Monday, February 13, 2012

Is the King James Bible the Only True Translation?

There are Christians who believe that the King James Version of the Bible is either the best or even the only legitimate translation of the Bible. It is ironic that these views are not consistent with the views of the translators of the KJV itself, as expressed in the original (1611) edition of the KJV in the preface entitled “The Translators to the Reader.” Please note that the spelling of the words in the series of quotations below from this preface has been modernized.

The translators of the KJV basically argue in the preface (among other things) that every translation of the Bible should be considered to be the word of God. In their argument they use the example of the Septuagint. As a translation the LXX was deficient in many respects, yet it was treated by the apostles as being the word of God:

“we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession … contains the word of God, nay, is the word of God … A man may be counted a virtuous man, though he have made many slips in his life … also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars. No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word … notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it … The translation of the Seventy differs from the Original in many places, neither does it come near it, for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it … which they would not have done … if it had been unworthy the appellation and name of the word of God.”

The translators of the KJV saw their translation of the Bible as being one stage in a larger endeavor of Bible translation that involves the production over time of many translations in various languages leading to the saving of souls throughout the world. They believed that the production of new translations was necessary:

“how shall men meditate in [the Scripture], which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept closed in an unknown tongue? … it is necessary to have translations … Many men’s mouths have been open a good while … and ask what may be the reason, what the necessity of the employment [in making a new translation]: … blessed be they, and most honored be their name, that break the ice, and give the onset upon that which helps forward to the saving of souls. Now what can be more available thereto, than to deliver God’s book unto God’s people in a tongue which they understand? Since of an hidden treasure, and of a fountain that is sealed, there is no profit.”

The translators of the KJV also believed strongly in the value and necessity of the ongoing work of comparing existing translations with the original texts, a work which requires the emendation of these translations where the need arises:

“before we end, we must answer a third cavil and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our translations so oft … to whomever was it imputed for a fault … to go over that which he had done, and to amend it where he saw cause? … If we will be sons of the Truth, we must consider what it speaks, and trample upon our own credit, yea, and upon other men’s too, if either be any way an hinderance to it.”

The translators of the KJV also included marginal notes in their translation, because they understood that not all of God’s word is necessarily equally clear in its sense, given our current level of knowledge of the original languages:

“Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point … it has pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation … but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence … it is better to make doubt about those things that are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain … [just as a] variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary.”

Therefore, it does not seem from the words quoted above that the translators of the KJV themselves believed that their translation should be considered to be unique in terms of its quality or authority. In a very real sense, they saw their translation as being just one (good) translation among many, one important step in the ongoing process of delivering God’s book to God’s people in a tongue which they can understand.


Matt Viney said...

Thanks for this post. Very interesting.

I have always found King James onlyism to be very strange. Almost as strange as the ESV-onlyism that is emerging in parts of the Reformed and Evangelical world.

Steve Finnell said...

Many believers proclaim certain things that they believe to be factual, but do their actions comport with their assertions?

Example number one: Many claim that the 1611 version of the King James Bible is the only accurate English translation of the Bible. The problem is the original 1611 King James Bible contained 80 books. The 14 books of the apocrypha were included in the original 1611 King James Version. The so-called 1611 King James Bible found in most book stores is actually the 1769 King James Version with the 14 apocryphal books removed.

King James only advocates do not read the original 1611 King James Bible.

Example number two: Faith only believers deny that water baptism is not essential in order to become saved. They discredit what Jesus said in Mark 16:16 "...and is baptized will be saved," by saying that because some of the earliest manuscripts did not have Mark 16:9-20, therefore Mark 16:16 should not be included in the Bible.

If they really believe that Mark 16:9-20 should not be in the Bible, then they should take scissors and cut it out of their Bibles. Does this happen? I doubt that it does.

Example number three: More than a few who deny the water baptism is for the forgiveness of sins say that Acts 2:38 has been mistranslated. They state that the Greek "eis" translated -for- the forgiveness of sins should have been translated -because of- the forgiveness of sins. I know of no translation that translates "eis" as -because of, in Acts 2:38. I have checked out 60+ translations.

If men believe the Greek "eis" in Acts 2:38 should have been translated as because of, then they should take a black maker and blot out -for- and write in- because of. Does this happen? I would guess it does not.


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