I'm cleaning up a transcription of a video lecture for a class. It is on the text of the Bible. I thought I'd post some of my comments in it on the King James Bible.
Let me talk for a second about the King James Version, because in some circles, the King James Version remains the version. Now in most churches, this is a debate of 40-50 years ago. Well, more like 30 or 40 years ago.
Most churches don't have an issue with what versions you use. Most churches would say, "Use whatever version in which you think you hear God's voice most clearly." Well, I don't know whether most would say that, but I would say most healthy churches have that view. Use the version of the Bible through which you hear God's voice the most. And if that's the King James, the New King James, that's great. If it's something else, that's great. You do hear people who are against The Message or against the TNIV. You do find a lot of that kind of version warfare out there.
And, and, some of that has to do with the philosophy of translation more than it has to do with the question of the text. Translation is a different subject. How do you translate? Do you translate very “woodenly,” or do you translate very freely. That's a different issue and one that will be covered elsewhere. This particular vidcast is about how the original text read. What were the words that were there and what were the words that weren't there? Of the variations among manuscripts, how did the original read?
And here, we basically only have two alternatives. There are two alternatives. To start off with, I'm going to call the old alternative the “King James alternative.” This is the textual tradition that has the ending of Mark, for example, Mark 16:9-20. This is the longer version. It has more verses, more words. Not a whole lot more. I mean, like I said, 90-plus percent the same.
You do have this one textual tradition that I'm going to call right now the King James tradition. And then the other one is everything else. That is, all the modern, pretty much all modern versions of the Bible. Basically you only have two choices when it comes to this question of how you think the original manuscripts of the Bible read.
And, and once you've made your decision as to which you buy into, then you're once again pretty clear about what the original text read, depending on which choice you make. If you go with the King James tradition, then you're pretty sure you know pretty much what the text read. If you go with the majority of modern translations, then you pretty much know what you think the original text read. But I want to, in this vidcast, explain what the issues are in making that choice.
The King James Version came out in 1611. If you were listening to this vidcast in 2011, that was the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. Of course, the King James Version that you would typically buy in a Christian bookstore is not the 1611 version. It was updated over the 150 years or so afterthe first King James came out. It was edited as many as five times. Not all of those were massive revisions, but now the King James Version that you would buy in a bookstore today is not the 1611 version.
So we want to make it very clear that the King James Version was never intended to be set in stone for all eternity. Now, over the first 200 years of its existence, there was an understanding that language changes, that things need to be updated. And so there are those who insist, "No, we must use the original King James Version in English. And we cannot even use the New King James Version." There are individuals who would say even the New King James Version shouldn't be used. That whole view reflects, just be honest, a, a pretty significant ignorance of how language functions.
Language changes. I mean the word, "Google," didn't exist in the English language 15 years ago, if you're listening to this in 2011. Language changes. Meanings change. Language doesn't mean the same thing. There are things in the King James Version that its readers probably think they understand, but don't, because the word doesn't mean the same thing. Now, when the King James Version says, "Let your conversation be known," it's not talking about speaking, like I'm doing now. The word “conversation” in 1789, or whenever the last King James revision was done, meant manner of conduct.
And so it's very easy to suppose that there are many King James Version users who think they understand what that verse means, when they don't even understand the English, because the English has changed meaning. Language has to be updated for it to be understood. And, eventually, of course, language changes to where you can't even understand the way people spoke before. Shakespearean English is very difficult for me to understand without some notes to explain. If you've ever read Beowulf, Beowulf is in English, but man, it's not an English that I speak.
Language changes. This the nature of things. And so it has to be updated if people are going to understand it. Either that or, eventually, you'll have to take a language class just to be able to understand the King James Version. We're at that now in terms of the everyday person on the street. They're not going to understand the King James for what it meant originally. So let’s just get that out of the way there.
But the King James Version was not the first English version by any means. In fact, it was a compromise translation between the Geneva Bible, which was actually the Bible of the Puritans, the Bible that was most popular among the English at the time, at least the English Puritans. And then there was the Bishops' Bible. The Bishops' Bible was resented by the Puritans because it had notes [they didn’t like]. Both of these Bibles had notes as I recall. The Geneva Bible had notes that were perceived to be against the king, anti-monarchist notes. The Bishops' Bible had notes that were perceived not to take the biblical text with enough authority.
And so King James, who was himself, probably not a particularly liked man, of course he didn't translate it. He just commissioned it. But King James commissioned this compromise translation. And it didn't catch on immediately. In fact, if I remember correctly, the Puritans who first came to America in the 1600s brought the Geneva Bible, not the King James Bible so much to America. But the King James Version did catch on and did become the primary English version...