Before discussing my 3 Bible suggestions from OTFTW 1, we need to discuss the KJV a bit. Below is a slightly fleshed-out Institute handout I’ve used in my Bible classes.
Is the King James Bible a Good Translation?
Short Answer: “No with an if, Yes with a but…”
A good translation is one by which the reader can accurately understand the meaning of the original text through the language of the translator(s). “Accurately” has been understood various ways, with two theories of translation at opposite endpoints along a spectrum.
- “Word-for-word” AKA “formal equivalence” or “text-oriented” = more literal, potentially less understandable.
- Translator preserves more of the original language at the cost of being less accessible to the target language and culture.
- “Thought-for-thought” AKA “dynamic equivalence,” “functional equivalence” or “reader-oriented” = more understandable, potentially less reliable.
- Translator does more interpreting in order to smooth and adapt to target language and culture. Easier to read, but potentially introduces more translator bias.
- These two points give us three more positions. More literal than formal equivalence is “literal,” between Formal and Dynamic is “mixed,” and even more translational and loosed are “paraphrases.” See http://www.notjustanotherbook.com/biblecomparison.htm for a chart and comparison.
- For example, when Isaiah talks about sins being white as snow, how should it be translated for a language/culture that does not know snow? A formal equivalence translation would use “snow” anyway or a periphrastic phrase if “snow” didn’t exist, whereas a dynamic equivalence translation would translate as something white or pure in that culture, such as wool or clouds or something.
- The KJV is far towards the word-for-word/formal end of the spectrum.
Problems with the KJV
- Translated into English we don’t always understand because it’s so archaic. (Greek and Hebrew footnotes are helpful, but cannot entirely counterbalance this problem, because it’s not limited to simple word choice, but also syntax, punctuation, etc.)
- The KJV was not intended as a new translation done from scratch in 1611, but was a revision of The Bishop’s Bible (1568) and others such as Tyndale’s New Testament (1526).
- Example- What does 2 Timothy 4:2 mean? “Be instant in season, out of season.”
- We now have many more, much older, and better manuscripts than were known in 1611.
- Contemporary Greek papyri, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. Hebrew mss 1000 years older than the KJV translators had.
- Example- Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7-8) This passage included in the KJV is more-or-less a medieval forgery created for theological purposes.
- We now have better understanding of the original languages and cultures.
- “Holy Spirit Greek” Earlier translators were unfamiliar with the dialect of the NT, and considered it a special dialect written only by those inspired by the Spirit. We now know that it was simply the common everyday Greek speech of Palestine at the time of the NT.
- Job 7:12 and Sea. Thanks to the Ugaritic texts, we have greater understanding of this passage. (Can’t explain it in a line or two.)
Why do we read the KJV as the official public Bible?
These are reasons I think can be offered. They are not mutually exclusive, nor necessarily those offered in official publications.
1) Tradition. Nuff said.
2) KJV-like language is used by our other scriptures. That is, if you want to catch allusions, references, and quotations to the Bible in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price, you need to be familiar with the KJV translation. Alternately, according to some, this indicates that the KJV is the best translation, based on the best manuscripts, or has divine approval lacking in other translations.
3) The foreignness of KJV language reminds us of the foreignness of the Biblical period, that the people and events we read about in the Bible are not contemporary in our time or culture. Cf. Our tendency to read the Book of Mormon as if it were a General Conference talk. (I thank Blake Ostler for pointing this out.)
4) Latter-day revelation supports the KJV in doctrinal matters. (Scroll down.) This is less of an argument than a very short statement, and I find vague and problematic in its brevity. I’m not entirely sure how it is intended. Other translations can be more doctrinally correct than the KJV, such as the NRSV or NJPS at Genesis 1:1, which do not assert creation ex nihilo. In any case, this statement, which can be read as near a KJV-only position, must be balanced with others.
Things other Bibles do that KJV doesn’t, beyond translational issues
1) Quotations and poetry are set off by highlighting, special spacing, etc.
2) Old Testament quotations are all reference and footnoted. Why our KJV does not do this, I am at a loss to explain. Compare our KJV Matthew 22:37-39 with Deut. 6:4-6 and Lev. 19:18. (How many LDS do not understand that Jesus statements here are quoted from the Law of Moses, not some new thing he’s saying?)
David Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2005)- More technical, scholarly and dry.
Alister McGrath, In the Beginning- The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (Anchor, 2002) – Highly recommended. Humorous and very readable.
Joe Stringham, “The Bible: Only 4263 Languages to Go” Ensign, January 1990.
John Lundquist, “The Value of New Textual Sources to the King James Bible” Ensign, (August 1983)
Harvey Minkoff, “Problems of Translation: Concern for the Text versus Concern for the Reader” Bible Review 4:4 (August 1988)
Harvey Minkoff, “How to Buy a Bible” Bible Review 8:2 (April 1992)
Philip Barlow, “Why the King James Version? From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22:2 (Summer 1986): 19-41