Month 9:19, Week 3:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year:Day 5940:255 AM|
2Exodus 3/40, Yovel - Year 50/50
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 18 December 2016
New King James Bible
Why We Like It For Public Worship
My First Copy of the NKJV
The day I bought my first copy of the New Testament of the New King James Version (NKJV) - 22 June 1982, three years after this translation was first made - was an answer to a silent prayer. Though I had previously been exposed, albeit briefly, to the New English Bible (NEB) and J.B.Philips Translation of the New Testament while at school, and had been using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) to teach the British General Certificate of Education at Advanced ('A') Level in Oxford, my whole life - and in particular during the five years since I was saved - had been immersed in the venerable 400 year old King James Version (KJV)  and I was ready for something more readable without it mutilating the original text or becoming a sloshy paraphrase.
A Relic of a Bygone Age
In some respects, the KJV is irreplacable simply because its translation is a relic of a bygone language - 17th century English, a language form which nobody speaks anywhere anymore. By way of illustration, a Dutchman in German-occupied Holland during the Second World War, wished to learn English which at the time was illegal for the simple reason Germany was at war with Britain. The only text he had available was a King James Bible. He memorised considerable portions of it and how to use its language form. After the war he visited England and, using the only English he knew, attempted to communicate in the King James form, to be greatly astonished that nobody understood him.
The Beauty of the KJV
Our language has undergone profound changes since 1611, and even within the short span of my own lifestime. Whatever difficulties people may have in understanding this 17th century language, many of us are nevertheless enthralled by it. There is not only a reverence to it but something else, that scholar Alexendar Geddes tried to pin down in 1786, a mere 1½ centuries after the KJV's publication:
"Of accruacy and strictest attention to the letter of the text be supposed to constitute an excellent version, this is of all versions the most excellent."
I would agree, from a literary point-of-view - the KJV is probably unmatched. It combines majesty and sublimity in its excellency and is most definitely conducive to use in worship. Now admittedly this is a subjective evaluation and I am the first to admit that one of the reasons I feel about it this way is because of its familiarity and because I associate it with an age - my childhood - where reverence still prevailed in society, a society in which the KJV still held sway. It was the version of the Church of England which I grew up in with its magnificent music and just as magnificent architecture. Every now and then I search for that feeling I once knew and put down whatever modern translation I happen to be using and pick up my beautiful leather-bound and gold-edged bedside copy of the KJV which I bought secondhand from an Oxfam store in Cowley, Oxford when I was a student, and just immerse myself in the poetry of my once undefiled language. And, of course, since this is the version I grew up with, it is from my memory of this version that I still quote. It has imprinted my soul. It is, quite simply, beautiful, with some passages - like Psalm 23 - being unequalled in glory by any other translation since.
If you, the reader, are an habitual KJV-user I feel sure you might relate to that. But if you are of the ilk that believes it is the only infallible translation in the Englsh language, I would have to part immediate company with you. That it most certainly is not. And though it might have been the most perfect translation in 1786, when Geddes made his assessment of it (though some think that untrue and favour earlier translations like the Geneva Bible or the 1525 Tyndale and Coverdale version which also was superb), that is not, in my opinion, true today. There are numerous errors of translation, as is to be expected in any version handled by fallible men and women, and much of its vocabulary makes no sense in modern English as words have substantially changed their meaning, leading to considerable misunderstanding. Just try making sense of some of Paul's words in the KJV. Maybe I am just an imbecile but honestly I get lost trying to follow his drift of thought sometimes - I find myself having to use multiple versions to 'get' him, including paraphrases and versions made for those with a low literary IQ like the New International Readers Version (NIRV) which has done me a great service where complex Pauline themes have sometimes baffled me.
Correcting Errors Whilst Preserving a Wonderful Heritage
Of all the 'modern' versions only the New King James Version (NKJV) purposefully and deliberately sets out to preserve the literarey excellence of the old KJV without resorting to paraphrase. It maintains the KJV's precision as as a word-for-word translation is actually possible (and therefore joins the same genre as the NASB) and as a result preserves the legacy of the KJV translation. It modernises the KJV only in upgrading vocabulary, punctuation and syntax wherever obscurity exists. Thus obvious KJV errors like the mythological and occult "unicorn" and "Easter" are removed and exchanged for "wild ox"  and "Passover" (Ac.12:4), respectively, to give a couple of well-known examples.
Wonderful for Public Reading
I love the NKJV. It retains the original KJV diction, thought-flow and cadence. The sequence and identity of words, phrases, and clauses, of the NKJV, whilst much clearer, are so close to the tradional KJV that there is remarkable ease in listening to the public reading of either edition while following with the other. It is for this reason that I favour the NKJV for public worship above any other modern version.
Maintaining Doctrinal Language
There are other sound reasons for retaining doctrinal and theological terms that are generally familiar to English-speaking peoples. This is one reason I dislike nearly all Messianic versions because they substitute in words that are alien to our ear. I think it unnecessary, for example, as nearly all Messianic editions do, to substitute "cross" for "torture stake" (a tradition started by the Jehovah's Witensses), even assuming Yah'shua (Jesus) was impaled on a vertical beam and not a crux immissa (I happen to believe it was not a vertical pole - see Crux Immissa: The True Meaning of the Cross). Either way, the "cross" is part and parcel of our language, and provided one clearly explains what one means by 'cross', I see no need to mutilate our language by removing such familiar words which are pregnant with meaning.
Loss of Jacobean Personal Pronouns
My one regret with the NKJV is the the removal of pronouns like 'thee', 'thou' and 'ye' and replacing them with the less precise 'you'. For one thing, these older forms, in spite of not being used in our daily conversation any more, expressed a special relationship to human as well as divine persons which is lost in the modern pronoun equivalents. And it's not hard to learn them, nor the older verb endings like -eth and -est. I am glad that the NKJV has at least capitalised these pronouns (You, Your and Yours) when referring to Deity, and whilst the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages had no upper cases, the use of them confers both precision and shows respect. I am glad that at least some of the NEB has retained the old forms in the poetic parts like the Psalms.
The Real Character of the KJV
The real character of the KJV does not, in any case, reside in archaic pronouns or verbs or the other grammatical forms of the 17th century, but rather in the care taken by its scholars to impart the letter and spirit of the original text in a stately and revent cadence. This is surely the KJV's main attraction and therefore strength. This the NKJV has magnificently preserved.
Mentally Substituting in True Names
Of course, the NKJV continues the unfortunate (but understandable) Catholic and Protestant traditions of substituting the True Names - "Elohim", "Yahweh" and "Yah'shua" - for "God", "LORD" and "Jesus", respectively. This ought not put us off though, as acquiring the habit of mentally substituting in the true names is not a difficult exercise to learn, and works in 99.99 per cent of cases. Don't be put off by a Protestant version because of this. When we read from the NKJV or other Protestant versions, we do this substitution all the time.
Alas, we live in an irreverent age both in society as a whole and in most of the churches. This is both deplorable and regrettable. A good version like the NKJV can go a long way in reversing this trend.
Imperfect But Still Useful
Finally, the NKJV is not, of course, a perfect translation and sometimes it makes the KJV worse rather than better, especially in the New Testament part. This requires, as always, that we be knowledgeable and to apply that knowledge where a wrong translation might mislead. Like all Protestant versions, the NKJV, like the KJV, NASB, ESV and others, was made by antinomian Christians whose wrong beliefs do colour their translation. Again, this is unavoidable, which is why you still need a Messianic translation next your NKJV, or any Protestant translation, if you are going to ensure the accuracy of the Davar (Word) that you preach and teach. These obvious drawbacks aside the NKJV is worth both owning and using. We use it in our household and in public assemblies to great advantage, I believe.
 See The 1611 King James Bible: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary
 See also the King James Version Only controversty sub-site
 Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 29:9-10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7
 See the Bible Versions for articles on other translations