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The Revised Version of 1611

by Rick Norris

Is Revision of a Bible Translation Always Wrong?

In their preface to the 1611 KJV, the KJV translators argued that it was good to revise and attempt to improve earlier translations of God's Word. They acknowledged that attempts to revise the Bible such as theirs were often incorrectly viewed with suspicion and jealousy. They realized they would be accused of changing and correcting God's Word; but they still contended that revision was necessary. They wrote: "If anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place."

The KJV translators noted that the Roman Catholics criticized Protestants for "altering and amending our translations so often." Thomas Fuller observed that Roman Catholics asked: "Was their translation good before? Why do they now mend it?" (Church Story of Britain, V, p. 407).

In a 1582 book, Gregory Martin, a Roman Catholic, condemned the early translators with this charge: "How is it, then, that in your later English bibles, you changed your former translation from better to worse?" (Fulke, A Defense, p. 323). Martin claimed that "books which were so translated by Tyndale and the like, as being not indeed God's book, word, or scripture, but the devil's word" (Ibid., p. 228).

Martin argued that present translations must be evaluated or judged by the ancient Latin Vulgate translation that had been used by the church for over a thousand years.

The KJV translators did not consider that these Roman Catholic arguments against new translations or revision of former translations as valid. They recognized that this vague, emotionally-charged claim that any revision is a corruption of God's Word or that any revision makes the translation the devil's word is wrong.

If the KJV translators had accepted the claim that translations do not need to be "revised," "corrected," or "updated," there would be no King James Version. On the title page of the 1611, the translators acknowledged that they "diligently compared and revised" the former English translations.

According to the title page and to the preface of the 1611, their standard for revising translations was God's Word in the original languages [Hebrew and Greek]. If the fallible Church of England translators of the KJV could revise, correct, or update the earlier English Bibles by consulting God's Word in the original languages without it being wrong, the KJV can be revised, corrected, or updated by this same standard.

David Cloud, a KJV defender, admitted: "The King James Bible is a revision of that line of Received Text English Bibles stretching back to Tyndale" (For the Love of the Bible, p. 8). In an article about KJV translator John Overall, the reference works The Dictionary of National Biography referred to "the 1611 revision of the translation of the Bible" (p. 1270). In an article about Roger Fenton, these same reference books called the KJV "the revised version of the Bible" (p. 1191). Thomas Harrison was noted to be "among the revisers of the Bible assembled by James I (p. 40).

If the claim that changing, revising, or updating a translation is corrupting God's Word were valid, it would mean that the KJV translators corrupted God's Word. If the claim of no change or revision of a translation were valid, then believers must use the first translation into a language regardless or whether it is an accurate translation or not. The fact should be obvious that a revision of a translation of the Bible is not always wrong. Even Peter Ruckman commended the "genuine work of updating and revision" in Bishops', Matthew's, Coverdale's, Geneva, and Great Bibles (Differences in the KJV Editions, p. 5).

Of course, the fact that changes or revisions can be good does not mean all changes are good. If a translation has some changes that seem to be for the worse or less accurate, it does not mean that all its changes or revisions are bad.

A honest and objective comparison of the KJV to its underlying Hebrew and Greek texts would show that the KJV improved the renderings of the earlier good English Bibles in many places. Such a comparison would also show that every change or revision made by the KJV translators was not necessarily a better or more accurate one.

Please examine the evidence for yourself instead of relying on misleading arguments that tear down all revision of translations as the work of Satan. If applied consistently, such arguments would also condemn the revised version of 1611--the KJV. If such arguments were not valid in 1611, why have they become valid today?

"Does Revision of a Translation Involve the Changing or Altering of God's Word?"

The KJV translators claimed to have "diligently compared and revised" the former or earlier English translations of God's Word. In their preface, they stated that "revising that which hath been laboured by others deserveth certainly much respect and esteem." Evidently, the KJV translators had enough knowledge to know that revision of a translation does not involve the changing of God's preserved Word in the original languages. Do defenders of the KJV today have the same respect for revisers of translations that the KJV translators had?

In a section of his book entitled "Superior Translation Technique," D. A. Waite condemned "the diabolical principle" of subtracting from the Words of God, "the diabolical principle" of the changing of the Words of God, and "the diabolical principle" of adding to the Word of God" (Defending the KJB, pp. 91, 92, 93).

Waite wrote, "There's nothing more Satanic than altering or changing the Words of God" (Ibid., p. 107). Waite then implied that any revision or changing of the words of a translation [the KJV] was Satanic. The problem is that defenders of the KJV fail to see how their misinterpretations would make the revision of the early English translations by the KJV translators into something evil or Satanic.

Have the defenders of the KJV diligently compared the good English Bibles they put on their line or tree of good Bibles? If they had, they would know the KJV added over 100 words to the early good Bibles. Check Mark 11:26, Mark 15:3c, Luke 17:36, John 8:6, John 8:9b, John 8:59c, John 19:38c, James 4:6b, 1 John 2:23b, Revelation 18:23a, and Revelation 21:26. The KJV subtracted over 100 words from the first authorized Bible [the Great Bible] in the book of Acts alone. The KJV omitted three verses found in one of the Psalms in the Great Bible. The KJV also omitted the phrase "And he said to his disciples" (John 14:1) found in several of the early English Bibles.

The Church of England translators of the KJV also changed or revised many, many words in the former translations. According to the claimed principles of defenders of the KJV, some of these changes even involve important Bible doctrines.

Tyndale's Old Testament has the name "Jehovah" at least 14 times where the KJV does not. For example, Tyndale's, Matthew's, and Geneva Bibles have "the Lord Jehovah" at Exodus 23:17 while the KJV has "the Lord GOD." At Genesis 23:6, Tyndale's, Coverdale's, and Geneva have "prince of God" while the KJV has "mighty prince." In the margin of the 1611 edition, the KJV translators had the following note: "Hebr. a Prince of God."

Matthew's has "a fear sent of God" at 1 Samuel 14:15 while the KJV has "a very great trembling." Six early English Bibles have "wrath of God" at 1 Thessalonians 2:16 while the KJV only has "wrath." "Servings of God" is the rendering of five early English Bibles while "divine service" is the KJV rendering.

At 1 Thessalonians 4:2c, at least four English Bibles have "Lord Jesus Christ" while the KJV has "Lord Jesus." At Colossians 4:18, Wycliffe's and the Great Bible has "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" where the KJV has "grace." At Acts 10:48, the KJV has "Lord" where Wycliffe's has "Lord Jesus Christ."

While the KJV has "baptize with water" at John 1:33, some early English Bibles had "baptize in water." The claimed stronger word "damnation" in some of the early English Bibles was changed to the claimed weaker word "condemnation" in the KJV at Romans 5:16 and James 3:1. At Romans 10:21, several early English Bibles have "believeth not" while the KJV changed it to "disobedient."

When the facts are examined, it becomes obvious a claim that revision of a translation must involve corrupting or altering the Word of God is misleading at best. A consistent application of the KJV-only principle that any revision of the KJV involves adding to, subtracting from, or changing God's Word would likewise condemn the KJV since it added to, subtracted from, and changed the early English Bibles.

The former translations and revised version of 1611 provide the proof that the KJV-only view is incorrect in many of its claims. Would a correct view of Bible translation ignore the diligent comparison of the early English Bibles? Will a correct view of Bible translation view revision of earlier translations with only suspicion or with respect?

"The Lofty and Worthy Endeavor or Goal of the KJV Translators"

In their preface to the 1611 KJV, the translators stated that their endeavor or goal had been to make a good English translation better or to make out of many good English translations "one principal good one." Their mark or goal was a worthwhile one. They sought to revise and improve the early good English Bibles. If translators today attempt to accomplish such a goal, would it not be condemned by some as "pride" or as an attempt to corrupt God's Word?

The KJV translators were successful in improving or making the early English translations better in many places. Nevertheless, some important questions must be considered. Were the KJV translators infallible and perfect in all the revisions that they made of the early good Bibles? Did they actually improve the early good translations in every one of their changes? Is the KJV better, more accurate, and clearer in every verse than the early English Bibles?

Even if it were established that the KJV is much better overall than any one of the early translations, it would not prove that it is better in every rendering or every verse. One example of a clearer, more accurate, or better rendering in another translation would prove that the KJV is not a perfect translation.

Of course, anyone can make statements or claims that sound good. The important matter is whether the statements are established by the evidence. Consider the following examples:

At 2Peter 1:1c, the KJV reads, "the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Meanwhile, four early English translations [Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, & Taverner's] have "righteousness that cometh of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." Great, Whittingham's, Geneva, and Bishops' Bibles have "righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." Do these early Bibles teach the deity of Christ clearer at this verse than does the KJV?

At Romans 9:5b, the KJV has, "Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." Tyndale's and Matthew's read: Christ came, which is God over all things, blessed forever." Coverdale's and Whittingham's read: "Christ came, which is God over all, blessed for ever." Great and Bishops' Bibles read: "Christ came, which is God in all things to be praised forever." Geneva Bible reads: "Christ came, who is God over all blessed for ever." Is not the deity of Christ taught clearer in these early Bibles at this verse than in the KJV?

At 1Corinthians 14:4, several of the early English Bibles do not add the word "unknown" before "tongue" or "language." Did the adding of the word "unknown" in italics in the KJV make the understanding of this verse clearer?

While only one example is needed, a few more should establish the point beyond dispute. The same Hebrew word translated "fill" many times in the KJV was also translated "fill" in five of the early good Bibles at Genesis 1:28. At Leviticus 12:8, Coverdale's has "turtledoves" while the KJV has "turtles." At Exodus 5:8a, Tyndale's, Matthew's, and Geneva have "number" while the KJV has an archaic use of "tale." Coverdale's, Matthew's, and Great Bibles have "weapons" at 1Samuel 20:40a while the Geneva has "bows and arrows." Is the KJV rendering "artillery" clearer or better at this verse?

"Hateful" is the translation in the Geneva Bible at Proverbs 30:23 of a Hebrew word also translated 'hateful" in the KJV at Psalm 36:2 but rendered "odious" at this verse. At Isaiah 7:25, Wycliffe's, Coverdale's, and Geneva have "sheep" while the KJV has "lesser cattle." The same Hebrew word translated "bonnets" in the KJV at Isaiah 3:20 and Ezekiel 44:18 is translated "bonnet" at Ezekiel 24:17 in Coverdale's, but is translated "tire" in the KJV.

At 1Corinthians 10:25, Tyndale's, Matthew's, and Bishops' Bibles have "market" while Coverdale's and Great Bibles have "flesh market." The Douay-Rheims and KJV have "shambles" At James 3:4, Tyndale's, Matthew's, Great, and Bishops' Bibles have "will" while the KJV has an archaic word "listeth."

Does the evidence show that the KJV is better, clearer, or more accurate than all other English translations in every verse? The attempted endeavor of the KJV translators is worthy of respect. Nevertheless, the fact that they had a lofty goal does not mean they succeeded perfectly in accomplishing it.

The KJV translators did not claim to be perfect. Instead, they argued that the pope was not "free from error by special privilege" and that "he is subject to the same affections and infirmities that others are." The KJV translators would not have claimed some special privilege for themselves; and it is wrong for others to grant to them some unscriptural "special privilege" of being perfect in translating.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above article was posted on this Web site July 19, 1998.
The third section was added August 2, 1998.

Bible Versions Controversy: KJV-Onlyism
Bible Versions Controversy

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