REPORT OF THE SPECIAL SEMINARY COMMITTEE ON A THOROUGH
STUDY OF THE NEW KING JAMES AND OTHER BIBLE VERSIONS, APRIL 1983
In April of 1982 a resolution was passed by the B.M.A. of America giving the faculty of the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary the challenging assignment of making a thorough study of The New King James Version of the Bible, and the almost superhuman task of forming a judgmental decision of its true value, and of reporting the findings of the special committee through the various denominational papers.
The Seminary faculty has spent much time in prayer over this awesome responsibility, has asked God to direct the research, and has striven to be honest before God in formulating the conclusions reached. In every undertaking of this nature there are likely to be varying degrees of acceptance of the report. The Seminary professors involved in the study did not ask for the assignment, but as servants of the Association they have felt obligated to do what they were asked to do, with the hope that their report will be received with sympathetic understanding and open minds.
Much of the material covered in their research has already been recorded as facts of history; for example, the following statements of truth:
1. It is a fact that all Bibles in the world are merely translations of the most ancient manuscripts and/or revisions of previous versions;
2. The original manuscripts, inscribed by about forty authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books and under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, no longer exist for comparative purposes;
3. Some Bible versions translated from the most ancient texts are excellent works and acceptable to a number of Christians;
4. Some Bible versions are poorly done, contain numerous errors, and are unacceptable;
5. In various human efforts to translate from the same oldest manuscripts available, one translator’s work has often differed from that of another
6. There were approximately 24,000 differences in punctuation and text found in the four major revisions of the King James Bible from 1613 to 1769;
7. The King James Version in common use today is not identical to the 1611 original, but is the one which in 1769 was made official in an effort to standardize it and to discourage further revisions.
The nine Seminary faculty members who participated in this diligent and honest research present their findings and conclusions as follows:
I. MANUSCRIPT SOURCES FOR THE KING JAMES VERSION
Until the invention of the printing press with moveable type and renewal of interest in the classical languages during the Renaissance and Reformation periods, few copies of the Bible were available to scholars, much less to the general public, and these were primarily in Latin. Soon, however, the 1522 third edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament became the foundation for what was later called the “Textus Receptus,” thus creating a standard for versions that came after Erasmus. However, the perpetuating textual tradition was begun by William Tyndale in 1525. Nine-tenths of the 1611 Authorized Version came from Tyndale’s English translation. Also from Tyndale’s work came the Great Bible of 1539, the first English Authorized Version, by order of King Henry VIII.
Other versions followed. However, the first printed edition of the entire Bible in the English language was that of Coverdale, published in 1536. Translators of the King James Bible made use of the works of Erasmus, Tyndale and Coverdale and studied other Bible versions, as Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. Although previous versions and texts came down to us in the King James, it was mostly a revision of the Bishop’s Bible, the 1568 revision by Archbishop Parker and the one officially used in the Church of England. The King James Bible of1611 is itself one of the best proofs of the value of Bible revisions.
The King James Bible is wrongfully referred to as the original. Translators of it fully recognized the fact that numerous Bibles, including several in the English language, existed before their 1611 version. Their lengthy preface (no longer included in recent editions) to the 1611 Bible strictly ruled out the idea that the King James was the “original Bible,” even in English. They examined Bibles in French, German, Italian and Spanish, all previous versions in English or otherwise, the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, and even the Rhemish or Roman Catholic Bible in search of a correct rendering of the Scriptures. Through all the versions and revisions God still preserved His inerrant Word.
Because God has had constant oversight of the Bible, it can be said without fear of contradiction that the Scriptures have been handed down to every generation in a pure enough form to engender trustworthiness in the message which they contain. The King James versions from 1611 to 1769 and The New King James Version, as well as some other versions listed below, have been faithful to this trust.
II. TRANSLATORS AND REVISERS OF THE 1611 AND 1982 VERSIONS
In January, 1604, King James, the ruler of the British Isles, assigned fifty-four eminent scholars the task of revising the Bishop’s Bible. Because of death and voluntary withdrawal, only forty-seven men were involved in the completion of the task. Those selected were Oxford and Cambridge University professors, Anglican (Church of England) and Puritan ministers, and the most “learned” men of the “church.”
Those who were commissioned by King James to work on a new and improved Bible version were men with special skills and learning in Hebrew and Greek. Also, they were from the established (state) church, although some had Puritan leanings. In a sense their Bible was to be a Church of England version. All of them had to have the approval of the king and the Church of England hierarchy.
On the other hand, out of more than 130 scholars, editors, and church leaders enlisted to work on The New King James Version, 119 persisted in completing the task. Before they were commissioned each one had to sign a statement of faith declaring belief that the “Scriptures in their entirety are the uniquely inspired Word of God, free from error in their original autographs.” Those who were selected represented a multiplicity of religious backgrounds–Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, and others.
In spite of the careful planning, the backing of the king’s authority, and the care with which the 54 translators were selected, the original King James Version of 1611 took about forty years to become established. It met with heavy competition from the Geneva Version. This was the Bible favored by Queen Elizabeth and the Puritans, and also the one brought by the Pilgrims to America in 1620. Between 1611-1982 about 250 different versions of the Bible have been offered to the public. The 1769 King James Version remains the best seller. As a fifth revised edition of the King James, The New King James Version of 1982 will also face competition. How long will it take for it to be accepted?
III. WORD AND PHRASE DIFFERENCES OF THE 1769 AND 1982 VERSIONS
It has already been pointed out that there were approximately 24,000 differences found in the first four major revisions of the King James Bible. With each new version corrections were made in punctuation and sometimes alterations of the text. It took time and change to give us the improved King James Bible in common use today.
The New King James Version contains every verse of the original 1611 translation of the Old and New Testaments and is based upon the same ancient texts. It conforms to the literary style of the 1611 Bible. The sequence and identity of the words and phrases of the new edition are much clearer, yet they hold closely to the traditional structure. While modernizing the vocabulary, the scholars maintained the lyrical quality and the graceful, often musical arrangement of the original King James. With remarkable ease one can listen to the reading of either version while following the other. As to word order, the policy of The New King James Version was that the more famous a passage is, the less change allowed, such as John 3:16 and Psalm 23. Theological terms were retained in their original form throughout. Important words such as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption are an integral part of Christian vocabulary and therefore were not changed.
In The New King James Version archaisms have been removed and the original meanings of words have been restored. Updated verb forms, pronouns, punctuation and format improve clarity without detracting from the literary excellence for which the King James Version is known. “Sheweth” reads “shows.” “Thee,” “thou” and “thy” read “you” and “your.” When referring to God, “You” and “Your” are capitalized.
Following are some of the changes made in the Old Testament to improve clarity. The mythical dragon (Job 30:29), cocatrice (Isa. 11:8), and unicorn (Job 39:9) have all rightly been replaced with their proper meanings of jackals, “viper,” and “wild ox.” The obsolete “fourscore and five” is updated to the modern equivalent of “eighty-five” (2 Kings 19:35), and the same procedure is followed for other outdated expressions of numbers. Verses such as Prov. 27:16, “Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind, and the ointment of his right hand bewrayeth him,” which is quite obscure in the King James Version have been made understandable in a vivid way such as in this verse by “whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand” in The New King James Version.
In the Old Testament good examples of the change from archaic words that are no longer understood are found in Exodus 25-28; “knops” is made clear by “knobs,” 25:33-35; “taches,” by” clasps,” 26:6,11; fillets, by “bands,” 27:10,11; “ouches of gold,” by “settings of gold,” 28:13,14;and “habergeon,” by “coat of mail,” 28:32. There are many other such Old Testament improvements in language form, but these will suffice for examples.
The New Testament of The New King James Version also is made more clear to the average reader. Acts 28:13 is a good example of the type of revision made. The King James Versionreads: “And from thence we fetched a compass.” The New King James Version reads: “From there we circled round.”
In the New Testament “letteth” and “let” of 2 Thes. 2:7 are made understandable by today’s opposite meaning, “restrains” and “restrain.” “Charity” of I Cor. 13 reads “love” as it appeared in the Tyndale Bible before King James, “sheweth” is “show” and “Holy Ghost” is “Holy Spirit.” Over 200 words of the King James Bible before 1982 have changed their meanings, some to the very opposite.
The New Testament quotation of Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” is made even more emphatic in The New King James Version by conforming to the ancient manuscripts in saying, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive.” This even more clearly affirms the virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Passages expressing the deity of Christ remain virtually unchanged from the 1769 version. In Romans 1:3 a slight change is made in an effort to express the Greek original in more meaningful English terms. The Greek literally translates “who was born” of the seed of David in this newest King James instead of “which was made” in the King James Version of 1769.
In Philippians 2:10, where the Greek does not distinguish between personal and impersonal things, the old translation reads, “of ‘things’ in heaven, and ‘things’ in earth, and ‘things’ under the earth.” The context, however, clearly suggests that people are in view (every knee should bow, and every tongue confess). The New King James Version, therefore, translates as follows: “of those’ in heaven, and of ‘those’ on earth, and of ‘those’ under the earth.” In Philippians 2:8 the words of the original version, “And being found in ‘fashion’ as a man,” are changed to–“And being found in ‘appearance’ as a man.” This seems to be an improvement by conforming more to the Greek schemati (outward form, likeness, nature, etc.).
The new version consistently translates hilasterion and its derivatives as “propitiation” and not sometimes as “reconciliation” like the 1769 version (Heb. 2:17). A change was made in the somewhat difficult phrase of Romans 3:25 which from the Greek literally reads, “through the passing over of the having occurred previously sins.” The reading from the 1769 version, “for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God,” has been changed to–“because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,” thus conforming more to the Greek.
In realms of eschatology, the Greek word apokalupsis, translated in the 1769 as either “coming,” “appearing,” or “revelation,” is consistently rendered “revelation” in The New King James Version (See I Pet. 1:7; I Cor. 1:7).
IV. VALUE OF THE 1769 AND 1982 KING JAMES VERSIONS
The Authorized (King James) Version became the English Bible of the vast majority of the Bible-reading public. It has been the Bible for preaching, memorization, commentaries, and most other Biblical pursuits short of scholarly studies in the original tongues. In the King James Version we have an English masterpiece on the level of the ancient Septuagint for the Greek-speaking world and of the Vulgate for the Latin-speaking world.
However, the King James Version has many real difficulties of comprehension for young people who do not have a solid foundation in English literature. The New King James Version also faces some difficulties with regard to commentaries and concordances adapted to the original King James. Even though the word order in both versions is very similar, there will be small adjustments in memorization, responsive readings, and other liturgical activities.
It may be said that The New King James Version from the standpoint of being written more in the common language of today is an improvement over the 1769 version. Many things that would be a mystery or misunderstood by the new Bible student and ordinary layman are made clear in the new version. Ministers would not have to explain that certain words in the time of King James meant the opposite of what they mean today, as “letteth” and “let” in 2 Thes. 2:7. The new version correctly changes “letteth” to “restrains.”
Some Bible students would consider the style and format of The New King James Version to be an improvement, while others might not. The traditional verse divisions were retained, but paragraphs are indicated by verse numbers in bold face italics. The words of Christ are in red, but it is a brick tone that is less blatant. There are not as many italicized words as in the original King James, but use of italics was to denote words supposed to make the English read more smoothly. Old Testament quotations are printed in oblique type with the reference in a footnote.
The New King James Version uses a modern format to enhance the clarity of the message. Non-interpretative subject headings identify topics and transitions in Biblical context, making those portions much easier to locate. Distinctive indentations are used to set apart specialized literature, such as the Ten Commandments, and to highlight the important elements of that section. Poetic passages, as the Psalms, are written in poetic form.
A definite advantage in The New King James Version is that it shows textual variants in the Majority Text and Nestle’s Text in footnotes at the bottom of the page, the most complete set of footnotes found in any English Bible today. This is very important to the serious Bible student. By way of comparison this fifth version of the King James Bible is as much the 1769 version presently used as the 1769 edition was the 1611 edition. Changes have occurred in all the improved versions from the second edition shortly after 1611 to the current edition in 1982. All are King James versions and might be considered revisions of their predecessors as the 1611 version was of the Bishop’s Bible. There is no reason why they should not be compatible and exist side by side. “Compatible” means capable of existing together in harmony. The New King James Version may never replace the Authorized Version, but they can exist together in harmony until a better version is found.
The special study committee does not recommend any substitute for the 1769 King James Bible now in use. However, in all candidness the committee must say that The New King James Version poses no danger to the reader. It seems to be as faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts as the earlier versions. It compares favorably verse by verse with the 1769 Authorized Version. Its publishers claim that it has preserved “the 1611 King James for the 20th century readers without violating the theological integrity, the majestic grandeur, and the lyrical cadence of the original.” This may well be true.
For those Bible readers who want to use or only occasionally refer to a modern language version, the special committee can honestly recommend The New King James Version to be safe for their pursuit of divine truth.
V. EVALUATION OF SOME MODERN POPULAR VERSIONS
In the last thirty years more than forty modern language versions of the Bible have been published. Some of them are reliable for the Christian to use, and others are not. It is the belief of the Seminary special faculty committee that BMA Baptists want in a Bible what God literally said and all that He inspired men to write, but not what some person or persons supposed God meant to say. The following lists are incomplete, but they will give some idea of how different versions may be approached.
VERSIONS THAT SHOULD BE APPROACHED WITH CAUTION
l. The Revised Standard Version was the work of thirty-two scholars. First published was the New Testament in 1946, and after six years of editing it was followed by the whole Bible in 1952. Although the revisers made use of Masoretic Hebrew, the Aramaic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and of more ancient manuscripts than those available in 1611, as well as a large body of Greek papyri that helped to recover more of the original Greek text and to make consideration of its language more certain, this version still has its failings.
One of the disputed features of the Revised Standard Version was the unwise translation of the Hebrew almah in Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” Also, when the revisers believed that the original reading was not found in either the traditional Hebrew text or in the ancient versions, they arrived at their supposed reading by conjectural reconstruction. This was assuming too much liberty in dealing with God’s Word, and it makes that version even more unacceptable.
2. The Good News Bible, or Good News for Modern Man, was the work of Robert G. Bratcher and a Translations Committee of the American Bible Society. The New Testament was issued in 1966. Although the language used is clear, natural, simple, and ambiguous, it is not a word for word translation, but is what some call an equivalent translation. As was planned, changes have been made in all four of the later editions, with as many as 700-800 in the second. It is partly oriented to please the Women’s Liberation movement by changing the words “man” and “men” to impersonal terms where the male is not the sole intent.
3. The New English Bible was begun as a cooperative effort of churches in the British Isles. After thirteen years of work the New Testament was published in 1961, with the whole Bible following in 1970. The ambitious goal of the translators was that of producing a completely new translation” of the best available Greek text into the current speech of our time, and a rendering that should harvest the gains of recent biblical scholarship.” This version makes frequent use of paraphrase. The revisers chose what they deemed the best rendering when more than one interpretation was possible. Readers, especially those who are not familiar with the original languages, are at the mercy of random choice. The scholars depended more upon other versions than earlier English Bibles did. They unjustifiably practiced giving Jewish feasts the names of Christian festivities, such as “Whitsuntide” (I Cor. 16:8). In several places they also have made changes in expressions that refer to days of the week; for example, “Saturday” instead of “Sabbath” (Acts 20:7); “Sunday” instead of “first day of the week” (Luke 24:1) and “Friday” instead of “day of preparation ” (Matthew 27:62). The free method of translation rather than word for word was used by them. Sometimes many words were used to translate just one word from the Hebrew or Greek texts. It took twenty English words to translate the nine words of Job 9:34. This Bible uses both paraphrase and free translation methods, thus making it less dependable than some others.
4. The Living Bible Paraphrased was the result of sixteen years of work by Kenneth N. Taylor. Portions of it were released from 1962 to 1970, and the whole Bible was published in 1971. Taylor planned to make continuous revisions of this work and to offer them to the public. It is difficult even to think of this as being a Bible, since it is merely a paraphrase. Bible paraphrases like this and The Good News Bible should always be used in conjunction with a bona fide and acceptable version such as those mentioned below.
In a paraphrase something is said in different words than those found in the original, thus restating the thoughts of an original author in order to arrive at what he meant. The Living Bible Paraphrased can hardly be the Word of God although it may contain portions of Scripture. It is what it declares itself to be–a paraphrase of the Bible, and not a translation.
5. The Reader’s Digest Bible was published in 1982. Its basic text is the Revised Standard Version, about forty percent of which was left out. In the preface the editors state that it is not intended to replace the full biblical text. They state that they were concerned “with every individual word of the text every phrase, sentence, paragraph and chapter, as well as the larger portions or blocks of texts in relation to both the immediate context and to the whole.”
Reverend Bruce M. Metzger, the General Editor says, “Nothing has been changed. . . nothing added to or removed from the text that in any way diminished its spirit, its teachings or the familiar ring of its language.” He also certifies “that the work has been thoroughly objective, without bias toward or against any particular sect or beliefs.” Some regard it as made up of Bible excerpts. However, it is what it claims to be–a free digest of the Bible.
VERSIONS THAT MAY BE APPROACHED WITH CONFIDENCE
1. The New International Bible of 1978 is included here because of its popularity and its reverential approach to the Word of God. It is too good a work to be placed with the adverse versions listed above. However, due to its theory of “dynamic equivalent” translation, its reliability as an authoritative text might be questioned by some Bible scholars.
This version was the work of fifteen scholars, the Committee of Bible Translations, from various denominations. The New Testament portion was issued in 1973, and the whole Bible was published in 1978. This version, designed for old or young and for private or public reading, is easy to read and comprehend. Masoretic manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient versions were used in the work. It seems to have been faithful in preserving both the theology and other subject matter of the originals. It has done much to update the language to that of modern usage. Awkward constructions are few in number. Its approach is straightforward, clear and reliable. Colloquial expressions are usually avoided in order to maintain its dignity as the Word of God.
2. The American Standard Version was begun in 1872 by a group of American scholars representing nine denominations. The object was “to make a good translation better, and to bring it up to the present standard of Biblical scholarship.” After twenty-nine years of work this Bible was published in 1901. Variant readings of the Greek text were discussed and studied by the revisers, and the oldest manuscripts were consulted in preparing the finished product. Although it inconsistently translates some Hebrew and Greek words into different but synonymous English words, it has changed a number of archaic English words for the better, while at the same time being faithful to the subject matter and the original texts.
3. The New American Standard Bible, the work of fifty-eight anonymous scholars, appeared as the New Testament in 1963 and as the whole Bible in 1970. It was an improved version of the American Standard Version, making use of the Dead Sea Scrolls which were not available at the time of the earlier version. Both, however, followed versional readings less than the Revised Standard Version did. As a whole the New American Standard Bible makes use of grammatically correct, contemporary English. It appears to be a faithful version and is a conservative and literal word for word translation of the Scriptures.
4. The New King James Version has already been discussed. The New Testament portion was published in 1979 and the whole Bible in 1982. The 119 scholars working on it were under the auspices of the American division of Thomas Nelson and Sons. The new American company which was purchased from the English based publishers was much more conservative and turned to the King James Bible for the basis of its new version. The scholars had as their goal to allow only minor word changes from the original languages and avoided paraphrasing and what some call “thought translation.” They showed profound reverence for the text and form of the 1611 version in its presently used 1769 edition. The New King James is a Bible for conservative, Bible-believing Christians.
5. Although the original King James Bible, also called Authorized Version, is not a recent work, it is included here as one of the versions that can be approached with confidence, in spite of its archaic words, many of which have lost their original meaning.
When the 1611 version was published, it employed the English of the Elizabethan Age. Because of the rapid change of that language and its increased vocabulary, some words that lost their past meaning had to be replaced in later versions. A few of the words that disappeared from the common language of the people were anon, fain, goodman, graff, list, mete, pap, script, strait, trow, wist and wot. They were omitted from later versions. The English language continues its rapid change and at such a rate that it is hard for modern language versions to keep up.
The purpose of the original King James Bible of 1611 was to produce a Bible in the language of the common people, one that even children and the uneducated could understand. If King James and the scholars whom he commissioned to translate the 1611 version of the Holy Bible were now living and in similar authority as then, he would authorize them to translate the Bible into the language of our time, so that even the poorly educated could read and better understand it. That was their goal then, and it would be their goal now.
In spite of other good and accurate versions, the nine BMA Seminary professors who worked on this study do not recommend any substitute for the 1769 version of the 1611 King James Bible, but for those Bible readers and students who want to use or occasionally refer to a modern language version, they can honestly express that some modern versions, including The New King James Version, are safe for the pursuit of divine truth.
Scholarly Bible study will not stop at present versions and their sources, but will make use of the oldest and most recently discovered manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the languages in which the Bible was written, and of even older manuscripts than those now available as they are discovered. One day some of the original autographs may be found.
So far as we can determine, none of the above versions that can be approached with confidence change the theology or subject matter contained in the most ancient and reliable Bible manuscripts. From the time of the original autographs; the Bible has gone through many stylistic and word changes and has been translated into many languages, but it still remains the Word of God wherever men possess it and read it.
Prepared for B.M.A. of America by Committee on Bible Versions,
Louis F. Asher
Wilbur K. Benningfield
James C. Blaylock
Dr. Philip R. Bryan
Dr. Kenny Lee Digby
Dr. John W. Duggar
Dr. Buster Ray Jackson
Dr. Gregory W. Parsons