Is the King James Version the Only Divinely Inspired Version?
Is the King James Version (KJV) the only divinely inspired English Bible? No. In fact, the Bible scholars who translated the KJV did not support this “King James Only” belief.1
In the original KJV Bible there was a lengthy introduction titled, “The translators to the reader.” In this introduction, the KJV translators explained their philosophy and beliefs about Bible translations. They wrote, “The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the inditer [writer], the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets.” Later they wrote that all truth must be tried by the original tongues, the Hebrew and Greek. So the King James translators believed that the authority of Scripture was in the original manuscripts. This is consistent with what Christians have believed throughout church history.
When the King James Bible was printed in 1611 there were many other English translations, just as there are today. The Wycliffe 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. In the KJV introduction, the Translators said they did not believe in condemning other translations. Referring to the other English versions they wrote, “Do we condemn the ancient? 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.”
Did the KJV translators think the other English Bibles were inspired? Yes. The King James translators wrote, “Nay, we affirm and avow that the meanest (worst) translation of the Bible in English is the Word of God.” So they believed that every translation was the inspired word of God, no matter how inferior others thought the translation might be. This is a very serious point. Even if we attack the poorest translation of the Word of God, we are guilty of attacking God’s Word.
The King James translators also wrote about the ongoing need to make new translations and revise old ones. They asked, “Who would have ever thought that was a fault? To amend it where he saw cause?” Later 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.” It is the translator’s business to continually update the language, not because God’s Word is outdated, but because English changes. That is why the King James translators immediately started to revise the 1611 edition and came out with another in 1613 and another in 1629.
“Truly, good Christian reader,” the KJV translators wrote, “We never thought from the beginning that we should need 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.” In other words, they said that the translations that England already had by William Tyndale, Coverdale and others were good translations. Their purpose was to build on the labors and works of others and try to improve them.
Some people think the KJV translators were inspired to make a perfect translation, which would be “God’s preserved word for the English-speaking people.” There is no hint that the KJV translators thought they were the only inspired group of translators. Rather, they saw themselves as imperfect, human translators trying to do their best. They said, “Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators…neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered.”
The KJV translators certainly were not “King James Only.” They wrote, “Variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures…” Using other versions is one of the best ways to study the Bible because different translations reveal the different shades of meaning found in the original texts.
When it was first published, the 1611 KJV was in up-to-date English. The KJV translators said, “But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language, that it may be understood even of the [uneducated people].” They avoided language that would “darken the sense” or make the message of the Bible unclear. Some four hundred years later, the NIV carries the same philosophy.
Some people today think that the Bible should only be read in Old English. Their idea is that because this version has been the most popular translation for past generations, it should also become the standard for future generations. Because of tradition, they object to a Bible that uses the same clear, understandable language as a textbook or a newspaper. But the KJV translators themselves would not agree. They would certainly be supportive of the modern English versions today. They believed the Bible should be in contemporary English. After all, that was their task–just as it is the task of the CBT today.
1 Excerpted from an article by Dr. Robert Joyner. The online source for this content is www.kjvonly.org/robert/joyner_were_the_kjv_pr.htm