Recently I presented a short YouTube video titled, “Did God Repent?” on the Grace Evangelical Society page. Here is one of the responses I received:
The only pure, perfect preserved Word of God is the KJV. Why do a word search in versions that have changed God’s words to hide verses? If a person did a word search on repent many verses would be missing because the word was changed to “relent.”
The anonymous correspondent fails to deal with my point that the KJV says both that God cannot repent (Num 23:19) and that God repented (Jonah 3:10). Surely some explanation is needed. Surely the word repent had more than one sense in 1769.
But for the purposes of this blog, I’d like to consider the question of whether the KJV is inspired.
If the KJV is inspired, then all translations into languages other than English should be from the KJV, not from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts.
And, if the KJV were inspired, and if the English language changed over the centuries, then the KJV would need to be translated into modern English. Otherwise, the readers would be misled by words that no longer mean what they meant in the 1611 (or 1769—more on that in a moment) version.
But King James Only (KJO) proponents adamantly resist any translation of the KJV into modern English. They are happy to have it translated into hundreds of other languages. And they are happy to translate it into modern versions of those languages instead of the 1611 versions of those languages.
Dr. Art Farstad was the lead editor of the New King James Version. He was my friend and a member of my board. Art told me that he was constrained to stick with the TR, the Textus Receptus. Erasmus had a handful of manuscripts that were used to translate the KJV in 1611. Art stuck with the TR even when the majority of manuscripts disagreed with it. What he was tasked to do, and what he did, was simply to update the language of the KJV to reflect modern English usage.
Art wrote an excellent book titled The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition (Thomas Nelson, 1989). He gave me a signed copy, which I treasure. In the book, Art points out that the KJV used today is not the first edition, published in 1611, as KJO advocates suggest. Instead, it is the Oxford Revision of 1769, which was the fourth revision of the KJV (p. 26).
The NKJV is the fifth revision of the KJV.
Back to our opening question. Is the KJV inspired? The answer is clearly no. There are many places in the KJV, especially in the book of Revelation, where the KJV contradicts the vast majority of manuscripts. One simple example is Rev 22:19. Did the Lord say, “and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life…” as the KJV and NKJV version read, or did He speak of losing one’s part from the tree of life? The vast majority of manuscripts (the Majority Text [MT]) read tree of life. Even the so-called Critical Text (CT) reads tree of life. The tree of life in Revelation is a reward for the overcomers (Rev 2:7; 22:14). The Book of Life in Revelation is a book that indicates who has everlasting life and who does not (Rev 20:15). The KJV reading at Rev 22:19 contradicts the message of John 3:16 and of Rev 22:17, just two verses before it.
The only inspired documents–that is, the original manuscripts written by the Biblical authors–are called the autographa. Copies of the autographa are not inspired. However, because we have so many excellent manuscripts, we can compare copies and come up with the correct reading in nearly every verse. No major issue of doctrine is impacted by differences between the CT and MT.
Let’s also consider a few examples of the meaning of an English word’s having changed drastically since 1769.
1 Thessalonians 4:15. The KJV reads, “…we which are alive…shall not prevent them which are asleep.” The NKJV has “…we who are alive…will by no means precede those who are asleep.” Prevent no longer means precede. In 1769 it did (dictionary.com).
Jeremiah 10:22. The KJV says, “Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion…to make…a den of dragons.” The NKJV says, “Behold, the noise of the report has come, and a great commotion…to make…a den of jackals.” Bruit meant report in 1769. It does not today. While dragons are mythical creatures, the word dragon was sometimes used archaically to refer to huge snakes, so the KJV translators were not introducing mythology into God’s Word! However, tan–the Hebrew word translated dragon–actually refers to wild animals that lived in desert regions.
Philippians 1:8. The KJV reads, “…I long after you in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” The NJKV reads, “…I long for you with the affection of Jesus Christ.” Only once in the NT does the Greek word splanchnon literally refer to bowels or entrails (Acts 1:18). The NT normally uses splanchnon figuratively to refer to the source of love or to affection (BDAG).
The King James Version is a translation. It was an amazing translation for its day and is still one of the best available today. And the NKJV is an amazing translation as well. But God did not inspire the Biblical authors to write in English.
I use the NJKV because it is the best major translation of the majority of manuscripts (see also the MEV). However, I know it is not inspired. No translation is inspired. For an article at GotQuestions.org on this question, see here.
One’s eternal destiny does not depend on being evangelized with the KJV or with any particular translation. A person can be born again if someone correctly explains John 3:16 from the NIV or even The Living Bible. One can also grow in the faith with any major English translation.
There are lots of places in various translations, however, where the translators change the meaning of the text to fit their theology. (For an example, see this article on theological bias creeping into translations of 1 Cor 5:11.) That is why I recommend the NKJV.