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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.


Just A Thought on the NIV

I was reading a bit from some blogs about the soon release of the MacArthur Study Bible in the NIV.  I wrote a piece myself recently on this subject.  From the blogs I read, the NIV is one of the most despised Bible translations I have ever seen from among some evangelicals.  They consider the NIV an example of modern evangelicalism.  The NIV represents, to them, a watered down Bible that is not focused on doctrine.  The NIV is simply embarrassing to them.

My thoughts on this subject.  First, the NIV was the first Bible I actually begin to read from and the NIV was the first Bible I ever read the entire Bible through.  I used an NIV One Year Bible for many years and read through it seven times in a row.  I underlined that Bible up and many of the pages are tearing out but I still have it on my bookshelf.  I learned much from reading that Bible and preached many sermons from my own devotions.  I have much fond memories of using the NIV.

Secondly, I switched to the NASB during college and then went back to the NIV after graduation.  The move back was purely one of discipleship.  I was working with teenagers in the late 1990’s and they all used the NIV.  It was simply easier for me to preach and teach from the NIV so that they could follow along.  I remained with the NIV from 1997-2006.  In 2006 I switched to the ESV and have been there ever since but I do not despise the NIV.

For many people in the church, the NIV is a breath of fresh air.  I grew up on the KJV and didn’t even know there was a difference until 1989 when I asked my parents to purchase an NIV one year Bible for me from our church.  I was not even saved at the time but wanted to read the Bible and the NIV was said to be easier to read and understand.  For me, a lost 16-year-old, the NIV was a breath of fresh air.  While I did not get saved then, the seeds were planted from my reading of the NIV.

Third, the NIV, like it or not, remains the top-selling Bible in the world.  I watched an interview with John MacArthur in which he pointed out that in many English-speaking nations (including the United States), the NIV is simply a standard.  While I favor the ESV or the NASB over the NIV, I will admit that most evangelical churches use the NIV.  Dr. MacArthur went on to point out that in pastor’s conferences he was speaking at in nations such as England, New Zealand, or Australia, the NIV was used by nearly all of the pastors and theologians.  Why not then offer the MacArthur Study Bible in the NIV for them to study and even correct where the NIV is not accurate (such as in 1 Timothy 2:12).  While you might not enjoy the NIV, the vast majority of English-speaking people are more and more reading from the NIV.

Lastly, the NIV is not full of doctrinal errors.  In fact, for you KJV only folks, the NIV is stronger on the deity of Christ than the KJV or even the NASB.  The NIV is strong on the doctrine of salvation and such teachings as the Trinity or the atonement of the Lord Jesus.  One can teach accurately from the NIV even while correcting the translation as needed.  Prominent preachers and theologians who use the NIV would include: Alastair Begg, Jim Cymbala, D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, George Wood, Stanley Horton, and Ravi Zacharias just to name a few.

Again, while I prefer the ESV and will continue to use the ESV as my standard Bible translation for both teaching and blogging, I do own several copies of the NIV including the 2011 update.  I have been slowly reading through the 2011 edition and have enjoyed it for the most part.  The church we fellowship with uses the NIV and while I would love to see them switch to the ESV, I will not make this an issue.  One can learn and grow from reading from the NIV.  I also point out that salvation is not found in a Bible translation but in the Lord Jesus (John 5:39).  We are saved from the wrath of God in Him (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/05/2013 at 10:02 PM

Posted in Bible Translations

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A Must Have Link

This link is a must read link.  This link compares the NIV 2011 with the NIV 1984.  It is very interesting to see the differences.  I have been reading here and there in my Bible reading time from the NIV 2011.  I have found that I actually do enjoy it.  I admit that I am a traditionalist when it comes to Bible translations and I prefer the masculinity of say the NASB or the NKJV over the NIV but I have not been at all bothered by the inclusion of women into the text where it is fitting that the Bible writer is addressing both genders.

I will continue to prefer the ESV over the NIV mainly for my love for an essentially literal text but I do see positives in the NIV 2011.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/24/2013 at 9:00 AM

Posted in Bible Translations

Tagged with , ,

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