I recently posted to an internet discussion group the claim that none of the KJV’s contemporaries or those for many generations afterward had the temerity to affirm that the KJV was a perfect, flawless, unimprovable English Bible version as is claimed by some today. To the contrary, from the beginning, it was recognized as being flawed in numerous details, and certainly was susceptible to correction and improvement to bring it into closer conformity to the Bible text in the original Hebrew and Greek.
Among the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines (1645-1652), was John Lightfoot (1602-1675), a cleric who was by all accounts the most accomplished Hebrew scholar in Great Britain in his day, and perhaps in the world. This man, the best equipped in the kingdom to judge of the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the King James Version, publicly expressed his learned conclusions—
In a sermon preached before the House of Commons on August 27, 1645 he urged a new translation of the Bible:
“And certainly it would not be the least advantage that you might do to the three nations [i.e., England, Scotland and Wales], if not the greatest, if they, by your care and means, might come to understand the proper and genuine reading of the Scripture, by an exact, vigorous, and lively translation. I hope, (I say it again) you will find some time, to set a-foot so needful a work.”
And this was only one generation after the appearance in 1611 of the Authorized Version of King James. (William Barker, Puritan Profiles, Mentor, 1996; p. 61)
Lightfoot’s vigorous proposal eventually was taken up by Parliament. A bill was submitted in the British House of Commons in January 11, 1653, proposing the making of a new, revised English translation. The Journal of the House of Commons for that day reads in part—
That Mr. Scott do bring in a Bill for a New Translation of the Bible out of the original Languages: And that he present the Names of Persons fit to be employed in that Service to the House, for their Consideration
This is further clarified at length in official State Papers from the time,
It being now above 40 years since our new translation [i.e., the KJV] was finished, Diverse of the Head of Colleges, and many other learned persons that coming later … have often held out to their hearers and readers, that the Hebrew and Greek may be better rendered, as they mention, than as it is in our newest and best Translation …
And that these persons, viz., Dr. John Owen, Dr. Ralph Cudworth, Mr. Jenkins, Mr. William Greenhill, Mr. Samuel Slater, Mr. William Cowper, Mr. Henry Jessey, Mr. Ralph Venning, and Mr. John Row, Hebrew professor in Aberdeen Scotland, shall be and hereby are constituted, appointed and authorized in and about all these particulars following, to be performed by them in the fear of the Lord; for the Good of his People: namely,
That these, or any three of them, may search and observe wherein the last Translation appears to be Wronged by the prelates, or printers, or others: That in all such places as far as in them is; it may be rectified and amended therein … . And that they may be performed with all speed; before there be any further printing of the Bible.
And further because it is our duty to have the Bible Translated in all places as accurately and as perfectly agreeing with the Original Hebrew and Greek as we can attain unto, to remove (what in us lieth) the stumbling blocks and offense of the weak, or the cavils of others, when they hear in sermons preached or printed, or in other Treatises, That the Original bears it better, thus and thus … (Counted Worthy: The Life and Work of Henry Jessey, Jason G. Duesing, editor)
The point presented in the preceding paragraph is that uneducated or unlearned people might stumble spiritually when someone states that a “better translation than that printed in your Bible is such and such.” The remedy: put the correct translation into the text of a printed revised version, so that the expositor will have no need to explain that a better rendering is other than that actually printed.
And be it further [recorded(?)] that Dr. Thomas Goodwin, Dr. Tuckney, and Mr. Joseph Caryl are hereby appointed … to be supervisors, of what is so approved. And that what those persons shall approve of, shall accordingly be printed and published for the general edification, and benefit, of the whole nation, to be read both privately and in public congregations. (Counted Worthy: The Life and Work of Henry Jessey, Jason G. Duesing, editor. Borderstone Press, 2012, pp. 190-191; spelling normalized, capitals left as in original)
Henry Jessey’s biographer, Edward Whiston, in his 1671 work, also stated the reason for a proposed revised English translation—
It is no dishonor to the translators to affirm that it is now 50 years and more since the translation was finished, and that the knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek hath been improved even to admiration since that time, so consequently a translation might be undertaken and made to be more perfectly agreeing with the original, by learned men, who coming after, and standing as it were on the heads of the former have the advantage of seeing further than they could. (Duesing, op. cit., p. 39)
This intended Puritan revision and correction of the KJV failed of completion, due to the restoration of the Stuart dynasty in the person of decidedly pro-Catholic Charles II in 1660, and the persecutions that followed. There are reports that translators Jessey and Row did complete and left in manuscript a revision of the KJV, but it never appeared in print (see Duesing, p. 39). What became of these translators’ revised version manuscript I cannot discover.
English Bible translations and revisions followed one after another with regularity in the 16th century and beginning of the 17th—Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew’s Bible, Cranmer’s Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, the King James’ Version, and one might even include the Rheims-Douay—as a better, clearer, more accurate understanding of Greek and Hebrew accumulated through the labors of a multitude of scholars in many nations. And such progress in understanding the original languages of the Old and New Testaments did not somehow cease in 1611, but continued in the decades following, as renowned Hebraist John Lightfoot, among many others, testified. And, in truth, that progress has not ceased to this present hour.
Why should English Bible readers not share in the benefit of that better, more accurate knowledge of Greek and Hebrew via revised and corrected English translations, as the KJV translators themselves urged?
Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.