The Origins of the KJV

I’ve been told by some KJV-only advocates that one reason they believe the KJV to be THE KING-JAMES-ONLY-115396838242English Bible is that they claim it has been purified 7 times and the Bible prophesied it would be so! Here’s one web site that explains their position. And their summary is:

The seven English versions that make the English Bibles up to and including the Authorized Version fit the description in Psalm 12:6 of the words of the Lord being “purified seven times” are Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, the Great Bible (printed by Whitechurch), the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the King James Bible.

The Wycliffe, Taverner, and Douay-Rheims Bibles, whatever merits any of them may have, are not part of the purified line God “authorized,” of which the King James Authorized Version is God’s last one — purified seven times.

They allude to but do not explain how they made these determinations, but conclude that the 1611 KJV is YHWH’s purified Word. I do find it curious that only English Bibles are included in their lineage of purified Bibles. What does the non-English speaking world do? As for the lineage of the KJV, there is no basis for argument. Here’s how HCSB: Navigating the Horizons in Bible Translations records it:

When in 1604 King James authorized a committee of scholars to publish a new Bible, he directed them to start with the Bishop’s Bible and retain what was already accurate and elegant and excellent, while consulting the original language sources to see if any modifications were necessary. In the introduction, Miles Smith states,

Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one . . . , but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark.

So the KJV, strictly speaking, is not a translation but a revision. In fact, it is a revision of a revision (Bishop’s Bible) of a revision (Great Bible) of a revision (Matthew’s Bible) of a revision (Coverdale’s Bible) of Tyndale’s translation. “A great deal of praise, therefore, that is given to it belongs to its predecessors. For the idiom and vocabulary, Tyndale deserves the greatest credit; for the melody and harmony, Coverdale; for scholarship and accuracy, the Geneva version.”

Yet the authorized version continued to undergo change. From the same book:

By the time the 1762 Cambridge and 1769 Oxford editions were printed, English spelling was standardized. There were nearly 24,000 changes from the 1611 editions.

Advocates of the KJV argue that the only changes were punctuation, spelling, and correction of printers’ errors. Even that would qualify as an “update.” However, also included in the 24,000 changes were around 1,500 significant changes.

Something I was unaware of is that many English Bibles relied on Latin rather than source language sources for most of the Old Testament:

in the chain of revisions from Tyndale’s Bible to the KJV, the last 34 books of the Old Testament were never translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic! Tyndale only translated the Pentateuch before he was martyred, and Coverdale translated the rest of the Old Testament from the Latin. Therefore, technically, even the RV, ASV, RSV, and ESV contain 34 books of the Old Testament that were originally translated from the Latin and then “carefully compared” to the Hebrew and Aramaic. (ibid)

With the recent availability of ancient manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls we have access to more and older manuscripts for nearly all of the Old and much of the New Testament. Part of the main goal of accuracy in translation deals with the target language; how can the idea given by God in Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew be best translated into today’s English? Advances in translation techniques and software in the late 20th century had given translators the best tools yet to ensure English Bibles deliver the meaning of the inspired texts given to His prophets and apostles.

Those who think English forms of speech from 500 years ago and the faulty sources used by the KJV, it is difficult for me to comprehend why some Christians think the KJV is the best and/or only English Bible we should use. It is a good English Bible, but it is not inspired. Once more from Hcsb: navigating the horizons in bible translations:

The first words of Pr 26:23 were always taken as “silver dross,” and it was hard to understand the sense of the verse. Then starting in the late 1920’s thousands of clay tablets were unearthed at Ras Shamra. The language turned out to be Ugaritic, and the tablets greatly increased our knowledge of Near Eastern poetry, Canaanite mythology, and Semitic vocabulary. The Ugaritic word spsg was discovered, which means “glaze.” By dividing the Hebrew differently, the first line can be translated, “Like glaze on an earthen vessel,” which is an apt comparison to “flattering lips with an evil heart.”

As archaeology and linguistics improve our understanding of the language and culture of the ancient Near East, at some point it becomes incumbent upon the English-speaking church to produce a new translation of God’s Word.

May God grant us wisdom to truly seek the meaning of His message to His people, and avoid treating any translation as a religious relic to be revered.

As a postscript, because some people commenting are mistaken in believing the KJV to be supreme, here is a short article examining errors in the KJV. It’s a good translation, but it is the product of man.