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Q&A #36 - Is it true that "the KJV is the only one we should use?"
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Question/insight #36-A: "I believe you tried to put together a good web site, but in all respect, Christ said he would preserve his word, and he did so by inspiring the men who wrote it and translated it. To believe otherwise would be foolish, and I don't know how you could be saved?!! The KJV is the only one we should use! You claim to use it, but you don't stand on it? what are you telling people who are asking which one to use when you're witnessing? The one that suits you best!! Please......."
Thanks for your email.
You wrote: "The KJV is the only one we should use!"
Which King James Version do you suggest that we all use? Is your KJV Bible the one that includes the Apocrypha and marginal notes with their many suggested textual corrections, like the original 1611 KJV did? Or does your KJV use the Cambridge KJV text? Or does it use the Oxford KJV text? Or does it use the American Bible Society's KJV text? (The Cambridge, Oxford, and ABS texts of the KJV all have differences between them.) Or are you using the original 1611 KJV edition, where spelling and punctuation is quite different from any of the modern editions of the KJV?
You also wrote, "Christ said he would preserve his word, and he did so by inspiring the men who wrote it and translated it. To believe otherwise would be foolish, and I don't know how you could be saved?!!"
If you really believe this, then the Wycliffe Bible (the first translation of the whole Bible into English), the Coverdale Bible (the completion of Tyndale's work), the Geneva Bible (used by the Pilgrims at Plymouth and by Shakespeare), the Bishops Bible, and all of the other English Bibles that preceded the KJV are also worthy of study. And so are the NRSV, the TEV, the NAB, the REB, and all of the other Bibles that were later translated into English. Christ must have been "inspiring" the translators of those Bibles, too.
Your statement certainly would not want to limit Christ's ability in "inspiring" only the translators of the KJV. Tyndale and others who predated the KJV literally sacrificed their lives to translate the Bible from ancient languages into English. (Approximately 80% of the KJV text came from Tyndale's translation.) "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…" It is certainly appropriate to honor and thank God for all those who have sacrificed their lives to make the word of God intelligible to others. (As Bruce Metzger, the chair of the NRSV translation committee, frequently points out regarding the occasional book burnings of non-KJV Bibles, "Fortunately today they only burn the translation and not the translator.")
To be saved, does one needs to be able to read English -- in order to read the KJV's English translation? That would mean that James, Peter, John, Paul, and all the other early Christians were never saved. It would also exclude Martin Luther from salvation. (He was too early for the KJV, and I'm not too sure that he knew English.) That would mean that those who only speak Chinese, or Swahili, or Spanish, or Russian cannot be saved.
Is there no value in studying the original texts -- where the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and where the New Testament was originally written entirely in Greek? If we were to find the very Greek manuscript on which Paul originally wrote his letter to the church in Galatia, should we not be grateful to be able to study it in its original Greek? Or would it be of lesser value, because it is not the KJV translation of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians? If reading the original texts would be of value, would not preaching and translating from those original texts also be of value?
In that letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote (as found in the KJV, Gal 3:26-28):
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul did not say that we are children of God by faith in the King James Version of the Bible. (He himself would not have even been able to read the KJV.) He said, "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
In the spirit of what Paul wrote, could we not also say, "There is neither a KJV-only Christian or an NRSV-only Christian, there is neither an English speaking-and-reading Christian or an Arabic speaking-and-reading Christian, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
Our early Christian brothers and sisters were less concerned with the exact wording and more concerned with the good news the words conveyed. They never believed that the Word of God could be confined or contained in the words of humans, in any language. God and his Word are too big for that to be possible. It is wonderful that we have in the Bible two versions of something as important as the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). They are not only different versions in the KJV and modern translations, but they are very different versions in the original Greek of Matthew and Luke, too.
Though the Word of God is forever stable, civilizations, cultures, and languages do change over time, and our preaching and teaching the Word of God to others necessarily must be in the vernacular of those to whom we are ministering, just as the early Christians spoke and wrote in the vernacular of the public of their day. We need to preach, read to, and thus edify unbelievers in the language that they will understand, as Paul encouraged in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians. Most people, especially "those that are unlearned, or unbelievers," (1 Corinthians 14:23) cannot understand many of the words of the KJV. In such cases, our reading or quoting from the KJV does not edify the "unlearned, or unbelievers" as we should.
You also wrote: "You claim to use it, but you don't stand on it? what are you telling people who are asking which one to use when you're witnessing? the one that suits you best!!"
Actually the KJV and all modern translations of the Bible have their individual strengths. I would always prefer to consult the original Hebrew and Greek texts. "The Word of God" [in Greek: "Ho Logos to Theou"] is not subject to the words of translators. On the other hand, the translators (and all of us) are subject to the Word of God. Paul wisely wrote (as expressed in the KJV, 1Co 13:1,2, 8-10, 13):
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing… 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away… 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Of course, the Greek word translated "charity" in the KJV is "agape," which is the highest form of love. (It is exactly the same Greek word that is used in 1 John 4:16, "God is love.") The Today's English Version translates Paul's Greek text of 1 Corinthians this way:
1 I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains-but if I have no love, I am nothing… 8 Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. 9 For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; 10 but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear… 13 Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
As Christian brothers, faith, hope, and love are what unite us, "and the greatest of these is love."
I value your love of God and your Christian ministry. As was the case of Paul with his differences with James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:8-14), we may have different practices and different fields of ministry, but we are united in fellowship with Christ.
Follow-up question/insight #36-B: You are correct in that my statement on your salvationi was harsh, but I wasn't talking of the old texts before the 1611 Bible or the Greek and so on. My understanding is that you were saying the NIV, the Ebonics Bible, the Rap Bible, and the new Bible with foul language (though I'm unsure of its name) are alright, because the new learner is not capable of understanding the scripture in the KJV, and this I strongly disagree with. And my statement was made in anger, and I apoligize. And no, I don't think every new text of the Bible is inspired by God; it is in fact a manner for false doctrine to have open doors by excluding certain scripture. All new texts these days claim to make it easy to understand, when in fact they leave out things or leave things open, so to speak, so false doctrines can feel better about themselves. Well, I must be going. Thank you for your time.
Follow-up response #36-B:
Thanks for your additional email.
My understanding is that you were saying the NIV, the Ebonics Bible, the Rap Bible, and the new Bible with foul language (though I'm unsure of its name) are alright, because the new learner is not capable of understanding the scripture in the KJV, and this I strongly disagree with.
I very much agree with you that there are modern versions that distort what the Hebrew and Greek say -- to serve the purposes of their own agendas, which are sometimes at odds with an honest understanding of the biblical texts.
You also wrote:
I don't think every new text of the Bible is inspired by God; it is in fact a manner for false doctrine to have open doors by excluding certain scripture. All new texts these days claim to make it easy to understand, when in fact they leave out things or leave things open, so to speak, so false doctrines can feel better about themselves.
I agree with you that not every new translation of the Bible is inspired and that some do teach false doctrines to suit themselves or their audience. I really believe that an honest understanding of the scriptures would enable more Christians to unite in genuine fellowship.
Some Bibles, like the Contemporary English Version (CEV), do leave words and phrases out to keep the vocabulary easier for those who have limited reading skills. That also makes such translations more susceptible to the false interpretations of scripture and to propping up particular theological positions. However, most modern translations that I have seen do honestly represent what was in the original texts, even if they don't always translate it very well.
If one only reads the KJV, it may appear that modern translations leave out parts of verses or even whole verses. It's not really modern versions that leave out those verses; instead, it is the KJV that includes parts of verses or even whole verses that were not in the original texts. A brief summary of some of those verses and parts of verses that were added (or omitted) can be found on the following webpage:
The KJV translators were quite faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts that were available to them at in the beginning of the Seventeen Century, but older ancient manuscripts that since then have been found throughout the Middle East and Europe have shown that the Hebrew and Greek texts that the KJV translators used are not the most accurate representation of the original texts. Thus, the KJV translation sometimes adds or changes wording that was in the original texts. We need to take the original texts (rather than the KJV) as the standard for what the Bible teaches. More details on this can be found on the following webpage:
A very helpful Bible study aid that is available from the American Bible Society (ABS) is A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by Bruce Metzger. (The ABS's toll free phone number is 800-322-4253.) That book describes in detail how the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament committee (including Dr. Metzger) determined what best represents the original Greek text of the New Testament. Verse by verse the book has detailed notes about the variety of wording in the thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts (and those in other ancient languages) that have been found. Some manuscripts go back as far as the beginning of the Second Century.
Metzger's book explains why the Greek New Testament committee concluded that a particular Greek wording best represents the original texts. From that book you can also learn what century a particular reading was added to the Greek texts. You are also able to see that some of the Greek additions that were translated into the KJV and other Bibles did not appear anywhere in the world until they appeared in Western Europe in the 16th Century, just before the KJV was translated.
The traditions that we have been taught, even though they were taught to us by sincere, honest, deeply Christian people, do not always represent what is entirely correct. On the otherhand, regardless of whether one uses only one Bible version or many Bible versions, the true test of following Jesus is in our actually following what Jesus taught and lived. This is clearly stated in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21): "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." And this is restated in a slightly different way in the Gospel of John 8:31,32, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
I am very grateful for your love of God and for our fellowship in Christ.
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer