Today's "thought" comes to you from a helpful little book entitled, "The 5 Minute Church Historian," by Dr. Rick Cornish. I have loaned to many people the first in the series -- the companion volume, "The 5 Minute Theologian." He has also written "The 5 Minute Apologist."
Depending on who you are, today's selection may be like "fighting words," for he covers the history of the King James Version of the Bible. Some may not fully agree with everything he says, but he does make some points worthy of earnest consideration. And after all, if you do disagree, maybe you should take some time to research it a little bit further! Enjoy!
Good Enough for Paul?
"You may have heard someone say, "If the King James Version was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me." Unfortunately, that view is more than a joke. A few people actually believe the great apostle used the King James Version. Yet we need to ask, who was King James, and why does one Bible bear his name?
James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was King James VI of Scotland. But in 1603 he succeeded Queen Elisabeth of England as James the 1st, uniting the two kingdoms for the first time. He ascended the throne when the Puritans were trying to "purify" the church from all remnants of Catholicism. When Puritan leaders met with him at Hampton Court in 1604 to ask his help in reforming the church, he declined. But he did agree to one request: a new translation of the Bible. They all agreed that the current versions were not accurate to the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).
Hebrew Manuscript of Genesis 1
The most popular Bible was the Geneva Bible (published in 1560). But James didn't like it because he thought it sounded too Calvinistic. Another popular Bible was the Bishops Bible (published in 1568), but most of the common people didn't care for it. England needed a new, more accurate translation that would satisfy as many people as possible.
King James didn't write, translate, or do any work on the King James Version. He merely appointed fifty scholars and divided them into groups to do the work. The text was doled out in six sections corresponding to the six teams of translators. They were directed to modify previous English versions and make changes only when the Greek and Hebrew demanded it. Therefore, the KJV is a reworking of existing versions more than a new translation.
The final product was an improvement, but not what we today would expect from a fresh translation working straight from the original languages. Furthermore, the available Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were limited and the translators' expertise was marginal [the best Hebrew scholar of the day was not asked to join the translation team].
The common identification of the KJV as the "Authorized Version" does not mean that it is superior to other translations. That title, in fact, is not accurate, because no evidence has been found that King James formally authorized the final product.
Nearly a half-century passed before the KJV overcame the Geneva Bible in popularity, but in time it was accepted by the masses. It remained the most-used version among English Protestants until the Revised Version came out in the 1880's. By the 1960's the increased availability of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts revealed the KJV's errors, opening the door for numerous better translations. Also, by then its archaic language rendered it nearly obsolete except among people who grew up with it or just preferred the style of the language.
The language of the KJV is not and never was "more godly" than any other. It was simply the English of the early seventeenth century. The mystique some people find in its phrasing is a matter of preference and familiarity. God has used the KJV to change millions of lives over three and a half centuries, and today He uses more accurate and more readable translations to change millions more. We can thank God for both."
Some other interesting facts are:
1.) The language of the KJV -- though beautiful and poetic, especially in the Psalms -- was not (as he points out) "religious or spiritual language." It was simply the common everyday language used in England in 1611.
2.) It took 47 men seven years to complete the translation (54 were asked, 47 saw it through to completion). Some dropped out because of the time commitment required, not to mention the translators were not paid for their linguistic services.
3.) The earliest references to the KJV as an "authorized version" date to 1783 and 1792, and the first time it was published with the title "Authorized Version" does not occur until the years 1814 and 1823. The "Great Bible" (heavily influenced by Tyndale) was the first "Authorized Version" issued by the Church of England under the reign of Henry VIII in 1539.
4.) To the disappointment of many King James gave the translators instructions designed to guarantee that the new version would conform to the organizational structure (ecclesiology) of the Church of England. That is, the translation would not conflict but conform to the ideas of Episcopalianism/Anglicanism. This is why some Independent, Congregational, Presbyterian and Baptist groups initially rejected it -- including the likes of the Pilgrims and many other Puritans.
5.) In 1631 one printing of 1500 copies of the KJV Bible left out the word "not" in the command "Thou shalt not commit adultery," reading instead, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Many copies were destroyed as people called it,"The Adulterous Bible," "The Sinners' Bible," or "The Wicked Bible."
6.) By the late-1800's, and well into the 1900's, the version had become so cherished by many that to even question the accuracy of "The Authorized Version" was seen as an heretical assault on Holy Scriptures themselves, or the writings of the prophets and apostles. This has often been called "AVolatry" or the idolatry of the Authorized Version.
7.) Unlike the Geneva Bible (which had helpful footnotes and acted somewhat like a Study Bible) the KJV was purposely devoid of any notes. It was simply the text of the Bible.
8.) Some of the most fully preserved of the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were not available to the translators of the KJV, discovered only after it had been completed (some not until the 1850's). This is why Cornish (and others) point out that some newer translations are more accurate and less dependent on previous versions.
I hope this post has helped you understand a little better the background of a deeply loved version of the Bible which had a tremendous effect upon the church's culture in years past. For the Psalms, I love the KJV, though Cornish is right -- newer versions (such as the ESV) are more accurate translations.
Just a little tidbit of church history to get you interested in digging deeper! In Christ, Pastor Jeff