The King James Version is a majestic translation of the Bible—one that has spanned hundreds of years and still finds many faithful readers today. The reasons for that are multiple:
- The prose’s age and grandeur gives the KJV a majestic feel.
- The scholarship was great such that very few changes have been needed over the years.
- Many have grown up memorizing portions of Scripture from the KJV, and that makes other translations sound strange.
Given all of these positive things, many that attempt to defend it as the only translation that is the Word of God resort to all sorts of arguments to either tear down other translations or build up the KJV. Among them are some weak arguments—arguments I suggest KJV proponents avoid because they don’t help their cause.
Anyone can tell you that reading a language that’s over 100 years old is different than reading the same language today. Pick up a work written by the Founders of the United States and you will see word choice, formality and grammar differences. You’ll also find words that they chose to use for things are different than words today. One of my favorites is “Providence” which could be an unseen force, could be God or could be a city in Rhode Island.
The further back you go in a living language, the more of this you’re going to see. For example, yesterday, I had a post titled Earthquakes in Divers Places which could be a reference to earthquakes underwater, but in that context “Divers” means “Diverse”.
When the language of a work requires you to look up words you don’t know, you consider it something that broadens your vocabulary. When the dictionary definition doesn’t suffice and you have to dig further to find what a word used to mean, then it’s hard to read. There’s a reason that many in Christian schools are trained in what words l like “Beseech”, “Verily”, “Comeliness” and the alternate readings of “Conversation”.
This is not a strong argument for the KJV proponent, because it’s easy to grab a passage and a non-Christian and prove just how inaccessible the KJV is in some places. Which is amusing in some ways, since part of the point of the KJV1 was to provide a standard English version that was readable by the people.
The KJV just isn’t that readable or accessible to the modern American/English reader.
In the United States, all original works are copyright by default. This blog post is copyright, and that’s why on many copyrighted works the phrase “All rights reserved” or different rights that are granted/reserved.
Many have used “copyright” to defend the KJV because it is currently in the public domain in the United States. This is due not to the fact that the publishers wanted it open and free, but to the fact that the copyright law in the United States only protects a work for 120 years. It is said that most works earlier than 1920 are now in the public domain.
Derivative works must be different to a certain extent in order to be considered new. Therefore, if someone wanted to have a Bible that was copyrighted and not available for free, they would have to make it different enough in word usage to meet the criteria for uniqueness. This is the same as the patent process.
The interesting thing is that the KJV is still under copyright in the UK, and will be until 2035. This means that only the Queen’s printer can print it.
So, if the NASB, NKJV, NIV or ESV was declared to be the same as the KJV, they would not be able to print or distribute their work in the UK because of copyright infringement. This would be a marketing problem, but would also deny people the chance to read a modern version.
This argument is weak because regardless of what people think about whether “the Bible should be free,” people pay money for Bibles all the time, and copyright also allows for control and preservation of the original work—and ways to file litigation should someone claim to have a work that is the ESV when it really isn’t.
Revisions vs. Versions
It won’t take you long into a discussion on the KJV to come to the argument about revisions vs. versions. The argument usually goes along the line about the number of revisions compared to the fact that the KJV has no revisions, only versions—the latest being done in the 1769.
The funny thing is that if you read the changes that were made to the 1769 version, you find that there were things that were changed because the authors of the new versions believed that the judgments of the KJV 1611 translation was faulty. Hence the whole disagreement in the King James Only movement between the Authorized version and the 1611 version. And there are many defects to be found in the KJV.
Here’s one of my biggest problems with this whole argument. I’ve read the argument that the NKJV was supposed to just take out the “thee’s and thou’s” and that would have been fine, but because of copyright, they decided to change other things to.
So, if the KJV is so pure because it it has a single version—why isn’t there a new version with more modern words so as to clear up the ambiguity of the more ancient word usage and fix the defects?
To me, this argument is worthless because it leaves people wondering why they just don’t take the 1769 and catch it up to the 2000s.
This post is not to say that you shouldn’t read and love the KJV. It’s not to take away from the way God has used it in this country and the world. It’s not even attempting to address the stronger arguments—which there are some good ones.
However, there are weak arguments—arguments that should be avoided. And these are three of them.
- Other than to provide a work for the Anglican church that would justify the divine order of kings and remove the anti-royalty notes in the Geneva Bible.