For many, the King James Bible is an antiquated and archaic translation of the Bible they are quick to dismiss. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you find some who insist that the King James Bible is the only adequate translation of Scripture (contrary to the preface of the 1611 version). I don’t quite find myself landing in either camp, and my reasons for this are largely anecdotal. I’ll get to that in a moment.
I’ll admit at the onset, I don’t believe the KJV is the only Bible one should read. We stand to benefit from the various translation committees if they hold a high view of Scripture. One translation committee may offer better insight on a particular passage based on the way they sought to render a given phrase. Some are good for their more word-for-word based approach, where they seek to render the original languages to the modern tongue in a way that is more literal. Others are good for their thought-for-thought based approach, where they try to render the original languages in a manner that is friendlier for the modern reader to understand, while remaining faithful to the text.
People come to the table with various reading comprehension levels, education, backgrounds, etc., and one of the many blessings is that we have a plethora of translations available to us today to meet those needs. I believe at the fundamental level this is consistent with the ethos of Scripture and many godly men who have gone before us—that the Word of God is for all, and all should be encouraged to read of them widely. After all, William Tyndale’s sentiments should be our own, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the scriptures than you do.”
At the same time, we should offer caution, as there are instances where interpretive decisions are made that aren’t necessarily faithful to authorial intent. For that reason, I’m not fond of paraphrastic versions of the Scriptures (e.g., The Message). Though to be forthright, this is a problem that every translation has, which is why I suggest we should avail ourselves to the multiple translations available. Ideally, and especially for pastors/teachers, learning the original languages cuts beyond some of this, as they are able to go directly to the extent manuscripts we have. Nonetheless, many of the versions we have today are incredibly good, accurate, and trustworthy, as God has not only breathed-out the Scriptures through His Spirit, but He has preserved them for us.
The inspiration of the Scriptures speaks toward the original autographs—but the trustworthiness of Scripture stands firmly entrenched in God’s gracious preservation of the text from one generation to the next. I understand the implications of that statement may seem at odds with those who favor the Textus Receptus over the Critical Text that translations like the New American Standard Bible are based on. However, at the heart of it, I fully believe we can trust the work God has done to bring His Word to His people. In other words, God hasn’t left us in the dark so that we are unable to know Him and bring our lives in submission to His Word.
In the same breath, I believe we can and should seek to understand how God has done that by examining the manuscript evidences for ourselves. Good and godly men differ on this, strongly and rightly so, as these are no matters of adiaphora we are dealing with. My aim though is not to cover this ground, as there are ample resources already available that do a far better job at this than I can in a simple blog post. My simple goal is to just lay out a case for why I personally still love the King James Bible, even though I am not a Textus Receptus man. Whatever your thoughts on textual criticism (e.g. the Pericope Adulterae, Mark’s long ending, etc.) and the linguistic barriers we face simply as people who live in a different time, no one can deny the impact the King James Bible has had and still has.
So, why do I love the King James Bible? There are three simple reasons, all of which I freely admit are subjective, preferential, and anecdotal.
1. No other version quite captures the beauty of the English language. I’m a bibliophile by nature, and in particular, I have always had an affinity for classic literature, and especially poetry. While the King James Bible still doesn’t capture the beauty of Hebrew (especially in the Psalms), it does a far better job of that than many other translations. For me, this was right in my wheelhouse, and enabled me to see Scripture not simply as a book to be read and obeyed—but one to be cherished, loved, and enraptured with, in its stylistic and linguistic beauty. There is an art and form of the English language that reveals the beauty of our Creator, and I believe the King James Bible captures this.
2. This translation was the second Bible I ever owned, and that Bible is littered with notes, highlights, and scribbles all throughout it. The first Bible I owned was the New International Version and while it holds a special place in my heart (God used this version to bring me to faith), the King James Bible is really where I fell in love with Scripture itself. Part of that is owing to the first reason I gave above; the majority of it though was that God used this version of Scripture to open my eyes to a great many doctrines that are precious to my soul (e.g., providence, sovereignty, the fear of the Lord, etc.). In other words, the King James Bible was used by God to shape many of my current convictions and non-negotiables. It is also the Bible I studied when I perceived the call to the pastorate.
3. It is part of our Christian heritage, and we are indebted to those who did this fine work. There is also something to be said of being able to read the same Bible that many generations have read before us. There is something uniquely special in being able to read the same Bible that the Puritans read (as you can guess, I hold an affinity to the Puritans as well). While we may struggle understanding some of the anachronisms of the King James Bible, we don’t have to learn an entirely different (and dead) language like one has to with Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew (and Aramaic) to appreciate that. Grab a good dictionary and go to town.
In the end, I am not making an argument for why you should or shouldn’t read the King James Bible. I’m merely suggesting that one ought to not frown upon it, as it not only holds a place in the long history of the church, but it still a good translation. This is the Bible that paved the way for the modern translations you have available to you today. For that reason alone, it deserves more than a flippant dismissal or casual indifference. If you’re not a fan of it or struggle to read it though, pick up a different translation and read that one. That’s truly ok.
Look, I’m happy if you’re in the Word regularly because the Word is the very thing that the Spirit has promised to work in and through. The Bible you read is better than the Bible you don’t, and while that should be a relatively simple sentiment to embrace, the unfortunate reality is that many well-meaning people want to read the Scriptures, but they never quite get around to it. As a result, they don’t order themselves under submission to God and His Word and their lives exemplify this. While there are better translations than others that are more faithful to the original manuscripts, my simple point in the end is this: read the Bible. Order your life under the authority of God’s Word, and widely encourage others to do the same.