The inspired word of God is a precious gift to humankind. Through the Holy Spirit, God moved in the hearts of certain men, at certain times of history, to record eternal truth. For people of faith, it contains the absolute truth, and is the standard by which we measure all proclaimed truth. Written over a period of 1500 to 2000 years, by at least 40 different authors, it contains 66 inspired books, written in multiple languages, but delivers one continuous story.
Through the study, and application, of the truths contained in the bible, in conjunction with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who authored each book, those who seek God find Him. God reveals Himself in the pages of the bible. God, who is Spirit, transcends His creation, through His word, so that through faith, people may come to know Him personally and intimately. The bible removes the mystery of God’s will, and provides the path of salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life.
Since the bible is central to Christian faith, we must handle God’s word with reverence and respect. We must be honest with God’s word, and allow it to speak to us, without trying to make it say what we want it to say. We have the word of God to unite us through faith in Jesus Christ and to inform every area of our lives.
I still have my first bible, given to me by my grandmother. It is a copy of the King James Bible. Growing up, it is the only bible I used. Every sermon our pastor preached came right out of the KJV. It is the source of my biblical foundation, and I am so thankful for the spiritual growth I enjoyed through its study. The KJV bible is as accurate and relevant today as it has ever been, and is an excellent translation for those who use it. I used it exclusively in my doctorial work.
In my earlier adult years, I discovered the New International Version of the bible, and found it to be much easier for me to read and understand. Through studying the NIV text, I experienced a new magnitude in my spiritual growth. When the Lord called me into ministry and I began to preach at the age of 41, I used the 1984 NIV as my text.
Today, my love for the KJV has not diminished, but my appreciation for some of the modern translations has grown. I like translations that employ paragraphs, rather than breaking up each verse as a separate thought. Since the English language, and the meaning of certain words, has changed over the centuries, it is easier for me to grasp the content of a passage in a modern translation.
There is, however, a great concern among many Christians, that the devil has used the concept of modern translations as a method of watering down the word of God, and robing it of its truths. They quote certain verses that appear in the KJV, but are left out, or changed in some way, in modern translations. Several years ago a man that I have never met called me at the church office, and told me that I was going to hell because I did not use the KJV when I preached. I assured him of my faith in Jesus Christ, but he said that didn’t matter. I asked him about people in foreign countries who professed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but only had the word of God in their native language: were they saved? He said they had to come to Christ through the KJV in order to be saved.
The range of ideas concerning the translations of the bible run all the way from the dogma that denies God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone (by adding the requirement of the exclusive use of one translation) to a lackadaisical handling of God’s word that allows people to paraphrase in order to believe whatever they want, without any accountability to God.
The positive side of the KJV only movement is their concern for preserving the purity of God’s word, which is my passion as well. As I have now read the bible, from cover to cover, in several translations, I find passages where I think the translators could have done a better job in conveying the scripture’s context and intent. This is true in the KJV as well as the modern translations. It is the responsibility of the pastor/preacher/teacher to explain the nuances of scripture, regardless of the translation used. We arrive at the truth through careful study and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, taking into account the meanings of the words used in the original languages.
To help resolve any conflict in the reader’s heart, we need to first take a look at the similarities between the KJV and most modern translations. The primary language of the Old Testament is Hebrew. In the New Testament it’s Greek. Jesus and His disciples probably spoke Aramaic. Some scholars believe that portions of Daniel were first recorded in the language of the Persians. Language is necessary for communication, but words in one language make no sense to a person of another language. The way we overcome language barriers is through translations. The goal of the translators of the KJV, and most of the translators of the modern versions, is to have God’s word accurately available in English.
Every translation requires an interpretation to express thoughts and ideas in a different language. Every translator has to determine his or her goals. Is it to provide a wooden word for word transposition from one language to another (which in some cases makes no sense at all) or is it how to best convey the thought and meaning of a passage in a contextual and understandable way? (which in worst cases would cause the translation to say something that God never intended.) The best translations find a balance between these criteria.
The 1611 KJV is the result of a team of scholars who set about the task of preserving the integrity of the scriptures, while making the word of God available in the language of the common people. There is no doubt in my mind that God’s hand guided the translators, so that we can have confidence in the bible they produced. Their primary Greek text was the Textus Receptus (received text).
The Textus Receptus was the product of scholars who went to the manuscripts, and fragments of manuscripts, that were available at that time, in order to reconstruct the Greek New Testament. In passages where there were no Greek manuscripts available, they filled in the gaps with the Latin Vulgate (Greek to Latin translation attributed to Jerome around 382 AD.) The Textus Receptus went through many revisions before its use in the English translation. Following the chain of translation, some passages would have gone from Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, to Greek, to English. It would be impossible to preserve the meaning of the original scripture under such conditions if not for the hand of God. However, because this is God’s word, we can have complete confidence in the KJV.
Fast-forward to the 20th Century and the rise of the modern translations. The KJV is today an accurate English translation of the word of God, just as it has always been, but much of its language is foreign to the common person today. Someone who has studied the KJV for years might argue with that statement, but someone who picks it up and reads it for the first time is going to have a hard time understanding what it says. Modern scholars recognize this, and with the purest of motives set out with the same goals as the KJV scholars: to preserve the integrity of God’s word and offer it in the language of the common person today.
One difference is that today’s translators do not rely upon the Textus Receptus, but rather the reconstructed Greek texts of modern scholarship. The advantage modern translators have over scholars from the 17th century is that archeological discoveries have yielded many more manuscripts, and fragments of manuscripts, than were available hundreds of years ago. With these discoveries came the realization that the oldest manuscripts did not include words or sentences that appear in later writings. Remember that until the dawn of the printing press, the scriptures were preserved and handed down as they were copied by hand. We do not have any of the original manuscripts, only copies of copies. Without malice, it is likely that some copies were made with personal notes, or the exact phrasing was changed in order to make the meaning more clear. The differences between manuscripts of the same passage are called variances.
If translators apply the best scholarship in their work, they have to take these variances into consideration. This is why sometimes a modern translation seems to be at odds with the KJV, but the translators are just being as honest as they can be in the way they handle the word of God. Where they perceive the translation might cause tension in the readers mind, they reference the variance in a footnote.
Since most of us do not speak in the “Kings English” today, we welcome a bible that is easier to read and understand. Those who measure modern translations with the mindset that the KJV is the standard will always find fault where there is not word for word agreement. Is there a possibility that some translation will not be as accurate as it might be, or that it will not convey the thought intended to all the people who read it? Absolutely. Is it possible that through the antiquated wording of some passages in the KJV the same thing might happen to the modern reader? Absolutely.
The word of God, without regard to translation, is a revelation of God and His will. It leads us to faith, and should unite us as children of God. The sad truth is that the arguments over translations have been a divisive force in the body of Christ for far too long. When people ask me what version of the bible they should get, I always tell them, “The one you will read.”
If God intended this to be such a problem among brothers and sisters in Christ, why is it that we generally come to the same conclusions when we consider the whole council of God’s word, regardless of the translations we might use? Christ’s blood and His sacrifice for our sins are central to the gospel message. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone. God has set a moral standard for His people. He has set His Holy Spirit in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is our counselor, our teacher, who makes God’s word alive, and helps us to apply godly principles to our lives.
By the same token, we must handle the word of God with integrity and respect. We must always allow the word to speak to us, and not force the word to say something that God never intended. There is no perfect translation, but God’s word is perfect. If we seek Him with all of our hearts, He will speak to us through His word, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whether it be the KJV or a scholarly modern translation.