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!
The Response of King James Defenders
As you can see, there has been a flood of new translations since 1950, and the listing above does not contain paraphrases that range from the conservative (The Living Bible) to the liberal (The Message). Nor have I listed a number of very liberal translations. When you consider the sudden appearance of all these translations, there can be no doubt that people are seeking Bibles they can easily understand.
All these new Bibles have prompted King James users to dig in their heels. They greet every new version with derision and harsh criticism. Often their attacks get out of hand as they dub the new versions “Satan inspired.” Some even argue that the King James Version is a sacred, inerrant translation and that it is therefore the only “perfect” translation that exists today.31 Any survey of the history of English Bibles like the one I have presented above makes the King James perfection claim a laugh.
The more responsible critics usually point to what they call the “erosion” of the New Testament by the modern translations. They argue that the Greek text for the New Testament that was compiled by Erasmus (1466-1536) and published in 1516 is the only proper basis for a New Testament translation, and they point out that it was what was used for the King James Version. This text became known as the Textus Receptus.
They then attack the modern translations for abandoning the Textus Receptus and relying instead on the Greek text compiled by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort and published in 1881. They argue that although the Westcott and Hort version is based upon much earlier manuscripts than those used by Erasmus, the manuscripts are unreliable because they are “Catholic manuscripts.” This accusation is based on the fact that one of the manuscripts was found at a Catholic monastery in the Sinai desert and the other at the Vatican in Rome.
These attacks on the Westcott-Hort text are really irrelevant, for although the Westcott-Hort text was the “standard” critical Greek text for a couple of generations, it is no longer considered as such, and it has not served as the New Testament text for any of the modern translations. The standard text today is the Nestle-Aland text (1st edition in 1898; 27th edition, 1993).
The truth of the matter is that none of the Greek texts are perfect. They represent a pasting together of segments of the most ancient manuscripts. Erasmus did his best, but there have been thousands of manuscripts discovered since he put together his compilation, and many of those are much older than anything he had to work with. Furthermore, none of the differences in the compilations have any effect on the basic doctrines and truths of the New Testament.
The King James defenders need to keep in mind that the major purpose of the new conservative translations is twofold: greater accuracy and easier-to-understand language. How can you fault those aims? Here’s how one person has summed it up:32
We must remember that the main purpose of the Protestant Reformation was to get the Bible out of the chains of being trapped in an ancient language that few could understand, and into the modern, spoken, conversational language of the present day. William Tyndale fought and died for the right to print the Bible in the common, spoken, modern English tongue of his day…
Will we now go backwards and seek to imprison God’s Word once again exclusively in ancient translations?
Thanks to the King James Version
We are all beholden to the leaders of the Reformation Movement who were so determined to get the Bible in the hands of the people and in translations they could easily read and understand.
We also owe a great debt to the King James Version and the impact it has had on both the Church and Western Civilization. It was a Great Bible for its day and time. It has served the English speaking peoples well for the several centuries when it was the dominant translation (from 1700 to 1950).
The time has come to lay it to rest with honor and dignity and with heartfelt thanks. It has stamped our language indelibly. It has inspired many generations. Most important, it has opened the door to God for millions of people by delivering them from spiritual darkness into the light of the glory of Jesus Christ.
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.
31) For an example of a “KJV Only” article, see: James L. Melton, “How I Know the King James Bible is the Word of God,” www.avi611.org/kjv/knowkjv.html.
32) Jeffcoat, “English Bible History,” page 9.