In 1604, King James I of England authorized a new translation of the Bible into English to be started. It was finished in 1611, just 85 years after the first translation of the New Testament into English appeared (Tyndale, 1526). In the preface to the 1611 edition, the translators of the Authorized Version, or King James Version, state that is was not their purpose “to make a new translation . . . but to make a good one better.” The King James Version quickly became the standard for English-speaking Protestants. Its flowing language and prose rhythms have had a profound influence on the literature of the past 400 years.
King James Version - Translation method
The King James translation was done by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from the Textus Receptus (Received Text) series of the Greek texts. The Old Testament was translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha was translated from the Greek Septuagint (LXX), except for 2 Esdras, which was translated from the Latin Vulgate. In 1769, the Oxford edition, which excluded the Apocrypha, became the standard text and is the text which is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings.
King James Version - Pros and Cons
For nearly 400 years, and through several revisions of the original, the King James Version has been deeply revered by English-speaking peoples worldwide, not only for the precision of the translation from the original languages, but for the beauty and majesty of the style, which has greatly influenced literature for centuries.
Unfortunately, much avoidable dissension among Christians occurs about the use of the King James Version. While many people claim that the KJV is the only “true” translation, rarely are they actually in possession of the 1611 Authorized Version of the KJV. Rather, they have the more readable 1769 version. The difference between the two becomes clear when comparing passages from the two versions. For example, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 in the 1611 version is as follows:
“Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing.”
The 1769 version, on the other hand, is much more readable and understandable:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Furthermore, in addition to the more readable character of the 1769 edition, further translations into modern English have proved invaluable for millions. Modern translations such as the New King James Version, the Modern King James Version, and the 21st Century King James Version have removed the confusing “thee’s” and “thou’s” and “-eth” verb endings, while still remaining true to the texts and retaining the beauty of the language.
King James Version - Sample Verses
John 1:1,14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 8:58 – “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Titus 2:13 – “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”