by Paul Alexander
At a time when many churches, Christian leaders and Bible colleges are exchanging the KJV for newer Bible versions, why don’t we?
New translations have not increased overall Bible literacy, in fact the opposite is true. The Bible is less read and less understood than ever before among professing American Christians (based on studies by Barna Research Group, Thom Rainer, Gary Burge, George Lindbeck of Yale).
Lack of uniformity has stifled recognition and memorization. The motivation for the King James Version was the need for one common English Bible to be used by all. “Repetition is the mother of learning,” but if the preacher uses one version, the Sunday school teacher uses another, and the student another, we lose the advantage of widespread, easy recognition and memorization of Scripture. Without a uniform Bible, the Scriptures will continue to lose their influence on our country, culture and churches. Instead of making the Bible more familiar, the multitude of versions have actually made it far less familiar to society.
God promised to keep every word available to every generation. “The words of the LORD are pure…. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.” (Psalm 12:6-7; also Ps. 33:11; 100:5; 119:160; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23-25)
What about the words of the Old Testament? One would expect any ordinary book that was hand copied for hundreds of years to contain serious errors. However, both the Bible and its method of transcription were far from ordinary. There is essentially no debate about the preservation of the Old Testament in the Masoretic line of manuscripts.
- Only trained professional scribes were allowed to reproduce the Hebrew Scriptures. Painstaking steps were followed to ensure that each copy was an exact duplicate of the original. The number of letters and words on each page was counted, and the middle word of each page was found to be sure they matched the original. No character could be smudged or touch another. If a single letter was found to be in error, the entire page was discarded and the work redone.
- “The ancient Dead Sea Scrolls contain all of the Jewish Bible except Esther. They prove the texts have remain unchanged through two millennia of rewriting by Jewish scholars.”
- Research the Masoretic Texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the methods and qualifications of the King James Bible translators.
- All of our English Old Testament versions are translated from the Masoretic family of Hebrew manuscripts and are the Word of God so far as they are accurately translated. The King James Bible has stood the test of time as an authoritative and reliable translation.
What about the New Testament?
While Bible translators uniformly base their OT versions on one family tree of manuscripts, there are two different families upon which translators base the NT, the Byzantine and Alexandrian families. These two collections of manuscripts are like two pairs of identical twins born to the same parents. They are virtually identical within their set, but are significantly different (about five percent of the words) than the other set.
The Byzantine family contains about 2,000 complete hand-copied Greek New Testaments and 3,300 partials gathered from Europe, Asia and Africa dating back as far as A.D. 350. This line of almost identical copies has been in continuous use since the early church period. All of the early New Testament translations, including the King James version, were based on manuscripts from the Byzantine texts.
Another family of manuscripts, discovered in the 1,800’s has come to be known as the Alexandrian texts. This family is comprised of just two near-complete Greek manuscripts and about thirty partials dating from A.D. 135-400 and originating around Alexandria, Egypt. These copies lay “lost” and unused from the fifth to the nineteenth century.
Though no fundamental doctrines are changed in the lost Alexandrian manuscripts, the differences are significant. Two passages (Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11) numerous words and many verses (ex. Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 8:36-38) found in the Byzantine manuscripts are absent in the Alexandrian. However, all modern English translations except the New King James are based on the Alexandrian manuscripts.
The test of purity is not age, but availability.
Many scholars believe the Alexandrian manuscripts are closer to the original words of God primarily based on the assumption that “older is better.” But if these truly are God’s preserved words, why did they lie unused and uncirculated for 1,400 years? What if more “lost books” are discovered, differing another five percent from what we now have? How are we to be certain of the pure Word? God gave us a way to positively identify His preserved Word: Every word available to every generation. The Biblical test of purity is not “age,” but availability. God’s Word can never be lost any more than He can forget His name (Psalm 138:2). Because Almighty God has promised to safeguard and keep His word continuously available, there can be no such thing as a “lost book” of the Bible.
God has preserved every word of the Old Testament for every generation in the Masoretic texts, and every word of the New Testament for every generation in the continuously available Byzantine texts. As a student of God’s Word, I desire a “word-for-word” translation that is based on the divinely preserved texts translated by world-class linguists. I believe the only translation that currently meets those criteria is the King James Bible.
by Paul Alexander
How about us filipinos, with more than 8,000 dialects, but no known translation of kjv in those dialects, even the popular tagalog dialect has no kjv translation.
KJV is the only translation that uses the strongs concordance as a Greek and Hebrew reference book in the English speaking language.
Annie McIntyre, that’s because the Strongs concordance was written solely around the KJV.
Hi Brother Alexander,
I found this article to be surprisingly accurate. You obviously care about truthfulness and about representing opposing arguments charitably. Thank you.
Your arguments, except for #2 (Which I think is your strongest argument), all leave room for an updated English translation. If another translation were made by professing Christians, with the target of formal equivalence, using one of the Texti Recepti (You pick which one), would you endorse its use?
If yes, where do you see the NKJV as missing that mark?
If no, why not?
Regarding argument #2: Have you considered at what point intelligibility issues caused by language change will outweigh the memorization/recognition advantage of the KJV? If we haven’t reached that point yet, what would be some of your criteria?
Regarding argument #1: Do you think you may have a correlation/causation issue here? I can think of many, many factors that would contribute to a drop in Biblical literacy among professing Christians, including intelligibility issues in the most widely-read English version.
I would love to read a followup article that addresses these topics.
This is a good and informative article, but it raises a question: Is it not possible to have a bible translation in modern English based on the Old Testament Masoretic texts and the New Testament Byzantine texts? It would be wonderful to have a bible translated from the exact same texts as the KJV but in 21st century English grammar, syntax and vocabulary, so one could give it to a new believer and they could begin reading without having to pause frequently to look up archaic words, re-arrange odd sentences or learn new pronouns. I understand that one can learn to read the KJV, but it appears to be an impediment to new believers who did not grow up in church. It would be fantastic to give them a modern KJV translation which would allow them to read the bible without having to learn another form of English. This way they could read the Word of God, from the same texts as the KJV (MT and BT) and it would be a modern translation acceptable to those who prefer the KJV (as opposed to those who still have problems with the NKJV or MEV).
A wise man of God said: Our great grandpas and grandmas many of which had less than a Highschool education understood the old Authorized King James Bible just fine, why can’t folks understand it in this highly educated enlightened age today? Answer. Could it be because we are expecting unsaved folk to understand it? Consider I Corinthians 2:14: But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. As for those that want to modernize the wording doing away with thee, thou, thine, ye, those words are used for a reason and make for a totally accurate Bible that you cannot have if you change them. Finally, most scholars agree that the English language was at it’s peak of majesty and beauty when the King James Bible was published. Why would you want to change it then? God’s Bible, the Authorized King James Bible, is just like He wants it. Don’t try to change it. Just believe it, read it, study it, teach it, preach it, and stand on it. Amen.