Weaknesses of the King James Bible

Posted on November 30, 2022

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By David Ettinger

A Word of Explanation
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is beloved. This rarely is said about the multitude of other Bible translations. But in their adoration, too many KJV readers have elevated it to “divine” status – that is “inspired,” or “God-breathed” as in the 2 Timothy 3:16 sense.

In reality, the only inspired version of the Bible are the “autographs” – the original versions of each book as written by their human authors. None of these “God-breathed” autographs exist. Everything we have today is a translation based on the earliest source materials Bible translators had at the time they lived.

So, to be clear, EVERY VERSION OF TODAY’S BIBLE – REGARDLESS OF LANGUAGE – HAS CLERICAL MISTAKES. Fortunately, none of these mistakes affect Bible doctrine (truth), but please know that no Bible today consists of the EXACT words God “breathed” to the original authors.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of KJV readers who claim their version is “God-breathed,” and hence the reason for this brief examination.

The KJV Rests On an Inadequate Textual Base
This is the most important weakness of all.

By far and away the most important copies of the Scriptures are the oldest. Over the centuries, archaeologists have discovered papyri in Greek that date from the 2nd to 4th centuries. Furthermore, also discovered in this time period were vellum (animal-skin parchment) manuscripts in Greek (the original language of the N.T.) and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.

The 3 most famous of the Greek manuscripts are the Sinaitic, Vatican, and the Alexandrian manuscripts. These 3 manuscripts – with help from the ancient papyri – are the primary sources of today’s New Testament translations as they are the oldest manuscripts. This means they are the manuscripts closest to the dates of the writing of the original autographs.

However, all 3 (along with the bulk of the Greek papyri) were discovered AFTER the production of the KJV, meaning the KJV did not have what was to become the most reliable manuscripts. This is especially true with reference to the Greek text for the New Testament. The text underlying the KJV was essentially a medieval text that contained a number of scribal mistakes that had accumulated through the years.

(Regarding the text used by the original KJV translators, it should be noted that it is not their fault. They simply did not have at their disposal the many manuscripts that came later.)

Most of the textual variations of the KJV are insignificant and do not materially affect the Bible message, but others should never have been included in the KJV. An example of this is 1 John 5:7. (You can read more about that here.)

Nevertheless, the truth remains that the KJV is a translation of an inferior Greek text, which is the reason it has undergone many revisions. Would revisions be needed if the KJV was God’s EXACT, God-breathed word to the ears of the translators?

Archaic (Outdated) Words
This speaks for itself, but here are a few examples: “thou,” “thine,” “thee,” “thy,” “howbeit,” “holden,” “peradventure,” “because that”; and “suffer” instead of “allow”; “allow” instead of “approve”; “hinder” instead of “prevent”; and many more.

The KJV Includes Errors of Translation
In the 17th century, Greek and Hebrew had only recently become subjects of serious study in many universities of Western Europe. At times, therefore, the translators faced puzzling problems. Many of these problems were solved, but others were not.

For instance, Mark 6:20 of the KJV says that Herod put John the Baptist in prison and “observed him.” What is actually meant is that he “kept him safe.”

Other such inaccurate phrases include:

  • “Abstain from all appearances of evil.” A more accurate translation is, “Abstain from every form of evil.”
  • Creating distinctions in English that are not found in the Greek. Who would know that “Areopagus” and “Mars’ Hills” (Acts 17:19, 22) are different renderings of the same Greek word. Both verses should have the same word as the place is the same.
  • Matthew 25:46 reads: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal,” as though in the Greek text a distinction is made between “everlasting” and “eternal.”
  • The KJV refers to “Jeremiah” (Matthew 2:17), “Jeremias” (Matthew 6:14), and “Jeremy” (Matthew 27:9) so it is a challenge for one to suppose that there were several O.T. prophets with similar names instead of one “Jeremiah.”
  • On other occasions the KJV fails to preserve the distinctions present in the Greek text. One of the best examples of this is the persistent rendering of “hell” for both “Hades” and “Gehenna.” In this way, “death” and “hell” are made to be thrown into “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14), but a more correct translation would substitute “Hades” for “hell.”

Personal Opinion
This is certainly not an attack on the KJV. In fact, the church I attend uses the KJV in all public readings and sermons. Also, I have no problem whatsoever with Christians who love the KJV and would never think of trying to “convert” them to another version.

My only issue is with what is known as “KJV-only” – the belief, as noted earlier, that the KJV itself is God-inspired, that God actually gave the translators the exact words. Over my 34 years as a Christian, this KJV-only faction has been the most divisive and confrontational of all Christians I have associated with. Some have even gone as far as to relegate to “heretic” status any Christian who does not read the KJV.

But again, the truth is this: All Bible translations are imperfect, the KJV included. The biggest criticism against the KJV is that its translation is based on “younger” manuscripts which are inferior to the “older” manuscripts discovered later upon which more modern manuscripts are based.

The information in this blog is derived from the excellent book, “How We Got the Bible” by Neil R. Lightfoot, which I highly recommend.

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