Thursday, September 29, 2011

Books and Articles About the KJV (1)

If you’ve not read the KJV before (all the way through), and these posts have piqued your interest, this post is intended to give you some further direction.

The KJV Itself

If you don’t have a copy of the KJV, I would highly recommend that you purchase the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (sorry, Dr. Carrick, the Oxford editions just don’t measure up). It is available in paperback as part of the Penguin Classics series, or in really nice (and really expensive) leather versions. Why this edition? The editor, David Norton, has completely and carefully gone over the entire text (see his comments under “Text” in the Introduction), producing a text as close as possible to what the original translators intended. All spelling has been modernized. The font is quite readable, and it is set out in a nice single-column format. Those of you who are real history geeks might also want to consult Norton’s companion volume to this Bible, A Textual History of the King James Bible. The two volumes were originally published together in 2005.

Books and Articles About the KJV

Since this year is the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the KJV, many books on its history and influence have been published this year. Of these histories, I recommend the following three (although almost any of the others would certainly be worth reading). First, I would mention Leland Ryken’s The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation.  The first part is devoted to a brief history of the origins of the KJV. The last three parts deal with the various kinds of influence that the KJV has had over the last four centuries. Ryken is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and has written extensively on the Bible and translations. Second, I would recommend David Norton’s The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today. Most of the book is devoted to the story of the actual production of the KJV, with the last section being a summary of the history of the influence of the KJV. The third history would be Gordon Campbell’s Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011. This is a more even treatment of the history from 1611 to the present than Norton’s and is part of Oxford University Press’s contribution (Norton’s, of course, is from the Cambridge University Press.)


In addition to these works focusing on the KJV, I would recommend Tyndale’s New Testament, edited by David Daniell. Tyndale’s work was a key precursor to the work of the KJV translators. The introduction by Daniell is full of interesting information, including pointing out that many memorable lines from the New Testament that we associate with the KJV originated with Tyndale. In addition, while many of you may have read the KJV, probably very few have read Tyndale. Since Daniell has had it set in modern type and with modernized spelling, it is quite amazing how readable it still is after almost five hundred years.

One more tidbit to throw out for this post. In 1950, C. S. Lewis gave the Ethel M. Wood Lecture at the University of London. The title of that lecture was “The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version.” For those interested, whether Lewis fans, or KJV fans, or literary types, the text of the lecture is available online at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Practical Reflections on Using the KJV

Some people, having read my preceding responses to Joel Beeke’s piece, might conclude that I think the KJV ought to be dumped on the rubbish heap of ancient Bible translations. That could not be further from the truth. However, I do think that the general usefulness of the KJV is not what it once was. Fifty year ago my home church (an admittedly liberal UPCUSA congregation) was using the RSV as the pew Bible, and the Bible they gave to students in Sunday school. Conservative congregations were still using the KJV. So how should the KJV be used today?

First, I do not recommend the KJV as a pulpit/pew Bible. Unless you have a unique congregation (such as Dr. Beeke’s), regular reading from the KJV will serve primarily to confuse and alienate the congregation. An exception to this might be at Christmas and Easter services (if your church has such) and where even the man off the street should be able to follow the Bible narratives associated with those events.

In general, however, the KJV requires a sophisticated reader, and apparently American Christians (perhaps like Americans in general) are becoming less able to handle sophisticated reading. The prominence of the NIV and, increasingly the NLT, in evangelical circles bears witness to that fact.

It is still possible for the individual reader to use the KJV profitably. In order to do this, though, you need to be willing to read it with a good historical dictionary beside you (or online, available at a few keystrokes). Many words have changed meaning, or have different nuances than they did four hundred years ago. For this reason you also need to read slowly and thoughtfully. The KJV is not the version to read if you are doing the Bible in 90 days program.

One of its characteristics is that it reflects the original Greek and Hebrew syntax more clearly than many modern translations. Thus, the KJV provides a way of reading the original for those who have no command of the original languages. For example, the style of Jeremiah is very different from the style of Isaiah. This is very clear in the KJV, but it is not so clear in the functional equivalence translations that are popular today. Those versions have reduced it all to a simple-minded sameness.

An example may help here. In Isaiah 3:19-23 (a passage I criticized in an earlier post because of the archaic words used), every “and” in the KJV represents the presence of the standard Hebrew conjunction. Most modern versions do not do that. They simply turn the series into a list, which then ceases to have any rhetorical power. The KJV, in following the lead of the Hebrew text, has a rhythm to the “list” that actually produces a good rhetorical effect, in spite of the fact that the various words are mostly unknown. Incidentally, the NASB Update, which is in general a very literal translation, misses the boat here, completely ignoring the Hebrew connective and using only commas.

One other suggestion for making good use of the KJV: buy a copy of the recorded version read by Alexander Scourby. It is the best of the recorded versions. Listen to Scourby read as you follow along. That will help you to keep pace, and it will also help you with the pronunciation of names and archaic words.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reflections Regarding the KJV (8)

Beeke’s twelfth point is that the translators of the KJV were “men of sound religious faith.” He then calls into question the soundness of the religious faith of the translators of modern versions. It is true that the translators of the RSV and NRSV have been people by and large coimmitted to liberal theology. But neither version is used much by evangelicals. It is also doubtless the case that the religious faith of some translators of other modern versions is less than completely sound. But how does Beeke know? Has he met these people? Has he examined the depth and reality of their faith? No. He simply throws out the charge. That’s hardly just, and really is an ad hominem attack on the translators, which is then used to call into question the reliability of the translation. On what basis, for example, would Beeke call into question the soundness of the religious faith of the translators of the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV? It seems to me that his assertion is special pleading motivated more by a devotion to the KJV than by a devotion to a fair and just evaluation of modern translations.

Another way of putting my complaint with Beeke’s point is this: suppose a number of godly young men were gathered together to produce a translation of the Bible. All of them had had one year of instruction in Greek and one year of instruction in Hebrew. They could no doubt produce a usable translation. But there would be legitimate questions about the quality of the translation, due not to the question of their godliness, but due to their inexperience with the biblical languages.

Beeke’s last point is simply more in the way of ad hominem attacks on modern versions. He says, for example, “This change to new translations was often part of an effort to strip worship services of dignity, reverence, and beauty, in favour of the casual, the contemporary, and the convenient.” How does he know that? How does he know that modern versions were not motivated by a desire for people to be able to read the Bible with understanding? How does he know that new translations were not motivated by a desire to enable people to read the Bible and to hear it read without stumbling over archaic words (take a look at Isaiah 3:18-24 and ask youself if you have any idea what most of those words refer to), and becoming confused by words that have changed in meaning over the last four hundred years (for example, it helps in reading the KJV to know that “prevent” does not mean to stop, or to inhibit, but rather to go before, to anticipate). It is the case that all human projects, even Christian projects, are filled with mixed motives. That is particularly the case when large numbers of people are involved in the project. But Beeke dismisses them all with one sentence. They are really all, to Beeke’s way of thinking, driven by base motives, designing to lead people away from godliness. I ask Beeke to prove the charge. I don’t think he can do it. In all fairness to those who have devoted years of labor to the production of Bible translations that seek to honor God and make his word available in the language  of the people, he needs to stop this sort of attack on the motives of people he doesn’t know. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (7)

Beeke’s 11th reason for retaining the KJV is that it sounds like the Bible. In Beeke’s view this was deliberately aimed at by the translators of the KJV. They aimed for it to sound, in its day, a little old-fashioned, formal, as a way to command a reverent hearing. There is a sense in which this is true. The KJV was not intended to be an entirely new translation, completely separate from those already available. Instead it was to retain the best of them in a revision that would be acceptable to the entire English church. For example, many memorable phrases and verses that we connect with the KJV actually came from Tyndale’s translation, but were retained by the KJV translators.

As with some of Beeke’s other reasons, this reason doesn’t apply only to the KJV. The ESV, the NASB, and the NKJV are all intentionally a little “stuffy.” They are deliberately formal (in addition to following a formal equivalence translation philosophy). They are intended to carry the weight of being a presentation of the Word of God in English.

Beeke further argues that the unbeliever expects the Bible to sound this way. “He expects the church to speak in a way that is timeless and other-worldly.” Again, this can be accomplished without recourse to the KJV. It is true that many of the recent translations sound casual. This springs from two sources. First, it comes from the commitment to a functional equivalence translation philosophy. Second, it comes from a sense on the part of the translators that the reader ought to be able to understand the Bible by himself, as it were, without helps. Thus many of the new translations sound little different from today’s newspapers (except for the fact that newspapers arre not afraid to use technical language). But in this move, the translations lose any real sense of reverence, formality, and timelessness. There was a paraphrase of Paul’s letters that appeared in 1971 titled Letters to Street Christians. It was deliberately written in the idiom of the late 1960’s. Today it is almost incomprehensible, because popular English idiom has changed so much in the intervening forty years.
However, there is a legitimate question as to when “a little old-fashioned” moves beyond the realm of comprehensibility. In Dr. Beeke’s church context, most of the parishioners have been raised on the KJV. Many perhaps use it for their daily Bible reading. Thus, to hear it read from the pulpit causes no difficulty. However, many younger evangelicals coming into Reformed churches have an entirely different experience. They were not raised in church or on the Bible. If they were raised in church, it is often the case that the church they were raised in, or the church they have been attending, has little in the way of Bible reading. Many modern evangelical churches may go through a whole service with no more than a handful of verses being read from the Bible. To sit, then, in a Reformed service where maybe an entire chapter is read from the KJV is to listen to a different language. Yes, to many such people the KJV might sound like what they expect the Word of God to sound like—incomprehensible. For many today, the KJV is not much more comprehensible than the Vulgate was to the contemporaries of the translators of the KJV. Is that what we as pastors want to put on our congregations? It is probably the case that there are still congregations where the KJV as the pulpit Bible works. But my own sense is that those congregations are few and far between.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (6)

Beeke’s seventh reason for retaining the KJV is that it is laid out in a verse-by-verse format, which is the easiest for preaching. In other words, as any minister who preaches from the text can tell you, it is easier to find a verse if the verses are laid out verse-by-verse rather than in paragraph format. It is also easier to find the verse if it is printed in single-column, rather than double-column format. Currently, the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV are available in verse-by-verse, single-column format. That is, the KJV is not distinctive on this point.

Beeke next states that the KJV is the most beautiful translation. While I tend to agree with Beeke, the beauty of a translation is, to some extent, a matter of opinion. Certainly in well-known passages, such as the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, Psalms 23 and 100, and other like passages, the KJV has a resonance that most modern versions lack. The question is whether this is a matter of it being inherently more beautiful, or simply being more familiar. It may well be that the early 17th century was simply a period when English was at its highest aesthetic level. The KJV resonates, at least with the sophisticated reader. The modern formal-equivalence translations (that is, those most likely to be used by people who would otherwise use the KJV) simply don’t seem to have the same beauty. An example might help here. In 1Kgs 19:12, Elijah is at Mt. Horeb, and after the wind, earthquake and, fire, there is “a still small voice” (KJV). According to the NASB, there is “a sound of a gentle blowing.” The first certainly sounds better, and is probably no less accurate than the second.

Beeke’s ninth point is that the KJV serves as an ecumenical text for Reformed Christians. He says, “this version is used by preference in many conservative Reformed congregations.” I suppose it depends on what you mean by conservative Reformed congregations. I’ve preached in a number of conservative Reformed congregations over the last twenty years, and not one of them has used the KJV as the pew or the pulpit Bible. The days when one translation served all conservative congregations are long gone. One might wish it were otherwise, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Tenth, Beeke considers the KJV a practical choice in that it “is available in many editions; with a full range of helps and reference materials, not to mention computer software; in large-type, clear-print editions; and often priced well below modern translations.” That’s true to an extent, in that finding an exhaustive concordance for the NKJV or the NASB or the ESV is not easy. Apart from that, most of the rest of Beeke’s statements applies at least as well to modern versions, especially the formal-equivalence translations. All one has to do is go to the Bible page at to find out that all of those translations are available in about as wide a range of editions as is the KJV. It is true that the KJV is sometimes less expensive than one of the modern versions for a similar edition, but that is not universally the case. Particularly with modern Bible study software, the modern versions are generally as well-served as the KJV.

Beeke’s last three reasons will require greater discussion, so I will stop here for this post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Practical Reflections on the KJV (5)

Beeke’s third point has to do with translation philosophy. The KJV has a “word-for-word” approach (more commonly called formal equivalence today), whereas versions such as the NIV take more of a “meaning-for-meaning” approach. This latter approach was generally called “dynamic equivalence” when the NIV first appeared. But over time it has gotten a bad name. Currently the preference is to call it functional equivalence.

While it is true that the KJV takes a formal equivalence approach to translating the text, that is also true of some modern translations. The NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV all take a formal equivalence approach to translating the text. Thus there is nothing distinctive about the KJV at this point.

Beeke’s fourth point is that the KJV is “a more honest translation.” By this, he means that words not in the original but supplied by the translator have been put in italics. This is not done with the NIV “lest the loose method of its translators be unmercifully exposed to view.” I don’t know if it would be possible to express this point in a more loaded or biased fashion. It is true that interpolated words are not indicated by words in italics in the NIV. The possibility is precluded by the translation philosophy adopted by the translators. I carry no brief for the NIV, but it is less than honest of Beeke to make this a point of contention. The translation philosophy of the KJV (and the NKJV, NASB, and ESV) is amenable to the indication of interpolated words by the use of italics. The translation philosophy of the NIV (and the NLT, NEB, etc., etc.) is not. Beeke’s problem here is not really with italics vs. no italics. His problem is with the translation philosophy. In short, this is not essentially a different reason than number three.

Beeke’s fifth point is that the idiom of the KJV is more precise. By this he apparently means no more than that the KJV indicates the distinction between the second person singular pronouns and the second person plural pronouns (between “thou” [2nd person singular] and “you” [2nd person plural]). On this point, Beeke is absolutely right. Both Hebrew and Greek make distinctions between the form of the second person singular pronoun and the second person plural. The KJV does also, while modern translations do not. I wonder, however, how many readers of the KJV are aware of this, and whether it makes any difference to them as they read. I do wish that there were a way in modern English of indicating the difference between the two. As Beeke says, it is often important. Perhaps modern English versions could adopt “y’all” for the second person plural.

Beeke’s sixth reason for retaing the KJV is that it is “the best liturgical text.” In other words, it is, in Beeke’s opinion, the best for reading in public worship. Maybe. It often depends on who is reading it. I would much rather hear the NIV read well than the KJV read badly. It also depends to a certain extent on the congregation. What version do they have? Do they follow along in the reading in their own Bibles, or do they listen to the version being read. My own preference is that people lay their Bibles aside when the Scripture is being publicly read, and listen to the text that is being read. That way, if there are differences between the version being read, and the version someone in the pew has, the congregant is not distracted by the differences.

I have more to say on the public reading of Scripture, but I’ll visit that at another point in the discussion.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (4)

I hope you understood the discussion about the Textus Receptus, and the debate about what Greek text of the New Testament should serve as the basis for our English translations. If not, comment, and let me know. The point of that entire discussion was to show what the different texts are (TR, eclectic, and majority). To many people, it makes a huge difference what text is used. As noted last time, the KJV and the NKJV use the TR. As far as I know, almost all other English translations since 1880 have used some form of the eclectic text. To my knowledge, there is no English version based on the majority text. Beeke says, “the KJV gives the most authentic and fullest available text of the Scriptures, with none of the many omissions and textual rewrites of the modern translations.” In other words, as far as Beeke is concerned the eclectic and majority texts are inauthentic (or at least less authentic than the TR) and lacking. Also, the eclectic and majority texts have many omissions and textual rewrites.

I don’t have the space to go into a full discussion of that now, but am working on a project that will address at least some of those concerns. My own view is that the debate over the Greek text of the New Testament is, if not a tempest in a teapot, it is at least not nearly as significant as many people (including Beeke) seem to think it is.

One way of giving you a sense of what the variations are is to direct you to a copy of the NKJV. For the body of the NT, the NKJV has used the TR. In the marginal notes, the editors have indicated where the eclectic text and the majority text differ from the TR. The eclectic text is indicate by the letters NU. The NU stands for the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies Greek New Testament. M stands for Majority Text. For a fuller discussion, you can refer to the Preface to the NKJV. One example of differences among the texts is in the issue of spelling, especially of names. If you look at Matt 1:7, the NKJV reads, “Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa.” The footnote to this verse indicates that instead of Asa, the NU has Asaph. Asa is what appears in the Hebrew text of 1 Chron 3:10 (apparently the source for Matthew’s genealogy) and also in the Septuagint (old Greek translation of the Old Testament). However, many Greek manuscripts of Matthew 1:7 have Asaph. Is this just a spelling variation, as the footnote in the ESV suggests, or is this an error in the NU text? It’s difficult to say, because unless it is simply a spelling variation there does not seem to be a good explanation for the origin of “Asaph” as opposed to “Asa.”

Another example is the question of “omissions.” If you look at Matt 5:27, the NKJV reads, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery.” The footnote indicates that both the NU text and the Majority text “omit” the phrase “to those of old.” Now, it is certainly possible that the manuscripts reflected in the NU and M omitted that phrase. It is not difficult to accidentally omit something in copying. However, it is also possible that the manuscripts behind the TR added the phrase in order to make vs 27 consistent with vss 21 and 33. But it should also be noted that vss 38 and 43 lack the phrase. So is vs 27 a case of NU and M omission or a case TR addition?

In short, as I said above, I think this is much less of an issue than others appear to think it.

Next time I will move on to Beeke’s third point.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (Part 3)

Erasmus continued to work on his Greek New Testament (GNT) even after its publication, and subsequent editions were published, with the fourth and last appearing in 1527. In all, about half a dozen manuscripts formed the basis for Erasmus’s GNT. By the middle of the 16th century, a French printer by the name of Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus) had also become involved in the publication of the GNT. His last edition appeared in 1551. This text was not significantly different from that of Erasmus. Following Stephanus, Theodore Beza, the disciple of Calvin, also became involved in the editing and publishing of the GNT, publishing ten editions between 1565 and a posthumous edition in 1611. Six of those were simply reprints of four distinct editions. Beza’s work served to preserve the GNT text as it had been published by Erasmus and Stephanus. Thus by the end of the 16th century, the GNT as edited by Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza, had become the received text (the Textus Receptus) of the GNT. The last two distinct editions of Beza (1588 and 1598) were the texts that the KJV translators relied upon.

This text of the GNT became the standard text for the next three hundred years or so, until the discovery of many more manuscripts of the GNT in the 19th century. At that point it rightly held the title of Textus Receptus. However, since 1881, the Textus Receptus has effectively lost its position as the received text. The translators of the NKJV deliberately chose the TR as the basis of their New Testament. However, no other major English translation (or even minor English translations, to my knowledge) has used the TR as the basis for its New Testament. Instead, beginning with the English Revised Version (1881-1885), English versions have used the so-called “critical” or “eclectic” text as the basis of their translations. The list includes the ASV, RSV, the Modern Language Bible, Today’s English Version, the NASB (and its 1995 update), the NIV, the Contemporary English Version, the New Century Version, and the ESV, among others. Beeke is technically correct when he says that the TR has been used by the church historically. However, it is now the case that that history essentially stopped at the middle of the 19th century, and a new received text has replaced the TR.

This brings us to Beeke’s other two claims. First Beeke states:  “Oldest Does Not Mean Best – The Westcott and Hort arguments that ‘the oldest manuscripts are the most reliable’ and that ‘age carries more weight than volume’ are not necessarily true. It could well be that the two oldest, complete manuscripts were found to be in such unusually excellent condition because they were already recognized as faulty manuscripts in their time and therefore were placed aside and not recopied until worn out as were the reliable manuscripts. This is further supported by numerous existing differences between the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts.” I know that Beeke was trying for brevity here. Nonetheless, it is a misleading summary of the views of those who support an eclectic text. It may be that the two oldest and and best-preserved manuscripts are well-preserved because they were recognized as faulty and not handled’ much. It may also be that they were well-preserved because those who preserved them recognized their importance and value and protected them. The fact that there are many differences between them is also misleading. There are many differences among the manuscripts that lie behind the TR.

Beeke also says: “Volume – The King James Version is based upon the Traditional Text. The vast majority of the more than 5,000 known partial and complete Greek manuscripts follow this textual reading.” This is gross overstatement. There are many differences between the TR and what is today called the Majority Text.

Beeke would have been better off to have skipped this reason entirely. It is full of loaded language that, while perhaps rhetorically effective, is less than honest. So, for example, the statement “the most authentic and fullest available text” implies that others are not authentic, and that they deliberately omit things that should be there. That has to be proven, not merely asserted. I would have expected better from Dr. Beeke. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (cont)

Dr. Beeke’s second reason is given in the first paragraph of his essay as follows: “Based on the Textus Receptus (the Greek NT), and the Masoretic Text (Hebrew OT), the KJV gives the most authentic and fullest available text of the Scriptures, with none of the many omissions and textual rewrites of the modern translations such as the Revised Standard Versions (RSV) and the NIV.”

This reason alone is going to take more than one post to deal with. First, for those who don’t know what is meant by Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text, a brief definition of each. Textus Receptus is usually used to refer to the Greek text underlying the New Testament of the KJV. Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, books were copied by hand. This made books rare and expensive. It also had the tendency to produce errors in the copies made. [Just as an exercise, you might try copying out an entire book of the Bible by hand. Hint: try a short book first. You will notice that you have to pay very careful attention to avoid mistakes in copying. It gives you some appreciation for the labors of the copyists who preserved ancient texts for us down through the centuries.]

Most scholars working with the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible had access to only a very small number of manuscripts. The only exceptions would have been scholars who had access to major libraries, such as the Vatican library or libraries at the largest and most prestigious European universities. With the printing press, it was possible to make a large number of identical copies of the same text. Thus, as scholars began to prepare biblical texts for printing, they would gather a number of handwritten manuscripts together so that they could figure out what the correct readings were throughout the text. This is known as collation. Wherever there were variants among the texts, the scholar doing the work would have to decide which reading was to be preferred. This is, in brief, the art and science of textual criticism.

With regard to the Greek text of the New Testament, the first printed text was part of a major production by Catholic scholars under the aegis of Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros of Spain. It included the Old Testament in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek and the New Testament in Greek and Latin. Such a “parallel Bible” in different languages is known as a polyglot. It was printed in the town of Alcala, Spain; the New Testament volume having been printed in 1514. [Which, and how many, Greek manuscripts lay behind this work no one knows.] The name of the town in Latin is Complutum, so the work became known as the Complutensian Polyglot. However, for whatever reason, though the work had been printed, it was not put on the market.

The first published Greek text (that is, both printed and put on the market) was edited by Erasmus, based on a fairly limited number of Greek manuscripts, none of which contained the entire New Testament. The work was published in 1516. Thus it had been printed after the Complutensian Polyglot, but hit the market about six years before it.

This is not the full story of the Textus Receptus, but I also have to say something about the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic (sometimes spelled Massoretic) Text is the Hebrew text of the Old Testament as it had been copied and handed down through the centuries. Up until about AD 500, Hebrew texts had included only consonants (not as bad a thing as it might sound; more explanation later). Over the next few centuries a system of indicating the vowels was developed and became a part of the text. These “voweled” texts became know as the Masoretic Text (MT), and it was those texts that became the basis for printed copies of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Next post, more on the Textus Receptus, and a little more on the MT.