I am in the camp of Christians who believe that Bibles should be translated into every vulgar tongue from the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Text of the Reformation. I have not always been so particular over which Hebrew and Greek texts I prefer my Bibles to be translated from, however. Over the years I have made it through the NIV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, and the HCSB (CSB now). I have been reading the King James Bible now for almost a year, and have found it to be my favorite translation, regardless of the issue of textual criticism. I have spent the time in the past year becoming familiar with the KJV, so I may have some valuable insight to this discussion. I’m a person who hasn’t been reading the KJV for long, and I am also a person who thinks the archaic words are not a good reason for a revision.
Since I wasn’t raised on the King James, or any Bible for that matter, I fall into the category of people who have to learn some new words every now and then as I read my Bible. This process isn’t unfamiliar to me, because it is the same thing I had to do when I read all of my other Bibles for the first time as well. It should come to no surprise to anybody when I say this, but the Bible contains words, in every translation, that do not occur often, if at all, in our daily vernacular. There are many reasons that make the effort of learning archaic words worthwhile. The King James Bible is not going to change like other Bible versions, because it is based on a stable text platform, and no publishing houses own the copyright, so nobody can profit on making light revisions every five years. It is a standardized English text that congregations can memorize together throughout their whole life. It is the text of the Protestant church from which much of our theological grammar is based on. It is the text many historical commentaries and theological works worth reading are built on. Before I really cared about textual criticism, and which Bible I read, I was actually encouraged to read the KJV at least once by my Co-Pastor Dane Johannsson, because it is the language of the Puritans, and I wanted to read the Puritans. There is a wealth of reasons to read the KJV, regardless of where you fall on the discussion of textual criticism.
So as somebody that is open to other translations into English from the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Text, why am I not gung-ho about a revision to the KJV? In this article, I will provide six reasons why a revision is not a great idea, and then I will end the article with ten reasons why somebody might want a revision right now.
1.A Revision of the KJV Will Just Add Another Translation to the Pile
In the first place, there is a multitude of English Bible translations already available, including Bibles that use the same base text as the King James Version, such as the MEV and NKJV. Most of these Bibles were not created because the KJV was too hard to read, and some of them were made exclusively because somebody didn’t want to pay money for the rights to another publishing house. The amount of Bibles available to the English speaking Christian world has split the Biblical language of the people of God in English similar to the people at the tower of Babel. In fact, it is not only common, but likely, that you have Scripture memorized in different translations, and no two Christians sound exactly the same when quoting Scripture in this day and age as a result of our modern problem. English speaking Christians are divided at the most fundamental level due to the fact that there are at least five different Bible versions that are acceptable among the conservative Christian church. This is the first reason I do not think a revision of the KJV, or perhaps a fresh translation employing the same principles is a good idea. It splits the theological language of the people of God. Further, Christians who have been reading and memorizing the KJV their whole lives will now have to make a decision whether they are going to adopt this new Bible. It is likely, if not inevitable, that this revision would simply cause further division among churches that otherwise agree on the doctrine of Scripture, introducing problems where there weren’t before. This problem already exists in churches that adopt modern Bibles, and introducing it to churches that use one text is definitely not a good change.
2.A Revision of the King James Creates More Problems Than Solutions
Even if a great revision of the KJV was accomplished, it would not be adopted immediately. Those that are familiar with their Bible will want to test it, and ensure that no liberties have been taken in translation. This is the chief problem that many people have with the NKJV and MEV. They are fine with the underlying original text, it is the translation methodology that they find problematic. Even among the modern critical text translations, not all Bibles are created equal. It is concerning that some people cannot understand this because it seems that they simply don’t read a Bible enough to know that translation methodology is important. There is a reason that people prefer the ESV over the NIV or the NASB. People are perfectly warranted in taking issue with translation methodology, even if they are okay with the text that it is translated from. It is the Bible we are talking about here, not the Iliad. It should surprise nobody that people who read their Bible daily actually care about how it was translated.
Further, let’s just say the translation was the best it could possibly be, it would take at least a generation for the change to take within churches that currently use the KJV. That is a generation of time in which churches will struggle internally over adopting this new text. The pastoral benefits of having a congregation on the same translation are immense, and surrendering unity in translation is naturally a difficult sell. In short, introducing a new translation into the marketplace will initially introduce problems that weren’t there before, and that tension of transition is something that could take years. It introduces the same problem that many churches have resolved by moving to the KJV in the first place.
3. A Revision of the King James is Unnecessary Because of the Cost/Benefit
The only translation society suited for this task would be the Trinitarian Bible Society. They are the only organization dedicated to the “Confessional Bibliology” position as well as the conservative translation methodology of the King James. Undergoing a revision effort is completely unnecessary because there are people who still do not have a decent Bible in their mother tongue. Rather than being spoiled Americans demanding a new English Bible, it is better to support such an organization in doing the work of actually getting the Bible into every vulgar tongue. The cost of labor and time simply does not justify the alleged benefits of the effort. There are more important things to accomplish, especially since KJV readers aren’t exactly asking for an update.
4.A Revision of the King James is Unnecessary, Because The King James is Still in the Vulgar Tongue
This is probably the greatest disconnect among people that do not actually read the KJV. Since they haven’t read it cover to cover, or have only looked up word lists of difficult words, they are easily convinced that the KJV is simply unintelligible. If the only exposure to the KJV one has is through an article highlighting all of the difficult words, it is an easy conclusion to make. If the person who says they can’t read the KJV has a doctorate, that’s frankly quite embarrassing. I have heard that the academy is on the decline, but I didn’t realize how bad it had become. Even when I became convinced of the Received Text position of Scripture, I initially switched to the NKJV because I thought the KJV would be too hard to read. When I actually opened up the KJV, I was actually surprised to find how easy it was for me to comprehend. The Bible I read daily has alternative translations in the margin for archaic words and “false friends,” so there has yet to be a time where I’ve gotten “stuck” reading my Bible. Most of the time I do not need to use those marginal helps because the context makes the word clear anyway. This is how we read all books in English. It’s how they teach you to read in grade school. I’m forever grateful to my mom and teachers who taught me how to use “context clues,” even outside my Bible reading.
Additionally, it’s not like there are archaic words and “false friends” in every verse. Most of the really difficult words you encounter in the text occur once or twice. If you browse many of the articles berating the archaic nature of the KJV, they often capitalize on such words to make the KJV seem harder to read than it really is. Not only is the KJV easier to read than most people might think, especially with the marginal aids, it is still modern English. Try reading Chaucer and this becomes quite clear. Even Shakespeare is more difficult than the KJV by a large margin.
At this point, I really have to question how people are defining “unintelligible.” Until the KJV becomes as unintelligible to us as middle english, it will remain intelligible to the modern reader. You first have to read it to know that, though. There are also difficult words in every other English translation. One might even say that the difficulties between the KJV and modern versions are that of degree, not of kind.
That brings up another point, that it is unlikely the English language will evolve any time soon. Due to the fact that English is largely standardized in education curriculum and literature, modern English remains standardized in the texts that people use to learn English in school. Textbooks, chapter books, and pretty much any published work all employ the same language. As long as reading is still required in school curriculum, our language will stay mostly the same. Colloquial English and regional vernacular differences will continue as they always have, but the English we learn and read does not bend as easily as spoken language. Since the current trend of English is to devolve to the form that we see on social media (Facebook, text, Twitter, etc.), I’m not sure we’d want a Bible that reads like the average tweet anyway. Since we owe a great debt to the KJV for the formation of modern English, it is more likely that removing the KJV could even cause such a devolution which would require a retranslation in the first place! For those that still believe the KJV is simply too unintelligible to read, try reading it first.
5.The People Who Want to Update it Right Now Are Not the People That Should Be Left Alone Near Bibles
In the recent conversations that I have seen, those that are actually arguing for a revised KJV are the same people that think the longer ending of Mark isn’t Scripture. They disagree fundamentally with the principles that make the KJV the most read Bible in the English speaking world. In fact, the person that has been most persistent in advocating this cause doesn’t think the KJV should be used at all, except for perhaps privately where nobody can see you doing it. This alone is really the best and only reason I needed to give in this article. If somebody is going to update the KJV, it certainly shouldn’t be the crowd of scholars who advocate for different textual principles.
6.A Revision of the KJV Does Not Profit Those That Actually Read It
Finally, a good question to ask is, “what would be the benefit of a proper retranslation of the KJV?” As TBS has pointed out time and time again, there already exist helps in most printed editions of the KJV for the archaic words. I myself have found such aids perfectly adequate in helping me “stay in the text” as I read. I’ve actually enjoyed learning new words and connecting with the heritage of the language I still speak. It seems that the greatest advocates of such an effort are those who don’t actually have any interest in reading it. I have yet to meet somebody who has chosen to read the King James Version who also wants it revised right now. Typically, those that don’t want to deal with the early modern English simply read the NKJV or the MEV, and are fine doing so. It is because of this phenomenon that I am inclined to believe that those advocating for a revision are possibly not actually advocating in the best interest of those who read the KJV. If those that read the KJV are fine with it, and those that are not simply read another version, what could possibly be the motivation for pushing so hard for a revision?
The List of Reasons Somebody Might Advocate for a Revision of the KJV
I’ll end this article by providing a list of reasons that might motivate somebody to push for such a revision, and even make other people believe that KJV readers want such a revision (we don’t):
- They don’t want it to be the most read Bible version anymore
- They don’t think it’s God’s Word, or that it has errors that newer Bibles don’t have
- They are upset that their Bible is changing (misery loves company)
- They think that KJV readers are automatically fundamentalists due to the unfortunate antics of online apologists
- They are frustrated that they were able to attain a doctorate and still can’t read the KJV
- They have never talked to somebody who has opted into reading the KJV over a modern version
- There isn’t a lot of money to be made from a Bible without a copyright
- They think that apologetics cannot be done with it (see point 2 and point 4)
- They genuinely like the idea of reading the KJV, but have trouble reading it
- They are bored or lonely, and need something to talk about
Common sense should tell the average person that in a world with hundreds of Bible translations, there is a reason for people still retaining the KJV, and it’s not because they think it’s going to be updated. If somebody wants a Bible that will be updated as often as the apps on their phone, there are dozens of Bible versions that fit that bill. The KJV is a standardized, stable,text. It does not bend with the trends on modern textual criticism. It does not sway to the culture. The benefits of reading the KJV far outweigh the task of learning some archaic words, or simply buying a Bible that translates the archaic words in the margin. Retranslating, or revising the KJV actually creates far more problems than it solves. In fact, it pretty much introduces a problem that would make the KJV have the same issues as all the other Bibles – it would be a changing text.
The KJV may need a revision when modern English evolves again, though I think that time is much farther away than people realize. Until then, there are two simple solutions: Learn some vocab, or pick another translation. The problem that creates the need for a retranslation or revision actually has two easily attainable solutions that can be employed immediately by any person who is interested. If you’re in the small camp of people who want to read the KJV, but find it too difficult and therefore want a revision, I highly recommend a Bible with marginal aids. The effort of revision introduces many of the problems that are solved by switching to the KJV in the first place.