There are practical considerations we need to take into account when trying to settle on a particular English translation. (I have intentionally emphasized the matter of English translations, because the Bible, or at least portions of it, has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects. The Bible existed long before the English language.) There are those who insist that the King James Version is the only reliable version for English readers, an issue that needs to be examined.
The King James (Authorized) Version
I have actually heard people claim that one of the reasons we should use only the King James is that it is the “authorized” version. It was the authorized version in that it was intended by James to replace the Bishop’s Bible that sat on the pulpits of Church of England churches—but not because God somehow divinely authorized it. Such a claim is silly.
As pointed out in an earlier article, the New Testament was originally penned in Koine Greek, the language used by the common man, marketplace Greek, if you will. It was something every reader—or listener, since few people possessed their own New Testament scrolls—could understand with ease. I think that is an important consideration, and here is why. I am aware of the insistence by certain Christians that no English translation is worthy or reliable other than the King James. It is a magnificent translation, but the King James relied heavily in many places in the New Testament on William Tyndale’s translation. Did the King James render Tyndale’s translation as of no value once it was published? Did it somehow sap the Holy Spirit’s inspiration from the earlier translation? No, the truth is that both are valid translations. Tyndale completed his translation in 1525; the King James was first published in 1611.
If he was nothing else, King James I was an astute politician. Before they began the work of translation, James gave the translators, all 47 of whom were members of the Church of England, instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. James wanted absolute authority for the English throne, meaning himself, and he wanted to make certain the new translation supported his efforts. That, for example, is why the translators used the word baptize, which is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo into English—meaning they coined a new English word—rather than actually translating the word to its English equivalent, “to immerse.” Why did they do that? Because the Church of England had retained the Roman Catholic mode of sprinkling. For them to have used the word immerse would have put them at odds with Church of England doctrine and the king. Interestingly, the original King James also included the books known as the Apocrypha, a group of books purporting to be divinely inspired but which fail to meet the tests of inspiration. But once again, they were accepted at the time by the Church of England, which had carried them over from the Latin Vulgate used by the Roman Church. So more than a little political pragmatism entered into the process. After all, you don’t want to tick off the guy who can order your execution.
The version of the King James used today is not the translation completed in 1611, but an extensively re-edited version published in 1769 by Benjamin Blayney at Oxford University. Most of the editing involved minor changes such as punctuation and the change in the convention of the use of the letters u and v, but there are instances where there has been a change in the actual wording. Below is an example so you can see what I’m talking about. These are the first three verses of 1 Corinthians, chapter three:
 1.“Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing.”
 1. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
There are 11 spelling changes, 3 changes in punctuation, and the switch of the letters u and v, a change that had occurred since 1611. Minor changes, yes, but changes nevertheless. But there is another change which actually changed the word used. You will notice in verse 2 that Blayney used the phrase “not charity” rather than the “no charity” used by the translators. He did so because he thought it was a misprint in the original. (He was wrong.)
The point is that the standard King James Bible available today is actually the 1769 revision, and not the 1611 original. If the 1611 original translation is the only reliable English Bible, does that negate the 1769? If such is the case, then why should anyone use the 1769?
But that begs the issue. The King James Bible was the finest English translation at the time it was translated, but the English language we speak today is considerably different than that spoken 400 years ago. For example, how many people today have any idea what these words mean: jangling, privily, holpen? Most modern readers would scratch their heads at a statement such as, “Charity vaunteth not itself” (1 Cor. 13:4). I have been familiar with the King James my entire life and it is the translation I use for my personal reading each morning; but for most people that isn’t the case. I have worked in a ministry for drug addicts for several years. The last 30 minutes of each two hour session is spent reading and discussing the Bible. We used to use the King James, but many of the addicts are poor readers to begin with, and nearly all of them struggled with the archaic words, phrases, and sentence structure. They may as well have been reading a foreign language. So we made the switch to the New King James. I’m aware there are places where the translators deviated from the Majority Text, but they are few and far between. More importantly for the people with whom we work, they can understand what they are reading. Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:19: “I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in [another language].”
As already mentioned, the New Testament was penned in Koine, the Greek of the marketplace, and as such it was available to anyone who could read and had access to the scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 14:33, Paul wrote that, “God is not the author of confusion…” So where is the wisdom in insisting people read a version of the Bible, as correct and magnificent as it is, that is increasingly unintelligible to modern audiences? What about 100 years from now when English has changed even further? 200 years? Will some Christians still be insisting that only the King James will do?