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What is the King James Version?

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What is the King James Version?

The most famous English translation of the Bible was made in 1611 and is known as the King James Version or the Authorized Version. It was commissioned by the English king, James I, and prepared by 47 translators, working together in groups. It is famous for its “majesty of style.” It is one of the most important books–if not the most important book–in the English language.

The translation was made for the Church of England, or Anglican Church, and was to be consistent with the theology of the Church of England. It was designed for public reading. One of the guiding principles was “If it sounds right, it is right.” Today we are more likely to read the Bible privately than hear it read aloud in church.

The translation was made for the Church of England, or Anglican Church, and was to be consistent with the theology of the Church of England.

Annabel Robinson

How the KJV had an influence on English language and culture

Many of its phrases have become well-known to English speakers, who often have no idea that these words come from the Bible.

Some examples:

  • to cast your pearls before swine
  • by the skin of one’s teeth
  • the salt of the earth
  • the writing on the wall
  • feet of clay

Although other translations had been made before the KJV, this was the one used and taught in English churches and schools until the middle of the twentieth century. It has had an immeasurable influence on the English language and the culture of the English-speaking world.

Why then would anyone use a different translation?

Why use a different translation?

Should we still use the King James Version? Here are two thoughts. 

1. Language Changes

Firstly, all languages change over time. Words don’t mean the same today as they did in 1611. It’s easy to misunderstand the KJV, or sometimes not to understand the words at all.

  • The word “charity” meant “love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • “Be careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). “Careful” meant “anxious.”
  • “Our conversation is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20). “Conversation” meant “behaviour,” “lifestyle.”
  • I met someone who thought that we needed to spend time thinking about evil. The reason: the Bible tells us to “eschew evil.” (1 Peter 3:11). She thought that meant “chew it over.” The only problem is that “eschew” means “avoid.”

More serious are places where today’s meaning of a word makes perfect sense in the sentence, and we aren’t likely to notice that it doesn’t mean what we think it does. For example: “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). “Damnation” meant “condemnation.”

The New King James Version (NKJV)

To get around these problems, a revision of the King James Version was made in 1975.

For this translation, 130 Bible scholars, church leaders, and lay Christians created a completely new, translation of Scripture, while aiming to retain the stylistic beauty of the original KJV. It is known as the New King James Version (NKJV). It is certainly easier to understand than the 1611 version.

2. We have more original manuscripts now

Secondly, it may surprise you to know that we know a lot more today about the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible than we did when the King James Version was made.

We know a lot more today about the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible than we did when the King James Version was made.

Annabel Robinson

Many early manuscripts have been found. A lot of these have been discovered in Egypt, where the papyrus has been preserved by the hot dry sand. Another important discovery was of a large collection of scrolls in Israel, known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” found in a cave by a shepherd in 1949 in the West Bank. These include substantial copies of books of the Old Testament, more than a thousand years older than the manuscripts from which the KJV was translated. As in any copying, errors creep into the manuscripts. There are a lot of differences between these manuscripts. But scholars work on these esoteric things and have their recommendations. As a result, more recent translations are more accurate.

Read our post  “How Did We Get Our Bible” for more information on errors in older manuscripts and textual critics.

Many English-speaking Christians have grown up with the KJV and memorized verses from it. To them, it is “The Bible.” Anything else sounds wrong. And they love the language of it. So strong is this influence that there are many people who refuse to recognize any other translation.

But if you want to understand the Bible, you should read a more recent translation, at least alongside the KJV.

But if you want to understand the Bible, you should read a more recent translation, at least alongside the KJV.

Annabel Robinson
KJV Parallel

 

What translation do you use? Do you have a reason for your preference? 

A good website where you can compare different translations is www.biblegateway.com.  No matter the translation you use, an SU Bible reading guide will help make your daily time in the Word meaningful. 

Recommended Article

Why Do You Choose To Read A Particular Bible Translation?   How Did We Get Our Bible

 

© Scripture Union Canada, 2021

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