WERE THE KING JAMES TRANSLATORS KJV ONLY?
by Dr. Robert Joyner
There is a group today that is called the King James Only. This is because they insist that the King James Version is the preserved Word of God and the only Bible for the English speaking people. They usually attack all other versions and delight in pointing out the errors in them.
I want to raise and answer the question, is this the position of the King James translators? If I can prove that the King James translators disagreed with the King James Only group in every point, then the KJV Only group does not have a leg to stand on. They base everything on the King James translators. The KJV advocates revere and lift them to the high heavens. They were superior translators, they say. You can see how inconsistent it is to be KJV Only and believe the opposite of what the KJV translators themselves believed.
In the original 1611 KJV there are eleven pages in the front called, THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER. (See appendix A) In this introduction, the translators explained their philosophy and beliefs about Bible translations. I want to use their introduction, taking the translatorsí own words and show you that they disagreed with the KJV Only group in every point. In the remainder of this chapter, when a page number is given, it refers to the place where the quote can be found in THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER, included in the back of this book. (Note: The old English has been updated for readability.)
THEY BELIEVED THE AUTHORITY WAS IN THE ORIGINALS
On page 3 of THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER, the King James translators said, "The original there being from heaven, not from the earth, the authorís being God, not man, the editor, the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the apostles." (See Appendix A, quote 1) Also on the bottom of page 9 and on the top of page 10 they said that all truth must be tried by the original tongues, the Hebrew and Greek. So the King James translators said the authority was in the originals. This is what Christians have believed throughout Church history.
On the other hand, the KJV Only group says, "No one has the originals. Have you ever seen the originals? No. You must trust the King James translation as the final authority." This assertion contradicts the KJV translators.
I do not have the original ten dollar bill but I will take all the copies you will give me. I have never seen the original constitution of the United States but thank God I have all the benefits of it. So we do not have the original copy the apostles wrote but we have around 5,000 copies of it and every word of God has been preserved in them. We do not have the original manuscripts but we do have the original words. We do not need the original copy, the first copy. If we had it some people would make an idol of it, Iím sure. By the way, no one has the original copy (the first manuscript) of the 1611 KJV, though many copies of the first printing exist.
The point is, the KJV translators believed the final authority was in the original Hebrew and Greek, not in any translation, including their own. "The original being from HeavenÖThe author being God, not men."
THEY BELIEVED TRANSLATORS WERE NOT INSPIRED
On page 4 the KJV translators said the Septuagint translators were interpreters. (See Appendix A, quote 2) They were not prophets. They did many things as learned men but yet as men they stumbled and fell. So the King James translators believed that translation was a purely human work. They made mistakes.
THEY DID NOT BELIEVE IN CONDEMNING OTHER VERSIONS
On page 6 the King James Translators refer to all the other English versions they had in that day. They say, "Do we condemn the ancient?Ö We are so far from condemning any of their labors, that translated before us, either in this land or beyond the sea. We acknowledge them to have been raised up of God for the building and furnishing of His church." (See Appendix A, quote 3) So the King James translators did not believe in condemning other translations. We dare not condemn any translation, they say, unlike many people today.
The Wycliff English Bible came out in 1382, the Tyndale Bible in 1525, the Coverdale in 1535, the Rogers Bible in 1537, the Great Bible in 1539, the Geneva in 1560 and the Bishops in 1568. So when the King James Bible came out in 1611 there were many English translations just as there are today. But the King James translators did not condemn any. They did not consider other versions to be a curse but said "they had been raised up by God for the furnishing of His church." They did not believe in pointing out errors and belittling other versions of the Bible. This applied to English Translations and "those beyond the sea." They would be totally against attacking other translations like many people are doing today.
THEY BELIEVED ALL TRANSLATIONS WERE THE WORD OF GOD
On page 7, the King James translators say, "Nay, we affirm and avow that the meanest translation of the Bible in English is the word of God." (See Appendix A, quote 4) When they say "meanest" they mean the poorest, the worst. So they believed that every translation was the word of God, no matter how many mistakes it had. This is the exact opposite of those who believe the King James is the only Bible for the English speaking people. Those who revere the King James translators so much believe just the opposite of what the translators themselves believed.
The translators gave several illustrations to make their point. They said the kingís speech translated into another language is still the kingís speech. A person can be a good person and yet have some imperfections. Someone can be a nice looking person and yet have warts or freckles, they said. And so, likewise, a translation of the Bible may have mistakes but it is still the word of God. They never said that God had promised us a perfect translation in English.
This is a very serious point. Because if the poorest translation is the word of God, then if we attack it we are attacking Godís Word. Many people are doing this today. They are blaspheming Godís Word. The King James translators would not belittle and attack the NIV or the NASB as many people do. They had more sense.
Dear reader, be careful how you attack other versions. The King James translators believed you are attacking the Word of God. Do not blaspheme Godís Word or support those who do.
JESUS AND THE APOSTLES DID NOT ATTACK BAD TRANSLATIONS
On page 7 the King James translators said that the Septuagint, or the Seventy, "was faulty in many places. It descended from the original and did not come near it in grandeur or majesty." In other words, the Greek translation which Jesus and the apostles used was not a good translation but they did not try to tear down peopleís confidence in it. "Yet which of the apostles did condemn it? Condemn it! Nay! They used it." (page 7 & 8)(See Appendix A, quote 5)
The point is that Jesus and the apostles had a faulty translation but they never put it down. They used it and quoted from it. They did not go around tearing down bad translations as some people do today.
Do not blaspheme and attack Godís Word just because the translators made some mistakes. Jesus and the apostles did not believe in attacking other translations. The King James translators did not believe in doing that either.
THEY BELIEVED IN MAKING NEW TRANSLATIONS OFTEN
On page 8 the King James translators talk about making new translations. They ask, "Who would have ever thought that was a fault? To amend it where he saw cause?" Then they say, "That is our business. The difference that appears between our translation and our often correcting of them is the thing that we are especially charged with." (See Appendix A, quote 6) It is the translatorís business to continually update the language, not because Godís Word is outdated, but because English changes. The English language has changed some in my lifetime. Young people do not use the same expressions as when I was a teenager. In the book, THE KING JAMES BIBLE WORD BOOK, by Ronald Bridges and Luther Weigle, the authors list 827 words that are obsolete or archaic.
Translators are not supposed to make one translation and go into retirement. It is their business to make new translations and keep them updated. That is the reason the King James translators immediately started to revise the 1611 edition and came out with another in 1613 and another in 1629 (when they left out the Apocrypha).
After reading what the KJV translators have said, I feel sure they would favor the New King James Version over the 1769 version that we use today. They said the Bible should be in the common vernacular of the people. (Page 11)
By the way, the King James Version is a British translation, not an American translation. There are a few English words that have a different meaning from ours. For example, if you go into a restaurant in England and ask for a napkin, they will give you a baby diaper.
THEY WERE NOT INSPIRED THEY SIMPLY REVISED
The KJV translators said on page 9, "Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should needs to make a new translation, or yet to make a bad one, a good one. But to make good ones better or out of many good ones, one principal good one." (See Appendix A, quote 7) In other words, they said that the translations that England already had by William Tyndale, Coverdale and others were good translations. Their purpose was never to make a new translation, they said. Their purpose was to build on the labors and works of others and try to improve them. The KJV translators said the others were good translations and they tried to make them better so England could have a common Bible. They certainly succeeded in that. Thank God for the way the King James Bible has been used in so many wonderful ways. But remember, the translators did not set out to make a new inspired version. All they did was revise and update. They took the Tyndale, Cloverdale, Geneva Bible, the Pilgrim Bible and the Bishops Bible, and updated them to make a composite Bible called the 1611 King James version. That was their purpose all along. Some people think they were inspired to make a perfect translation which would be "Godís preserved word for the English speaking people." This belief contradicts the King James translators. Their purpose was "to make good ones better or to make one principal good one."
There is no hint the translators thought they were inspired or anything but human translators trying to do their best. They said, "Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or CommentatorsÖneither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered?" (page 10)
THEY BELIEVED IN PUTTING VARYING READINGS IN THE MARGIN
On page 10 we read, "Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scripture for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point." (See Appendix A, quote 8)
Critics object to the marginal readings in modern versions. The KJV translators included them in the 1611 version and in the TO THE READER section that we are considering now. They said a personís judgment was not sound on this point if they disagreed.
THEY DID NOT BELIEVE VARYING TRANSLATIONS AFFECTED DOCTRINE
The KJV translators said on page 10, "It hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment." (See Appendix A, quote 9)
Because every Bible doctrine is mentioned over and over, it is not possible for a mistranslation in one place to change the teaching of Scripture. No Bible doctrine is dependent on one passage. For example, the Second Coming of Christ is mentioned in over 300 places. If a passage or two were incorrectly translated or left out, still the Bible is clear, Jesus is coming again.
The KJV translators understood this truth and said the various readings did not affect "doctrinal points but in matters of less moment."
THEY SAID A VARIETY OF TRANSLATIONS WERE NECESSARY
Many People today are "King James Only." The KJV translators certainly were not. They said on page 10 that a "Variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the ScripturesÖmust needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded." (See Appendix A, quote 10)
There you have it from the KJV translators themselves. They believed in using other translations. They "do good." They are "necessary."
Certainly other translations have helped me to understand many passages in Godís word. Using other versions is one of the best study helps there is. KJV advocates would deprive Godís people of this help.
THEY BELIEVED SCRIPTURE SHOULD BE IN COMMON LANGUAGE
Many people today think the Bible should be in old, out dated English. They object to a Bible that reads like a newspaper, in modern English.
I hate to burst your bubble but the KJV translators believed the Bible should be in modern English. The 1611 KJV was in the most up to date English when it came out.
The KJV translators said on page 11, "But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar." (See Appendix A, quote 11) They had just said how they avoided language that "darken the sense." The translators were clear, they wanted to put the scripture in the vernacular of the person on the street. They wanted the language to be so simple and up to date it could be understood by "even the very vulgar" (common, simple or uneducated). They would certainly be supportive of the modern English versions today.
What a shame today that so many exalt the KJV translators to lofty heights and yet contradict everything they stood for when it comes to Bible translations. What inconsistency!
Review what these wise men said. It is the same thing Christians have believed down through the centuries. You would be wise to stand with them and not with modern fanatics who go contrary to the very translators they depend upon so much.