June 16, 2015

Modern English Bibles

A friend of recently made a post on Facebook which implied without stating directly that the only English version of the Bible worth reading is the King James Bible. I wrote this little essay in response and decided to preserve it here as well (with a few small edits).


Modern English Bibles

While it is true that there are differences between the King James Version of the English Bible and the various other modern English translations, in almost every case these differences occur because of inclusions in the King James Version from the Latin Vulgate that do not appear in any Greek texts (or at the very least, not in the majority of Greek texts).

There are essentially three "original" versions of the Old Testament (two Hebrew, one Greek). The last time I checked (in 2010 or so) there were several hundred "original" versions of the New Testament (encompassing around 50,000 Greek texts). The King James Version translators relied on one Hebrew Torah (Old Testament), the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), and a compilation of broken Greek texts assembled in Rome known as Textus Receptus, as well as the Latin Vulgate. A dramatically smaller pool of available material.

Luke 4:4, for example, quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The only "original" text that includes "by every word of God" in Luke 4:4 is the Latin Vulgate, clearly indicating it was added to the Latin at some point in the past, possibly as a clarification. (1 John 5:7 has a similar problem, the King James Version matches the Latin Vulgate and none of the Greek texts.)

The King James Version is a wonderful translation. But it is no more or less "accurate" than any other non-paraphrased English version. The Revised Standard Version and New World Translation are the only two modern versions of the Bible that I personally have some quarrel with. Both of those began life as simple revisions of the King James Version with "consultation" of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The idea behind the New King James Version amuses me, but if someone wants to insist on the King James Version, the 1611 edition ought to be good enough.

My personal study Bible is the Archaeological Study Bible in New International Version. It is no more or less "perfect" or "accurate" than any other, but the format and study notes appeal to the historian in me.

It is worth remembering that King James, the person who paid for the King James Version translation, was Catholic. It always amuses me when Protestant sects insist the King James Version is the "only" accurate translation. The King James Version was created solely for the purpose of countering the Geneva Bible which in the 16th Century had become the defacto translation for English Protestant Churches, including the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. In colonial days, the King James Version was prohibited in many of colonies because it was considered a "profane Catholic text". One of the earliest conflicts resolved by the First Amendment was the freedom to distribute King James Version bibles throughout the new nation.


Luke 4:4 (KJV)
And Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."

Luke 4:4 (NIV)
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone'."

Deuteronomy 8:3 (KJV)
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIV)
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

1 John 5:6-9 (KJV)
This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

1 John 5:6-9 (NIV)
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.