The Bible Version Controversy

     Throughout the articles on this web site, we will be quoting from The Scriptures, a relatively new translation published by the Institute for Scripture Research. In addition, we will occasionally reference the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, as well as several modern, conservative translations, including the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and probably others. As a result, I feel it is important to explain right up front that the authors of this web site do not subscribe to the idea that the King James Version of the Bible (or any other translation, for that matter) is somehow more accurate, more faithful to the original texts or somehow objectively better than all other English translations.

     There are several very good translations of Scripture available in many different languages. If you personally happen to believe that the KJV is the ONE AND ONLY true, trustworthy and acceptable translation of Scripture and totally reject all other translations, then you're probably going to dismiss most of the articles on this web site out of hand. If this is the case, I pray that you will keep in mind that we are brothers and sisters in Messiah. We can have differing viewpoints on these matters while still loving one another as Elohim (God) loves us, if we have His Spirit within us and keep the right attitude in our hearts. That having been said, we hope this article helps to clarify our position on the Bible version controversy.

The Kings James Version

     For several hundred years, the King James Version of the Bible was the finest English translation in existence, and it served the English-speaking peoples of the world very well. But by the start of the Twentieth Century, it became increasingly clear that a new English translation was needed.

     For one thing, many Greek manuscripts of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) had been discovered that were much older than the ones the King James Version was based on. Also, thousands of other Greek language manuscripts dating from the First Century had also been discovered, and these manuscripts gave scholars a much better understanding of the meaning and nuances of Greek words at the time the Messianic Scriptures were written.

     But perhaps most importantly was the fact that the English language had changed drastically during the 300 years since 1611 when the King James Version was produced. Reading "King James English" was becoming increasingly difficult for English-speaking people. Many words had changed their meaning, and some had come to mean exactly the opposite of their original meaning.

What's in a Translation?

     We must keep in mind that the Bible was translated into English from three different languages -- Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. (Whether the Messianic Scriptures were originally written in Greek is another matter entirely, but please read the Introduction to the Scriptures for more regarding this.) The King James Version is a translation, and like all other translations, it has its strengths and weaknesses. It is not perfect. No translation is. The original "autographs" (as scholars call the original manuscripts) were inerrant, but all the subsequent translations contain errors. The King James translators admit this themselves in their introduction.

     There is no single English translation which is closest to the original text. For a start, we do not have an "original text". A complete original text for the Bible as we know it today most probably never existed in one volume. We have to reconstruct it from the many manuscripts, copies and ancient translations which have been preserved. Secondly, even if we did have an original text, it is impossible to get a completely accurate translation which encompasses all possible shades of meaning of a text and still keep it readable.

Formally Equivalent Translation

     There are, roughly speaking, three classes of Bible translation. The first we will discuss is the formally equivalent translation, commonly referred to as a "word for word" translation. I hesitate using the term "word for word" because it is VERY misleading. It is impossible to produce an exact word-for-word English translation of the Bible, where you translate one English word for one Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word, without inventing new English words as you go along (in which case the benefit is lost) or losing a lot of meaning.

     However, there do exist translations which work, in the words of Dr. Bruce Metzger (textual scholar and chair NRSV translation committee) "as literal as possible, as free as necessary". Such translations attempt to translate "word for word" where it is possible and practical to do so. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New American Standard Version (NASV) would fall into this category.

Dynamically Equivalent Translation

     The next type of Bible translation is the dynamically equivalent translation. As an example, we'll look at Luke 9:44, where Yahushua is delivering an important message about his betrayal and death. This is how he introduces it:

     Luke 9:44 (KJV): "Let these sayings sink down into your ears..."
     Luke 9:44 (NRSV): "Let these words sink into your ears..."
     Luke 9:44 (NIV): "Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you..."
     Luke 9:44 (NJ): "For your part, you must have these words constantly in mind..."

     The King James Version (KJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) have taken the formally equivalent rendering. The New International Version (NIV) and the New Jerusalem translation (NJ) have, rather that using an obscure colloquialism from first century Palestine, used words which have the equivalent MEANING. This does not make the translation wrong, and it should not be interpreted as an attempt to make the Bible "simpler". It is merely an attempt to clear up Greekisms or Hebrewisms which may mean nothing to the modern reader. The NIV and NJ are two examples of dynamic translations.

Concept for Concept Translation

     The last type of Bible translation we will be discussing is the concept for concept translation. Here the purpose is not so much to translate as to paraphrase. They usually interpret the text quite a lot (usually more than people would like). Under this heading would come such Bible versions as The Message, Today's English Version (Good News Bible), The New Living Translation, and so on.

     You may think that there is no need for Bible paraphrases, but they do actually have their uses. If the reader has a small vocabulary (for example, a young child or a recent migrant), paraphrases can be extremely useful in teaching Biblical concepts.

     As a whole, the KJV and the NKJV are somewhere in-between formal and dynamic translations. But even extremely formal translations such as the NRSV do translate dynamically sometimes. Let me rephrase that since it's such an important point: EVERY TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE "INTERPRETS" THE TEXT TO SOME DEGREE. In short, every translation has a "bias" (for lack of a better term), even the KJV.

Language Problems

     The "English" of the KJV is not the same language that we speak today. In fact, to get the most from the KJV effectively requires learning a whole other dialect. To demonstrate some of these changes in English, try to guess what the following words (all from the KJV) mean:

     amerce (Deuteronomy 22:19)
     brigadine (Jeremiah 46:4)
     chambering (Romans 13:13)
     churl (Isaiah 32:7)
     cockatrice (Isaiah 11:8)
     cotes (2 Chronicles 32:28)
     crookbackt (Leviticus 21:20)
     habergeon (Job 41:26)
     sackbut (Daniel 3:5)
     wist (Acts 12:9)
     wot (Romans 11:2)

     Here's a more serious example, where the KJV wording means something the precise OPPOSITE of what was intended if read by a modern reader:

     2 Thessalonians 2:7 (KJV): "...he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way."
     2 Thessalonians 2:7 (NIV): "...the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until he is taken out of the way."

     Or how about these examples? What do these verses seem to say to a modern reader?

     Psalms 5:6 (KJV): "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing."
     1 Kings 11:1 (KJV): "Solomon loved many strange women."
     Ezekiel 27:25 (KJV): "The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market."

     Please understand that this is not an attempt to knock the KJV as a translation. All of the above examples are due to changes in the English language. To a reader in 1611 (or, more correctly, 1769, since the KJV in use today by most people is Blayney's revision), these would all have made perfect sense. To our modern eyes, they make no sense.

Textual Differences

     Since the time of the KJV, many thousands of Biblical manuscripts and fragments which are older than those used to form the KJV text have been discovered. Early witnesses to many Messianic Scripture books, the Dead Sea texts (including the complete texts of Isaiah and Habakkuk) and others have been analyzed, which means we now have a much better idea of the content of the original texts. In addition, advances in Biblical studies (especially the Hebrew language) have meant that even more accurate translations are now possible.

     In the case of the Messianic Scriptures (where most of the attacks on modern translations are leveled), the text used for the KJV was the so-called "Textus Receptus" (TR), or "received text", compiled by the great scholar Desiderius Erasmus. More modern translations are usually based on one of the United Bible Societies Greek texts (latest edition is 4th) or the Nestle-Aland text (latest edition is the 27th). They are essentially identical for the most part.

     The two most celebrated examples of textual differences between the TR and the modern texts are the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) and the last verse of Revelation (Revelation 22:16-21). In the case of 1 John, there is only one Greek manuscript which supports the TR/KJV reading (and it is generally considered to be unreliable), and in the case of Revelation, there are NO Greek manuscripts which support the TR/KJV reading. Erasmus could not find any manuscripts with the verses on them, so he translated back to Greek from his copy of the Latin Vulgate.

Which Translation to Use?

     As to which translation is the best to use, I don't believe there can be a single correct answer to that question. I'm certainly not suggesting that those who use the KJV are somehow wrong in their choice. There are many factors which go into the choice of which Bible you buy, including what your church uses, layout, font size, availability of other materials (concordances, etc) and so on. Whatever translation your own church uses is a big factor, since it is often a good idea to get a copy of whatever translation they use in order to make group study easier. However, if you read the KJV exclusively because you believe it to be the closest English version to the original text as possible, I would suggest reading James White's book, "The King James Only Controversy", which can cover much more material on this topic than we can in this article.

     My own advice, for whatever it's worth, is not to rely on only one translation when embarking on any serious Bible study. You should get at least two translations and compare them. I would suggest one "formal" translation (such as the NRSV) and one "dynamic" translation (like the NIV). It's also a good idea to learn the limitations of whatever translations that you use.

     I personally happen to read from several translations. At my church, we read from the KJV/Amplified Parallel Bible, since our pastor reads from each and it's convenient to have both translations side by side. For group Bible studies, we usually read from either the NIV or the NRSV Study Bibles, and occasionally will read from the NLT for a broader perspective or for devotional reading. For my own personal studies, I tend to use The Scriptures (mentioned above), with occasional references to the KJV cross-referenced with Strong's Exhaustive Concordance.


     With all this talk about different versions of the Bible, it is important to establish the reasons we must read it. You might have a version translated by the angel Gabriel himself, but if it sits dusty on your coffee table or in the drawer of your nightstand, you have gained nothing. It is clear that the Bible that will do you the most good is one that you actually read, and read faithfully. A poor version, well read, is of far more value than a fantastic translation never touched.

     There are people all over the English-speaking world who use the King James Version of the Bible. If this is your favorite translation, I don't want to dissuade you from the choice you have made. But if you are a person who sees no merit in modern translations, I hope at the very least to have given you cause to investigate the matter further. Our greatest desire is peace and an end to division within the body of Messiah. Let's not end up like the church at Corinth, each saying, "I follow X", "I follow Y". Instead, we should seek unity with one another in the mind of Messiah.
     And I appeal to you, brothers, by the Name of our Master Yahushua Messiah, that you all agree, and that there be no division among you, but that you be knit together in the same mind and in the same opinion. (1 Corinthians 1:10, The Scriptures)




"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."

Your comments are welcome!