The Infallible King James?

king-jamesIn my interview with Pastor R.J. Morelli for “Finding Your Way in the Religious Maze”, we discussed his belief that the King James Bible (KJV) of 1611 is “infallible.” He is not alone in this assertion. Though this view is not common, there are some other independent, fundamental Baptists who hold it. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain the problems I see with this perspective.

James VI was king of Scotland, but he took on the name James I as he also began to rule over England and Ireland in 1603. To address the concerns of Puritans, he commissioned the production of a new English Bible translation in 1604. Forty-seven Anglican scholars were involved, working from Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament manuscripts and Greek New Testament manuscripts that were available to them at the time.

The translation they produced was widely accepted by English-speaking churches for centuries. However, other Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were discovered in the centuries since that time that scholars consider to be older than the ones used by the translators of the KJV. Plus, the language of the KJV was becoming increasingly difficult for people of later generations to understand.

For these reasons, efforts were made to produce other English Bible translations. The New King James Version (NKJV) followed the same manuscript basis as the KJV. But other modern translations like the New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and English Standard Version (ESV) incorporated the differences from other manuscripts that were discovered.

Some fundamentalists like Pastor Morelli claim that these differences water down God’s Word. But in my experience 99 percent of them are minor spelling or grammar disagreements. On the few occasions where there is a significant difference, it does not affect our doctrinal convictions. The modern translations identify those differences in footnotes.

There is also a difference in translation philosophy between the versions. The KJV and NASB seek to maintain a word-for-word correspondence between English and the original languages. The other versions try to express the thought of the original language in more understandable English.

Pastor Morelli cites Psalm 12:6-7 to argue that God preserves his word and wants his people to have complete confidence in it. He concludes that God ensured that the English text of the KJV is infallible.

I can understand why someone might prefer the lofty sound of 17th century KJV English. I can even understand how some might conclude that the King James translators worked from a better manuscript basis, though I would disagree. But to me it does not seem logical to claim that God preserved his word only in the KJV and not through the work of subsequent English translations. Plus, what would we say to those outside the English speaking world? Should they rely on the KJV too?

Paul says that all Scripture is inspired (2 Tim 3:16). Furthermore, when we examine how Jesus used the Old Testament, we find that he made authoritative arguments on the basis of words and grammar. So, I think that the authority of divine inspiration applies to the original biblical writings in their original languages.

I agree that God sovereignly preserves his word, but copying manuscripts and translating them to other languages is a human responsibility in which mistakes can be made (It’s those parallel rails again! Divine sovereignty and human responsibility). Thankfully, faithful believers down through the centuries (like those KJV translators) have worked hard to preserve the available manuscripts, learn the original languages, and produce good translations in multiple languages. In our day, we are blessed to have easy access to the fruit of their labor, and we should take full advantage of it.

– Bryan Craddock

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