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Insights from the KJV Translators Themselves

Most KJV Bibles sold today no longer have the longer introduction to the translation originally penned by the KJV translators.  Most English Bibles today have an introduction to the translation that comes from the KJV itself.  The KJV translators penned their introduction to explain and defend their translation.

One must bear in mind the time period of the 1611 translation.  Imagine if President Obama told the church here in the United States that he wanted one Bible “to rule them all” (to quote from Lord of the Rings)?  How would Christians react to Obama?  Even if Obama had the top scholars appointed to translate the Bible, most would view the translation with intrepidation.  I would.  I would figure that Obama would want the translate to be one sided, to avoid truth, to delete core doctrines and to make it as far from teaching the truth as possible while still sounding like the Bible.  What is true today was true of the Christians living under King James.  They viewed the “Authorized Version” with much fear.  In fact, the KJV would not become the preferred English Bible for about 50 years after its publication.  The Geneva Bible and not the King James Bible was brought over to the new world by the first English settlers to America.

The KJV scholars added the long introduction then to both promote their translation and defend it against those who questioned it.  After all, when the KJV was published in 1611 there were already good English Bibles on the market.  The KJV was not the first nor the last (and the KJV translators recognized that fact).  Though the KJV Bible would become the greatest of the English translations for many years to come, in 1611 it was just another Bible translation being offered now by the King himself of the British Empire.

I recently read the longer introduction that you can find in modern English on Amazon.  I learned much from it.  I only want to highlight a few of the KJV translators words.  Their words are good to read in our day of KJV onlyism.  After reading the KJV introduction, I have no doubt in my mind that these Anglican men would not be KJV only if they were alive today.  In fact, they would laugh at the arguments used by KJV only “scholars” who claim that the KJV is the final Word of God, that (as some radical KJV only men teach) the KJV was inspired just as the Apostle’s were inspired, that the KJV is a perfect Bible translation without any errors, that the Anglicans involved were fundamentalist in secret who believed in the Received Text (the Greek text of the KJV) as the perfect Word of God, etc.

First, the KJV translators believed the originals were inspired but recognized variants in the copies.  They stated:

because the original thereof is from heaven, not from earth, the author is God, not man; the composer is the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the penmen were such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principle portion of God’s Spirit; the content is truth, piety, purity, and uprightness; the form is God’s word, God’s testimony, God’s oracles, the word of truth, the word of salvation, and so forth.

The translators did not teach anywhere in their writings that the Received Text is the “inerrant and infallible Word of God” (inerrant would not have been used for people simply said the Bible was true in those days and people understood what they meant without qualification).  In fact, they believed the originals alone to be the ones inspired by God Himself.  The copies are copies of the originals but we no longer have the originals (praise be to God lest someone would have worshiped them as the children of Israel worshiped the golden calf in Exodus 32).  The KJV translators could not have visioned that someday their own translation would become a golden calf to many.

They went on to write:

For nothing perfect has proceeded from the hands of men except what came from the hands of the Apostles or Apostolic men, that is, from men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility.

So what about the errors in the copies?  KJV onlyism teaches that no errors exist but what did the KJV translators write about this:

The Septuagint dissents from the Original in many places, and does not come near it in terms of clarity, gravity, and majesty.  Yet did any of the Apostles condemn it?  Condemn it?  Nay, they used it.

Notice that the KJV translators approved of the Septuagint as a translation while understanding that it was not the original.  The Apostles quoted extensively from the Septuagint in the Greek New Testament despite the fact that the Septuagint is just a translation from the Hebrew text.

Secondly, the KJV translators saw the value of having Bibles in our tongues.  They wrote:

Truly, without translation into the common language, the unlearned are like children at Jacob’s well, which was deep, without a bucket.  Or they are like the person mentioned by Isaiah who, when a sealed book was presented to him with the command, “Read this, I ask you,” he had to reply, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”

And yet the KJV translators acknowledged that even the lowest English translations were still good!  Modern KJV onlyism tells us that only the KJV is the truth of God and hates all other English Bibles but they would not be joined by the KJV translators.  They wrote:

Now we answer our adversaries.  We do not deny – nay, we affirm and avow – that the very lowest translation of the Bible into English, set forth by men of our profession, (for we have not yet seen any of their translations of the entire Bible) contains the word of God, nay, is the word of God.  The King’s speech, which he utters in Parliament, when translated into French, German, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with identical grace, nor altogether so appropriately phrased, nor so exactly expressing  the sense at every point.

And what of their own translation work?  They wrote yet again:

For nothing perfect has proceeded from the hands of men except what came from the hands of the Apostles or Apostolic men.

The intent of the KJV translator was such:

Our intent was to make a better translation out of a good one, or to make , from many good ones, one especially good one, not to be justly objected against.

And yes the KJV translators did do biblical criticism (lower criticism) contrary to the KJV onlyism view that textual criticism is evil altogether.  They wrote:

These languages therefore – that is, the Scriptures in those languages – we set before us to translate, being the languages in which God was pleased to speak to his Church by the Prophets and Apostles.

Without a second thought, we consulted the translators or commentators in Chaldean, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek and Latin, and the Spanish, French, Italian, and German.  We revised what we had done, and brought back to the anvil that which we had hammered.

Lastly, the KJV translators spoke about the variants in the biblical texts.  In fact, the first published 1611 Authorized Bible had marginal notes to show differences in the text as well as alternate translations of the text.  How can this be if the KJV is the inspired Word of God as KJV onlyism teaches?  Nearly all KJV Bibles today exclude the marginal notes so KJV only “scholars” often will attack modern Bibles such as the NKJV or the ESV for either including marginal notes, “deleting” verses such as Acts 8:37 or 1 John 5:7-8, or adding textual notes about the translation or variant readings.

The KJV translators wrote:

Some individuals, perhaps, would prefer to have no margin notes about alternative meanings, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding controversies might be somewhat shaken by that show of uncertainty.  But we consider their judgment unsound in this point.

The translators go on to speak of how difficult the work of translating is.  They speak of how there are often many words that can be used in English for one Hebrew or Greek word or the opposite where a Hebrew or Greek word only appears once in the text and is how to translate into English.  A case in point would be the KJV use of “Godhead” in Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:9.  This is a poor translation here.  Another place would in the KJV where they erred would be Acts 19:2 or Titus 2:13 or 2 Peter 1:1.  The inclusion of 1 John 5:7-8 in the KJV is also a variant reading that should not be there.  Modern English Bibles (excluding the NKJV for tradition only) have changed 1 John 5:7-8 back to its original.


My point here is to show that the KJV translators were not infallible men.  They were godly Anglican men who loved the Word of God.  I am blessed by that fact.  I pray the Lord would move again on the Anglican Church to produce such godly men.  That said, the KJV translators recognized their work as the work of men.  A very good work but a translation nonetheless.  The KJV ranks as a work of art.  It truly is the Word of God.  But it is not perfect.  No Bible translation is.  The KJV served the Church in the English speaking world for many years.  It was published in 1611 and revised just two years later in 1613.  The final revision of the KJV was in 1769.  This is the KJV used today and not the 1611.  Of course, the men who did the work in 1604-11 were now dead.  Their work though stands as a testimony to their faithfulness to God.

Today we have probably too many English translations and they exist sadly for one reason: money.  Crossway doesn’t want to pay Zondervan for usage of the NIV so they translate the ESV.  All English translations today but the KJV are owned by a publishing house.  For example, Crossway owns the ESV.  Lockman owns the NASB.  Zondervan owns the NIV.  Thomas Nelson owns the NKJV.  Tyndale House owns the NLT.  Holman owns the HCSB.  This doesn’t prove that these English Bibles are corrupt but only that they are produced by publishers for avoiding royalties to other publishers.

I prefer the ESV but I am not ESV only by any means.  I recognize that no English Bible is perfect.  I also am grateful that God is sovereign in salvation and He often uses even the worst translations to draw sinners to salvation.  I read of a Jehovah’s Witness coming to faith in Christ through reading Philippians 3:9 in the New World Translation which is not good at all.  I was saved reading from the NIV and it was the first Bible I owned and read after coming to faith in Christ at age 17.  I honestly thought, when I came to faith in Christ, that there were two English Bibles in the world: the KJV and the NIV and I understood the NIV so I went with it.

God is able to save sinners through the gospel (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21).  People hear the gospel in many ways (Romans 10:17) but the gospel must flow from Scripture.  Some preachers use the KJV and others use the NLT but the Lord is the one who saves sinners (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).  Our job is to plant the seed of the gospel (Mark 4:14).  The Spirit of God brings the fruit.  The Spirit draws sinners to salvation by the grace of God (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15).

So my advice is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).  Perhaps this comes through a KJV or an NIV or a ESV but preach the Word of God!  Be faithful to study the Word and to live the Word (James 2:14-26).  The Word is able to save our souls (James 1:21).

May God be glorified through His holy Word.  Amen.


The ESV or the NASB?

As you can note from my blog, I use the English Standard Version for my posts.  This doesn’t mean that I am a “ESV only” guy.  I do use other translations on this blog as well as in my own reading.  I will even shock you by letting you know that I sometimes even read from the New Living Translation (actually the NLT Study Bible).  My personal favorite translation is the ESV but I do enjoy also reading from the NASB, the New King James Version (NKJV), and the New International Version (NIV).  Modern books (other than theology) often use the NIV so I keep an NIV near for that purpose.

From a scholarly perspective, which translation is better to teach and study from: the ESV or the NASB?  Here are my thoughts on both translations.

1.  The ESV Reads Easier.

I find that the ESV is easier to read than the NASB.  I used the NASB as my only translation for about three years while in college and while I do still enjoy the NASB, I find the ESV is easier to read from.  To me, the ESV reads smoother like the NIV.  It’s not as wooden in its reading especially in the Psalms.

2.  The Use of Italic Words.

The NASB is to be applauded for placing words not found in the original texts in italics.  The ESV doesn’t do this and its troublesome.  The NASB (as does the KJV and the NKJV) places words that the translators added to the text for clarity purposes to show the reader that these words are the words of the translators and not the original text.  This helps us to discern the translation process in a small way.  Unfortunetly the ESV doesn’t do this.

3.  The NASB Capitilazation of Deity.

By this I mean that the NASB capitalizes “He” for example when referring to Deity.  The ESV follows the traditional English translation of placing references to Deity in normal letters (“he” instead of “He”).  I don’t personally mind this but I do know that some believers find it helpful that the NASB or the NKJV place the references to Deity in capital letters.

4.  “Behold” is Translated by Both.

The word “behold” is largely missing in most modern translations (the NIV rarely translates the word) despite being part of the original texts.  An example is seen in Matthew 1:20 in both the ESV and the NASB.  The NIV doesn’t translate the word “behold” here nor in many other places.  Why?  The NIV translators, I assume here, feel that this word doesn’t help the text.  It is a word that the writer is simply wanting his readers to notice what he is about to write.  So why not translate the word “behold” if it’s in the original text?  Is this not the work of the translator, to be as faithful to bringing an essentially literal translation from the Greek to English?  I am glad that both the ESV and the NASB translate “behold”.

5.  The Deity of Jesus Christ.

Clearly both the ESV and the NASB teach the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Despite the KJV-only claims that modern translations attack the deity of Jesus, the truth is that modern translations are often stronger in their defense of Jesus’ deity than the KJV is.  An example is found in Romans 9:5.  Romans 9:5 clearly teaches the deity of Jesus Christ in the ESV or the NIV but not so clearly in the KJV.  The NASB is somewhere in-between.  When we examine major passages about Jesus’ deity, both the ESV and the NASB are accurate and clear in their defense of Jesus’ deity (see Colossians 2:9 for example) but I do believe that the ESV is superior to the NASB in defending Jesus’ deity.

6.  Preaching the Gospel.

Both the ESV and the NASB are good translations for preaching the gospel.  I use an ESV pitt minion Bible that is perfect for taking with you when you hit the streets to evangelize or when you go into the prisons to preach.  It’s small, compact, well made, and very durable for preaching, reading, and studying.  I also own an NASB pitt minion.  Both translations translate 1 Timothy 1:8-11 well or Exodus 20:1-17 so that we can turn to these passages when preaching to sinners the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 is soundly translated when preaching on the Lordship of Jesus.  Luke 9:23-25 or Luke 14:25-35 are soundly translated when preaching repentance and discipleship.  Acts 2:38-39 are soundly translated when preaching repentance and baptism.  Romans 4:5 is soundly translated when refuting “works-salvation” such as with Catholics or cults.  Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5-7 are also well translated in the ESV and the NASB for refuting “earning our salvation” or works-righteounsness.  Philippians 3:9 is soundly translated when preaching on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  And so many others.

6.  Praying the Scriptures.

Which Bible translation do I find useful in praying the Scriptures?  Again, I find the ESV more fluid in its reading such as in Psalms (where I pray from often) or Proverbs so I often use the ESV to pray from.

7.  Trustworthy Translations

Both the NASB and the ESV are very useful and worthy translations.  Both are essentially literal translations and follow in the pattern of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale and seek to bring together the oldest Hebrew and Greek texts and translate them as best as possible for reading and studying.  I enjoy the fact that the translators of the ESV and the NASB do not follow the pattern of dynamic-equvilent translations such as the NIV or the NLT.  While some interpretation is inevitable when translating from another language to another language, I am thankful that the ESV and the NASB seek to be faithful to the texts and allow the reader to just read the text and make their own observations.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/08/2011 at 8:18 PM

Posted in Bible Translations

Tagged with , ,

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