The King James Version
|By: ATRI Staff Writer; ©2008|
|A viewer has a question about the history of the King James Bible and how the 1611 version relates to the KJV as we know it today.|
Question: I thought I had heard that the King James Bible that we have and popularly use today is from the 1700s, and that the 1611 King James Version uses much more archaic English words and spellings. Please let me know if this is how you understand this, or if you have a different understanding. (SE from OK)
Answer: (Excerpted from John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Facts on the King James Only Debate (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1996.)
Is the King James Only position established by the history of the King James Version? Many King James Only writers argue God had the King James Version written so that, through the translators, He could produce an inerrant English Bible. In fact, it was written for a far more mundane reason: to produce a good standard translation that would be most acceptable to all concerned. Understanding the background of the King James Version will help us comprehend the issues involved.
How did we get the King James Version? The King James Version Bible was first published in 1611, and subsequent printings or editions corrected a number of translation errors (this occurred in 1612, 1613, 1616, 1629, 1638, 1660, 1683, 1727, 1762, 1769, and 1873). What this means is that each one of these versions differed in certain places from the previous edition. (In fact, there were two slightly different 1611 editions and six slightly different editions in the 1650s.
There are even a few significant differences between the 1611 edition and our modern version. In 1611, the King James Version had “Then cometh Judas” in Matthew 26:36. Today it is rendered in the King James Version as, “Then cometh Jesus.” Wouldn’t everyone agree this is a rather significant difference? There were also a few embarrassing printing errors. The 1613 printing omitted the word “not” from the seventh commandment, inadvertently “encouraging” people to commit adultery. This King James edition became known as the “Wicked Bible.” Another printing of the King James Version became known as the “Unrighteous Bible” because it stated that the unrighteous will inherit the kingdom of heaven. And a few printing errors continue to occur in the King James Version and other versions today.
The King James Version Bible we use today is actually based primarily on a major revision completed in 1769. This was 158 years after the first edition. (If the 1611 edition is the true Word of God, it is no longer in circulation. If not, which King James Version edition do King James Only writers wish to defend as the inerrant Word of God? The editions of 1611, 1769, and the Textus Receptus itself have all been advocated.)
In making the New Testament translation, the translators used the 1516 Greek text of the Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus took less than a year to produce his text, which was based on portions of only five or six late manuscripts (12th – 14th century). In addition, his work was produced in haste in order to be the first to actually publish a Greek New Testament. Not surprisingly, given the conditions under which he worked, the various editions of his text are, collectively, filled with a significant number of corrections. Both Stephanus and Beza revised his text. It is this Greek text, along with Erasmus’ Complutensian Polyglot that was used by the translators to produce the first edition of the King James Bible (1611).
Some of the problems which Erasmus bypassed in his hasty work have been summarized by noted Princeton scholar Bruce M. Metzger:
For most of the text he relied on two rather inferior manuscripts in the university library at Basle, one of the Gospels and one of the Acts and Epistles, both dating from about the twelfth century…. [Because of back translation from Latin into Greek in a manuscript of Revelation] here and there… are readings which have never been found in any known Greek manuscript but which are still perpetuated today in printings of the so-called Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.
Evidence like this demonstrates that Erasmus’ text, which evolved and became the basis for the Textus Receptus, “…was not based on early manuscripts, not reliably edited, and consequently not trustworthy.”
It was not until 1624 that the Elzevir brothers put out their own edition. In the second edition (1633) the preface claimed that it was the text “best received of all.” This “received text,” known as the Textus Receptus is the textual basis for the King James Version New Testament; it differs from the Erasmus text in only a few hundred minor instances. In spite of Erasmus’ use of only five or six relatively late manuscripts, the changes in all King James Version editions were minor. For example, in the nineteenth century the American Bible Society examined six King James Version editions then circulating. Of the 24,000 variants (the great majority in punctuation and some of the text), it noted “of the great number, there is not one which mars the integrity of the text or affects any doctrine or precept of the Bible.” This is because the King James translators had used the same basic principles employed by modern translators, and their skill and scholarship gave us what became the standard English Bible for 400 years.
Ed. note: If you wish to see the 1611 King James Version yourself, the text is available online at studylight.org.
- Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 38-39.
- James R. White, The King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), p. 81; Lewis, The English Bible, pp. 37-38.
- Lewis, The English Bible, p. 39.
- Norman Geisler, William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 384; the Metzger citation is also on this page.
- Lewis, The English Bible, p. 39.