Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Sept/Oct 2011. All rights reserved.
New translations often face considerable opposition if they attempt to replace long-cherished traditional versions. The KJV was bitterly opposed in 1611 by many who clung to the Geneva Bible (witness the Mayflower pilgrims!) or the Bishop’s Bible. Revisions of existing translations sometimes experience the same fate. “Keep your hands off my Bible!” is a common perspective—and perhaps for good reason in some cases. At best, this attitude could reflect long years of memorization and meditation on words that have become so ingrained in readers’ minds and hearts that they seem second nature, in contrast to which different words and phrasing seem out of sorts. However, this attitude may also simply reflect an obstinate resistance to change. Change in itself is not necessarily good. But when change can result in greater accuracy and more ready comprehension of the Word of God, at that point, inflexibility serves not to protect fidelity to Scripture, but to hinder effective discipleship and ministry.
Nearly a decade ago, I “chanced” upon a hardback facsimile reprint of the 1536 edition of William Tyndale’s New Testament translation (Columbus, Ohio: Lazarus Ministry Press, 1999. The original is #21 in the chronological listing of printed editions of the Bible in English in A. S. Herbert’s Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961, p. 13). The price was acceptable (just under $32), so I purchased the volume and have consulted it from time to time. I very much prefer facsimile reprints over mere reproductions (in print or on the net) of the text of a Bible translation, because there are regularly features of the original edition that are omitted in the reprint, along with the very real possibility of inadvertent alterations in the text.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to read this facsimile NT through, and just this morning (as I write), completed the task (which had been interrupted by two trips to Eastern Europe). This makes at least the 8th different English translation of the NT that I have read entirely. These—in roughly I read them—include KJV, ASV, NASB, NIV, Stern’s Jewish NT, ERV, HCSB and now Tyndale (of course, I have read several of these repeatedly and have read portions of the NT in many other English versions).
It has been widely publicized that the year 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the original publication of the “Authorized” or King James Version of the Bible in English. Historically, this translation has been the most widely used, at least since it overtook the previous champion, the Geneva Bible of 1560 (chiefly, at least initially, as a result of the legal suppression of the printing of the Geneva Bible by the British monarchy, in favor of the KJV).
Note, however, that the great majority of the editions and copies of the KJV printed and read in the past 400 years have been revisions rather than reprints of the original form of the KJV, with literally tens of thousands of revisions in spelling, punctuation and the use of italics, plus many hundreds of revisions in the precise wording of the text. Later editions also included the switch from “black letter” (“Gothic”) type to Roman, the widespread omission of the Apocrypha in the 18th and later centuries, along with the omission of an extended calendar and charts of biblical genealogies. Most unfortunately, later editions omit the extremely important and informative introductory essay, “The Translators to the Readers,” which was included in the original edition. In short, most KJV users, particularly those who claim to be “King James Version 1611 Only” in their beliefs, have never actually seen or used a real 1611 King James Version in the original form in which it was issued from the press in 1611.
Welcome to 2011, the four-hundredth birthday of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Many in the English-speaking world will be joining the celebration. And no wonder—the King James Version has been read by more English speakers and has done more to shape the language than any other document.
These days, Christians express mixed attitudes toward the King James Version. On the one hand are some who treat it as if it were written in a foreign language. They prize readability above all else, and they seem to think that an ordinary person of the 21st century cannot reasonably be expected to decipher such an arcane text. They value the King James Version only as an historical oddity, to be relegated to the museum of religious antiquities.
On the other hand are a few who affirm that the King James Version alone is the Word of God in English. Their professed reasons are diverse, having to do with manuscript preservation and translation theory, but when pressed they generally affirm with tautological certainty that they believe their position “by faith.”
The entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.
The best and most accurate body of manuscripts underlying the New Testament is the Textus Receptus. This then supports the King James Version for which I unashamedly stand and from which I exclusively study and preach.
—Evangelist Dwight Smith
The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Received Text of the New Testament (Textus Receptus) are those texts of the original languages we accept and use; the King James Version of the Bible is the only English version we accept and use.
—Temple Baptist Church and Crown College, Knoxville, Tennessee
At first glance, the present essay will appear to be a digression from the conversation about fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals—and a lengthy digression at that. It is not. It is rather an attempt at recognizing that, when the principles of Christian fellowship and separation are applied consistently, they affect our relationship with professing fundamentalists as well as our relationship with other evangelicals. To illustrate this point, let me begin with a personal anecdote.