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Bible Versions: The King James Only Debate, by David Malcolm Bennett

All other versions, some argue, are inferior to the KJV. Indeed, to many of these folk, the other translations are not the Word of God. Some insist that all other translations are corrupt, and some even say that that corruption is deliberate. These new translations, some say, are intended to deceive. It is important to note here that they argue for only the King James Bible to be used, not the King James and something else, even if other versions are used only in a secondary capacity. To them the KJV is the Word of God, but none of the other translations are.

The Origins of the KJV

Let us start the consideration of this issue with a quick look at the origins of the KJV. It is important to note that the KJV was not the first English translation

English translation from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments really began in the sixteenth century. Probably the most significant of the translations in that century were the highly influential Tyndale’s New Testament (1526, the Old Testament was completed by others after Tyndale’s martyrdom) and the Geneva Bible (1560).2

King James the First came to the throne of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1601. He was very concerned about the disputes over which translation of the Scriptures should be read in the churches and he did not like the popular Geneva Bible. In 1604 he commissioned a new translation, cleverly enlisting the best available scholars from the different church factions. The resulting King James Bible was eventually published in 1611.3

The main thing to note from this is that the KJV was a translation. It was a translation from the Hebrew and Greek, but the translators also made use of earlier English versions to assist them. Those who translated the KJV never thought that their translation had direct divine inspiration.4 In addition, though this Bible was commissioned by King James there is no evidence to indicate that the finished edition was ever officially “authorized” by him.5

Perhaps strangely, the KJV was not an immediate success. Some people preferred the older translations.6 That does sound familiar. The old and familiar have often been preferred in Christian circles.

However, gradually the KJV’s popularity increased. Eventually it became the translation for English readers and remained so for nearly three hundred years until just after the Second World War.7 It is a great translation. In its time it was accurate, very readable and powerful, and in any generation it is majestic. But language changes.

The Debate

The KJV-Only Debate8 is often heated and at times unworthy of Christians. If such a debate was being conducted with this vigor and venom four hundred years ago, blood would have been spilt. It is, at times, that unpleasant. One side argues that the KJV has eternal veracity and should never be replaced. The other side states that the KJV is only a translation of the ancient manuscripts and as the English language has changed so dramatically in the past four hundred years, good modern translations are needed instead.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2013

About the Author: David Malcolm Bennett, Ph.D., is an Anglo-Australian Christian researcher and writer with over 15 books in print. They include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers (companion website: SinnersPrayerBook.com), The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement, and The General: William Booth. He is also the transcriber, editor and publisher of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth and The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth.

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