(Photo: Psalm 23 in the original 1611 edition of the King James Version.)
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I love the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. It is written in beautiful, literary English. Psalm 23 and many other familiar passages resonate in the KJV. However, I usually do not use the KJV when I preach and teach. Why is that? There are two main reasons.
- The English language has changed over the centuries. Many words that were clear when the KJV was written, are now confusing or offensive to the modern reader, simply because modern English is a different dialect. For example, the KJV uses the word “unicorn” nine times (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7). Skeptics have made fun of the Bible because of this; however, hundreds of years ago “unicorn” used to mean an animal with one horn, like a rhinoceros. Over time, the word came to refer to a mythical animal, so modern translations use other terms, such as “wild ox.” Exodus 28:40 says to make “girdles and bonnets” for the priests (referring to sashes and headbands), 2 Kings 18:27 refers to men who “drink their own piss;” James 2:3 refers to “gay clothing” (referring to fine clothes), 2 Corinthians 6:12 says, “ye are straitened in your bowels (referring to holding back affection), and Philippians 3:20 says “our conversation is in heaven” because “conversation” meant way of life in Middle English, but today the word means speech, and thus would be completely misunderstood. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
- The KJV is not based on the best ancient manuscripts. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Bible scholars determined the wording of the original manuscripts by collecting and comparing thousands of ancient manuscripts. However, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Old Testament, were discovered and studied long after the King James Version was translated in 1611. Thus, it is ironic but true that newer translations use older and more dependable manuscripts as the basis for their translation. For example, the KJV includes the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark, which says that believers “shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents…” (Mark 16:17-18, KJV). These verses have been quoted by snake-handling sects, yet the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end with Mark 16:8! Another example is 1 John 5:7-8 (a passage mentioning the Trinity), which includes additional words in verse 7, as well as all of verse 8, that are absent from every known Greek manuscript except four manuscripts written in Greek during Middle Ages. It is apparent that a scribe added these words to testify to the Trinity. There are other scriptures that attest to the Trinity, but this is not one of them. (Those KJV Only people who argue that “liberals have taken verses out of the Bible” are ignoring the fact that the chapter and verse number system was added to the text hundreds of years after the original writings, for our convenience in referencing passages.)
All of this begs the question, if not the KJV, what translation should one use? To answer that, I refer you to a previous post I wrote, What Bible translation should I use?