Over the last several weeks I’ve published three posts celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version.
These posts express my genuine respect for this monumental translation. I have experienced great joy in writing them. I could have written many more and may still do so at some point. But it is with great soberness that I compose this fourth and final post in this celebratory series.
In recent decades, the legacy of the King James Version has been sullied by various errors which have sprung up primarily in Fundamentalist circles. These errors were in no way the fault of those godly men who translated the KJV. Indeed, these men anticipated and argued rigorously against these errors four hundred years ago in their preface to the new translation.
Nevertheless, these errors have arisen and persisted until many of them have found a place in the very doctrinal statements of Fundamentalist churches around the world.
Some of these errors are fairly innocuous such as the notion that we still use the 1611 edition of the King James Version. I own a copy of the 1611 edition and would encourage those espousing this error to purchase a copy. Doing so should quickly set the matter to rest. Another such error is the suggestion that the KJV is not under copyright. While this is true in some parts of the world, in the United Kingdom the copyright to the KJV has been held by the Crown for four hundred years and remains with the Crown today.
Other of these errors are more insidious such as the notion that the King James Version is the only translation that is faithful to the underlying texts. A similar error is the idea that the KJV is the only translation which has been translated from the textus receptus, the collation of Greek manuscripts used by the translators of the KJV. In reality, many New Testament translations have been translated from this text including the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, the Matthew Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishop’s Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, the New King James Version, the Third Millennium Bible, the 21st Century King James Version, and a dozen or so lesser known translations/revisions.
Yet another error which persists is the notion that the KJV New Testament is translated from the Greek text which most closely represents the majority of Greek manuscripts. While the textus receptus from which the KJV was translated does indeed represent the majority reading in most places, it also differs with the majority reading in multiplied hundreds of instances. In fact, the true majority reading can only be found in print in The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text with Apparatus edited by Hodges and Farstad. This text has yet to be used—to my knowledge—as the basis for an English translation.
The final and most serious error I will address is the false teaching that in the process of translation the King James Version was breathed out by God (inspired) just as the originals were during and before the time of the apostles and therefore, that the KJV authoritatively corrects the Scriptures in the original languages. This false doctrine has caused untold damage among the churches of God and is supported by—and supports—dozens of erroneous teachings about the inspiration, preservation, and transmission of God’s Word.
No honour in error
We do the King James Version no honour when we pluck it from its historical context and exalt it to the exclusion of all other translations. Indeed, to do so undermines everything the King James Version is and stands for.
So I urge you, brothers, to jealously guard your pure desire for the truth. I invite you to rejoice and celebrate God’s gift of the King James Version, but I also urge you to scrutinise those claims which would elevate the King James Version to a place of doctrine and exclusivity.
For most of history, access to God’s word has been largely limited to the wealthy and the elite. Few peoples have possessed translations in their own common language. We must never lose sight of what we have. May we read it so we may learn to live it and love it and rejoice in the God who gave it.
Grace to you.