Is Bible Revision Wrong?
Written by Bill Petri
I was excited. My youngest son – Ulric who was 7 years old (he is now 10) asked for his first expensive Bible. I being a very staunch “KJV-only” advocate found him a really nice KJV Bible. He could not wait to get home to begin reading it. He asked me what book he should start in and I directed him to the book of Romans.
The Bible was a reward for getting a perfect score in the New York State English Language Arts test. The test results showed Ulric to be reading at a high “5th grade – low 6th grade” reading level. I was excited because Ulric was only in the second grade.
He read the Bible faithfully for about two weeks and then stopped. I asked him why. He told me he could not understand it. He had to keep looking up word meanings in the dictionary and the process was becoming very tedious, and difficult.
I know from talking to my daughter Hannah’s friends (she is 17 years old) that they too, had difficulty understanding the language of the 1611 Bible. Most of her friends just stopped reading because as they phrased it, “this is a foreign language that I cannot understand.”
These experiences as well as some word studies I was doing at the time caused a major shift in my thinking. Let me try to explain that shift in thinking in the remainder of this article. I believe it will show us that God does still speak to all of us through His written Word in a language each generation of believers can understand.
Used for nearly four hundred years the King James Version, published in 1611, was the prominent translation used in most Protestant churches. However, as the English language continued to change, it became increasingly more difficult for people to understand the Old English vernacular. Faced with the obvious need for our society to understand God’s Word, scholars sought to update the scriptures into more contemporary language.
The very Word of God speaks to the need for generational revisions. Consider:
Psalm 12:6 The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Every generation needs to go through the purification process as words change meaning. The best translation of the Bible is of no value if the reader cannot understand what is written. The changing of word meanings can make a majestic translation to one generation a poor translation to following generations. This is why the Psalmist mentions the purification of God’s Word. Consider just the word “let” and its meaning in 1611.
The word “let” meant to resist or restrain in 1611.
2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (KJV)
Today the word “let” means to allow. Using today’s meaning of the word “let” totally changes the meaning of the verses quoted above. Unless the reader of God’s Word understands and knows 1611 English he will have a mistaken understanding of many verses.
Consider the above verses in modern language, and how much easier they are to understand.
2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And now all of you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now restrains will restrain, until he be taken out of the way. (UKJV)
In their preface to the 1611 KJV, the KJV translators argued that it was good to revise and attempt to improve earlier translations of God's Word. In other words to continue the purification process Psalm 12:6 talks about. They acknowledged that attempts to revise the Bible such as theirs were often incorrectly viewed with suspicion and resentment. They realized they would be accused of changing and trying to correct God's Word; but they still contended that revision was necessary. They wrote: "If anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place."
The KJV translators noted that the Roman Catholics criticized Protestants for "altering and amending our translations so often." Thomas Fuller observed that Roman Catholics asked: "Was their translation good before? Why do they now mend it?" (Church Story of Britain, V, p. 407).
In a 1582 book, Gregory Martin, a Roman Catholic, condemned the early translators with this charge: "How is it, then, that in your later English bibles, you changed your former translation from better to worse?" (Fulke, A Defense, p. 323). Martin claimed that "books which were so translated by Tyndale and the like, as being not indeed God's book, word, or scripture, but the devil's word" (Ibid., p. 228).
Martin argued that present translations must be evaluated or judged by the ancient Latin Vulgate translation that had been used by the church for over a thousand years.
The KJV translators did not consider that these Roman Catholic arguments against new translations or revision of former translations as valid. They recognized that this vague, emotionally-charged claim that any revision is a corruption of God's Word or that any revision makes the translation the devil's word is wrong.
If the KJV translators had accepted the claim that translations do not need to be "revised," "corrected," or "updated," there would be no King James Version. On the title page of the 1611, the translators acknowledged that they "diligently compared and revised" the former English translations.
According to the title page and to the preface of the 1611, their standard for revising translations was God's Word in the original languages [Hebrew and Greek]. To state it another way the Hebrew and the Greek are superior to a receiver language. If the fallible Church of England translators of the KJV could revise, correct, or update the earlier English Bibles by consulting God's Word in the original languages without it being wrong, the KJV can be revised, corrected, or updated by this same standard.
David Cloud, a staunch KJV defender, admitted in his book For the Love of the BIble: "The King James Bible is a revision of that line of Received Text English Bibles stretching back to Tyndale" (For the Love of the Bible, p. 8). In an article about KJV translator John Overall, the reference works The Dictionary of National Biography referred to "the 1611 revision of the translation of the Bible" (p. 1270). In an article about Roger Fenton, these same reference books called the KJV "the revised version of the Bible" (p. 1191). Thomas Harrison was noted to be "among the revisers of the Bible assembled by James I (p. 40).
If the claim that changing, revising, or updating a translation is corrupting God's Word were valid, it would mean that the KJV translators corrupted God's Word. If the claim of no change or revision of a translation were valid, then believers must use the first translation into a language regardless or whether it is an accurate translation or not. The fact should be obvious that a revision of a translation of the Bible is not always wrong. Even Peter Ruckman commended the "genuine work of updating and revision" in Bishops', Matthew's, Coverdale's,
Of course, the fact that changes or revisions can be good does not mean all changes are good. If a translation has some changes that seem to be for the worse or less accurate, it does not mean that all its changes or revisions are bad.
An honest and objective comparison of the KJV to its underlying Hebrew and Greek texts would show that the KJV improved the renderings of the earlier good English Bibles in many places. Such a comparison would also show that every change or revision made by the KJV translators was not necessarily a better or more accurate one.
Please examine the evidence for yourself instead of relying on misleading arguments that tear down all revision of translations as the work of Satan. If applied consistently, such arguments would also condemn the revised version of 1611--the KJV. If such arguments were not valid in 1611, why have they become valid today?
"Does Revision of a Translation Involve the Changing or Altering of God's Word?"
The KJV translators claimed to have "diligently compared and revised" the former or earlier English translations of God's Word. In their preface, they stated that "revising that which hath been laboured by others deserveth certainly much respect and esteem." Evidently, the KJV translators had enough knowledge to know that revision of a translation does not involve the changing of God's preserved Word in the original languages. Do defenders of the KJV today have the same respect for revisers of translations that the KJV translators had?
In a section of his book entitled "Superior Translation Technique," D. A. Waite condemned "the diabolical principle" of subtracting from the Words of God, "the diabolical principle" of the changing of the Words of God, and "the diabolical principle" of adding to the Word of God" (Defending the KJB, pp. 91, 92, 93).
Waite wrote, "There's nothing more Satanic than altering or changing the Words of God" (Ibid., p. 107). Waite then implied that any revision or changing of the words of a translation [the KJV] was Satanic. The problem is that defenders of the KJV-only position fail to see how their misinterpretations would make the revision of the early English translations by the KJV translators into something evil or satanic.
Have the defenders of the KJV diligently compared the good English Bibles they put on their line or tree of good Bibles? If they had, they would know the KJV added over 100 words to the early good Bibles. Check Mark 11:26, Mark 15:3c, Luke 17:36, John 8:6, John 8:9b, John 8:59c, John 19:38c, James 4:6b, 1 John 2:23b, Revelation 18:23a, and Revelation . The KJV subtracted over 100 words from the first authorized Bible [the Great Bible] in the book of Acts alone. The KJV omitted three verses found in one of the Psalms in the Great Bible. The KJV also omitted the phrase "And he said to his disciples" (John 14:1) found in several of the early English Bibles.
The Church of England translators of the KJV also changed or revised many, many words in the former translations. According to the claimed principles of defenders of the KJV, some of these changes even involve important Bible doctrines.
Tyndale's Old Testament has the name "Jehovah" at least 14 times where the KJV does not. For example, Tyndale's, Matthew's, and Geneva Bibles have "the Lord Jehovah" at Exodus 23:17 while the KJV has "the Lord GOD." At Genesis 23:6, Tyndale's, Coverdale's, and
Matthew's has "a fear sent of God" at 1 Samuel 14:15 while the KJV has "a very great trembling." Six early English Bibles have "wrath of God" at 1 Thessalonians 2:16 while the KJV only has "wrath." "Servings of God" is the rendering of five early English Bibles while "divine service" is the KJV rendering.
At 1 Thessalonians 4:2c, at least four English Bibles have "Lord Jesus Christ" while the KJV has "Lord Jesus." At Colossians 4:18, Wycliffe's and the Great Bible has "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" where the KJV has "grace." At Acts 10:48, the KJV has "Lord" where Wycliffe's has "Lord Jesus Christ." Using the same reasoning many KJV only defenders use the KJV is weakening the deity of Jesus.
While the KJV has "baptize with water" at John , some early English Bibles had "baptize in water." At Romans 10:21, several early English Bibles have "believeth not" while the KJV changed it to "disobedient."
When the facts are examined, it becomes obvious a claim that revision of a translation must involve corrupting or altering the Word of God is misleading at best. A consistent application of the KJV-only principle that any revision of the KJV involves adding to, subtracting from or changing God's Word would likewise condemn the KJV since it added to, subtracted from, and changed the early English Bibles.
The former translations and revised version of 1611 provide the proof that the KJV-only view is incorrect in many of its claims. Would a correct view of Bible translation ignore the diligent comparison of the early English Bibles? Will a correct view of Bible translation view revision of earlier translations with only suspicion or with respect?
"The Lofty and Worthy Endeavor or Goal of the KJV Translators"
In their preface to the 1611 KJV, the translators stated that their endeavor or goal had been to make a good English translation better or to make out of many good English translations "one principal good one." Their mark or goal was a worthwhile one. They sought to revise and improve the early good English Bibles. If translators today attempt to accomplish such a goal, would it not be condemned by some as "pride" or as an attempt to corrupt God's Word?
The KJV translators were successful in improving or making the early English translations better in many places. Nevertheless, some important questions must be considered. Were the KJV translators infallible and perfect in all the revisions that they made of the early good Bibles? Did they actually improve the early good translations in every one of their changes? Is the KJV better, more accurate, and clearer in every verse than the early English Bibles? Did the English speaking people have a perfect Word of God before the KJV?
Even if it were established that the KJV is much better overall than any one of the early translations, it would not prove that it is better in every rendering or every verse. One example of a clearer, more accurate, or better rendering in another translation would prove that the KJV is not a perfect translation.
Of course, anyone can make statements or claims that sound good. The important matter is whether the statements are established by the evidence. Consider the following examples:
At 2 Peter 1:1c, the KJV reads, "the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Meanwhile, four early English translations [Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, & Taverner's] have "righteousness that cometh of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." Great, Whittingham's,
At Romans 9:5b, the KJV has, "Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." Tyndale's and Matthew's read: Christ came, which is God over all things, blessed forever." Coverdale's and Whittingham's read: "Christ came, which is God over all, blessed for ever." Great and Bishops' Bibles read: "Christ came, which is God in all things to be praised forever." Geneva Bible reads: "Christ came, who is God over all blessed for ever." Is not the deity of Christ taught more clearly in these early Bibles in this verse than in the KJV?
At 1 Corinthians 14:4, several of the early English Bibles do not add the word "unknown" before "tongue" or "language." Did the adding of the word "unknown" in italics in the KJV make the understanding of this verse clearer?
While only one example is needed, a few more should establish the point beyond dispute. The same Hebrew word translated "fill" many times in the KJV was also translated "fill" in five of the early good Bibles at Genesis 1:28. At Leviticus 12:8, Coverdale's has "turtledoves" while the KJV has "turtles." At Exodus 5:8a, Tyndale's, Matthew's, and
"Hateful" is the translation in the Geneva Bible at Proverbs 30:23 of a Hebrew word also translated 'hateful" in the KJV at Psalm 36:2 but rendered "odious" at this verse. At Isaiah , Wycliffe's, Coverdale's, and
At 1 Corinthians , Tyndale's, Matthew's, and Bishops' Bibles have "market" while Coverdale's and Great Bibles have "flesh market." The Douay-Rheims and KJV have "shambles" At James 3:4, Tyndale's, Matthew's, Great, and Bishops' Bibles have "will" while the KJV has an archaic word "listeth."
Does the evidence show that the KJV is better, clearer, or more accurate than all other English translations in every verse? The attempted endeavor of the KJV translators is worthy of respect. Nevertheless, the fact that they had a lofty goal does not mean they succeeded perfectly in accomplishing it.
The KJV translators did not claim to be perfect. Instead, they argued that the pope was not "free from error by special privilege" and that "he is subject to the same affections and infirmities that others are." The KJV translators would not have claimed some special privilege for themselves; and it is wrong for others to grant to them some unscriptural "special privilege" of being perfect in translating.
Why So Many Bible Translations?
For over three hundred years the King James Version, published in 1611, was the prominent translation used in most Protestant churches. However, as the English language continued to change, it became increasingly more difficult for people to understand the Old English vernacular. Faced with the obvious need for our society to understand God’s Word, scholars sought to update the scriptures into more contemporary language.
Dr. Lewis Foster, one of those who helped translate the NIV and the NKJV says, “It is necessary to continue making new translations and revising old ones if people are to read the Word of God in their contemporary languages. With the passage of time, words change in meanings. For instance, in King James’ day the word ‘prevent’ could mean ‘come before’ but not necessarily in a hindering way. So the translators in that day rendered 1 Thes. , ‘For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.’ But today the word ‘prevent’ has lost that earlier meaning (come before), so it must be translated differently to convey the proper meaning: ‘According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not ‘precede’ those who have fallen asleep’ (NIV). ...To keep the translation of God’s Word living it must be kept in the living language the people are using.”
While new translations have generally been a welcome contribution to the comprehension of scripture, they have also received mixed reactions across the Christian spectrum. One story is told of a pastor who tried to introduce a revised version of the Bible to his rigidly conservative congregation. “So what’s wrong with the King James Version?” said one woman in defense. “In my opinion, if it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us!” The amusing irony is that Jesus obviously did not speak the Old English of the King James Version — neither was the Bible originally recorded in English. Despite the sacred tradition that many revere of the KJV, it is merely a translation of the inspired Word of God, not the initial source. The Old Testament was authored in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. While the original autographs no longer exist, translations are made from ancient manuscript copies, of which there are today at least 24,000, whole or in-part, with which to compare.
An English version of the Bible did not exist until a little more than 600 years ago. Before then, a version translated into Latin by Jerome in the fourth century, called the Latin Vulgate, was the most widely-used Bible translation in the middle ages (the first major book printed on Gutenberg’s press in 1456). Portions of scripture in Middle English began to emerge in the early seventh century, but the first complete English (actually Middle English) translation was not produced until 1382 by the influence of John Wycliff. Despite fierce opposition of the Roman church, and absence of the printing press, copies of this work were widely circulated. Later in the 16th century, seven more popular English versions were produced, beginning with William Tyndale’s work in 1525. This English version of the New Testament was the first to be translated directly from the Greek instead of Latin texts. Before Tyndale’s completion of the Old Testament, he was tried as a heretic and executed in 1536. After Tyndale, several other famous Bibles were produced in the 16th century. The Cloverdale Bible in 1535, Matthew’s Bible in 1537, The Great Bible in 1539, The Geneva Bible in 1560 (the first to use chapters, verses, and the italicization of added words), and the Bishops Bible in 1568.
Finally in 1604, in an effort to resolve severe factions between Englishmen over Bible versions, King James I authorized the translation of another version that came to bear his name. Forty-seven scholars spent six years on the translation, with all work meticulously reviewed and refined by their combined collaboration. The four existing Massorec texts were used for the Old Testament, and a third edition of the Byzantine Greek text by Stephanus (often referred as the “Textus Receptus”), was used for the New Testament. The King James Version was finally published in 1611, and together with its four revisions (in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769), it remains as the most widely circulated Bible in existence. A few other translations were produced over the centuries, but the real revolution of new Bible versions began to erupt in the 20th century, largely due to the widening language barrier. Some of the more influential, recent translations have been: The Revised Standard Version in 1952, The Amplified Bible in 1965, The New English Bible in 1970, The New American Standard Bible in 1971, The Living Bible in 1971, Today’s English Version in 1976, The New International Version in 1978, and the New King James Version in 1982.
Apart from these versions, there are numerous study Bible editions, such as the Scofield Reference Bible, the Open Bible, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, or the Spirit Life Bible, etc., but these are not different translations.
One need not adhere to the KJV-only doctrine to respect the KJV as God's word. Many Christians greatly revere the KJV, read it, quote from it, believe it, and seek to live by it, who do not subscribe to the KJV-only doctrine.
One need not adhere to the KJV-only doctrine to express criticisms of other translations. Many Believers who do not hold to the KJV-only doctrine have specific criticisms of other translations. For example, many evangelicals are critical of gender-inclusive translations such as the NRSV. Many evangelicals have pointed out weaknesses or problems in the NIV. Sober criticism of other translations assumes a humble perspective that recognizes that no translator or translators have produced a perfect translation and that translators who make mistakes are not necessarily corrupting God's word. This is what the purification process of Psalm 12:6 is all about.
Advocacy of the KJV-only doctrine is no guarantee of doctrinal truth or interpretive accuracy. A variety of Christian sects of American origin embrace the KJV in more or less exclusivist fashion.
a. Arguably the "Ruckmanites," a fundamentalist Baptistic movement that looks to Peter Ruckman as its primary spokesperson, is a distinct subgroup of American fundamentalism with almost cultish characteristics. Their basic theology seems sound enough, but it is overlaid with such extremism and legalism in its view of the Bible as to undermine its own stated view of salvation.
b. Mormonism uses the KJV as its official Bible, even though Joseph Smith produced an "inspired" revision of the Bible (which some Mormons also use). The Mormons have a strong commitment to the KJV because it was the Bible of the early LDS prophets, the Book of Mormon quotes (indeed, plagiarizes) whole chapters from the KJV, and Mormons have found it convenient to use the KJV in evangelizing especially in English-speaking countries. c. Many Oneness Pentecostals hold to a form of the KJV-only doctrine, especially on a popular level among pastors and laity. In their case they find it convenient to stick with the KJV because in certain places its wording is more compatible with the way the Oneness doctrine is articulated than modern translations (e.g., Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16). Oneness Pentecostals often object to arguments based on the Greek or Hebrew as vain attempts to improve on the Bible.
Today, Ulric has a new Bible. It is not a KJV, but rather a revision of it. He can read, and understand it in the language he reads, speaks, and understands. The Scriptures have come alive for him.
In the Preface to the KJV the translators themselves pose the following question: "How shall men meditate on that which they do not understand?" Their goal was to give the Word of God to the people in a form that could be readily understood by the common man. That was almost 400 years ago! The English language has undergone tremendous changes since that time (as does any language). As a result, there are places in the text of the KJV that are simply impossible for the vast majority of people today to understand. See if you can fill in some of the blanks by providing the meaning in the following examples:
To quote from Dr. Jack P. Lewis: “There are some words that were in use in the early 17th century that are still in use today, but their meaning has changed drastically. These words in the KJV can become "hidden rocks on which the ship of understanding runs aground"
Notice the following examples of KJV wording, and what they actually meant to them then:
Would it not be simpler and better to have a translation which would at the first reading, without comment, suggest the meaning the writer intended? Is it not time to do what the King James scholars said they were attempting to do: 'To deliver God's book to God's people in a tongue they understood?”