Dealing With The KJV Issue

I recently talked with a fellow pastor about the King James Only issue that often comes up in our churches. He was concerned about a couple of people in his church who were holding that position and was talking about addressing some weaknesses in the KJV.
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I surprised him by sharing that I had once been King James only, though I no longer hold that position. I suggested that attacking the KJV was not the way to convince them. Part of the reason that I had become KJO was because growing up in mainstream evangelicalism, I was bothered by some who questioned the scriptures. Even today I cannot understand why anyone would question the science or history presented in the Bible. That is a whole different issue than debating about manuscript evidence or how a word should be spelled in the Greek.
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Part of what changed my view of the KJO position was finding out how vast the manuscript evidence for scripture really is. As I realized how many ancient documents have been preserved and how few differences there were between them, my confidence in the scriptures only grew stronger. Still there is a debate throughout Christianity about which manuscripts or fragments are the best. I do not necessarily buy the “older is better” argument, but even if I were to go with the majority argument I would still face a large challenge.
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As I considered the vast amount of ancient scriptural evidence, I realized that just to analyze the New Testament would take much time. In order to sift through the Greek at a level of true mastery, I would want to study that language for at least 30 years (For such an important task I would not be satisfied with just a basic understanding). Then I estimated that it would take another 30 years to sift through all the evidence before I would be able to present my findings. I came to this conclusion when I was about 30 years old, so I realized I may not live long enough to accomplish this task. Furthermore, I believed God had more important things for me to do- like preaching the words He had already preserved and made available to me.
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As we consider that most KJO advocates are very passionate about the Word of God, let me warn that pointing out the deficiencies of their version of choice will make them think you are trying to undermine all scripture. Instead of attacking the KJV to refute the KJO error, I believe we should use the KJV itself to show that there is more than one way to translate a word or phrase.
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For example, Psalm 40:13-17 is very similar to Psalm 70, yet there are some differences in both the English and the Hebrew. Please note 40:14 in comparison to 70:2. There are some differences in the Hebrew, but there are more differences in the KJ English. In other words, even where the Hebrew was exactly the same between the two passages, the King James translators still chose different words. This shows that even they recognized that when translating there is more than one way to say something without distorting the true message.
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When such information is presented to a KJO advocate, I suggest pointing out that the KJV translators did an excellent job of translating in both places. That way you are not attacking the KJV but are pointing out that there is room to translate something differently and still have it be an excellent translation.
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Another effective way to show this is to use the King James translation for word studies. For example the Greek word peitho is translated “obey” in Galatians 3:1, but a preacher may want to point out that this word can also mean “believe“. In order to do so, he can easily show that the KJV translators used “believe” in 3 other places where this same Greek word was. Furthermore, they used similar terminology in 16 other places (“trust“ 8 times, “have confidence” 6 times, and “be confident” twice), while it is only translated “obey” 7 times. Of the 55 times peitho is used, it is actually translated “persuade” more often than any other way (22 times). Again this shows that there are more than one way of saying the same thing and that the KJV translators were able to bring us an excellent translation because they recognized this.
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Another important consideration that is often missed in the whole translation debate is that the English language of Europe is not the same as the English language of the United States. This was pointed out during the media coverage of William and Kate’s recent wedding as they showed phrases used in the United Kingdom that were totally foreign to most in the US.
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An example of this in the KJV is the use of the word corn. For a resident of Iowa, corn means a tall leafy plant with densely packed kernels on an ear, but in the UK, corn can mean wheat, barley, or oats.
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By pointing out some of these issues, it can be shown that there is room for more ways to say the same thing. With our changing language over time, as well as our geographic differences, it is not sinful to update a translation to clarify the meaning of words.
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Does that mean I believe all translations are created equally. Of course not. I am not a big fan of the NIV for example. One of the reasons is that I believe it tends more toward a paraphrase than a translation. On the other hand, I would not suggest Young’s Literal Translation for general use because it is not easily readable for an English audience. The word order is different than our way of thinking. Still, I like to use it for study purposes.
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On the other hand, I believe the KJV does an excellent job of balancing dynamic equivalency and literal translation without paraphrasing, as do (Edit: so do an excellent job) other versions such as the NASB and ESV.
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So which translation do I use most? I still use the KJV. It is the version I memorized. I love its poetic structure. It is familiar, and I believe it is among the best- if not the best- translation available in English today. Having said that, I have no quarrel with updating it. Many of its words have become outdated and are no longer in common usage. Worse yet, some words have changed meaning over time. Let us not forget that most readers are not using the 1611, but rather the 1769. Further, the translators themselves in their letter to the readers recognized that that it would need to be updated over time. Let us recognize that as well.

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