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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The King James Version versus modern translations

Monday, I highlighted an online correspondence I had with a woman about the King JamesVersion of the Bible versus other translations. You can read that entry here. Today, I wanted to finish that correspondence with her last question and my response to it. She writes:

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So tell me Lenny, what is your take on the confusion that so many translations cause in churches? I for one cannot follow any preacher or speaker who uses a different translation. It breaks my heart that they want to take the beautiful Words and change them in to simplicity. I know it has confused people who are not saved too.
Let me take your question in parts and hopefully you can see just how difficult a job it is to translate any work, especially one from another culture and point in history. First, one must realize that any translation can never be perfect. One cannot simply change each word of the original into the corresponding word of the foreign language. Anyone who has translated a document using the Google Translate tool soon sees that you can get a lot of nonsense sentences this way. Words don't have an exact counterpart (for example, in Koine Greek, the pronoun is included in the verb, so one the phrase "I'm going" would have only one word), and words that are equal in one respect carry different ideas in another.

As an example, let's look at Amos 4:6 in the King James. Go d proclaims to Israel "And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." We read this and could be very confused. God gave them cleanness of teeth yet they still rebelled? God cares about their dental hygiene? Actually, no. The phrase is meant to imply that God gave them so little food, they were not eating enough for any to get stuck between their teeth. That's a big difference!

Secondly, there can be problems translating because the concept itself is foreign to the audience. When the Wycliffe translators went to provide Inuits who live in the Arctic regions of North America with a translation of the New Testament, they ran into a big problem: many of the items talked about in the Bible don't exist in the Artic. Inuits have never seen a sheep, but sheep and shepherds play a significant role in Biblical texts. So what does a translator do? He either brings real sheep to live among the all the Inuits across the continent or he seeks some familiar term that would come close to the original meaning. In the Inuit Bible, Jesus is called the "seal-pup of God" to show his purity and his obedience.

Lastly, even when we do have words for a text, language is not so static that they never change meaning. In the KJV, James 2:3 begins, "And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing." Is this a verse that promotes homosexual attire (whatever that may mean)? Obviously not, for the word gay has taken on a new meaning in the last fifty years. Many people give up reading the Bible because of all the thees and thous, which confuse readers since they are no longer part of modern speech.

Given all these challenges, new translations of the Bible are necessary to allow new readers to understand the text better. The King James translators themselves understood this and they make it clear that they are only providing their best interpretation of the text at the time. In the preface they wrote:
An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done... But, that we should expresse the same notion in the same particular word.
The most interesting thing in the King James Only debate is that when the KJV came out, people complained that it had deviated from the accepted translations that had come before it! Critics were upset that the translators were changing passages. In the preface they wrote:
Yet before we end, we must answere a third cavill and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our Taanslations [sic] so oft; wherein truely they deale hardly, and strangely with us. For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to goe over that which hee had done, and to amend it where he saw cause? Saint Augustine was not afraide to exhort S. Jerome to a Palinodia or recantation; the same S. Augustine was not ashamed to retractate, we might say revoke, many things that had passed him, and doth even glory that he seeth his infirmities. If we will be sonnes of the Trueth, we must consider what it speaketh, and trample upon our owne credit, yea, and upon other mens too, if either be any way an hinderance to it.
So, you see the discomfort with new translations applied to the KJV as much as it does to translations today.

I know that having many different translations can be confusing in a church service. However, you should see this as a blessing. We are not tied to only one group's understanding of the text. We can read several translations side by side and learn more about what the author intended even if we cannot read Greek or Hebrew. The translators of the King James were willing to "trample upon our owne credit" if their translation hindered people from the truth of God's word. We should therefore hold every translation as just that, an attempt by men to communicate God's word to another people in another language. Hold the originals as inspired, but remember the limitations of any translation.


  1. There could be issues deciphering on the grounds that the idea itself is remote to the crowd. At the point when the Wycliffe interpreters went to give Inuits who live in the Arctic areas of North America with an interpretation of the New Testament, they ran into a huge issue: a significant number of the things discussed in the Bible don't exist in the Artic. Danish Translation Services

  2. Thank you for this fantastic blog.


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