As someone who loves the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, also known as the Authorized Version (AV), I feel a little out of place these days. Let me first say that I don’t subscribe to the “KJV Only” argument because it seems to be an intellectually untenable position. I believe there are other good English translations out there, but there are a lot of weak translations as well. I would not recommend the New Living Translation, for example, although I have one at home.
There is a lot of misunderstanding out there about the KJV. Many people just seem to write it off as archaic and too hard to understand. Those who do use the KJV as their main devotional study Bible are often portrayed, quite unfairly, as legalistic, uneducated, or as a fundamentalist.
In this article, I would like to give some reasons why I enjoy reading and studying the KJV, as well as refute some of the myths and misunderstandings about the sacred text.
I’ll start with my personal history of the KJV. My very first Bible given to me by my mother was a KJV. It was just the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I still have it, and it can fit in my pocket. The cover has an illustration of a boy handing Jesus the five loaves and two fish in the miracle of the feeding the 5,000. In all honesty, I looked more at the pictures than I read from that Bible; I was only four after all.
My next Bible given to me was by the church that I grew up in when I got saved, or became a Christian. It was a New American Standard Bible with a blue cover, and it had pictures in it, such as the Garden Tomb. I remember reading Psalm 1 in that Bible. I would always turn to the Psalms because it was in the middle of the Bible. I rarely got beyond the first one.
When I went off to college, I wanted to really begin reading the Bible in earnest. So I went to The Living Word, the local Christian bookstore in the mall. I picked out a black leather Thomas Nelson KJV Study Bible. I don’t remember exactly why I chose the KJV at that time, but I’m glad I did. That Bible became my main study Bible, and I use it to this day, some 25 years later. The cover is coming off and part of Genesis falls out when I open it if I’m not careful. It’s the Bible that I first read all the way through. I’ve highlighted large portions of it, and I’ve memorized the location on the page of many passages. If I remember correctly, it is the Bible from which I preached my first sermon. I cherish that Bible, and I’m not sure what I’d do without it. I do have other Bibles, and sometimes I use other translations as I study for my Sunday School lessons. But I always seem to come back to that one.
Before I discuss the benefits of the KJV, let me first address a common objection to the translation–that it’s too difficult to understand. We live in an age where things are often dumbed down. Many people feel that they need to have a modern-English translation that is easier to read. I’m not trying to be elitist or snobby in saying this, but sometimes we as humans would do well to tackle something that is challenging so we can grow and learn from it. People often live up to the expectations placed upon them. It’s not that people are incapable of understanding the KJV, it’s that we sometimes rob them of their confidence and scare them away.
This is where the notes and tools in my study Bible really come in handy. In the center column between the texts are translations for difficult or archaic words. For example, in 2 Thess 2:7, the KJV uses the word letteth, which could be confusing because the contemporary usage of the word let is the opposite from what it used to be in the early 17th-century. There is a superscript number after the word, however, and if you look in the center column you will see the word restrains. The word let previously meant to hinder or prevent. At the time the translation was a good one, but over time the meaning of the word changed. The alternate translation note informs you of the actual meaning of the Greek word in the manuscript. And you actually learn more about the text and the history of words than you would have known just using a modern translation. There is also commentary below the text, especially for difficult passages. The KJV Study Bible also has doctrinal and archeological footnotes as well as personality profiles on major Bible characters. All of these tools solved any problems I encountered with difficulty understanding the text. In fact, it helped me to learn more than I would have otherwise. If you own a separate concordance, it also allows you to look up any word in the Bible and find which Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words were in the original manuscripts. So, the bottom line is that the KJV is not too hard to understand, especially if you have the proper study tools to help you.
I should also say that my favorite preacher, Adrian Rogers, preached from the KJV. And to this day, his sermons are some of the most powerful from any preacher I’ve heard. I can’t help but think the translation he used played a part in that. Personally, I believe God’s blessing is on the translation.
Having given you a personal history of my experience with the KJV, let me now endeavor to outline some more objective reasons as to why I love it.
First, the KJV is a formal equivalence translation, or word-for-word translation. This makes it more faithful to the original text. Some prefer dynamic equivalence translations, or thought-for-thought, but in my opinion, these translations often take too many liberties with the text. Proverbs 30:5a reminds us that, “Every word of God is pure.” If a translation does not translate each word, it seems to me that we are losing some of the Word of God. The italicized words in the KJV let the reader know that those words were added by the translators for help with understanding and that they were not part of the original text.
Second, the KJV has had a huge impact on the English language and literature. Quotations and allusions to the KJV repeatedly appear throughout English and American novels, stories, and historical speeches. Try to read a few of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches without coming across a quotation from the King James Bible. Also, there are poetic passages in the King James Bible, such as Psalm 23, Ecclesiastes 3, and 1 Corinthians 13, which do not sound as majestic when coming from other translations. We dare not lose the wonderful heritage and history of the interweaving nature of the King James Bible and the English language. But when we forsake the KJV in favor of more modern translations, it seems we do exactly that.
Interestingly, many seem to criticize the KJV’s use of the outdated second-person pronouns such as thee and thou. However, these too actually help the reader better understand the original text. The Hebrew and Greek languages make a distinction between second-person singular (thou, thee, thy, thine) and second-person plural pronouns (ye, you, your, yours). So by paying attention to which pronoun is used, you can glean key information that is not always evident in English. Galatians 6:1-2 is a good example of this.
Third, there are key words and phrases entirely left out or relegated as a footnote in many other translations but included in the KJV. The New Testament of the KJV is based upon the Texus Receptus, a Byzantine text-type (the Majority Text). It was compiled by Erasmus in the 16th-century. Modern translations do not use the Textus Receptus. You may have seen charts that juxtapose the KJV and the modern translations like the NIV and show the differences between the two. The modern translations leave out key words and even entire verses found in the KJV, such as Acts 8:37. James R. White addresses this in his book, The King James Only Controversy. I’ve read this book, which takes the side of the modern translations. White did bring up some interesting points in the book, and he provides plenty of material to think about. But he didn’t convince me that the Alexandrian manuscripts are superior to the Byzantine, nor did he convince me that the modern translations use superior manuscripts. Like I said before, I’m not KJV only, but I do prefer the KJV. Something just bothers me when translators start removing verses and words from a Bible which has been used for the last 400 years.
That brings me to the fourth reason I love the KJV. It has stood the test of time while modern translations have not. The KJV, completed in 1611, just celebrated its 400th anniversary. How many countless millions of people have been transformed by the King James Bible? One notable fact about the modern-day translations is that a new one seems to come along and replace the previous one every few years. For sake of honesty, it should be stated that there have been several editions of the KJV. The one that we read today is based upon the 1769 edition, which is easier to understand. Spelling was updated, use of italics was increased, and printing errors were corrected.
The fifth and final reason I love the KJV is that it has no copyright. Well, technically the British Crown owns the rights to it, but you can quote the KJV freely without getting permission. If you pick up Christian books using modern-day translations, you will probably notice that somewhere in the front, usually on the back of the title page, there are notes saying that the author or publisher got permission to use the translation. Another translation, the American Standard Version (ASV), had a copyright, but it has expired. So, it also is in the public domain.
The King James Bible is rich with tradition and history. Its beautiful, poetic language has become a part of the rich tapestry of our culture’s religious life, literature, and even our political rhetoric. It is also a faithful and reliable translation of the Bible. Choosing a Bible translation for one’s personal use should be done after much prayer and study. And if you decide upon the KJV, you will have made a wonderful choice and reap many benefits.