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Revisiting the debate about Bible versions

In my youth, I was a staunch King-James-Only believer. I read from the King James and called it King James Bible instead of King James Version. A college classmate who listed the late Dr. Jack Hyles as one of his heroes used to say that “version” implies that there are other acceptable translations.

And bless God, there were not.

Even today, I still use the King James Bible primarily. I have a Gideon New Testament of the New King James. Somewhere in storage, I have a copy of the New American Standard Bible (which I originally bought a few years ago as a reference point). My wife has a New King James Bible. Lately we’ve been talking about getting all three of our sons Bibles that are more readable since all complain the KJB is far too complicated.

Heck, I went to Pensacola Christian College, took Bible classes, have read the Bible through a few times and there are still passages of the KJB that I need a good Bible commentary and a concordance to get through.

At PCC, there were even teachers who endorsed the New King James, and I knew of students who read the NKJB. Some students even read heretical versions like the New International Version (or, as evangelist Dr. Al Lacy deliciously likes to call it, the New International Perversion or, “N-I-V-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E”).

Likewise, there was a condescending twit a few years ago who, quite smugly, told me that the New American Standard Bible was superior to the King James Bible. (Note to the arrogant who might read this: a little humility can greatly enhance your argument).

A few years ago, a solid brother in Christ said something about Bible versions that really surprised me: it’s far better for a newer version to get read than for a King James to collect dust on the shelf, unread. Another guy named Peter, a roommate at PCC, pointed out that one of my favorite Bible teachers, Dr. Chuck Swindoll, did not use a King James in his sermons. “Besides, I believe it’s possible a person can go out and serve the Lord and do so with a version that’s not the King James,” Peter told me.

The King-James-Only debate was something I continued to ponder in the Army as I studied Mandarin Chinese for eight months and then Russian for a year and started to learn more and more about languages and translating and how it’s not a very cut-and-dry process.

Let’s face it: English is a littered, mercurial language, a witch’s brew of strange grammar rules (not to mention endless exceptions to the rule) and borrowed words from countless languages. Those who believe we are speaking the same language now that was spoken in England in 1611 are living in a dream world. Some linguistic scholars say English reached its zenith during Elizabethan times, and we have to wonder if the English we speak today is a indeed a step down from that used by William Shakespeare.

In English, there are also many dialects and sub-dialects: British English, Scottish English, Irish English, Canadian English, American English (with further variations depending on the region where you live), Australian English, New Zealand English and the English spoken in Africa, along with the English spoken by the hearing impaired.

When I look back on my time in Baptist churches and think of the many sermons I’ve heard preached, there have been a few ministers whom I’ve wondered if they really understood what a passage said. Is it impossible that a preacher today using a nearly-400-year-old Bible will misinterpret and misapply? One friend, Darrell, told a story once of trying to find a church and encountering one where the pastor talked about God turning His back on Jesus when He was on the cross. “Just as God turned His back on His Son, so must we also turn our backs on wayward children,” the pastor said.

Really? I thought. Does this man grasp the passage and that God turned His back on Jesus because Jesus became the sin for mankind?

When Darrell posted this on a website I once frequented, I read it and felt like asking him to tell me the church so that if I were ever in his area, I’d know which church to avoid. And wherever the pastor went to Bible college, I’d rather avoid that also. It also made me wonder if this man really understood what the Bible taught and if he was a victim of reading what he really didn’t understand and making wild misinterpretations.

For those who are King James Only, my question is this: with the evolution of the English language, is it possible that sometime within the next 50 to 500 years (assuming the Lord tarries and the rapture hasn’t occurred yet) that the language will evolve to where the 1611 King James Bible will become unreadable and incomprehensible?

If your answer is no, please consider this: Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was written in Middle English in the 14th century, around 250 years or so earlier than the King James Bible. If you read TCT in Middle English, it won’t make much sense. How about reading the Lord’s Prayer in Old English? Forget it. It’s practically another language.

One thing about the King James I find tickling is how it contains words that would practically get kids spanked for using them today. In 2 Kings 9:8 God commands the execution of King Ahab’s sons, specifically he who “…pisseth against the wall.” [Emphasis mine]

Pisseth?

Back in those days, “to piss” apparently was an acceptable verb to use for “to urinate”. These days, it is considered vulgar, especially used in slang to mean becoming angry. What the King James (possible translating a Hebrew euphemism) was saying is that God wanted all males executed. And since men “piss” while standing up and women have a difficult time doing so…

Over the years, I’ve encountered godly Christians who use the King James, New King James, NIV, NASB, New Living Translation, and so on. There is also a 21st Century King James Bible out there and an updated version of the NKJB. Believe it not, there apparently is even an American King James Version.

This is not to say we should be careless with translations. I prefer Bibles that come from the Masoretic Hebrew and from the Greek Textus Receptus. If a Bible is translated from something else, it’s not for me. We should take great care in selecting the Bible we want to use: while I still prefer the KJB but am no longer a King James-Only person, I do believe that excessive carelessness in translations is exactly what Satan desires now that he knows he cannot destroy God’s Word.

Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe in five years I’ll be a King-James-Only advocate again, or maybe in five years I’ll go nuts in my Christian liberties (I already wear a cross necklace).

Tell me what you think, Christian Reader.

Richard Zowie, a 1995 graduate of Pensacola Christian College and a Christian since 1981, remains a humble student of God. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

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  1. July 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Like you, I’ve been through these battles in the past 25 years. As a preacher trained in the Indep. Fundmtl movement (under Dr. Harold Sightler), I’ve heard all the arguments. I grew up multi-lingual an understand from 1st hand experience that certain things don’t literally translate from one language to the other. I refuse to use “KJV ONLY” terminology because I don’t want to be associated with all the baggage that seems to go along with that position, like double inspiration, “use the KJV to correct the Greek,” and the rest of that garbage. One thing I remember Sighlter telling me, “You know why they put the words “New” & “Improved” on boxes of cereal? To sell more cereal!” The point: New translations sell! I understand that languages change (Tyndale Bible, etc) unreadable today. KJV painstakingly examined jargon, idiom, etc when translating. I’ve used examples from Polish., German, Spanish.

    Big problem for me: People who measure their “spirituality” by the version they “carry” (not read or study,… just carry). Same folks who measure everyone else by The Baptist Rule Book & not the Word of God. I am so sick of self-righteousness

  2. carrlanebaptist1988
    July 17, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Richard, I appreciate your article. I also believe you are correct.
    T.A.
    Pastor of Carr Lane Baptist Church

  3. Dallas
    August 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I am an old man. I have been saved since 1950. I am a seminary graduate. I have been exposed to all kinds of things by critics of the KJV. Now here is what I have found. There is no proven error in my bible. In any other translation, i can start reading anywhere and in 15 minutes I can find doctrinal error. I see no real advantage in trying to learn from 2 or more differing bibles. it just leads to error and confusion
    dalla

  4. October 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Richard,
    I liked this post. Yes, there are many “good” arguments for not sticking with the AKJV. Like “it’s far better for a newer version to get read than for a King James to collect dust on the shelf…” And there are many “godly” people who read other versions. But, asking what’s wrong with something is not the right question. I think it leads to the lowest common denominator. Jesus can make the rocks cry out, so why not just collect rocks instead of reading a bible. The right question is, “What is right with it?” The criteria are…
    Does it make you fear God?
    Does it make you glorify God?
    Does it make you worship God?
    What I found with the AKJV is that it defines what it means to fear, glorify and worship God. In fact, the AKJV does a much better job at defining what we are to believe than other versions. Defining is different than defending…
    The AKJV it is not really any harder to read and does not always use strange words like “pisseth.” For example, which version uses “Magi” and which uses “Wise Men”.
    Here is a simple key that i found helps when reading the AKJV…
    Thee, thou… are singular
    You, ye… are plural
    Note: AKJV never refers to God in the plural.
    -est is second person of a verb
    -eth is the third person singular present of a verb
    Once that is understood, reading and meaning seem to become more straight forward…
    Blessings,
    Daryl

    Not a pastor or a seminary graduate…

  5. October 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    We see examples in the KJV of people being saved or converted with only a few lines of scripture. I believe that there are accurate passages in all of the versions that God can use to bring the lost to Him. For this reason I am not KJV only but believe that the KJV is the authorized version and is completely accurate. If you have a choice why not use the best?

  1. December 4, 2010 at 6:29 pm

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