The multiplication of “modern language” English Bibles is one of the most important religious phenomena of recent years. The abandonment of the King James Bible by churches has not been a good thing. We are going to keep the old Bible for several compelling reasons.
1. Theological Reasons
Some new Bibles are dangerous because of the theological bias of their translators. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible was presented to the public as a completed work in 1952. The unbelieving bias of the majority of the translators is evident in such readings as Isaiah 7:14.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Revised Standard Version)
The difference between this reading and the way the verse reads in the King James Version is very important. The old Bible says that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” The liberal bias against the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is reflected in the R.S.V. translation of this verse. The word used in the original Hebrew has long been understood to mean specifically a virgin in this context, and is incorrectly rendered “young woman” by the R.S.V.
Not only is the doctrine of the virgin birth undermined in the Revised Standard Version, but also the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible! No fundamentalist Christian would accept as his standard a theologically liberal translation of the Bible like the R.S.V.
2. Textual Reasons
Many people do not know that most of the more than 100 new versions of the Bible are not translated from the same Hebrew and Greek texts that the King James translators used! When somebody says that the translation of a certain verse in the King James Version is “unfortunate,” usually the problem is text rather than translation.
In the late 1800s, a committee of British and American scholars began work on a revision of the King James Bible. They decided that the Greek text of the New Testament used in the translation of the old Bible was seriously defective. Although that text represented the New Testament as it had been accepted by most Christians over the centuries, it was spurned because it disagreed with some of the older manuscripts. Almost all of the new versions are actually translations of the new Greek text generated by this committee. This new text is significantly different from the traditional text.
When the reader comes to John 7:53–8:11 in versions that were translated from the new Greek text, he finds the whole story of the woman taken in adultery set apart with lines or brackets. A note is placed in relation to the bracketed section that says something like this: “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not have John 7:53–8:11.”
What the textual critics of a century ago were saying, and what the new versions are saying, is that a large amount of the New Testament read, believed, preached, and obeyed by most of our spiritual forefathers was actually uninspired material added to the text! If this new textual theory were true, it would be revolutionary news to the church.
Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Every man needs every word of God! A man’s needs will not be met unless he has received “every word” that God has spoken. Jesus also said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). With this promise, Christ assured us that the very words we need in order to live as we should would be preserved throughout the ages.
3. Philosophical Reasons
Christians ought to be interested in having the very words of God, since this is what Jesus said we need! The King James Version is a translation that seeks what scholars call “formal equivalence” to the original text. Others, however, seek “dynamic equivalence.” The “formal equivalence” approach seeks to express in English the meaning of the words in Greek. The “dynamic equivalence” approach seeks to express the meaning of the writer in modern idiom. Anyone who takes seriously our Lord’s admonition in Matthew 4:4 will want a “formal equivalence” translation. Several of the new versions do not offer this to us.
4. Cultural Reasons
For most of our first two hundred years as a nation, the King James Version was the Bible to most Americans. Even after so-called “modern” versions became popular, the King James Bible continued to be the version memorized, quoted, and publicly read most often. With the demise of the old Bible, our country has been left without a standard text of Scripture. Who can quote the twenty-third Psalm any more? Who knows how to repeat the Christmas story? The question always arises: “Which version?”
Why should conservative Christians join in the mad movement to throw away the standards that made our country good? Our Constitution is jealously guarded against change by an elaborate and difficult amendment process. If it takes two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to change one sentence in the Constitution, why should the churches be so willing to accept great changes in the Bible without serious and extensive “due process”?
5. Practical Reasons
Believe it or not, some of the features most criticized in the King James Bible are among the best reasons to keep it! For example, consider the thee’s and thou’s. The King James Version was not written in the everyday language of people on the street in 1611. It was written in high English, a very precise form of our language. In modern English, the second person pronoun is expressed with one word, whether in the singular or the plural. That word is you.
The King James Version lets us know whether the Scripture means a singular you or a plural you. Thou or thee mean one person being addressed, and ye or you mean several. This feature often helps us interpret a passage.
Such features make the King James Version the most helpful translation of the Bible in English for the serious reader. Even the “New King James,” which is translated from the traditional texts, denies us the practical help of high English, italicized additions, and the absence of quotation marks.
For all of these reasons, it just makes good sense for conservative, Bible-believing churches to keep the old King James Bible as their standard text. The new versions present too many problems and simply are not fit to replace the English version we have trusted for so long. Let’s stick with the King James! The movement to abandon it will move us from clarity to confusion, from authority to anarchy, from faith to doubt. May we never make such a move!