In this secular Roman year of 2011 many believers are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the first edition (1611) King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (also known as the Authorised Version). By a quirk of history and no doubt in the divine permissive will, this much beloved translation of the Bible has been the instrument of spreading the Gospel around the English-speaking world. It was the only version I knew as a boy though when the Bible was still studied in 'Divinity' classes at school in England we were also introduced to the increasingly popular New English Bible (NEB) and J.B.Philips Translation of the New Testament.
When I converted from being an atheist in 1977 the church I first joined was based on the KJV though I had already found an interest in other versions in private and was studying the Revised Standard Version (RSV) too. Not until much later did I venture into more modern versions like the New International Version (NIV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) before finally settling down with the New King James Version (NKJV) and a number of Messianic versions like the ISRV and HRV.
Choosing which of the many Bible versions to use for worship and study is a thorny issue these days. Our own ministry has, of course, its favourites. There are so many Bible translations around to choose from and whilst modern versions have certainly improved in readability they have tended to get more and more inaccurate and doctrinally diluted because of political and preconceived doctrinal biases. The King James Version, whilst being a literary masterpiece, has its own political and denominational biases too, as its very name suggests. Indeed, it can be shown that the British monarch had two major reasons for commissioning a translation that would bear his name:
The preface suggests as much - "...revised by His Majesty's special command - Appointed to be read in the Churches [of England]". In other words, the KJV was the official translation for the Church of England and was made by 47 translators all of whom were Anglicans...of course. These 47 men were divided up into 6 different groups called 'companies', two of which were based in Westminster, two in Oxford, and two in Cambridge. Three divided up the Old Testament amongst themselves, two the New Testament, and one the Apocrypha. So different parts of the King James Bible were translated by different companies of scholars and then joined together.
- 1. He wanted a version that would bolster the doctrine of the divine right of kings (and therefore his own unassailable right to the throne of England); and
- 2. He wanted a version that would support the doctrinal position of the state church - the Protestant Church of England, established by Henry VIII to justify the adulterous divorce of his first wife.
Which version was it that the King wanted revised? It was the Geneva Bible because that superb translation contained numerous footnotes that offered alternative renditions and consequent commentaries that did not always square with the doctrines of the Anglican Church - footnotes that questioned the validity of infant baptism amongst other things. King James wanted none of that. He wanted one interpretation that harmonised with the teachings of the Church of England and guaranteed his claim to total power as king. That is what the KJV gave us.
Little did the original translators know - and would most certainly have vehemently opposed - the claim made in recent times by the King James-Only Cult that the KJV is the only accurate, infallible, word-perfect rendition of the Bible in existence in any language. This absurd claim believed by millions of evangelicals defies all reason and is riddled with erroneous assumptions not to mention bad scholarship. For one thing, the original 1611 doesn't exist anymore - there is no original 1611 edition in existence. The one which you buy in the shops today is a 19th century revision, one of many revisions since 1611. Moreover, the 1611 KJV contained the Apocrypha which almost all evangelicals reject as Scripture, which they shouldn't do if they think the 1611 KJV is infallibly true. If you are any doubt about the edition of the KJV you might own, look up Luke 4 in your New Testament and compare it with this earlier version of the KJV. The KJV-Only Cult has done considerable damage in brainwashing believers into rejecting sound biblical scholarship that has improved the KJV in ways that the original KJV translators would have approved of.
I believe there are good grounds to tread carefully and cautiously with Bible versions made for a particular denomination. The New World Translation (NWT) of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) or Inspired Version (IV) of the Mormons spring to mind as classical examples of extreme bias, these being two 'versions' that have no value whatsoever...the first being made by those who were not linguists and the latter by presumed 'revelation' without original manuscripts. To be fair, the KJV translators were bona fide scholars, even if they did all have an Anglican allegiance and agenda, unlike the creators if the NWT and JST/IV.
I also believe one should tread carefully with versions made by only one man such as the Hebrew Roots Version (HRV - James Trimm), Restoration Scriptures True Name Edition (RSTNE - Moshe Koniuchowsky), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB - David Stern), the Moffat Version (James Moffat), J.B.Philips Version (JBP), Smith & Goodspeed (S&G - a two-man work), and many others, though this is not to say that these versions don't make excellent contributions to Bible scholarship because they absolutely do and I use all of them. Moreover, that is not to say that versions produced by committees don't have biases too, for they do, whether they be evangelical or messianic.
What all of this means is that believers must be careful students, particularly in this time of mass apostacy, and reject the temptation to let others do all their thinking for them. The King James Version was "appointed to be read in the Churches" but not, it would seem, in the homes of the common people. Worse, it was the only state-authorised one, so that other excellent versions like the Geneva Bible, Bishop's Bible and the Great Bible were no longer allowed. This deliberate censorship and politicisation of scholarship is a hallmark of tyranny. We have it today in the political control of science and in the denominational control of 'authorised' Bible versions, a modern example being the Catholic Church's decision to remove the word 'Yahweh' from some of their excellent translations like the Jerusalem Bible so as not to offend the Jews, a Name we are absolutely commanded to make known and use throughout Scripture.
I still use the King James Bible, hard though its antiquated and obsolete language can sometimes be, but I absolutely do not believe it to be the one and only true preserved version of the Bible as claimed by modern cultists. Once Bibles were chained to church pulpits so that they could only be read there. Before that (in the Catholic hegemony) only the Priests were allowed to read it because only they were supposedly capable of interpreting it (with the help of the infallible Pope), and for centuries the English Bible was chained to just one version, the King James. Today we are the recipients of more biblical light and truth through modern manuscript discoveries as well as, in the case of the New Testament, pulling apart old dusty veils that obscure the truth thanks, for example, for our increasing knowledge of earlier Hebraic versions which came before the later Greek translations. More light and truth is always breaking forth from Yahweh's Word that is only hampered by denominational chauvanism. In this ministry we have never felt hampered by loyalty to any particular version because our loyalty is first and foremost to the Emet or Truth.
We want to pay tribute to the King James Version and to its 47 scholars who did a magnificent work in their day, in spite of being shackled by an Anglican agenda. The KJV has truly done a "marvelous work and a wonder" (Is.19:14) in spreading the Gospel across the globe but has now become dated by better translations. I still teach my children the KJV but they also know other versions to enable them to fellowship with and minister to (when they are grown up) those who have known only the KJV. When required, I can and do preach from it so that I may reach those who know no other version but my authority has to be the Hebrew roots of the Bible, the original language given by Yahweh to His people. Like the KJV translators, I counsel people to use many versions and to dig deep. May the King James Version always be one of them!
 King James Version Only?