WHAT IS THE KJV?
The most popular and beloved version of the Bible has been the KJV, the King James Version, an English translation. It was first published in 1611AD, under the commission of King James I of England. He had formerly been King James VI of Scotland. His mother was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. In 1603, he became King James I of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. England had been kept in the Protestant fold by Queen Elizabeth, in spite of powerful attempts by the Roman Catholic Church and Spain to conquer it for the Pope. James was an interesting character, known for his profligacy, debauchery, and homsexuality. His legacy turned out to be the KJV Bible, but that was hardly to his credit. The motives for its publication were a little nefarious. A little history will help one to appreciate this subject better. The Bible had already been published in English, called the Geneva Bible of 1599. That Bible had margins filled with notes by some of the Reformers, namely, John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, and others. Those margin notes effectively argued against a doctrine which King James lived by, The Divine Right of Kings. He believed that if the people got a good king who treated them well, that was God's reward for their good behavior. If they got a bad king who treated them terribly, that then was their reward for bad behavior. In either case, they should accept their king as God's select ruler over them and serve obediently without complaint. So, he and the ecclesiastics of England initiated the printing of an English Bible which would omit those accursed margin notes. In 1611 the first King James Version was published. Except for the margin notes, it was pretty much the same text as the former Geneva Bible.
Many Christians today claim that the KJV is the only version inspired by God and they place it on their altars like an idol. They don't know how different it is from that first edition in 1611, nor are they open to any discussion of it. Neither is it my wish in this article to tarnish their object of worship. Rather, I would hope that by understanding this subject better, they might value the word of God even more highly, along with being able to discern more accurately what God's word might really be. God's Truth is more important than one's faith to a particular translation. My personal view is that most English versions are profitable for Bible study and for finding a relationship with our God and with our Savior. I believe the Holy Spirit of God can work wonderfully through ANY English version which is somewhat true to the original Greek text from which it was made.
For me, English versions are not satisfactory because I know they were deliberately corrupted and I know where the problems are and why. Furthermore, I am able to refer to the Greek text, which permits me to see the original. Anyone who looks to the Greek text will discover that it provides a special insight into God's Word that English translations do NOT provide. I don't think it is necessary to learn Greek in order to find God through the Bible, but for a seeker who wants to dig deeper into the Word, the Greek text is a most blessed source of information.
You need to know a little textual history. The first New Testament to be published in Greek text was prepared by a Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), published in 1516. Keep in mind that Gutenburg invented the printing press only about 1450, so printed texts were a brand new thing at that time. Since Erasmus could not find a written manuscript from which to work that contained the entire New Testament, he used pieces of many different manuscripts to compile his collection. It was done hastily and there were hundreds of typographical errors in his publication. For the book of Revelation, he couldn't get Greek manuscripts that were very usable, so he translated Jerome's Latin Vulgate INTO Greek! Well, Erasmus' self made Greek text has many readings which are not contained in ANY ancient manuscript. Sadly, some of those sections are still perpetuated today in printings of the so-called textus receptus which was the basis of the KJV.
Even in other parts of the NT, Erasmus sometimes put into his Greek text material taken from the Latin Vulgate. In Acts 9:6, Erasmus added to the verse these words, which are found in no other manuscript anywhere: "Lord, what wilt thou haue mee to doe?" (1611 KJV).
The second edition of Erasmus' Greek text became the basis of Luther's German translation. However, many theologians were outright hostile toward Erasmus poor quality production. One criticism leveled at Erasmus was that his Greek text did not contain part of the final chapter of I John, namely the Trinitarian statement, "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth. (I Jn 5:7-8) Erasmus replied that, although those words were in Jerome's Latin Vulgate, he had not found ANY Greek text source materials that contained them. Scholars refer to these words as the Comma Johanneum. In an unguarded moment, Erasmus said that if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained those words, then he would include them in his Greek N.T.. At length a Greek text was made to order by a Franciscan friar at Oxford, about 1520, who translated the words from the Latin Vulgate into Greek. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage into his 1522 edition, but he did include a footnote which said that a manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him. Today, even Roman Catholic scholars admit that the words do not belong in the Greek Testament. However, the latest version of the KJV, in 1881, continues to include them. Those words are, after all, essential to the religious doctrine of a Trinity.
Because Erasmus' Greek compilation was the first "on the market," it was most widely used and came to be called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). Following that , other men did more work on gathering of texts, and it was finally an edition by Stephanus in 1551 that divided the text into numbered verses. It has often been said that Stephanus must have divided the text into verses while riding on horseback and that the jogging horse bumped his pen.
In 1557 an English translation of the NT appeared in Geneva which included variant readings in the margins. Many Greek texts were published by several different people during the following years. One man, Theodore de Beze (1519-1605) compiled a Greek text which was that of Erasmus, in which the Preface reads, "the text which is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted." Based on that casual blurb in the Preface, that collection became known as the Received Text. That collection was accepted as "the only true text" of the New Testament. It was the basis for the King James version of 1611. Here is a quotation from a book in my library, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, by Bruce. M. Metzger. He writes, "So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege. Yet its textual basis is essentially a handful of late and haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages it reading is supported by no known Greek witness."
Since the invention of the printing press, and the publications by Erasmus and Beze, there was a widespread effort to collect all the Greek manuscripts from monasteries and libraries and museums throughout Europe and the Near East. Scholars would compare variant readings and tried to find that reading which was common to most witnesses (texts) and the oldest. During this time, and due to the widespread effort, the great Egyptian manuscripts were discovered, primarily, the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, and the Alexandrinus. The first two of those were complete Bibles in Greek, both the Old and New Testaments, and they agreed with each other very closely, and they were the most ancient manuscripts ever found. It is probable that they were some which were commissioned by Emperor Constantine following the Council at Nicaea. These are the best text witnesses of all. In comparing these with those collection by Erasmus, it becomes obvious that many variant readings were introduced by monks who copied from copies that were copies of copies for many generations. During that process of making copies, some errors were accidental and some were deliberate, or at least began as sidenotes added by scribes which later got copied as text.
One passage which is not supported by the older and better quality manuscripts is the Doxology portion of Matthew 6:13, "For Thine is the kingdome, and the power, and the glory, for euer, Amen." (KJV 1611) It was added by some well meaning scribe, along the way.
Another passage that does not exist in the old texts is John 8:1-11, which tells of a woman caught in adultery whom Jesus saved from being stoned. Someone added it along the way, and it got into the Textus Receptus and still gets printing in many English versions. The entire verse of Acts 8:37 does not exist in the old manuscripts. Neither does Acts 15:34.
A new version of the KJV was published in 1881 which updated the English language to be more vernacular, but kept the thees and thous. Some scholars criticized it because it did not stay true to the Textus Receptus which was used for the 1611 version, but rather, the 1881 KJV was translated from a text that had been compiled by Wescott & Hort who rated the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus to be more valid. They totally rejected claims that the Textus Receptus was the original form of the N.T. The KJV Bible known to Americans today is based on this work by Westcott & Hort which DOES use the oldest and best manuscripts instead of the Textus Receptus of Erasmus, and Beze. So, the blessed result of all this is that the KJV of 1881, which is the Bible in America today, is much improved over that 1611 translation from the Textus Receptus. However, the KJV of 1881 did retain those disputed passages of the 1611 version which have no ancient support and clearly had been added during the medieval ages by persons unknown.
One more passage which does not exist in any of the ancient manuscripts is that part of Mattthew 28:19 which says "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The original manuscripts had: "Therefore having gone, make disciples of all the nations (Greek word is "ethne" which means "tribes" of Israel.) , (v20) teaching them to keep all things whatsoever I commanded you. . ." The Trinitarian words were added during that period of history when the Roman Catholic Church was promoting that doctrine.
Also, the most ancient Greek manuscripts end the book of Mark with 16:8. The two endings, namely the Shorter Version, and the Longer Version, were added to manuscripts in later centuries.
That is just a brief essay about the KJV, a Bible which has supported the genuine Christian faiths of countless servants of God's will. My opinion is that the KJV is as good as any other English translation. If a truth-seeker wants to understand the passages better, he can obtain a Greek-English Interlinear and see a word for word translation from the Greek. I assure you that a comparison of the Greek with your English version will open your eyes to many obvious conflicts. Perhaps you will see how translators phrase their sentences in order to reflect their own personal beliefs. A translator can only word his sentences to the best that he can understand the original; and he sees the original through eyes that have already learned a set of religious doctrines. So, he will make Bible verses support that which he believes to be correct.
In conclusion, if you like the King James Version, by all means, continue with it. But, you might stay open to the fact that Jesus and everyone in the region spoke Greek and that the Greek text most accurately relates what Jesus said. Don't be so fearful that you lock out information which might shed light on your understanding.
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