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|Five Questions about the Authorised (King James) Version|
by Philip Hopkins
[Ed. note: The answers to the following points were prepared in 2017 by our then Editorial Director, Philip Hopkins. At the December 2017 meeting of the General Committee these answers were accepted as TBS policy and approved for publication (with slight adjustments to the format) in the Quarterly Record magazine. The answers have undergone further editing for publication as a stand-alone article.]
The following points were raised through our Canadian branch, but we know that the Society’s supporters across the world may have had these specific queries or similar questions on their minds. We hope that the publication of the Society’s responses to these points will be of help in understanding our position on these matters.
1. Is it not better to translate the Word into languages that are still lacking the Scriptures in the vernacular rather than revising extant versions?
The Society is dependent on the Lord raising up suitably qualified men to undertake the very difficult and responsible task of Bible translation and revision, and for bringing them into contact with us. (It should be added that in such work we regard spiritual qualifications as being even more important than academic credentials.) We are therefore guided by which personnel the Lord brings into our pathway in answer to prayer. From time to time we do actively take the initiative to seek out men for particular projects and languages, but in the overwhelming majority of cases the Lord brings us the contacts and the projects. This being the case we bow to the Lord’s sovereign will, whether the personnel brought to us are seeking to revise a corrupt version in their language or desiring to prepare a faithful copy of God’s Word in their tongue for the first time.
It should also be stated that the Society’s aim is to prepare faithful editions of the Scriptures for circulation. Therefore in all our revision projects we are not merely updating the language but bringing the text into closer conformity to the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Greek Received Text of the New Testament. For example, in both our Persian Bible and Spanish Bible revision projects we discovered dozens of instances in the older editions we were revising where the Greek Critical Text had been used and these places thus needed to be thoroughly revised to conform to the Received Text.
It is our privilege to be a handmaid to the churches across the world and to be engaged in supporting them to prepare faithful editions of God’s Word in their languages, whether that is by way of revising an existing edition or preparing a fresh translation. However, we leave God to set the priorities for us through His provision of suitable personnel and the resources to carry out the work.
2. The Society is engaged in revising Bibles in several languages such as the French, Chinese and Bulgarian but does not seem to see a need to revise the Authorised (King James) Version. How can she claim that the Authorised Version needs no revision while other versions dating from roughly the same time period do need revision or retranslation?
As mentioned before, in the revision projects the Society undertakes it is not merely to update the language but often primarily to bring the text closer to the Biblical Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Texts. The Society does not claim perfection for the Authorised (King James) Version, but we have examined it and are convinced that it does not need textual revision since it is a thoroughly accurate translation of the underlying Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Texts.
Furthermore, in a number of the languages in which the Society is revising (or has revised) older editions of the Scriptures such as the Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and French, there are established and recognised national or international language academies which set down and establish rules of grammar and spelling. The conventions that these language academies institute quickly pass into usage such that we are almost obliged in some languages to update our work in response to these changes. English has no such equivalent academic or linguistic body controlling the language. There is not one supreme authority in the English language which could dictate grammar, spelling or usage right across the English-speaking world.
In some of the languages in which the Society is working (or has been working), such as Chinese, Spanish, Maltese, Persian, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian, the pace and extent of change far exceeds what we have seen in English. Some of these languages have changed far more in one hundred years—often at the behest of governments and language academies—than English has changed in four hundred years. Far-reaching changes in some of these languages have included the introduction of new alphabet scripts and new conventions for spelling and grammar. Furthermore in English the AV and its Biblical terminology has permeated to a far greater extent in wider society than in almost any other language, meaning again that the need for linguistic revision of the AV is far less than for equivalent seventeenth-century Bibles in most other languages.
It also has to be stated that throughout the English-speaking world there are not to be found scholars with the level of godliness and classical education as were available in the days when the AV was prepared. A few years of Greek and Hebrew at Bible college today do not equate to the lifelong study of these languages enjoyed by the translators of the AV, many of whom were learning Greek from the age of five and Hebrew from the age of ten and to a far higher standard than we see in today’s education systems.
Furthermore the great majority of modern Biblical scholars hold to the Greek Critical Text and would also tend to use the Septuagint and other sources to correct the Hebrew Masoretic Text, thus in practice denying the Providential preservation of Holy Scripture. Such scholars would therefore not be sympathetic towards the Society’s textual position and would not be suitable to work on any revision by the Society of the AV.
Moreover there is no consensus among the English-speaking churches today as there was in the days of King James I of England when everyone engaged in preparing the AV—even with the involvement of both Puritans and High Churchmen—operated within the Anglican Church and under the authority of the king. Today, English-speaking Christianity is massively fractured and fragmented, and it would be an almost impossible task to gather together a strong team of sufficiently-qualified men who would hold the widespread respect and support of English-speaking Christendom. Realistically the work of any revision committee that could be set up today, even if supported by the Society, would only find acceptance amongst a minority of our support base, let alone the wider AV-using Christian public.
Moreover, the extent of any revision and its parameters would be extremely difficult to define and to keep within bounds. The retention of the singular pronouns ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ‘thy’, etc., is an essential and helpful feature of accuracy pertaining to the AV, coming as it does from the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts. Any right-thinking revision committee should surely retain this useful and distinctive feature. But thus far all revisions of the AV—heavy and light, large and small—have seen fit to jettison the second person singular forms.1 Even a Society-led revision that left them in would probably result in an edition that only satisfied a few, leading to fragmentation among our support base as a disaffected and disappointed majority would either move to other versions or cling to the old standard edition of the AV. A new revision of the AV by the Society would thus damage our work, and very likely damage the use of the AV itself.
Having said that, the Society is not opposed in principle to there being a revision of the AV, but it would need to be at a time when there is a greater level of consensus in the English-speaking Christian world and at a juncture when revival has added to the church men with the godliness, wisdom and language skills to undertake a fifth official revision of this venerable Bible. Until that day the Society should not be adding to the plethora of Bible editions which all claim to be the natural successor to the AV and yet which have all signally failed in that endeavour.
It should be added that the Society is not revising the Chinese Bible, but preparing a new translation directly from the Biblical languages. Although the original purpose was to revise the Chinese Union Version (CUV), that edition was found to be too far from the underlying Greek and Hebrew to provide an appropriate basis for our work. The best we are able to manage is to retain some of the established ecclesiastical terminology from the CUV.
3. The margins in the Westminster Reference Bible include contemporary terms for archaic words (leasing, kine, prevent) as well as definitions for theological terms such as propitiation. Would a light revision that replaces the archaic terms with contemporary terms not be in order?
As mentioned in the answer to point two, any revision by the Society is bound to fail at the present juncture when the English-speaking Christian world is so fragmented and when suitably gifted and qualified men are scarcely to be found. In addition, it would be exceedingly difficult to keep a revision within limited parameters.
The stated parameter here in the question is the exchanging of archaic terms with contemporary terms. There are several fundamental problems with this suggestion.
None of the above-mentioned points represents desirable outcomes. Whilst it may be suggested that an American edition and a British edition of any revision could be produced, it is surely not for Bible publishers to accentuate the divide between different branches of the English language.
One of the joys of using the AV is that it is the same text all over the world: it brings people together rather than dividing them. In our preparations for the revision of the Spanish Bible we have declined to produce two editions—one for Spain and one for Latin America—in part because we do not believe it is right to accelerate the division of Spanish into two different forms. It is also not a good use of our scarce resources to spend a lot of additional time producing two different editions for one language, something which is technically and linguistically time consuming and doubles the work in maintaining the text.
Given the problems outlined in the foregoing points, it is surely far better for the Society to use its scarce resources to prepare Scriptures for languages which do not have them at all or which do not have a faithful edition rather than adding to the great number of existing (failed) revisions of the AV.
4. The Society has critiques of several critical translations including the NKJV. However, there are several other recent translations that claim to use today’s English while remaining faithful to the Received Text. Does the Society have concerns about these translations such as the King James 2000 and the 21st Century King James Bible? These claim that they are the ‘same’ as the KJV except for replacing the archaic expressions.
The Society has limited editorial resources to address minor revisions of the AV which will not be widely used and/or widely accepted. For example, a decade ago the Society undertook a review of the 21st Century King James Bible and found it problematic. More recently the author of this reply took a brief look at yet another minor revision of the AV and was amazed to see the amount of additional non-Biblical text on each page. Further, this particular version very surprisingly left in a number of archaisms and yet jettisoned the accurate second personal singular pronoun in all its forms.
In the last thirty years there have been a number of attempts to ‘lightly’ revise the AV and yet none of them—in this writer’s opinion—have been successful and indeed none of them have found widespread acceptance. Such editions, whilst sincerely prepared, bear all the hallmarks of individual idiosyncrasies that do not commute into usable editions of God’s Word for congregations, much less denominations. The Society’s scarce resources do not stretch to being used to provide the oxygen of bad publicity to revisions of the AV which self-evidently disqualify themselves from being viable alternatives to the AV.
It must also be noted that every Bible that is published with copyright should differ in a significant way from other copyrighted Bibles.2 This copyright requirement3 often forces revisers of the AV into introducing more changes than they might otherwise make and that can result in additional unnecessary or idiosyncratic changes. Thus it can be seen that there are various reasons why present revisions of the AV fall short of the Society’s standards. The problems associated with even supposedly minor revisions highlight the great difficulty of producing a widely-acceptable, appropriate new edition of the AV.
5. Conversely, others appreciate the Society’s stance on retaining the Authorised (King James) Version in unaltered form.
We thank God for those who stand with us. The Society’s Statement of Doctrine of Holy Scripture is a very suitable and concise expression of the Society’s textual and translational principles. It certainly merits being more widely known and read than it is. To this end it is hoped that before long we can republish the Statement in booklet form to enable wider circulation. [Ed. note: The Society’s Statement of Doctrine of Holy Scripture is currently available to read online at www.tbsbibles.org/page/DoctrineofScripture.]