Republished with permission from Theologically Driven.
Is Only the King James Version the Word of God?
The King James-only movement refuses to recognize any other translation in English as the Word of God. As I noted in previous posts here and here, the Preface to the 1611 KJV is an embarrassment to the KJV-only position because in the Preface the translators themselves absolutely reject the erroneous idea that any translation has such a unique position. Unlike modern KJV-only advocates, the translators themselves admired the work of previous translators of the English Bible.
And to the same effect say we, that we are so far off from condemning any of their labours that travailed before us in this kind, either in this land, or beyond sea, either in King Henry’s time, or King Edward’s, (if there were any translation, or correction of a translation, in his time) or Queen Elizabeth’s of ever renowned memory, that we acknowledge them to have been raised up of God for the building and furnishing of his Church, and that they deserve to be had of us and of posterity in everlasting remembrance.
The Preface goes on to declare that other translations are also the Word of God, even if they contain minor errors. In fact, they acknowledge that errorless translation is impossible since translators are not like the apostles, who were superintended by the Holy Spirit in their writing.
Now to the latter we answer, that we do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest [worst] translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession…containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, every where….A man may be counted a virtuous man, though he have made many slips in his life, (else there were none virtuous, for in many things we offend all) 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, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or apostolick men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand?
So according to the translators there is no justifiable reason why any good-faith translation should not be considered the Word of God, yet KJV-only proponents have denied that any English translation since 1611 is the Word of God. The KJV translators deny that their own translation is perfect (no errors) since perfection is only possible when men are under the direct, supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In order to prove that good-faith though imperfect translations are still the Word of God, the translators give an example of what they consider to be a translation with numerous defects, yet, in spite of those problems, can still be called the Word of God.
The translation of the Seventy dissenteth from the Original in many places, neither doth it come near it for perspicuity, gravity, majesty; yet which of the Apostles did condemn it? Condemn it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Hierome [Jerome] and most learned men do confess) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using of it so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had been unworthy the appellation and name of the word of God.
The translation of the Seventy is a reference to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated several centuries before Christ, which is often quoted in the New Testament when the writers cite the Old Testament.
So again we see that the Preface to the KJV proves to be an embarrassment to the supporters of the KJV-only position since the very words of the translators themselves refute the erroneous claims of the KJV-only movement.
Is the King James Version the Final Authority?
The King James-only movement suggests that with the coming of the KJV there was no need for further translation work and that the proliferation of modern versions is harmful to the church. Yet the translators of the KJV faced the same objection. They note in their preface, “The Translators to the Reader,” that there was nothing unique about their work—it was only a continuation of the process of revision of previous translations and that making improvements in translations is a positive thing.
Yet before we end, we must answer a third cavill and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our Translations so oft; wherein truely they deal hardly and strangely with us. For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to go over that which he had done, and to amend it where he saw cause?
But it is high time to leave them, and to shew in brief what we proposed to ourselves, and what course we held, in this our perusal and survey of the Bible. Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one;…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be expected against; that hath been our endeavour, that our mark.
KJV-only advocates commonly speak of the King James Version as the final authority in English Bibles, as though the KJV text was fixed in 1611. But that is nonsensical in light of the historical facts. First, there is legitimate debate as to the original text of the original 1611 edition since there were apparently two versions printed in 1611, commonly called the “He” and “She” Bibles, from their respective readings in Ruth 3:15 (“he went into the city” and “she went into the city”). These two 1611 editions differ in about 450 places (see David Norton, Textual History of the King James Bible, pp. 173–79). Second, modern printed versions of the KJV are significantly different from the 1611 editions. This is because the KJV has been revised numerous times. Corrections were made in 1612, 1613, 1616, and 1617; more extensive revisions followed in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. It is principally the 4th major revision by Benjamin Blayney in 1769 that is in use today.
There are literally hundreds of differences between the 1611 KJV and modern printed editions. Let me list a few examples (see F. H. A. Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible, pp. 148ff.):
|Gen 39:16||until her lord came home||until his lord came home|
|Num 6:14||and one lamb without blemish||and one ram without blemish|
|Deut 26:1||which the Lord giveth||which the Lord thy God giveth|
|Josh 13:29||half tribe of Manasseh||half tribe of the children of Manasseh|
|Judg 11:2||and his wives sons grew up||and his wife’s sons grew up|
|1 Sam 18:27||David arose, he and his men||David arose and went, he and his men|
|1 Sam 28:7||And his servant said to him||And his servants said to him|
|2 Kgs 11:10||that were in the Temple||that were in the temple of the Lord|
|1 Chr 7:5||were men of might||were valiant men of might|
|2 Chr 28:11||fierce wrath of God is upon you||fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you|
|Job 39:30||where the slain are, there is he||where the slain are, there is she|
|Jer 34:16||whom ye had set at liberty||whom he had set at liberty|
|Jer 38:16||So the king sware secretly||So Zedekiah the king sware secretly|
|Jer 49:1||why then doth their king inherit God||why then doth their king inherit Gad|
|Ezek 3:11||unto thy people||unto the children of thy people|
|Joel 1:16||Is not the meat cut off before your eyes||Is not the meat cut off before our eyes|
|Matt 12:23||Is this the son of David?||Is not this the son of David?|
|Luke 1:3||perfect understanding of things||perfect understanding of all things|
|John 15:20||The servant is not greater than the Lord||The servant is not greater than his lord|
|Rom 3:24||the redemption that is in Jesus Christ||the redemption that is in Christ Jesus|
|1 Cor 12:28||helps in governments, diversities of tongues||helps, governments, diversities of tongues|
|1 Cor 15:41||another of the moon||and another glory of the moon|
|2 Cor 5:2||For in this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed||For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed|
|2 Cor 11:32||the King, kept the city with a garrison||the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison|
|1 Tim 1:4||rather than edifying||rather than godly edifying|
|1 Pet 2:1||and envies, and evil speakings||and envies, and all evil speakings|
|1 John 5:12||he that hath not the Son, hath not life||he that hath not the Son of God hath not life|
As the translators of the KJV said in their Preface, “For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to go over that which he had done, and to amend it where he saw cause?” And indeed the KJV has been amended numerous times since 1611. For KJV-only advocates to argue that they hold the 1611 KJV as their final authority is at best silly and ill-informed, and at worst, extremely dishonest.
Bill Combs serves as Academic Dean as well as Professor of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has been teaching since 1983. He earned his BA at Tennessee Temple University, and his MDive and ThM degrees at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a ThD from Grace Theological Seminary. Dr. Combs has also served in pastoral ministry. He and his wife Pansy are members of Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI.