A Plea for an Updated King James Version
Should the Lord tarry for, say, another 200 years, the 1769 edition of the King James Version, the edition that most use today, would hardly be adequate. In fact, it would be the equivalent of reading Beowulf in the original. The Bible would be out of reach for all but the most educated.
I point this out on purpose. I understand that most of those who are persuaded of the King James Only position also believe that the Lordâ€™s Return is imminent. Several friends of mine believe that we will not finish out this year, or that the Lord will return within the next two years, or hold to some similar viewpoint. Certainly, this is possible. It is equally possible, however, that Christ will not return in the next two years, that he will in fact tarry for another, say, 200 years. In which case, it would be ungodly to insist that those Christians should still be using the 1769 edition of the King James Version.
Nevertheless, some will no doubt continue to insist. In the early days, men like Tyndale gave their life so that the average man could have the Bible in his own language. And the hard-liners of today will eventually undo that purpose. The King James Version was finished in 1611. After that, there were 14-16 updates and editions, each one intended to bring the version up-to-date. For some reason, we stopped updating it in the 1700â€™s. And as a result, we have a version today that is badly in need of an update.
The scenario I used at the beginning of this post is admittedly an understatement. We have to start somewhere in our thinking, and for those of the more rabid persuasion of KJVO, 200 years out might get them thinking. But I wouldnâ€™t be honest if I said that I myself believe that we should wait 200 years before attempting a new edition.
I can only please some of the people some of the time, but I can offend some people all of the time. I am not careful to tiptoe around this issue. Some, no doubt, will be offended. But then, some have made the art of taking offense their lifeâ€™s calling. I guess I shouldnâ€™t be proud of myself for offending them. Thatâ€™s just too doggoned easy.
There are objections to updating the King James Version. No doubt some will object that the edition we have is just fine. Our fathers used it, their fathers used it, and their fatherâ€™s fathers used it, so we can (or should) too. TRADITIO-O-O-O-N! TRADITION! TRA-DI-TION! I can hear the song playing in my head even as I type. Tradition is obsessive-compulsive. You could give up Tradition if only Tradition would let go of you.
But Iâ€™d ask those who feel a strong loyalty to the 1769 edition to consider a few arguments. First, what if we had no editions of the KJV after 1611? No doubt some enjoy reading â€œyeâ€ for â€œthe.â€ No doubt some donâ€™t mind having an extra â€œeâ€ tacked on to the ends of many of the words. But for the bulk of Christians, the 1611 is simply out of reach. Iâ€™ve read the Mayflower Compact. Iâ€™ve read from William Bradfordâ€™s Of Plimoth Plantation. They are not easy reading. So, newer editions have been a blessing to us.
Secondly, we really canâ€™t argue that the 1769 is the final and perfect edition. Nor can we argue for the exclusivity of the 1769. After all, if the 1769 is the exclusive preserved Bible, then the 1611 is not, nor are any of the other editions between the 1611 and the 1769. If it was lawful to make a new edition in 1769, then it certainly is lawful to make one now.
Thirdly, while the readers of this blog might breeze through the language of the 1769 edition King James Bible , many Christians struggle mightily. We need to be careful here, lest we transgress the law of God by our tradition. Wouldnâ€™t this issue also fall under the category of loving our neighbor? When we insist that our neighbor should â€œfigure it outâ€¦â€ we essentially make the law of God of none effect by our tradition.
As a pastor, I have on more than one occasion had to deal with God-fearing believers, discouraged in their pursuit of God by the difficulty of the Kingâ€™s English. Why would we not want to help them? If we refuse to allow the King James Version to be updated, we will eventually come to the place when the average English-speaking person will not be able to read the Bible. Even now, readers struggle with those infamous â€œantiquatedâ€ words, or with fun phrases like â€œI wist not whence they wereâ€ and â€œto whit,â€ and with the never-ending stream of â€“eth and â€“est attached to the ends of so many words.
Now, I should say here that Iâ€™ve been reading the King James for my entire life. So, I donâ€™t struggle to read it. Apart from a short time in my early years when my dad gave me one of those â€œfour translationâ€ Bibles, Iâ€™ve never read anything else. Being a student of Godâ€™s Word has given me an ability to grasp the words, for the most part. Other times, Iâ€™m thankful for Matthew Henry, John Gill, Adam Clarke, and Albert Barnes.
But not everyone can say this. Especially (though not limited to) those who have been burdened with a public skool ejication. Some struggle valiantly to make heads or tails out of their Bible. Others compromise: when they come to those parts that are out of reach, they do like you and I do when we come across a Latin phrase in a commentaryâ€¦ they skim over it. So to me, this issue is as much about loving your neighbor as it is about anything else.
We can make a new edition. And we should. We should make one for the sake of those for whom the 1769 edition of the King James Bible is out of reach. We should make one for the sake of unbelievers who get lost in the language. We should make one for our children, for our grandchildren, lest they should be discouraged. Just as we set step stools by the drinking fountain so the little ones can reach it, so we should make a new edition of the King James Version.
Of course, some will ask why we should update the King James at all. Why not simply use one of the other versions that are out there? Since we have taken a full month to explain our position on this, I will avoid giving a long answer to that question. Please read the other posts we have made on the issue if you struggle to understand our position.
A brief answer would be that the majority of the modern versions rely on the Critical Text, and translate using â€œdynamic equivalenceâ€ rather than â€œformal equivalence.â€ A faithful translation, as we have contended, will translate from the Received Text, and will concern itself with translating every word, inasmuch as possible.
Probably the one modern version that comes the closest to meeting that criteria would be the New King James Version. And, no doubt, some will wonder what could possibly be wrong with using that version. We have three main issues with the New King James. First, the translators used an eclectic approach to the text, as is evident in their footnotes and marginal references. Secondly, as Douglas Wilson said, they â€œhave accepted the task of a scholarly reconstruction of the text but believe that the widespead acceptance of the minority readings is misguidedâ€¦ in other words, they have come up with a traditional answer but with a suspect, modern method.(1)â€ In other words, they engaged in a little â€œtextual criticismâ€ of their own, though not to the extent of the major modern versions. Thirdly, the New King James has not met with the wide acceptance of the churches.
I should expound on the third point briefly. Bible versions and translations should not be individualistic. It isnâ€™t â€œup to meâ€ or even â€œup to my churchâ€ to decide which books should be in the canon, or which text should be used. According to Godâ€™s plan, as Kent detailed here, Godâ€™s churches lend their witness, a very important and vital testimony, to the Word of God. The churches lend their witness to the books, the chapters, the verses, the words, and yes, to the translations.
Some have argued that the King James Bible was written to undermine the Geneva Bible. Others, however, have pointed out that historically, England was deeply divided between the Bishopâ€™s Bible and the Geneva, and that John Reynolds urged King James to commission a new version that would unite the churches. The fact is, the churches did settle on this version of the Bible, and for nearly 300 years, the King James Bible was the Bible of choice for English-speaking people.
Over the last 100 or so years, modern versions have gradually undermined the allegiance that English-speaking churches had to the King James Bible, so that today, we find ourselves once again deeply divided over an acceptable Bible version. The New King James has done nothing to alleviate this problem. If anything, the NKJV has added to the problem.
For those reasons, we do not believe that the New King James Version could meet the criterion for a settled Bible for New Testament churches. Wilson called the Authorized Version â€œthe last true ecclesiastical version,â€ and called for a new edition of that (2). We concur. In hopes of getting an updated KJV, we must work towards a consensus among churches to that end.
(1) Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), p.55-56
(2) Ibid., p.60