How Accurate Is the KJV 400 Years Later?
- Monday, April 11, 2011
The second strike that the KJV has against it in some circles is that the Greek text from which the translators worked is today not considered the most reliable. The King James translators (and all their sixteenth-century predecessors) used what is familiarly known as the Received Text (Textus Receptus). Older manuscripts than this have surfaced since the sixteenth century and are the basis of most modern translations of the New Testament.
We need to tread cautiously here: to say that the King James New Testament is based on manuscripts that are today considered less than the best can superficially sound more sinister than in fact it is. If the Received Text is considered by most (not all) modern scholars as second-best, that does not mean that it is bad. The Greek text from which modern translators work is itself constantly being revised, so that a translation fifty years old might also be said to be based on less-than-the-best manuscripts. Additionally, the actual differences between the Received Text and modern conflated texts (“the Majority Text”) are minor, and modern editions of the King James Bible indicate textual variants in scholarly footnotes, so no one is in danger of being misled by a modern edition of the KJV.12
Is the King James Bible Accurate Today?
The question of the accuracy of the King James Bible today is usually answered by looking only at the data that I considered in the preceding section. But quite another verdict surfaces when we place the King James Bible into the context of modern dynamic equivalent translations. Then suddenly the King James
Bible zooms up on the scale of accuracy.
The reason for this is that the King James Bible is an essentially literal translation that aims to take the reader straight to what the original authors said. It is transparent to the original text. Here is a random example of the accuracy of the King James Bible as contrasted to modern dynamic equivalent translations
( James 1:18b):
• “. . . that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (KJV).
• “He wanted us to be his own special people” (CEV).
• “And we, out of all creation, became his choice possession” (NLT).
• “. . . so that we should have first place among all his creatures” (GNB).
Which of these is the most accurate? Surprise of surprises—the KJV is the most accurate because the translators gave us the equivalent English word with firstfruits. The original text says nothing about “special people,” “choice possession,” or “first place.” It compares God’s people to one of the Old Testament Mosaic produce offerings (“firstfruits”).
Modern colloquializing translators lament that Bible translations run the risk of being further and further removed from the everyday language of people. This of course needs to be taken seriously. But an even worse problem is possible: many modern translations have moved further and further from the biblical text.
Here is a second example of the accuracy of the King James Bible even today. I recently participated in a year-long scholarly seminar on the Psalms. At one meeting, Psalm 131 was the text on the day’s agenda. The leader circulated the NASB version of the text, which concludes the opening verse this way:
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
This makes the forbidden knowledge a matter of intellectual complexity. Some modern translations agree with this interpretation (NKJV: “too profound”; HCSB: “too difficult”). An Old Testament scholar in the group then offered the information that current scholarship inclines to agree with “how the old versions translated the term.” This naturally led to an inquiry about how the King James Bible renders the passage. The answer: “things too high for me”—not an intellectual challenge but spiritual and divine knowledge that is known only by a transcendent God.
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