Back to Index
Is the King James Version Uniquely Inspired?
by Daryl E. Witmer
No. Only the words originally recorded by the human authors of Scripture were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Copies and translations of those original autographs were never inspired in the same sense of the word.
But I’ve been told that the King James Version (KJV) is the only true and reliable translation. Is that true?
No. If that was the case, think about it – only English-speaking people would ever have access to a reliable Bible. All Bible translation work in remote parts of the non-English-speaking world might as well be halted immediately. How absurd.
But isn’t it true that there is far more manuscript support for the KJV of 1611 than for other translations?
The KJV is based upon a Greek text of the New Testament known as the Textus Receptus (TR), or Received Text. But the TR is not the same as the Majority Text so-called, or the Byzantine text type family. The KJV translators actually worked with less than 50 MSS of the 5,358 total NT MSS and fragments that are available today. For the Old Testament they had only a few later Hebrew texts of the approximately 800 texts which are available today.
For that matter, the most likely reason that the majority of Greek manuscripts (MSS) are Byzantine in origin is because Latin superseded Greek in the West, Europe, and other areas (such as Alexandria in North Africa) as the common language, while in Byzantium the Greek language continued to predominate. Any time a language is less spoken there is obviously going to be less need for it to be translated, and therefore less translations made and surviving (extant).
Are you suggesting that even though most newer translations are based on a lesser number of total MSS, it is for perfectly understandable reasons, and that because the MSS on which they are based are often older, the newer translations actually enjoy a decided edge in terms of accuracy?
Well, it’s not always quite that simple, but what you’re saying is generally true. Anyone who has ever played the game of Gossip or Telephone Circle can appreciate the fact that the more often something is repeated (or copied), the greater the likelihood that a mistake (or embellishment) will be introduced, sometimes unintentionally and other times with all good intent.
But I once had a professor who said, “Doctrinal clarity is always to be preferred over how old a MSS may be. The fact that a MSS may happen to be dated earlier than another should not be the basis on which that MSS is considered preferable.”
Although it’s true that older is not al-ways better (the MSS might still be a poor copy), I would ask, “How are we to determine doctrine anyway-before or after we read the Bible? How can anyone know what doctrinal clarity is apart from knowing which MSS are most reliable, since doctrine should be grounded in Scripture, not vice-versa!”
Why did we ever need any additional translations anyway, if the KJV was reliable and sufficient for so long?
First, because language changes over time. Words today don’t always mean what they meant in 1611, e.g. 2 Corinthians 6:12.
Second, because God has allowed numerous additional MSS to come to light since 1611 – MSS which offer greater insight into what the original writings themselves actually said.
Do you have a bias against the KJV?
Not at all. I grew up using the KJV. I memorized many Bible passages from the KJV. The church in which I was baptized and first became a member used the KJV for uniform congregational Scripture readings. I still read from, study, and greatly appreciate the KJV. God used the KJV as the predominate version of His Word for over 300 years here in the West. The evidence alone convinced me of the justification for my views.
What translation do you prefer?
Since 1972 I have primarily used the New American Standard Bible (NASB) to which I was first introduced while studying at L’Abri in Switzerland. I am convinced that the NASB, ESV, and HCSB are three of the most accurate, literal, formal equivalent translations now available.
What resources would you recommend to an average person seeking to pursue this subject a bit further?
— The King James Version Debate by D.A. Carson, ©1979 Baker
AIIA’s Resource Library includes material from both sides of this issue, including books, videos, and references to and by pro-KJV advocates from David Otis Fuller to David H. Sorenson to Theodore Letis to Dell Johnson and Gail Riplinger.