On Defending the KJV

I love the King James Bible. I’ve used it my entire life and do not plan on changing. There is so much about it to love: the majestic flow, the time-honored phrasing, and much else. However, I feel that much of the reasoning for and against using the KJV can be quite absurd.

So, here I would like to examine some of these arguments and test their soundness.

Some Poor Arguments for the KJV

1. The KJV is not copyrighted

Actually, it is. Just depends on where you are at. In the United States it is considered public domain. In the United Kingdom, however, it is technically copyrighted. The rights to printing and publishing the KJV are held by the Crown.

I will add here that I personally would feel better about modern translation attempts if they would make their work public domain. I realize there are costs involved in creating a Bible translation but if the goal is producing a better translation of God’s Word why would anyone add restrictions to its use and propagation?

2. Thousands of changes in other translations

It is a common tactic in arguments to use very large numbers to impress a point without justifying the number. My response would be that you need to produce this list. Many of these “thousands” of changes are no very substantive, such as Ye to You or maybe a The to an A.

Another issue with this argument is that it is based on a foundation that will not be agreed on by both sides. It is based on the assumption that the KJV is superior. Someone who is critical of the KJV can simply dismiss this argument by stating that thousands of changes were necessary.

3. Attacking Westcott and Hort

Who cares? These attacks are very dated and really have no bearing on modern translations. Poor texts and translations predate Westcott and Hort and they are not necessarily seen as giants in the field today.

4. Other languages need the KJV

No, people who speak Spanish, Swahili, or any other language do not need the KJV. They need a Bible faithfully and accurately translated into their own language. Using the underlying principles of translation that the KJV translators used is fine, but the source of the translation should not be an English translation. It has to go back and be based on the Greek and Hebrew texts for accuracy.

5. KJV is required for Salvation, Revival, etc.

This is one of the most absurd arguments you will hear. Did no one get saved before 1611? Must you speak English to have a revival?

Is your faith in God or His Book? You cannot have His Book without Him. He is greater. Now, we know Him and His will through His Book, but we must remember that we worship God and not a book. Don’t allow the Bible to come before the God Who gave you His Word.

Some Poor Arguments against the KJV

1. Their are better alternatives to the KJV

This is a biased opinion and cannot be proven empirically. You may try to support this with facts or studies but it boils down to a personal opinion. Not a sound argument and comes off as elitist.

2. The language is archaic, dated, difficult to understand, etc.

Granted, the language of the KJV is not something that is spoken on the average street corner. There are words (“milch kine” for example) that would be quite different in modern English.

However, the language is a large part of the beauty of the KJV. The rhythm and flow of the words and phrases are closer to Shakespeare that they are to Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton or J.K. Rowling. We all run across a new word in an article or book that we have to look up the definition to. That reading the Bible could require a specialized vocabulary is not something that may be avoided as there are specialized words with theological meanings. I don’t see the issue in adding a few more words to that list.

3. There are better manuscripts that are available now that weren’t available in 1611.

I think there are two theories about finding purity. One is to seek it at the source as close to that as possible. The other is to test and purify the substance. I illustrate this by asking where the purest water is found: is it at the source before it may be contaminated or after it has been filtered and any contaminants removed? It depends. Leaning on ancient manuscripts is like trying to go back as close to the source as possible. Trusting in the Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text is like trusting something that has been filtered and processed over time.

The attempts to rewrite Scripture and Christian history based on fragmentary manuscript evidence is almost laughable at times. The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” made headlines a few years ago. A piece of papyrus the size of a business card excited conspiracy theorists with the possibility that Christianity had covered up that Jesus was married. After further vetting it was uncovered it is likely a forgery. I bring this story up as an extreme example of using fragmentary evidence is used to rewrite overwhelming evidence.

The Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text that the KJV is based on were made from attempts to see the available texts and find a standard. They were made to reflect the text that the Jews and Christians felt was a pure text.

Sometimes the Dead Sea Scrolls come up in this line of argument. There are two ways of looking at more recent find like this compared to the accepted body of thought. One is focus on small differences that may exist from those first century scrolls to the text we use today and assuming those small differences found are more accurate than every other texts we have available. The other is is to focus on how well the vast majority of the text we have matches the those first century scroll and assume that the small differences are variants that are not authoritative. It is a matter of perspective and rarely is there any balance found in those that engage in arguing in this arena.

4. Which KJV? 1611? 1629? 1762? 1769?

At it root, this is reflecting an attack made against other versions. The NIV for example has undergone several revisions. You will see copyright notices noting major changes in 1978, 1984, and 2011. Fans of the KJV like to poke fun at this by showing the ever-shifting language and often controversial changes made each time. KJV opponents won’t see an issue with a continually changing and updating text but like to deflect this argument back because many KJV users are ignorant or sensitive to this charge.

There were minor changes made to the KJV, some of which were simply printing errors. Many spelling updates were made also, including famously incorporating the letter J in the 1629 revision. Almost none of these are substantive, especially compared to revisions made to other translations.

5. It is not the language of the common man

The definition that needs to be made in this argument is what exactly the common man’s language is. What age group? What region? What education level? Spoken or written?

It is common to read a higher level of language than is spoken. Better attention is paid to syntax and structure when writing. Transcripts often do not read as well as the oral communication that was originally delivered.

Is the KJV in the language of the average reader? No, and no translation will be because language is constantly shifting and evolving. The case can be made that the being in a higher or older form of English further cements the meaning and understanding of the words.

I think the better question is, “Is the KJV understandable?”. The answer to that is affirmative.

6. You need to know the original languages to understand the Scriptures.

Not exactly a KJV issue but it often comes up in these conversations. The goal of any translation should be to put the words of scripture into another language that can be fully understood without constantly checking back to Greek or Hebrew.

Is studying the original languages profitable? Yes. Necessary? Should not be.

7. There is no perfect translation

So why criticize the KJV? Oh, you just want to aggravate KJV users…

8. Why don’t other languages have KJV-like translations?

The English language is blessed to have a masterpiece such as the KJV. Other languages, such as Spanish, have struggled with having a reliable translation.

I believe the existence of the KJV is an example of God’s providence. English has been the dominant business language of the world for maybe 200 years. Children in schools across the globe learn English as a second language because it opens so many opportunities. God knew the how widely used the English language would be in our time and so provided a reliable, beautiful translation.

9. We need a another/better English translation.

I did some research. There are around 7,000 languages in the world. 3,300 have at least a portion of the Bible translated into them. About 1,500 have a complete New Testament and only 700 have a complete Bible. As far as I can tell, there are more English translations of the Bible than in any other language. The numbers I found cited were that English has about 450 translations, French has about 50, Spanish has about 50, and Russian has about 20.

When 90% of the world’s languages lack a complete Bible, it is a very poor use of our time to add to the piles of English Bibles.

My suspicion is that many of the modern translations are born out of arrogance or financial concerns. It is arrogant to say that no one before or present can produce a better translation and therefore only these particular translators have proper understanding to do it correctly. As far as finances go, I do not believe every new translation is a cash grab, but I have heard how profitable Bible translations are and how it helps large publishing companies to have their own in-house translations they can use freely in their own works.