There are many divisive topics in churches but one that keeps coming back is the “King James Only” or “KJVO” Bible version debate. To me, the problem stems around going to extremes that the Bible does not itself go to. KJVO proponents will go so far as to say that the King James 1611 Bible is a perfect preservation of the original Hebrew and Greek texts into English. Along those lines people may say that a person cannot be saved out of any other translation. So they say the KJV, not the original is the new standard. Some may even say that the KJV is to be used now for translations into other languages, not the originals. Recently I have heard some saying that to say the KJV is not perfect is to deny the infallibility of the Word of God itself. Does the Word of God itself promise a perfect preservation of the Bible into English?
Let’s take a look at what the Bible says itself about the preservation of the written Word itself.
Isaiah 40:8 – The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
Nothing here is tied to an English or other translation of the written word. But God’s truth stands. What He has said lasts forever.
Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
God’s words are not constrained by time as neither is He. His words endure whether spoken or written.
Psalms 119:89 – LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
God’s truth is established. It is not earthly.
Psalms 12:6-7 – The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
I have seen that these are common go to verses for KJVO support but the context of the passage really is not about the written Word or translations. It is a contrast to the ungodly. It is necessary to know the whole context of the passage and not pull out “proof” texts that sound differently when standing alone.
Psa 12:1 To the chief Musician upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David. Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
Psa 12:2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
Psa 12:3 The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
Psa 12:4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
Psa 12:5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
Psa 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (This is in contrast to those that “puff” at the faithful. God’s words instead are pure.)
Psa 12:7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
(“Keep them” refers to the faithful. Look back at verse 5 relating to the safety the Lord will provide. The “faithful” is what this passage is talking about. KJVO advocates often say “Keep them” is referring to the words that God spoke and that were written. And they extrapolate that therefore the KJV is the preserved pure Word of God and that it is also as perfect as the originals. That strikes me as a lot to assume simply based on a verse taken out of the passage that has a different context.)
Psa 12:8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.
Again, this passage is about the faithful being surrounded on every side by the wicked and God providing them safety even in their mist. His words are pure whereas the wicked speak words of impurity. Using this for Bible translation arguments is a gross feat of eisegesis. From Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines eisegesis as: “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.” That process has to take place for someone to come up with the notion that fallible men that are not inspired can make a perfect translation from Greek and Hebrew into 1611 English.
Matthew 5:18 – For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
This one is used often as well by KJVO advocates. But it has nothing to do with Bible translations. What it says is true. God’s plan will be carried out.
Nowhere in any of these verses is it promised that God’s written Word will be made available to all people in all languages. The “law” is not the same as “God’s complete written word.” Basically, what God says stands.
The KJVO advocate has to reach to a verse such as Psalm 33:11 which says, “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” They will reason then that God’s written word will have to be perfectly preserved into all languages for all generations to come. But the application of this is that the counsel of the Lord is applicable to all. It is forever established and profitable. This compares well to other verses already mentioned.
As seen, there is not a lot to really hang a KJVO hat on. There certainly is not enough actual Bible references to declare with any scripture backed authority that the KJV is as perfect as the original texts. Beyond that, there is no reason for people to insinuate that those who realize the KJV isn’t perfect are saying the Word in it original languages isn’t infallible.
Here are some issues with the KJV. They are not at all reasons to avoid using it but rather reasons to see that it is simply a very good attempt by men to translate the Bible. The KJV uses archaic words. It uses words like “unicorn” and “satyr”. It uses words that are not in use today. It likely misinterprets some words such as “Easter”. The directive behind it made it clear that is was a revision of several already existing English translations none of which were exactly perfect either. I believe the KJV is a good product but it is not the only decent translation. If the KJV were perfect as a translation then there could not even be one mistake. Notice that Jeremiah 49:1 in the 1611 says: “why then doth their king inhereit God.” But the KJV revision later corrects it by saying “why then doth their king inherit Gad.” There is a big difference. The former doesn’t even make sense. And as is the nature of translating work, it can be perfected more and more over time. KJV 1611 readers should be able to understand this as the 1611 KJV was an attempted improvement over the earlier Bishop’s and Tyndale translations. Even the KJV translators themselves didn’t claim they had achieved perfection. Their preface to the reader made it clear that they understood the progression of work on making better translations.
The problem is that people simply are not often diligent enough to study and compare scripture with scripture. In doing so, it is often helpful to look up original tenses and word meanings. There is no perfect way to make complex languages like Hebrew and Greek transition into English. The English language doesn’t have the same complexity or even the full range of words for direct perfect translation. Sometimes the translators used a word that was somewhat close to the root word meaning such as “repentance” from the the root “metanoia.” This doesn’t mean that one has to fret that they cannot trust the KJV etc. but they do need to know that it is wise to let clear passages clarify unclear passages and to take a look at the meanings of words especially when English didn’t have an exact equivalent. The worst thing one can do is eisegesis and make it out as if the Word is saying something it isn’t saying. Being diligent in study is a good way to go toward not letting any translation fool you into something God didn’t say. For example, if anything contradicts the clear truth of the gospel or makes it confusing then look a little longer at other comparable passages, the extended contexts, and word meanings. Don’t lean on the wisdom of men but rather allow the scriptures to speak. You don’t have to become proficient in Greek and Hebrew but you do need to take care to be disciplined to look at the whole picture.
With all that said, I personally still prefer the KJV. I have memorized verses from it and it has a good flow to it. There is a benefit to the difference between words like “thee” and “ye” etc. When studying though it isn’t that I couldn’t once in a while look at other English translations. Remember, you never base whole teachings or doctrines on one word here or there. Scripture needs to agree with itself for doctrinal matters.
The bottom line is that we can be thankful we have not only God’s word but we even have translations into English that make it much more accessible and easier to understand for those of us that don’t read and write in Greek and Hebrew. Don’t let people shame you into thinking you are an enemy of God’s Word if you do not agree that the KJV is perfect in and of itself. Don’t put God’s stamp of perfection on the best efforts of men. Rather let God’s perfection stand as it will anyway for all time. That is what we are to stand on.