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Why I Hate the KJV

It’s about time for one of my periodic posts on the King James Version, signaled by comments from a KJV-Only advocate to some earlier posts.

As is usual, the commenter does not interact with anything I say about this issue, but merely affirms the need for a solid foundation, provided in the KJV. In this case, the commenter tells me that the KJV has never been proven wrong. I can hear his question: How can you be so perverse as to fail to give homage to the Bible. To the KJV-Only advocate, Psalm 19:7 does not read “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” but instead reads “The King James Version is perfect, converting the soul.” This particular commenter didn’t ask me why I hate the KJV, but that usually comes somewhere in the discussion.

Well, the answer is that I do not, in fact, hate the KJV. The title is tongue in cheek, though I wouldn’t be surprised to have it used as evidence of my hate. I also do not hate the Douai-Rheims version, the Geneva Bible, Wycliffe’s translation, or the Latin Vulgate. I just don’t recommend that you use any of those as your primary study Bible nor do I recommend you use them for scripture readings. Some exceptions can be allowed for those who are experts in the appropriate language. I consult all of those except Wycliffe on a fairly regular basis.

The KJV is simply one translation of the Bible. It is special because of the time, place, and circumstances of its translation. It is, perhaps, the single most important accomplishment of English Bible translation, though that would be debatable. Its translators worked out some quite good translation principles, and they worked with substantial literary skill. To one who has any feel for the language of that period it is truly a work of beauty. (I must, however, give a nod to the considerable subjective element in beauty. I find it beautiful.)

Having said that, it is also an historical artifact. It is no longer easily understood by modern audiences. Our knowledge of the Biblical languages has advanced. We have many new manuscripts available, and we also have more advanced tools with which to study them. As a choice to use as a study Bible today, or for Bible readings in church, or as a reading Bible, it is not good for the majority of readers. I would make an exception for that small group of people who have actually mastered that language.

The KJV-Only movement is thankfully getting smaller. It has the effect of turning people away from the Bible rather than toward it. It is largely a means of maintaining personal authority for pastors and teachers who have placed their dependence on a particular English version rather than either going to the original languages, or using multiple translations to help get perspective.

Again, I must make clear that I do not refer in the previous paragraph to people who prefer the KJV while respecting other translations, or to pastors who use the KJV in teaching a congregation where that was the preference. I question the wisdom of such a thing, but I do not call it dangerous. What I call dangerous is the teaching that the KJV is the one, true word of God.

I used to write about this frequently, but I don’t any more, fundamentally because I’ve run out of things to say, and I haven’t seen a new or interesting KJV-Only argument to which I can respond in some years. They just repeat the same thing over and over. I’m more interested now in getting people to move to newer versions that are suitable for outreach, such as the CEV, TNIV, or NCV amongst others.

But having gotten some comments I just had to blow off a bit of steam on the topic. I now return you to your regular programming.

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  1. Your post reminds me of my brother. I could never get him to discuss scripture with me. I had my ideas about God and he had his. I tried to show him the scriptures where I get my ideas from, but he would just never listen. Then, one day, he told he had bought an “Old King James Bible”, as he called it. He bought it because he didn’t want man’s imperfections getting in his way of relating to God. I shook my head, but kept silent because at least now he was reading the bible… any translation at this point was better than nothing. And then, God met my brother where he was at.

    My brother started telling me about God and Jesus, and what he said was right on. I couldn’t believe it. He was reading this old translation, and he “got” it. Sin, redemption, resurrection, the whole 9 yards.

    Well, my brother died a year ago, and I have no doubt he went home to be with our Lord. Personally, my view of the KJV is similar to yours, though not as researched. And yet, I saw God use it to bring my brother to a saving faith that I could never lead him to.

    God uses all things.

  2. Kate says:

    I was brought up on the NRSV, and I could never understand all those people talking about the “majesty” of the Bible, until I ran into a KJV. I must admit that it’s my go-to bible if I want to memorize something, because it’s got a lovely thumpy rhythym and sense of drama to it that I think a lot of the modern translations are totally lacking in.

    On the other hand, I also majored in medieval studies in college and think that the KJV is more useful as a historical reference work than a religious one. 😉

  3. Thanks to both of you for instances of positive influence and use of the KJV. That is why I try to make sure it is understood that the doctrine I opposed is KJV-Only, not the KJV itself nor those who like it.

  4. Ruud Vermeij says:

    The teaching that the KJV is the one, true word of God is plain wrong. It is evident that the one, true word of God is the Dutch “Statenvertaling”. All English people should learn Dutch! 😉

  5. Iyov says:

    It is, perhaps, the single most important accomplishment of English Bible translation, though that would be debatable.

    OK, I’ll bite. What is the debatable point here? Excepting Tyndale (the genius who the KJV largely borrows from) what version other than the KJV would be in the running for the award of the most important accomplishment in English Bible translation? Along the way, please give your definition of “important”.

    If you maintain that “important” in this context means “influential”, I certainly look forward to learning what English translation you consider to have had greater influence than the KJV.

  6. My intention was to state that in my view, the KJV is the most important accomplishment in English Bible translation, but that I could understand how that could be debated.

    In this context, I use “important” as a combination of both influence, and the value of that influence, i.e. how much it impacted the future of English Bible translation.

    I believe that the KJV is the most important, because though it relied heavily on Tyndale, much of Tyndale’s influence occurred only because it was mediated through the KJV. Further, with the “Translators to the Reader” preface, the translators expressed principles of translation that are echoed through most discussions of Bible translations today.

    Were I to take the other side, and challenge my own view, I would suggest that Tyndale is the more important element, because it laid a groundwork without which the KJV would likely either have been impossible or would not have been nearly as good as it was.

    With less justification, I might suggest the RSV, because it opened the floodgates to the plethora of modern translations. I think it’s possible that in a few more decades we will regard the publication of the RSV as the more important moment.

    Nonetheless, my own position is that the KJV was the single most important Bible translation because of the extent and the positive nature of much of its influence. I do not blame the translators for misguided supporters who try to make the KJV into something it wasn’t.

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