A Note on the Translation
(Abridged from original Document)
by Warren F. Forgay
1. Unlike many versions, the King James Version (KJV) is based on the Traditional Text, sometimes
known as the Majority Text, the Byzantine Text, or the Ecclesiastical Text. Most modern versions follow
"critical texts", which were first produced only in the 19th Century. The critical texts are based on comparatively few manuscripts, which, though
possibly older in extant copies, have never been regarded as
canonical copies by the Church. The Traditional Text on which the KJV is based is seen here as one of the KJV's assets, not a liability.
2. The literary beauty of the KJV remains unsurpassed. No modern translation has risen to such literary heights. John Henry Newman praised the King James Version for its "grave, Majestic English" and considered the composition of this version as being "even humanly considered, ...among the most sublime and beautiful ever written"
(Grammar of Assent, page 63, Image Books, a division of Doubleday and Co., 1955, New York). It is surely important that a Book which
is supposed to be regarded as holy and sacred be of the highest quality. A passage of literary beauty will move people in a way
that a poorly-worded passage, however accurate, will not. The English of the KJV
flows; it is rhythmic and noble and, it should be added, easier to remember and even memorize than modern English versions. The KJV has the qualities that a
sacred text should have. The language of a sacred text should not be written in the style of a local tabloid or the script of a TV
program. This is especially important in our own time, when we are bombarded with words from dozens of sources daily.
3. The KJV has an international scope and acclaim that probably no English version will ever achieve again. There will probably never again be a version that will hold sway over so many people in so many countries for so long as the KJV. The KJV has proven its durability over the centuries.
4. The KJV also has (aside from a few archaisms) a simplicity of language not found in many modern versions, which are actually more
complex (e.g. the New English Bible). Further, the KJV follows Biblical usage both in its use of second person (intimate/singular) pronouns and the way it adheres to the flow of the New Testament Greek (or Old Testament Hebrew).
As Edward F. Hills, an expert on the KJV has said:
"The English of the King James Version is not the English of the
early 17th century. To be exact, it is not a type of English that was ever spoken
anywhere. It is biblical English, which was not used on ordinary occasions even by the translators who produced the King James Version. As H. Wheeler
Robinson (l940) has pointed out, one need only compare the preface written by the translators with the text of their translation to feel the difference in
style." (The King James Version Defended fourth edition, page 218.)
5. The KJV is remarkably free of doctrinal, denominational, or political bias, which in part accounts for its widespread use among so many different confessions in the English-speaking world over the centuries. Sadly, the same cannot be said of some modern translations, which too often exhibit doctrinal or (more recently) political bias, which in turn leads to inaccurate or distorted translations of sacred Scripture. (Nor is this trend likely to be halted or reversed at any time in the near future.) The Bible now seems to be produced with the goal of making a profit. A "market-oriented" or "consumer
friendly" approach has been taken towards the Bible, an approach which would have horrified Christians of former times. Instead of the Bible influencing and changing society, society is influencing and changing the Bible. New translations seem increasingly to be made with the goal of making the Bible less and less "difficult" or "offensive" to "consumers". This may be why modern translations tend to be "freer" than ever before. Currently, the Bible seems to be approached and marketed in the same way as any other book. The latest critical theories often require revisions to translations only a few years old. The timelessness of the KJV is surely one of its greatest appeals, and timelessness is an essential quality of any
sacred Book. The KJV was not produced in an age overwhelmingly secular, and a secular approach to the inspired text by its translators is refreshingly absent.
Unlike most modern versions of the Bible, the King James Version is basically a
word-for-word translation, whereby the translators try to be as accurate (literal) as possible in translating from
Greek into English. This is done by basing the translation on the actual words of the Hebrew or Creek. The old Douay-Rheims Version is also a
word-for-word translation, with the commentary in the notes, rather than in the actual Biblical text itself. The New King James Version and the 21st Century King James Version editions are new examples
of word-for-word versions (with the 21st Century King James Version is notably
closer in text to the original than is the New King James). The American Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible are also word-for-word translations
(except that they are based on the Critical Text). This literal method of translation,
sometimes now called "formal equivalency" translating, is probably what most people assume is done in translating. In this, however, they are mistaken.
A newer method of "translating", sometimes called "dynamic equivalency", is used by most modern versions of the Bible, including the NIV, the REB, the NLT, and the CEV. This method of "translating" often seeks not to translate the actual
words of the Hebrew or Greek into English, but rather attempts to translate
thoughts or ideas. This is a more subjective enterprise. It is really a form what has been known in the past as
paraphrasing (e.g. the old Living Bible), or turning a translation into a running commentary, based upon what the translators
think a passage means, rather than confining themselves to the actual words they are supposed to be translating into English. The great danger, of course, is that it is a very small step from "translating" a passage based upon what one thinks it means, to translating a passage based upon what one
would like it to mean. The NIV for example, supposedly "more accurate" than the King James Version, abandons word-for-word translating in many instances, such as Deuteronomy 20:7, Esther 1:1, Matthew 5:32, and Luke 23:45. The newer modern inclusive language versions of the Bible, (e.g., the NLT, CEV, and GW) are even worse, (for this see the section on Inclusive Language). In these versions, the actual words of the Hebrew or
Greek, especially such "masculine imagery" words as anthropos or adelphos are not translated into English equivalents at all. The words used instead are neither accurate nor, in many instances, even honest. Plainly the "translators" of these versions
would like the Biblical la7lguages of Hebrew and Greek to be "gender-neutral': even if
they are not. They "translate" the Bible into what they would like it to be, i.e., a book that is modern, progressive, "non-sexist", in short a book that is in accord with modern secularist views on women and what constitutes "politically correct" English.
Now, the King James Version itself is not perfect, and occasionally slides unnecessarily from "formal equivalency" into "dynamic equivalency", such as when translating units of measurement, and most notably with the
Greek word pascha, mistranslated as "Easter" in Acts 12:4. Of course, the literal sense of the Hebrew or
Greek words cannot always be translated on a strict word-for-word basis without becoming obscure, but this is a far cry from many modern versions, which adopt "dynamic equivalency" when there is no compelling reason to do so. "Dynamic equivalency" should be seen at best as a necessary vice, instead of being regarded as a sort of virtue, simply because it makes the Bible "easier to understand" for the modern reader or "consumer".
The mistranslation of Sacred Scripture can never be justified.
6. The translators who produced the King James Version of the Bible all believed in the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. Sadly, this is not necessarily the case with modern translators, and this fact unfortunately sometimes affects the translation itself. In modern times, both the Lower and Higher Criticism of the Bible, which really date only from the "Enlightenment", represent a strikingly different approach to the Bible from the historic Christian
translation approach. It should be noted that the so-called "dynamic-equivalency" translations really represent an abandonment of plenary
verbal inspiration, regardless of the apparently sincere commitment of some translators of these versions to that particular position. This may be why some critics have said that no one can really hold to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture and
use one of the "dynamic equivalency" translations.
However, the difficulty of King James English has less to do with the
words than with the style of English used. But this style of English is Biblical
English, as noted above. Further, it becomes easier and easier the more it is read and listened to. It is easier to remember and memorize than contemporary English versions. Many have noted that the King James Version is actually
easier to read, because it does not use the more complex, multi-syllable words and phrases of modern versions. A few examples below will suffice, while at the same time it should be remembered that, in the 21st Century King James Version and the Third Millennium Bible, difficult words such as "dehort", "listeth", "holpen", "wist", etc. have been updated, making the King James Version easier to read than before:
issue of blood
|| Matthew 1:11
|| Matthew 18:27
|| make the purchase
|| Matthew 25:10
|| Mark 8:36
|| Luke 3:5
| do you inquire
| are you deliberating
| John 16:19
|| Matthew 9:17
|storm of wind
|| furious squall
|| Mark 4:37
|| Luke 10:35
| last state
|| final condition
|| Luke 11:26
|| miraculous signs
|| John 2:23
| olive grove
| John 18:26
|| Matthew 17:20
|| Mark 12:24
| thought beforehand
|| Mark 13:11
|| Luke 16:8
|| Luke 21:5
|| John 5:29
More examples could be cited, especially from other versions.
One notable feature of the King James Version is its use of second person pronouns. The King James Version (unlike modern translations)
carefully distinguishes (as does the New Testament Greek) between the second person singular and the second person plural. The singular forms are
thee and thou; the plural forms are you and your. This is also true for adjectives:
thy and thine (singular) and your and yours (plural). In addition, the King James Version distinguishes between the plural
ye (nominative case) and the plural you (objective case). The usage of these words is quite obvious in this harmony. However, these words have an
additional function- to distinguish between the intimate and formal in speech. This distinction is still common in many languages, though the influence of science and technology may endanger the continued use of the intimate form. In English, the intimate form has all but been abandoned, except in poetry, traditional liturgy, hymns, and in traditional Bible translations, such as the King James Version
of the Bible.
The intimate form of speech is actually quite important, especially for worship. The intimate words (thee, thou, thine, thy, etc.) convey a special intimacy, as well as a sense of awe, holiness, and sacredness especially appropriate for worship and Sacred Scripture. In liturgy, which is
supposed to be poetic, beautiful, and convey a sense of the sacred, the intimate form is most appropriate. It is also very appropriate for a sacred text, i.e., the Bible, which is a
holy Book. A special sense of this holiness is lost when the intimate form is abandoned. The formal words
you and your, appropriate enough in the business world or when writing scientific papers, are sorely lacking the qualities best suited for sacredness, holiness, poetry, beauty, i.e., the higher things with which the world of science and technology can never touch.
Regarding the intimate form, John Simon wrote:
"And what about that conceivably greatest of English losses vis-a-vis the other European languages: the loss of the personal pronoun's second person singular form- the absence of
"thou," except, perhaps, in talking to God? In how many European works of art- and, better yet, lives- does the great moment occur
when two beings who were until then "you" to each other suddenly
become "thou"? And, conversely, what stunning effects of solemn
distancing are achieved when "thou" suddenly reverts to
"you"! In English, none of this. The only intimacy left us is with
God, and even that is rapidly growing obsolete." (Paradigms Lost,
page 69, Penguin Books, 1976)
For a sense of the sacred and holy, a sacred and holy text and language is really called for. This is what the Biblical English of the King James Version provides, and what Scripture itself provides in Greek and Hebrew. The loss of any real sense of the sacred or holy in modern secular society is indeed a sad, pathetic development.
Below, a chart is given summarizing these words and their function. It should be kept in mind that these words (both pronouns and adjectives) distinguish between plural and singular as well as formal and intimate.
| Nominative Plural
| Objective Singular
|| thy, thine
|Double Possessive Singular
|| thy, thine
|Double Possessive Plural
The above words all have Greek New Testament equivalents, generally
||New Testament Greek
From the above, one can see that the words you and
your must be used much more frequently in formal English and "contemporary" Bible translations than is the case in traditional English and in the King James Version. Our language is poorer for this; the richness, beauty, and intimacy conveyed by traditional English is lost in modernized prose or poetry. This is needless modernizing; all the above words in English still retain their meaning in modern day
Whether or not people are today reading the Bible more than they did when the King James Version was the only translation readily available is a debatable point. What seems to be true, however, is that people are certainly
memorizing the Bible less than they did when the KJV was supreme, and it seems that they are also less likely to take its
passages to heart today than was the case in the past; the Bible certainly seems to be less listened to now than was the case in earlier times.
Warren F. Forgay
Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
* Note from Third
Millennium Publications, publisher of the Third Millennium Bible (TMB):
The above writings are echoed and expanded in a 2002 book written by Leland
Ryken called The Word of God in English, Crossway Books.