The King James Bible

Many good and learned people have written concerning the King James (Authorized) Version (KJV) of the Bible and it is difficult to imagine what more that is profound or significant I could add on the matter. Yet, like many, including unlikely people such as Professor Richard Dawkins, it holds a high place in our affections, even if in mine and other believers cases it is for more than cultural and literary reasons. Over the course of my lifetime I have seen the KJV being phased out altogether or replaced by other versions.

Yesterday, I happened to come across an article titled “First edition of King James Bible from 1611 found in church cupboard”, which I posted on my Facebook page, and lively discussion followed. It was about a Vicar that found this while clearing out church cupboards. It was likely one of the copies King James himself made available to every church to encourage the common people to read the Bible for themselves and some sort of uniformity regarding versions.

The Bible, while remaining the world’s best selling book, engenders all sorts of responses from disbelief and antagonism to it being the inspired Word of God (and the only writing with such an acclaim). Verses like “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 1Timothy 3:16 spring to mind, and by “scripture” St. Paul had in mind the Old Testament, that was to be complemented by the New Testament (66 books in total – 39 OT, 27 NT).

Contention has arisen since these writings were released as to whether these are the full set, whether other writings might come under the inspired category, whether the Bible should be seen as more than mere writings of humans, often betraying their prejudices and cultural hang ups, whether notions not explicitly included in the Bible have the same inspired status and the part human reason or other sources of “inspiration” need to be added to the mix, as well as endless debates on what it says on all sorts of doctrinal matters.

While the place of the Bible in our thinking and doing is a hotly debated subject among all sorts of people today, so is what version is to be used among some Christian folk. For many, who don’t give the matter that much thought, it is a matter of using whatever version happens to be used in the church or equivalent they happen to attend. Usually it is NOT the KJV. Over the years, I have spent hours debating the relative merits of the different versions. For some, the main issue is about understandability, while for others, who prefer the KJV, there is a belief this is the best translation available still, and some will go as far to say it is the only version that is inspired.

The criticism leveled against the KJV is the language, while beautiful, is archaic (Thees and Thous for example) and also whether it is the best available translation. The challenge for all translators, especially of the Bible, is firstly identifying the original sources, given the available manuscripts from which to choose from are many and hundreds of years after the original text, and there are minor, yet significant, differences between them. Then when it comes to any translation, it is impossible to be exact and an understanding of what was meant concerning the original language is not something scholars are fully agreed on and, even if they were, translating the words into the vernacular is never straight forward.

My own view is that the KJV translation team used the best available manuscripts, although I recognize as more have come to light and textual criticism is far more advanced that others are available and, in the case of modern translations, why these are often preferred. But they did a remarkable job, and while representing a wide range of views in the church what they did was outstandingly thorough, coming up with the best possible translation given their times and what they had to work with and in language that is beautiful and powerful and would have resonated with the masses. Much of our culture and literature owes an enormous debt to the KJV, and people’s understanding is the poorer for not knowing the KJV.

I confess the KJV is my preferred version of the Bible since Sunday School. It is what I am used to and am familiar and comfortable with, and go to when memorizing scripture, even though I use a mix of other translations when it comes to Bible study. While I have a fondness for the KJV (and some will notice that when I quote from the Bible it is usually from the KJV), I am not beholden to its usage and  urge looking at other versions and understanding the original language when doing serious study. But I suspect the time will come when the KJV will be consigned to the annals of history.

My overriding concern is that one of the regrettable shifts I have seen in our culture is that people are increasing ignorant as to what the Bible teaches and this has a more damaging consequence than many realise, and one of my crusades is to get people to adopt the habit of regularly reading the Bible, preachers to preach from it, and all of us to apply it, and I am not too fussed as to what version they happen to select. It is to his great credit, and despite his many faults, that King James wanted this too when he commissioned the KJV.


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