*Edits have been made to this article for clarity*
In the 1611 Translators to the Readers, they wrote “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavor, that out mark”. How do you understand the translator’s expressed intent? It sounds as if they expected the new translation to become the preeminent version?The Paleofundamentalist
A common argument against the exclusive use of the King James Version is that the translation team responsible for the KJV would disagree with such a notion. The first time I personally heard this argument was on “The Dividing Line” program and since then have seen it proliferate across Facebook, Puritan Board, and other similar forums. It is often used as a sort of “appendix” argument. “And on top of that, the KJV translators wouldn’t even agree!” If you consider the quoted material above, there is support that the translators did intend for their translation to become preeminent at the time. The objection that I intend to answer in this article is whether or not pro-KJV advocates make this appeal as a reason for reading the KJV today – which is how the argument is presented by anti-KJV types.
The argument that I wish to address today is one which states that the KJV translators would disagree with primacy of the KJV among the wide range of available translations in the 21st century. It is important to note that the KJV translators would likely reject any translation that excludes Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11, so the claim that the KJV translators would reject modern translations is more supported than many might think. The problem is that the argument that I have seen appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators applied to a situation that they can never possibly address because they are no longer alive. Essentially, the argument is communicating that the intentions of the KJV translators are different than the intentions of the modern reader of the KJV. The challenge with such an argument is that it is impossible to determine how men who are no longer alive would react to a situation that is ongoing over 400 years later. What is interesting is that even though we cannot judge their intentions and apply them to a hypothetical situation, there is more evidence in favor of them hypothetically rejecting modern versions than there is to support the idea that they would be in favor the NIV, for example.
Whenever we see a critique of a position, we have to consider the claim that the critique is aimed to dispel. In this case, if the argument is saying that the KJV translators would disagree with the exclusive use of the Authorized Version today, our assumption should be that it is a response to the claim that the KJV should be used exclusively because that is what the translators intended. I do believe there is support in the writing of the translators which indicates that they did intend for their translation to become preeminent, but that is not what the anti-KJV types are saying. The argument that is made suggests that regardless of what the KJV translators thought at the time, they wouldn’t agree with its exclusive use today.
In the time that I have advocated for the broadly defined Traditional position on Scripture, I have seen many arguments that extend to the KJV, many of which support the exclusive use of the translation for personal and corporate applications. Interestingly enough, I would be hard pressed to produce an argument from memory that appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators to support modern day use of the translation from within the “big tent” Traditional position on Scripture. Appeals to the KJV translators, as I have seen them, are typically given as a response to this sort of argument to suggest that the KJV translators were actually more like minded to the modern KJV reader than the anti-KJV proponent is saying.
Since we’re in the business of not only responding to arguments, but also analyzing them, I find it important to note that appeals to the intentions of the translators are among the weaker class of arguments if we were to catalogue them. That being said, the “Translators would disagree with you” only makes sense if somebody were to propose that the reason people should read the KJV is due to some stated intention of the translators. There are times where I have seen KJV advocates respond to an anti-KJV advocate and reference the translators to rebut this claim, but never present it as a positive case for the KJV as the reason they read it. “I read the KJV exclusively because that was the intention of the translators” does not appear to be a common argument in the pro-KJV crowd. The cases where people appeal to the KJV translators are typically aimed at pointing out that the KJV translators are more like minded to the modern KJV reader than the anti-KJV crowd seems to admit. Strangely enough, the anti-KJV crowd seems to believe that the KJV translators would be happy with the current situation, which as far as I can tell, they would be horrified.
A Non-Argument is a Weak Argument
I think my audience would agree that even if this was an argument that is used, it isn’t among the major catalogue of pro TR/KJV arguments. If we consider this reality, then any argument which appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators to dismiss the use of the KJV is at best a weak proposition, or at worst irrelevant. If anything, the KJV translators did intend to create a Bible that would unify the people of God under one translation. This highlights something interesting that I noted in my last article, that some of the arguments leveled against the use of the KJV seem to be aimed more so at the audience who does not read the KJV than those that do. Since it seems to be the case that nobody reads the KJV as their primary translation because “the translators intended so,” any argument which attempts to address such a claim does so to an empty room. From what I can tell, it is merely an argument that serves as a sort of buffer so that one can claim they have yet another nail in the coffin of the KJV. It is an “add that argument to the stack of arguments” type of argument.
If we can acknowledge that this argument is a response to a claim that doesn’t seem to be made all that often as a primary reason to read the KJV, then it is not unreasonable to point out that somebody making this claim has likely misunderstood the pro-KJV argument altogether. See, if somebody genuinely believes that people read the KJV exclusively due to some articulation of “because the translators intended it such,” it is my honest assessment that the person making the argument has chosen to speak before understanding. It is easier to disagree with a caricature of an argument then to wrestle with a true representation of a position.
In short, “The translators disagree with you” argument is not responding to any claim that I have seen anybody make in my camp. If anything, it is an argument that attempts to misdirect people from the reality that the KJV translators would not be in favor of the modern text-critical effort. Nobody is saying, “I read the KJV exclusively because that’s how the translators intended.” This article might be too “nuancy”, but this is a good example of how people can take an argument, turn it into a caricature, and then dismantle it in a way that doesn’t actually represent what was said. As much as people like to accuse their intellectual opponents of using a strawman in every situation, this genuinely seems to be a case where no other explanation can be offered. Those that make this argument against the KJV have stood up a pretend version of the pro-KJV argument and then argued against it. If I were to suspend the belief that every argument comes from a place of good faith, I might suspect that this argument is responding to an assumption of the pro-KJV position rather than an actual argument that has been made. In any case, add this to the list of half-baked arguments from the anti-KJV crowd.