My dad used to work at a Christian bookstore (actually, I may have been one of the first hundred or so people to ever see the first Veggie Tales episode which not advertised, but simply released to Christian bookstores. Employees at Christian bookstores were encouraged to view it which was all the more marketing Phil Vischer and team could afford at the time… anyhow); my dad was once showing different bibles to a customer who realized that the bible Dad was showing him at the moment was not King James. My dad mentioned something about it being easier to read, but the man was adamant about King James, and said: “If it’s good enough for our Lord, it’s good enough for me!”
My dad wasn’t exactly sure what this guy meant by that, whether this guy thought Christ and the Apostles spoke King James English, or what, but he got a kick out of retelling the story from time to time. (To me it rates right up there with the line from ‘Gangs of New York’ where the protagonist asks: “Who’s William Shakespeare?” And is told: “He’s the man who wrote the King James Bible!” – an exchange which aptly showed the prevalent ignorance of that time and region.)
If you’ve read very many of my posts (or either of my books) you’ll notice that I typically use King James. I have sometimes gotten flack for consistently using the KVJ; in fact, I’ve even run into one or two people highly offended by my use of the KJV. Others, I think, assume that I am ‘King James Only.’ (Short response: I’m not.)
So, why do I use the King James? There are actually a number of reasons, but I’ll share a few with a little history about the translation.
King James is not an interpretive translation. If you know anything about King James I and the reason he commissioned its translation to begin with, you’ll know that he hated the other English translations available. The reason he hated the Catholic translations (which at the time were approved only for he use of the clergy – the Doauy-Rheims didn’t exist yet) was because 1) they were not impressive scholarly translations (in fact they were sometimes downright sloppy in the scholastic sense), and 2) they had Catholic theology INTERPRETTED INTO the text in several places. That is, certain thoughts which were not intrinsic in the text, but which were Catholic dogma seemed to be implied or insinuated in the translation as though it was in the text.
Then there were the Protestant translations: at the time the main protestant translation in use was neither Wycliffe’s, nor Tyndale’s but the Geneva bible, thus called because it was translated by strict Calvinists in exile in Geneva Switzerland.
Unlike the Catholic translations, the Geneva bible was remarkably well translated in the scholarly sense. Not only so but it was less interpretive in nature (i.e. more word-for-word), however it was FULL of running commentaries which interpreted the text for the readers. You couldn’t get a copy of the Geneva bible WITHOUT the accompanied Calvinist commentary. James HATED that.
There has been historic speculation about James’ motivations – it has actually been suggested by some that he was a Satanist (among other things) and wanted an accurate translation to disseminate accurate theology about the devil (there’s probably a more accurate word than ‘theology’ when to comes to study of the devil (diabology, maybe?… whatever)). Of course this narrative dismissing James I as a a Satanist may well just be propaganda from the Cromwell era, I have no idea. (To this day KJV is the preferred translation of satanists.)
Even considering James I as a Christian, his Catholic mother was imprisoned by protestant English for basically his whole life, and he was raised by domineering Presbyterian regents who politically sided with the English and fought Catholic France (including his own relatives – as his mother had married the prince of France…) so its easy to see how he’d be determined to know just what exactly scripture had to say for himself without all these culturally and politically imposed biased perspectives. As the heir apparent of Scotland, and the eventual king James I of England, James was given a full scholastic education he could and did read the scriptures in the original Hebrew, and Greek as well as Jerome’s Latin. He was not amused at the biases he saw in English translations from both Catholic and protestant camps. I mean… just look at him, he’s not an amused guy:
In fact, as the king (and probably to a large degree because of his upbringing), James I didn’t want anyone else interpreting scripture for his kingdom, as he knew by long and hard experience that those who interpreted scripture had power over the hearts and minds of the subjects of the kingdom. He wanted to be able to take the raw material of scripture with no Catholic, Protestant, political (or any other) biases, and be the sole interpreter of that scripture for his kingdom.
Ironically, it was a truly Anglican ambition (for the king is the head of the church of England).
Anyhow, whatever his motivation, I agree with James on the central reasons he wanted to commission the new translation, namely 1) to have a translation which was as word-for-word as possible, and 2) to have a text which is not pre-interpreted by theological, and doctrinal biases of any group. With these I agree 100%; we should have such a translation. In fact if this narrative is boring you, you can basically stop here; the long and short of it is, having looked at numerous other ‘word-for-word’ translations, I have found that pretty much all of them have interpretive biases, and I have been astounded at the lack of such in the KJV. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t any in the KJV, but honestly, I find very few, and this makes sense because the translation was commissioned for that very purpose; Anglicans, Puritan, and Catholic theologians worked on it and James was adamant that there be no interpretive biases.
When James read the first printing of the translation, he declared it to be a miracle. Perhaps that’s where some KJV only people get their idea that the translation was as inspired as scripture itself (a notion which I find absurd).
I don’t believe KJV is in-errant, but in the course of my studies, I have found that the lack of theology and doctrine read onto the translation does seem almost miraculous.
In my own Christian journey I started with NIV, and my primary church exposure was with people who relly didn’t like KJV. I wanted to find a good word-for-word translation, one that was most true to the original text. In this pursuit, I soon found the Amplified Bible, which I thought (<- notice my usage of the past tense there) was a great translation, and studied it adamantly. I later discovered that a number of the additional word translations, bracketed ‘implied in the text’ additions, and the commentary all included a great deal of added interpretation on the basis of theological perspectives which are added in. In fact, I’ve found this to be the case with numerous contemporary translations (so much so that there is no contemporary translation that I have used in which I have not found instances of it).
For just one direct and specific example of what I mean, please read post: Will there be Nephelim in the Last Days?
In the end, James primary motivation in commissioning his namesake translation (to have a word-for-word only translation with no doctrinal bias read into the text) was well accomplished. Most modern other translations (in my opinion) being based on a more interpretive translation philosophy have much more bias read into the text, and/or added in accompanying commentary (which while in many cases is not a big deal can also be VERY destructive particularly in these last days again please read the post above for an example… but also because the content there is important).
So, these plus sides of the KJV are to me the most important things to have in a bible translation, and I haven’t found equal to it with regard these attributes. Some of the downsides are the obvious ones that people always point out – the language is archaic, and hard for the modern reader to understand. To me this objection is a non-issue, because I think if we are really interested in reading God’s Word – in knowing what He has to say, I think we should have enough passion for the Truth to study a little vocabulary (its still English and a heck of a lot easier for the layman than learning Greek or Hebrew). Somewhat like my former interest in the Amplified – if more reading is required to understand what God is saying… well I want to know what God is saying and am willing to attentively apply myself to learn it.
Also, I believe that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to teach me scripture (John 14:26) not some commentator. I once spoke with a pastor who said when he difficulty understanding a pasage he grabbed a commentary, and said to: “Cause, that’s what you do, right?”
I was a little taken aback because… I don’t do that. Not that I’m closed to someone’s opinion or revelation, but because scripture promises that the Holy Ghost will teach us all things, and I believe it. When I come to a passage I don’t understand, I pray and have faith that God will open it to me, and I study and cross reference WITH OTHER SCRIPTURE, rather than reading some theologian who maybe took his best guess on the passage rather than having revelation from God on it.
Anyways, that’s not to say that KJV is the only usable translation (nor think its inerant), but I frankly don’t trust many others because I agree with James’ translation philosophy (even if I disagree with him about pretty much everything else), and have found by experience hat must other translations have doctrinal and theological biases in abundance; whereas contrariwise I find KJV to have exceptionally few.
So, for what its worth, the translations I usually will look at are: the Geneva translation (but not necessarily the commentary), the Amplified (but not necessarily the commentary/ bracketed interpretations), and Douay-Rheims. Those are my three go-tos after KJV, but I sometimes look at others also.
One I would straitly warn you against using is the Passion Translation.