Bible Translations, II: The King James Version and the New King James Version

Previously, we were able to determine the history of how we received our modern Bible translations. Let us now look at two closely related versions, the King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV).

KJV: Background

The KJV was created in 1611 as a revision of the primary English translations of its time, the Tyndale translation, the Bishops’ Bible, and the Geneva Bible. These versions were compared with Erasmus’ Greek text, the Textus Receptus, and any differences were reconciled.

KJV: Strengths

The one major strength of the KJV is in its faithfulness to the original Greek: no other version is as literally translated as the KJV. Now, in some cases, the literal translation will be difficult to understand due to differences in language and idiom; however, when modern translators began to “explain” certain phrases and words in the text, they have gone overboard, clarifying in many places where clarification is not necessary.

The KJV text is also very pleasing to be read due to the antiquity of its language; Elizabethan English is nice to hear. The KJV is also widely used, and if one wishes to fit in anywhere, the KJV is universally accepted as a good version of the Bible.

KJV: Weaknesses

Some of the KJV’s weaknesses spring from its strengths. While the Elizabethan English is pleasing to the ears, it can be difficult for modern English speakers to understand. The English language has changed significantly over the past three hundred years, and so many of the phrases used in the KJV are simply obsolete.

Furthermore, the Greek text on which the KJV is based has been found to be lacking in some areas. Many words and phrases were added within lines of Scripture in the 1,500 years of copying the New Testament, and these additions are clear when examining the older copies. 1 John 5:7 also in the KJV follows an errant reading perpetuated by Jerome in his translation of the Latin Vulgate in his attempt to refute those who denied the idea of the Trinity, as seen below:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (KJV).

And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth (NASB).

The vast majority (in fact, all but one copy, and that one has been questioned) follow the NASB reading of this verse.

These variations make up a small percentage of the text, but they do exist, and for those who would use their Bible for discussion of what the text says, especially with arguments hinging on a word or phrase, the variants are iimportant.

KJV: Conclusion

The KJV is a solid version, and is good for any serious Bible student to have in his or her bookcase. Unfortunately, the errors in the texts used to translate this version make it difficult to use in serious argumentation. Also, the language changes in the past three hundred years make the KJV difficult to understand. If you like the language and the challenge, use the KJV, and enjoy it. Before making any arguments hinging on certain words or phraseology, however, consult a more modern version (I recommend ASV or NASB) and/or the Greek texts to determine whether or not the argument is on solid ground.

NKJV: Background

The NKJV is a modern revision (1981) of the KJV, with the changes mostly in the adaptation of the language from seventeenth century norms to the modern language of the twentieth century.

NKJV: Strengths

Since the changes made to the NKJV were mostly to update the idiom and phraseology of the KJV, the literal translation of the text is still present, and helpful. This literal translation is this time paired with more modern language, which makes the version easier to understand.

NKJV: Weaknesses

Along with the KJV, the weaknesses of the NKJV spring from its strengths. The only changes made were in how the language was expressed; no revisions were made due to the discovery of older Greek texts, and thus the NKJV shares the
same textual problems as the KJV does: added words and phrases, and even 1 John 5:7 follows the KJV translation. Along with the KJV, arguments involving semantics may be troublesome with the NKJV.

NKJV: Conclusion

The NKJV shares some of the same strengths and weaknesses of the KJV, yet the language assistance is the reason why in many places the NKJV is more popular. The literal translation of the KJV is made more understandable in the
modern English of the NKJV; unfortunately, however, the text is still not as reliable as that of other versions. The NKJV is another good version to have in your collection, but be wary of using it for semantical arguments.

We have now seen the strengths and weaknesses of the KJV and the NKJV; next, we will examine the American Standard Version (ASV) and its later derivations, and see how they compare with the versions we examined today.


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