverently such obscure places as ye understand not, blaming only your own incapacity” (Book I:13, Basilicon Doron).  On biblical infallibility he said, “The whole Scripture containeth but two things: a command, and a prohibition; to do such things, and abstain from the contrary. Obey in both;” (Book I:7, Basilicon Doron).  On biblical sufficiency he said, “The Scripture is ever the best interpreter of itself. But press not curiously to seek out farther nor is contained therein; for that were misnurtured presumption, to strive to farther upon Gods secrets nor he hath will ye be: for what he thought needful for us to know, that he hath revealed there.” (Book I:13-14, Basilicon Doron).  That a Christian king would cause the Bible in English to be published was William Tyndale's final prayer as he was publicly executed in 1536 crying out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” (David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003 at 156).



Free from Modernist Bias

The KJV was not influenced by liberal theology, evolutionism, political-correctness, and ecumenicalism.  Today, niche translations are published left and right to satisfy various theological and social agendas.  For example, Today’s New International Version was published to appease those who desired gender-neutrality in a Bible.  The result was a translation with troubling inaccuracies: e.g. Psalm 1:3, Revelation 22:18 (Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Controversy).  Of course, the KJV translators too were men of their times, and their culture certainly was not “neutral.”  However, the Christian monarchical culture of Jacobean England is certainly closer to the biblical ideal of a “nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12) than our modern godless democracies.  The translators’ commitment to biblical inerrancy and biblical sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice cannot be disputed.  King James himself stated “Now, the onely way to bring you to this knowldege, is diligently to read his word, & earnestly to pray for the right understanding thereof” (Book I:6, Basilicon Doron).



Laws Pertaining to Derivative Works Did Not Affect The KJV

Modern Bible publishers are required by law to make substantial changes to revisionary works (e.g. new translations) in order to claim copyrights: “To be copyrightable, a derivative work must be different enough from the original to be regarded as a “new work” or must contain a substantial amount of new material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify the work as a new version for copyright purposes” (Copyright Registration for Derivative Works (Circular 14)).  The law requires that each new version be "different enough" from previous versions.  Thus when a reader reads a modern translation which is bound by this law, he must second-guess whether the words he is reading are in fact the most accurate or whether they are less accurate substitutes made in order to qualify the translation as a copyrightable work.  The KJV was not bound by this law.  When a reader reads the KJV, he can be confident that the translators chose the words that they did because they truly believed that the words they chose were the most accurate.  Fifteen rules were given for translating the KJV, and some of them explicitly allowed the translators to retain existing renderings that could not have been improved upon.  Rule 1 urged the translators to follow the Bishop's Bible with the liberty to depart from it if the original language text so allowed.  Rule 14 allowed the translators to follow other good translations where they appeared to agree better with the original languages.  Such an attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" would be impossible today with our current laws for derivative works that require change for the sake of change.



The Translators Were Experts in Hebrew, Greek and Latin

The KJV builds on the scholarship exhibited in previous English Bibles which date back to Tyndale and Wycliffe – two godly contenders of the faith and the written Word.  The 47 translators of the KJV were masters in Hebrew and/or Greek, as well as in cognate languages such as Aramaic, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, etc. (Translators Revived by Alexander McClure).  Elizabethan and Jacobean scholars were trained in grammar schools in their youth – schools where the study of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and English were emphasized.  Many modern scholars who are proficient in Greek are not proficient in Latin.  Latin has dropped as an ecclesiastical language in Protestant schools.  However, many resources that can shed light on textual and translation variants appear in Latin glosses and writings produced over a span of 1000+ years.  All the KJV translators were proficient in Latin.



The Translators Were Experts in English

Many students of the Bible often forget that the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek alone does not make one an apt translator.  Translation involves expertise in both the source language and the receptor language.  The KJV translators seemed to have had a better grasp of English than many modern translators.  Consider this candid comment by Daniel Wallace, a critic of the KJV: “it should be noted that as many faults as the KJV has, it frequently has a superior rendering of the Greek perfect over many modern translations. (Recall that the KJV was produced during the golden age of English, during Shakespeare’s era.) For example, in Eph 2:8 the KJV reads "for by grace are ye saved," while many modern translations (e.g., RSV, NASB) have "for by grace you have been saved." The perfect periphrastic construction is most likely intensive, however. The KJV translators, though not having nearly as good a grasp on Greek as modern translators, seem to have had a better grip on English. They apparently recognized that to translate Eph 2:8 with an English perfect would say nothing about the state resulting from the act of being saved” (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics at 575).


Legacy


Early Modern English

Apart from inflected verbs (which are functionally important), all words in the KJV appear in contemporary publications (Laurence M. Vance, Archaic Words and the Authorized Version).  Furthermore, there are many cases where even the NIV uses harder words than the KJV.  Compare the following: The NIV has “abasement” in Ezra 9:5 whereas the KJV has “heaviness.”  Isaiah 24:23: “abashed” (NIV) = “confounded” (KJV).  Ezekiel 40:18: “abutted” (NIV) = “over against” (KJV).  2 Chronicles 15:14: “acclamation” (NIV) = “voice” (KJV).  Isaiah 13:8: “aghast” (NIV) = “amazed” (KIV).  Laurence M. Vance provides 220 of these examples where the NIV uses a harder word than the KJV.  A personal favourite is “squall” (NIV) instead of “storm” (KJV) in Mark 4:37.  The KJV may be harder to read than the NIV for someone not used to inflected verbs, but one should thoroughly read the KJV first before making conclusions about its difficulty.

See:

Many people have the impression that the King James Version is just an old translation.  But there is more to the language of the King James Version than its archaic elements.

This guide will help the beginner in getting a basic grasp of the grammar and vocabulary of the King James Version.



Tried and Tested

Go to the Page: Editions of the King James Version and the Apocrypha

The King James Version has been carefully proof-read for 400 years.  Today's editions are reliable, having all printing errors corrected.


Popularity

Popularity is not a biblical yardstick for assessing the value of something.  Nevertheless, it must be noted that the KJV is still one of the more popular translations.  According to February 2011 CBA sales numbers, it is less popular than the highest ranking NIV but is more popular than the NKJV, ESV, NASB and NLT.  Christians who use the KJV are not an outdated "minority" as some might allege.  Monthly Bible sales rankings are posted here (the ranking chart changes each month).

Subpages (1): Quotation Marks