Over on TFR I counted the blessings that the King James Version has brought to me. That post should be read before, and in conjunction with, what I have to say below. I’m grateful to have had this contact with the world’s most famous version. On this 400th year of the KJV’s publication, we do well to honor the work of the translators and their predecessors.

The KJV gave rise to a whole stream of revisions and derivative translations. The ERV/ASV, RSV, NASV, NRSV, ESV, and NKJV among them. The KJV itself, as we have it today, has been revised. The original edition, from what they say, has been significantly modified.

While we give thanks to God for this distinguished past, and for the many revisions and translations that have followed in its path, the KJV has ceased to be the best-selling Bible, and for good reason. It’s time to lay aside the KJV for superior versions.

In the title I use the verb “ditch” to encourage us to lay aside the KJV for later versions that are superior in most every way. The verb is strong, and I mean no disrespect to the KJV, but my purpose in using it is to emphasize in a forceful way that it is time to retire this version because of the needs of our day and the progress made since its publication.

#1. Evangelism

Recently, on Facebook somebody posted a verse from the KJV with the word “lunatick.” First, nobody spells the word that way anymore. Second, the word is no longer used in that sense. This example can be repeated over and again. It means requiring people not familiar with the word of God to learn an antiquated language, and I can’t conceive of the Lord approving of putting any type of barrier, other than that of the Cross, before potential converts.

This point is all the more important today, because American educational levels have fallen (is this a worldwide trend?), and people are less able than ever to understand complex language. Add to that the large increase in the unchurched, and you have a great need for the use of versions that people who have no contact with Christianity can comprehend.

#2. Preaching and Teaching

Those who preach using the KJV are required to explain the translation before they can explain the text and apply it. In fact, some preachers’ sermons consist basically of explaining KJV language to the hearers. Put a modern-language version (I mean no negative connotation in that phrase — to the contrary!) in their hands and you take away their sermon.

Preaching is communication, and the KJV is a barrier to the message. 99.9% (don’t you just love statistics?) of people don’t speak 1611 English. Whoever denies this fact doesn’t live in the real world, or ministers only to people over 60 who’ve grown up with the KJV and word their prayers in bad attempts to mimic the Authorized Version.

#3. Personal Study

Since 1611 enormous discoveries have been made, both of manuscripts and in linguistics, that render the KJV outmoded. The discoveries of the Greek papyri in Egypt in the late 1800s and of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, to name just two, have revolutionized biblical research. Textual critical studies have provided better approaches to determining the original readings.

The only reason to continue using the KJV is because one may be used to it. But personal preferences should be set aside to allow for growth in one’s own walk with God and for greater effectiveness in one’s service of edification and evangelism.

For Others and For Self

There is every reason, then, to set aside the KJV and pick up a more recent version that uses today’s language and takes advantage of the research that has opened new understanding of the original languages. For these reasons, much of what is said above also applies to the ASV and NKJV.

Because we value Scripture as the word of God, we want it to speak to us and to others in accurate and intelligible language and so that its power may be fully applied in conversion of those outside of Christ and transformation of those in his body. Otherwise, without understanding the Word, its purpose will be frustrated and we will be held responsible for clinging to a version that no longer serves the mission of God in the world.

11 thoughts on “Time to ditch the KJV

  1. I have no problem with seeking to improve and to reach out farther by improving and modernizing translation, so long as the result is a true improvement.

    Most newer translations are *not* improvements over the KJV, though. Translation politics and sheer disingenuity have marred the field of modern Biblical translation.

    The newest NASB doesn’t suffer from those flaws, and it’s what I’ve chosen to use. It’s a fantastic translation, unlike other “improved” translations. It happens to read very much like the KJV, just modern (moreso than the NKJV), so there’s not much way people can complain on either side.

  2. Thanks for this well-written and timely piece on the realities of the KJV. We have much to thank for those who made the effort to see the Bible in the common man’s language in 1611 and the continued efforts of research in linguistics and archeology that produce text that relies on much more and ancient manuscript evidence than the early translators had access too. Thanks again.

  3. Randal, good post. Let me offer a bit of a contrary perspective.
    Though I am sympathetic to the sentiment of your essay, I am not one to go as far as you. For instance, I do not subscribe to the suggestion that one should lay down their KJV because other translations are better (for the various reason you gave). If one is comfortable with the KJV, and that encourages their reading, then I will encourage their continued use of it. If you were talking exclusively about preachers, then I am more sympathetic. I do encourage, however, another translation alongside of the KJV; that way, if the reader needs an explanation that is not registering with the reading of the KJV, then perhaps the modern translation will help. You remark that the KJV should be set aside for personal growth reasons, but I would counter that if the KJV is helping one grow in the Lord, there would be no need to set it aside. In fact, if one likes to work hard at understanding something like the old language, then I will encourage that person. I use the ESV, and on my shelf are seven different translations for comparison purposes, including the KJV and NKJV.

  4. Thanks for the perspectives, gentlemen. Scott, this theme isn’t showing your comments at all, because of conflicting colors. Will try to fix that. Other comments are also welcome.

  5. Ron,

    I would encourage those who like “to work hard at understanding something like the old language” to take up the original languages. A translation of a translation (from Hebrew/koine Greek through the King’s Speech into modern parlance) is never as effective as a translation of the original text.

    Wellsaid, brother Randal.

  6. Randal,
    You know I appreciate your good work, but wonder about this particular article. May I, like Ron Thomas, add contrary thoughts?
    The KJV did not give “rise to a whole stream of revisions and derivative translations.” This “stream” was generated to get away from the KJV, not because of it.
    #1. Antiquated spelling is not the barrier to evangelism, but ignorance of English language is! Some 40 years ago, a doctoral dissertation proved the KJV was completely understood on an 8th grade level. Modernize the spelling, keep the accuracy of translation, and one would have the New King James Version, which is no barrier to evangelism. (Interestingly, the “anti-spam word” I had to fill in to write this response was “baptism” which is a good old KJV word!)
    #2. Granted, much explanation might be required from the KJV, but equally useless are “modern versions,” most of which use more words than the KJV, and must be up-dated for their audiences since most translations are 30 or more years old! Preaching is communication, and Jesus and the Apostles used common Greek, but they also relied upon arguments from the Hebrew Old Testament language which they made in Greek. However, Paul addressed Jews in Hebrew (Acts 21:40-22:2). Bible quotes from the OT, even then, needed understanding (cf Nehemiah 8:1-8). Regardless of “version,” preaching is supplying explanation/understanding of Scripture.
    #3 None of the “enormous discoveries” in “manuscripts and in linguistics” have rendered the KJV of none effect. Regarding the manuscripts, they have 95% (I love statistics, too!) completely endorsed the Majority Text which represents the text from which the KJV was made. Linguistically, I defy anyone to “Tweet” or “Twitter” the Bible and know what it originally said. Which part of society does one choose as the standard for language, morals, education, or practices: those who ignore such standards, compromise such standards, or respect such standards? When standards are compromised, I will not choose those for my understanding. If the “only reason to continue using the KJV is because one may be used to it,” then why is not “the only reason to continue attending the church of Christ because one may be used to it?” It’s not what one is used to, but the reason(s) one is used to a thing that makes it “the reason” (Hebrews 10:24-26).
    Randal, I appreciate that you “value Scripture as the word of God,” but if you wish to follow after modern versions which do not so value Scripture in the manuscripts they follow, or do not treat Scripture “as the word of God” in their prejudicial and/or lackadaisical “translating,” then how do you even know what is the “word of God” or how it has been handled?
    (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
    Please know that I esteem you for your work’s sake, and encourage us all to continue in the faith (Jude 3).

  7. Why promote newer translations that are wrong in that they delete and twist scripture as well as add mans agenda driven false teaching? Brother the base reason you give regarding the need for people to be able to understand the Word and not have to struggle with it is great and agreed but more importantly, to add, delete or twist the Word, do so to their distruction and can therefore cause the same in the weak in disernment and faith.

    We have to be careful to not throw caution to the wind.

  8. I find it discouraging to see Christians defending the KJV by claiming the new translations are in error. Certainly some of them are but the best ones are much more accurate than the KJV. Seek them out. Learn the reasons for the changes. To sit back and say, “It’s different therefore it is wrong.” is a lazy and dishonest way to respond.

    People love to cling to what they’ve always believed because it is comfortable and familiar to them but when better scholarship comes along and proves our old translations are in error, we should adapt to it as it brings us closer to truth about God. Seek truth above all. We cannot find truth if we are unwilling to doubt.

    • Suffice it to say that my intent is not to enter the discussion either of the TR/eclectic text debate, for which I’m not qualified to judge, but tend toward the latter, nor to bash translations, most of which contribute to our understand of the original texts.

      I don’t use versions like the NLT or NRSV in teaching, but I do use them for the good they have to offer, which is a great deal, to my mind. I have stated a number of times, and have demonstrated, that there is no such thing as a literal version. I know enough of languages to know that a literal translation will, at times, miss the meaning of the original utterance.

      Any time we have to explain a translation because of its archaic language, we’re putting up a barrier to understanding and inserting ourselves as interpreters to the ignorant. That doesn’t seem like the Lord’s will. To cite a 40-year-old study doesn’t take into effect the religious climate of the time, when many eighth-graders were probably already familiar with the KJV and the tremendous societal changes since then, nor does it justify transporting those supposed results into other cultures — and subcultures by which Americans are surrounded — where educational levels are low or the grasp of English is limited. The rise in the number of the unchurched is also a huge, huge factor.

      Anyway, I was hoping to see people share their list of favorite versions.

  9. I also agree that what you said also applies to the ASV and NKJV. While the language of both is less archaic, I find the ASV a bit more accurate and the NKJV about the same as, if not less accurate than, the KJV.

    Other versions I like on the literal side are The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus, and the New World Translation. While many scholars bash it for being biased, they all seem to have an agenda to protect the Trinity. My agenda is to not insert any doctrine that is not in the best Greek manuscripts. I wholeheartedly disagree with the NWT’s use of Jehovah in the NT, I do find many of their passages to be more precise than mainstream translations although very wooden. I also disagree with their translation of John 1:1 but it is not worse than what most translations use. I follow Jason David BeDuhn’s view of the NWT. A translation of John 1:1 I do like is in my next favourite translation, the New English Bible which says, “When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was.”. The British English is sometimes an issue but I like it overall. Next is the New Jerusalem Bible. I particularly like its use of Yahweh, which makes it easier to differentiate between when YHWH, Elohim, and Adonai are used in the OT. The New Revised Standard Bible is also very good. I’ve found the Joseph Smith Inspired Version to be the worst translation I’ve ever seen.

    For translations that are paraphrases or easy-to-read, I like God’s Word, the New Century Version. I often like how the New Living Translation words things but I find its accuracy a bit too low for my liking. I find The Message much too loose and biased for my liking.

    I suppose my dislike for the Joseph Smith Inspired Version and The Message is not too surprising as they were translated by individuals. Translations by widely diverse groups tend to be better, especially if they span denominations including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox. I am quite impressed with The Unvarnished New Testament as it was translated by one person. Another interesting translation by one person is the Cotton Patch Bible. If you can get around the “updated” proper names of places and people, it is actually quite precise, although incomplete as the translator died before completing it.

  10. In this reply, I will respond to Nick. His suggestion is good, and it is what I do. Perhaps I should have said it a little differently than I did. When I became a Christian, it was the ASV that I used. The difficulty of that translation made me work extra hard to get a proper understanding. I liked expending the effort. Now, I use the NKJV and the ESV (with respect to English).

What do you think?