This little post will fall quite short of the momentous event it will mention, but I know myself too well: if I wait until I believe I have time to write a lot, I will never write. So I am settling for writing a relatively small amount, knowing that at least I will have written something!
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Translation of the Holy Bible — beyond all doubt, a singular milestone in the long and storied history of God’s Word! Perhaps no translation of the Holy Scriptures in the last 2000 years has affected the world like the KJV has. Whether you love the KJV or hate it, you have to confess that the work of those scholars four centuries ago has had an impact that has far outlasted them.
For those interested in thinking of ways to recognize this anniversary in some relevant way, I recommend reading about the history of Bible translations. Many people who love the King James Version have no idea about its history or the versions which preceded it and laid the foundation on which it stands.
For instance, I often get funny looks from people when I say that many who think they have “original” 1611 King James Translation, when, in fact, they almost certainly do not. “But it says ‘1611’ at the front!’ True, but read more closely; often it says that the text they possess is “conformable to” the 1611 version. It is not, itself, the 1611 version. Practically every King James Version today is the result of the revision made of the King James Version in 1769 to correct its spelling, punctuation, a small number of perceived translations problems, and printing inconsistencies. (Actually, there’s more to it than that. Read the history for yourself–it’s good stuff!) This is part of what annoys me about those in the “KJV Only” crowd who treat the 1611 King James Version as if it were a “perfect” translation: In almost all cases, the “1611 KJV” they quote from is actually a revision of that supposedly perfect translation and they often have no idea. Which do you have? Well, one of the quickest ways to check is to check the spelling: The original 1611 translation has very archaic spelling, even moreso than the King James Version in use, today. For instance, here is Genesis 1:1 in the 1611 King James Version:
“In the beginning God created the Heauen, and the Earth. And the earth was without forme, and voyd, and darkenesse was vpon the face of the deepe: and the Spirit of God mooued vpon the face of the waters.”
If your King James Version Genesis 1:1 doesn’t read exactly like that, then it is not the 1611. No typos there: u’s for v’s, v’s for u’s, “Heauen”, “voyd”, “mooued” — that‘s the true 1611 King James Version. Or, perhaps I should say the trve 1611 King James Uersion. 🙂
There’s more to be said — and maybe I will say more another day. But suffice it to say that a true 1611 translation is a rarity. If you have a King James Version, it is, in almost all cases, a product of the 1769 revision — a revision to improve spelling, punctuation, and translation, similar in spirit in many ways to the New King James Version, my personal favorite.
There is no perfect translation into English — at least none that has been produced so far. In this, the misguided-but-sincere “1611 Only” folks are mistaken. At the same time, many of the modern translations are truly very faulty. It may not be popular to say so amongst many of the reigning “intelligentsia” in the field, but the King James Version remains–however imperfect–a marvelous translation, and the New King James Version–however imperfect, itself–is an excellent one, as well, and, in my humble opinion, beat the pants off of most of the more modern translations, today.
That said, there is, still, value in other translations: the RSV, the NASB, the newer ESV. Even the NIV translators occasionally offer an improved translation, however accidentally they may have tripped over it. Then there are singular and unique translations, such as Moffatt, the Williams New Testament, or Young’s Literal Translation. While I know of no other translations that I consider to be “all around” as good as the KJV and the NKJV, there are many benefits that come from comparing translations carefully and considering another translator’s take. Our Church has a history of using primarily the KJV and the NKJV, but being open to using other interpretations occasionally which may, in some points, be better. This reminds me in ways I do not have time to discuss of the approach of the original New Testament authors, themselves, in their quoting of the Old Testament. It is an approach that has served us well, and, thankfully, I do not see it changing any time soon.
And, by the way, some (though not all) of the negative things said about other versions and their translators have been proven false. For instance, I may agree that much of the work of Wescott and Hort is fundamentally flawed and I may disagree with their approach, but the claim that they were secretly anti-“Christian” spiritualists speaking with the dead has been refuted and should die. Some people are so ready to defend the translation methods of the KJV and the NKJV, as I am, that they are too ready to believe such scurrilous tales. Yes, I’ve seen the so-called “quotes,” too, but I’ve also seen their sources and checked them out. Look deeper, and be more careful about besmirching the character of another human being. As Christ commands, don’t just judge: judge with righteous judgment and not according to appearance (John 7:24). This usually involves doing more thorough research than most do–and not stopping just because you find “evidence” that supports the position you’ve already taken. (Just to be clear: I am not a fan of Wescott and Hort; but the truth is too important to me to accept a lie, even if that lie can be used to “support” the truth I believe. Truth is never served by supporting it with lies, however sincerely believed.)
So, hopefully we can take advantage of the 400th anniversary of the creation of the King James Version of the Bible to educate ourselves. It may not be perfect, but it is a beautiful translation–still, in many ways, better and more accurate than its more recent competitors.
For those wanting to peruse some internet resources, click here for a website containing images from a 1611 KJV, page by page, provided by the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image.
Something similar (with a fancy page-turning effect) is provided by the King James Bible Trust, the website of which has a great deal of information that you might find interesting.
Some great, detailed information on the change from the 1611 King James translation to the “Oxford Standard” of 1769 that is in use today can be found here at www.bible-research.com.
A very accessible book I have really enjoyed which authoritatively discusses the creation off the New King James Version — and, in doing so, says much about the King James Version, itself — is The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition, written by the NKJV translation’s Executive Editor, Arthur L. Farstad.
Also, Thomas Nelson is publishing in various forms a 400th Anniversary reprinting (facsimile) of the 1611 King James Version, itself. The packages vary: some are bundled with similarly bound NKJV’s, others are just the 1611 KJV, while still others are the 1611 KJV but with lower quality binding to keep the cost down. At least some of the packages promise something free from the History Channel–perhaps a DVD or something, I’m afraid I do not know what. Expect to pay $40-$100 in stores, depending on what package you get, but it might be a nice resource to have, and some of the printings I handled seemed to be in great shape and very sturdy. (Cheaper printings by other publishers are available.) At the very least, having a real copy or facsimile of the 1611 in your hands is enough to help any doubter to realize that his KJV is not the 1611 original.
There is much I disagree with when it comes to many in the “KJV Only” crowd, but on this we are in strong agreement: The creation of the King James Version was an event that had the attention of heaven and represents a milestone in the history of God’s Word that demands our respect and our appreciation. The hard and faithful work of those scholars in 1611 has not only shaped history for the last 400 years, it has shaped lives. And it continues to do so. I, for one, look forward to meeting those fellows when they are brought up from the grave to physical life once again, and to helping them to see the true meaning of the words they devoted so much of their own lives to translating. Their work has had truly eternal consequences, and several centuries’ worth of humanity owe them their gratitude.