The King James Bible remained supreme for a peak period of 250 years, from 1700 to 1950. During that time it became the only book in the world to exceed one billion copies.23
The first serious challenge to the King James Version appeared in 1885 when the English Revised Version was published in England. Its stated purpose was “to adapt the King James Version to the present state of the English language… and to the present standards of biblical scholarship.”24
The English Revised Version was noted for being the first Bible to ever be published without the Apocrypha (14 intertestament books). Until that time, all Bibles, both Protestant and Catholic — including the King James Bible — had been published with the Apocrypha.
American scholars followed suit in 1901 with the publication of the American Standard Version. It was nearly identical to the English Revised Version except for the much more frequent use of the term Jehovah in the Old Testament.25
By the mid-20th Century the wording of the King James Version had become antiquated to the point that many words were unintelligible and others actually meant the opposite of their original meaning. This serious problem prompted an explosion of new translations and paraphrases during the second half of the century.
Recent American Translations
The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament appeared in 1946. The Old Testament text came out in 1952.26 This version was denounced by conservatives as a “liberal translation.” Particularly controversial was its translation of Isaiah 7:14 where the word previously translated as “virgin” was changed to “young woman.” This Bible was quickly adopted by most of the mainline denominations.
In 1971 the complete New American Standard Bible was published.27 It constituted an extensive revision of the American Standard Bible of 1901. It was quickly adopted by Evangelicals because it is considered by many to be the most accurate word-for-word translation that has been produced in the English language. It was updated in 1995 to make it more readable.
The New International Version was published in full in 1973.28 It offered a “dynamic equivalent” conservative translation, meaning it sought thought-for-thought accuracy rather than word-for-word. It was also aimed at a junior high school reading level. It was ridiculed by Fundamentalists as the “Nearly Inspired Version,” but it has quickly become the best-selling modern-English translation.
The New King James Version appeared in 1982.29 It attempted to keep the basic wording of the old King James Version in order to appeal to King James loyalists. It replaced most of the obscure words and the Elizabethan “thee, thy, and thou” pronouns. There was also an attempt to update grammar, spelling, and word order.
The dawn of the 21st Century saw the publication of the English Standard Version in 2002.30 It represents a major attempt to bridge the gap between simple readability and the precise accuracy of the New American Standard Bible. And like the old Geneva Bible, the English Standard Version has been issued in the form of a phenomenal Study Bible (2008) that is full of charts, maps, diagrams, and explanations that run 2,750 pages in length!
In the final segment, we’ll continue celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible by responding to those who believe this version is the only viable translation.
23) Jeffcoat, “English Bible History,” page 7.
24) Wikipedia, “Revised Version,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Version, page 1.
25) Ibid., page 2.
26) Wikipedia, “Revised Standard Version,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Standard_version.
27) Wikipedia, “New American Standard Bible,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_American_Standard_Version.
28) Wikipedia, “New International Version,” http://en.wikipedia/wiki/New_International_Version.
29) Wikipedia, “New King James Version,” http://en.wikipedia/wiki/New_King_James_Version.
30) Jeffcoat, “English Bible History,” page 9.