Should we be using the King James Version of the Bible?

Ever since I became a Christian in my teens, the question of what version of the Bible to use has not only arisen but has sometimes led to heated debate and people falling out. Having lived through these debates and been exposed to the pros and cons arguments several times over, and given (I fear) a new generation can just as easily fall out, and just as pertinently lack the discernment to judge rightly, I felt I should wade in with my thoughts as a result of years of reflection and a desire that a difference in opinion as to what version of the Bible we ought to use, should not be a falling out matter.

I was brought up on the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible from the time I attended Sunday School and have grown to love the KJV. More modern versions like the New English Version (NEB) and Revised Standard Version (RSV) were around, but weren’t widely used, at least in the circles in which I moved. Later, paraphrase versions came to the fore, e.g. J.B.Phillips and the Living Bible, and later still the Good News Version (GNB). In my late teens and early twenties, I discovered the New American Standard Version (NASB) and liked and used this, even though not widely used among the British Christians I associated with. Later still, I came across the New International Version (NIV), which I wasn’t too keen on but was used by many churches (including my own). Even later, I came across the English Standard Version (ESV) which I like but haven’t got to use much, and another paraphrase version – The Message.

I mention all this to set the scene so to speak before attempting to answer the question. I get the main attraction of using modern versions of the Bible is understandability. I also get the concerns of some that many modern versions, like the NIV, are bad translations, giving the impression of watering down the Word. As I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, I cannot speak as an expert. I can only speak as one who knows and loves the Bible and is familiar with most of the popular versions. I have also not yet come to a definitive view regarding relative merits of the manuscripts used as a basis for translations. Given whatever manuscripts are used as a basis of translations, the earliest are still over a hundred years on from the original and who is to say which are closest? Some KJV advocates have made the understandable point that when the KJV was written they had only a few manuscripts to choose from and these where from the more conservative Antioch school, and while the more modern translations have more manuscripts to choose from these were from the more liberal Alexandrian school and taboot many phrases and passages in the KJV do not appear in these other MSSs and this may be reflected in the translations. Moreover, KJV fans often point out that there is often a watering down, even if agreed on original text. Also, to consider, is the high standard of scholarship of the KJV, representing as they did all sections of the church.

I get why KJV advocates are upset when their concerns are dismissed, especially since I share some of them, but suggest it should not be a falling out matter and it may be ok to disagree. Some have left churches or Christian groups or have thrown out or been thrown out when people have disagreed strongly enough on the matter. I have experienced this personally – from both sides. But I have also had to come to a view. When I left my church of many years (because we decided to close) which still kept faith with the KJV, I joined one that used the NIV. I was disappointed but I also discovered many in that congregation loved and knew the scriptures and applied them. It was not my mission to unhelpfully rock the boat, even though KJV is my preference. It is what I quote when I write, although my default position when preaching to an English audience is to use whatever version is being used. I still love the beauty and power of words of the KJV over any other translations and still memorise texts in the KJV. When I study the Bible, I often use several versions, including my NIV study Bible, and since I do a lot of this online, I use Biblegateway that helpfully provides many different translations. I recognize there is no such thing as a perfect translation and sometimes it is horses for courses given the original, Hebrew especially, text contains a lot of poetry as well as prose, with poetry reflecting heart and prose mind, needing taken into account. If I am stuck for a word, mindful that exact translation is often not possible, I often seek the context and go to the original language, with the help of scholarly lexicons and dictionaries. The aim is invariably to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2Timothy 2:15).

We are where we are and life is too short and there are too many more important matters to attend to, like saving souls, than to wage a war on behalf of lovers of the King James Version. I suppose, in a different situation, I might have to wade in with my two penneth and, if we were to settle on a version, I could be persuaded to adopt the ESV. Soon this dinosaur will be dead and like my species we may well be on our way out. My principle concern, besides people being fully fired up for the Lord, is that people know their Bibles and live their Bibles, even if it happens to be a version I am not over keen on!


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