We are living in an era when, as English speakers, we have a multitude of choices when it comes to translations of the Bible. Throughout the history of my Christian journey, I have used many translations for my daily reading, including the New International Version (NIV), New American Standard (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and New King James Version (NKJV). However, the older I get and the longer I’ve studied the Bible, the more I have grown to prefer the King James Version (KJV) as my primary daily reading Bible. Here’s why…
THE KING JAMES VERSION IS A COMPLETE BIBLE
This is the main reason I prefer the King James Version: I have come to believe that the King James Version (and, likewise, the New King James Version) is based upon the best collection of ancient manuscripts. I believe that this is the textual tradition that has been preserved and cherished by most Christians for the entire history of the Christian church.
I admit this is not a huge deal, but it does matter to me because when I read the King James (or the NKJV) I like having in my hands what I consider to be a complete Bible.
Modern translations leave me wondering about what they chose to leave out because of supposedly better ancient manuscripts (modern translations are based upon the Alexandrian family of manuscripts, which are old but few in number, while the KJV and NKJV are based upon the Byzantine family of manuscripts which are not as old but many in number).
The most glaring omission in modern translations is the end of the book of Mark. I find it very hard to believe that God, in his Sovereignty, was not able to providentially preserve the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Yet, if you use the NIV (2011), you will find the last 12 verses of the book prefaced by the words:
[The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9-20]
Then, you will have verses 9 through 20 italicized so as not to confuse it with the Bible above.
Basically, the translators want to inform the reader that they do not think that verses 9 through 20 are legitimately the Word of God. Never mind that for the vast majority of Christian history it was accepted as the authentic Word of God. Never mind that ending the Gospel of Mark with a group of Jesus’s followers trembling, bewildered and afraid seems rather strange.
Another large section of the Gospels that is present in the King James Version but assumed not authentic to modern translations is the story of the woman caught in adultery, as recorded in John 7.53-8.11. Again, the NIV prefaces it with words similar to those above the ending of Mark, and, again, the text is italicized to differentiate it from the Biblical text surrounding it.
These are the only two cases in which an entire section of Scripture is rejected by the modern translations. But there are many cases of words, phrases, and entire verses being omitted from the modern translations (again, the NKJV is the modern exception).
Examples abound, but let’s consider the traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the 6th chapter of Matthew. The KJV ends with these words: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
This traditional ending is not found in the Alexandrian texts. Therefore, the NIV omits these words and ends simply with: “And lead us not into temptation, [a] but deliver us from the evil one.[b]”
The “[b]” points to a footnote at the bottom of the page that says:
b. Matthew 6:13 Or from evil; some late manuscripts one, / for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen
Here we see a lack of consistency on the part of the translators. For a large section, like the ending of Mark, they don’t put it in the footnotes. They keep it up on the page in the body of the text and then go to great lengths to make sure the reader understands that they do not consider it to be authentic (a preface explanation and the text italicized). But with verses, phrases, and words which are absent from the Alexandrian texts, they relegate them to the footnotes. The only reason I can imagine that they have allowed this inconsistency is because your average Christian won’t even notice the absences of the words, phrases, and even, individual verses. But to remove an entire section would set off alarms.
An example of an entire verse being relegated to the footnotes is Acts 8, verse 37. The King James Version goes like this, starting with verse 36 and going through verse 38:
36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And now, here is what it looks like in the English Standard Version:
36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[e] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
There is no verse 37! It skips from verse 36 to verse 38. But perhaps you noticed the little letter “e” …which is telling you to go down to the bottom of the page and read the footnote:
- Acts 8:36 Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37: And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Are you beginning to see why I consider the KJV a complete Bible when compared to the modern translations (the NKJV being the one modern exception)?
But you might be thinking, “Well, I get your point, but no major doctrine is compromised, right?” True enough. But how about a minor one, like, say, the practice of fasting?
Here is Matthew 17:21 in the King James:
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Look up the same verse in the NIV or ESV. What do you find? That’s right…nothing but a number pointing to a footnote, telling you that this is probably not the authentic Word of God because it is based on supposedly later manuscripts.
But, you might be thinking, there was another place where Jesus emphasized the combination of prayer and fasting, right? Correct, the verse is Mark 9.29. Here it is in the KJV:
29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
Here it is in the ESV:
29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”[e]
The footnote mentions the omission of the emphasis on fasting.
And here it is in the NIV:
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]”
Again, the footnote mentions the omission of the emphasis on fasting.
And, finally, just to show how any translation that is based primarily on the Alexandrian texts will omit portions of the Bible previous generations considered to be God’s Word, here it is in the NLT:
29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.[g]”
Like the NIV and ESV, the NLT points you to a footnote that explains how they chose to omit fasting, while older versions (like the KJV and NKJV) include it.
For a more comprehensive list of what Bible words, phrases, and verses most modern versions omit check out this helpful Wikipedia page.
Because I believe that the Byzantine family of texts are indeed reliable, I believe that Mark 16.9-20 is the Word of God. I also believe the story about the woman caught in adultery really happened, and is Scripture. And I believe Jesus said that certain kinds of demons are only driven out through prayer AND fasting.
For my personal daily reading Bible, I want these words in there, without having to look down into the footnotes.
MANY BENEFITS IN READING THE KING JAMES BIBLE
The second reason I prefer the King James Version is because in 2011 I developed a great love and appreciation for it. 2011 was the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the King James Version. So entering 2011 I decided to read through the entirety of the King James Version during the calendar year. It was a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Upon completing the KJV, I returned immediately to the ESV. But it wasn’t long before, to my surprise, I was drawn back to the KJV. Something about the unusual cadence and traditional feel keeps me coming back for more.
Here are some benefits I have noticed from using the KJV as my reading Bible:
1. Encourages Reflection. The older English requires me to slow down and concentrate more in order to understand and comprehend what I am reading. I believe this is a good thing because it creates in me a more meditative, reflective approach to reading the text.
The goal of reading the Scriptures is to let them sink in and transform you from the inside out (see Psalm 1). A slower pace enables me to soak more in the words of Scripture.
2. Easier to Memorize. The unusual sticks. You will remember a pink elephant walking by you more than you will remember the green tree behind it. Familiar language is harder to memorize than unfamiliar language, especially when it comes to long-term retention. In other words, familiar wording might be quicker to memorize but will also be quicker to fade and forget.
The unusual words and cadence of the King James sticks in your brain better. For example, I can much more easily retain the KJV’s rendering of James 5.16b, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” rather than the NIV’s rendering: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
3. Always the Same. I don’t have to worry about updates. There have been three editions of the New International Version (NIV) over the course of it’s almost 40 year history. Pick up a New International Version from today’s store shelf and you will notice major differences from the NIV that was so popular through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
For example, notice the switches from singular pronouns to plural pronouns in John 14.23:
John 14.23, NIV 1984 – Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
John 14.23, NIV 2011 – Jesus replied: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and will come to them and make our home with them.”
Or consider how much has been changed from the 1984 edition of the NIV to the 2011 edition. As an example, let’s look at a verse from the book of Romans. Imagine if you had committed this verse to memory from the NIV Bible you had been using for many years:
Romans 6.19, NIV 1984: I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
Now suppose that over time you wore out that old NIV Bible of yours and went to buy another one. You walked into your local Christian bookstore and found the NIV section of Bibles. You picked out a nice leather-bound NIV Bible (paying anywhere from $60 to $100 for genuine, not bonded, leather). You got home and one morning as you were reading through Romans you came to that verse from Romans 6 that you had memorized years before:
Romans 6.19 NIV 2011: I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Talk about significant changes! How would that make you feel? Would it frustrate you that you had memorized Romans 6.19 only to see it so different in your new Bible? To be precise, the new NIV (2011) adds/subtracts a total of 33 words in this verse alone.
As you read your new NIV, if you were to do the math, you would find that only 61% of the verses in your NIV are the same as your old NIV. To put it another way, well over a third of the verses in your new NIV are different than your old NIV. And to top it off, if you wanted to shelf your new NIV and go find a new copy of the old NIV, you would be out of luck. They stopped making and selling it. You’d have to resort to eBay!
But the NIV is not the only modern translation that has undergone numerous revisions.
The English Standard Version was first published in 2001, but was revised in 2007, and again in 2011. (Since the ESV is the “official” teaching Bible at our church, our elders had to make a decision in 2011 if we were going to stick with our 2007 ESV “pew” Bibles or order new ones. Because most people at Harvest bring their own copies, we decided to just keep the older ESVs, even though I teach from the 2011 ESV.)
The New Living Translation, itself a scholarly revision of The Living Bible of 1975, was first published in 1996 and underwent revisions in 2004 and 2007.
The New American Standard Bible, first published in 1971 underwent minor modifications in 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1977, and then went through one major update in 1995.
I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated with all the updates.
The New King James Version of 1981 is the only popular modern translation that has not gone through an update. I am not aware of any updates for it in the near future, either.
By reading and memorizing from the King James Version, you are using a translation that has not been updated since 1769. It’s fixed. It remains the same. You can count on it.
4. More Precise Personal Pronouns. Some critics of the King James Version will mock the “thees” and “thous” of the KJV without realizing what a benefit there is in these words. For years I did not know that those old pronouns in the King James actually served a positive role for modern readers. The original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible differentiated between the second person singular and plural. In proper modern English we have no differentiation between the two: you/your (singular) and you/your (plural). [In “Southern” English we have differentiation…you and y’all].
When you read the King James Version, thee/thou/thine is singular and ye/you/your is plural. Modern translations have no way for you (thee) to know for sure if the Greek/Hebrew is singular or plural.
5. A Translation in Public Domain. I don’t think many Christians have given much thought to the idea that nearly all the modern translations are owned by companies. Let that sink in… nearly every modern translation is owned by a company. Even if it is a Christian company, it’s purpose for existing is to make money, in spite of any statements otherwise.
The publishing rights to the NIV is owned by Zondervan, which is part of a larger corporation, which is the “News Corporation” or News Corp, which owns Fox News. News Corp is traded on NASDAQ with the letters NWS. What I’m trying to point out is that ultimately the NIV is a business product of a publicly traded company. As many layers of Christians and good intentions may lie between the stockholders and the translation itself, the reality is that the NIV could potentially be compromised by commercial interests. Case in point, the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) was a disaster commercially, so Zondervan pulled the plug on the TNIV.
If you have not already connected the dots, the danger is that modern translations, because they are owned by companies, are potentially susceptible to commercial interests, which should cause you to ask, “Is there any chance that an update of a translation could have some business-motivated translation decisions?”
Because the KJV is public domain, there is no danger that it is going to be changed for commercial purposes.
6. Buying a KJV Bible: the Most Variety and the Most Affordable. Because it is in the public domain, the King James Version is available by a multitude of publishers, which means you can surely find a copy that you like. I know we are primarily talking aesthetics at this point, but aesthetics impact your reading experience.
Some Bible translations do not have many offerings, especially when it comes to Bibles that will last for a long time. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to quality. Today’s disposable mindset has made it’s way into Bible publishing. Your average, cheap Bible available today will only last you a year or two if you use it regularly. Fake leathers and glued bindings simply won’t last very long.
If you want a Bible that will last for a long time it’s essential that you get a genuine leather Bible with a sewn binding. And please note that “genuine bonded leather” is NOT genuine leather.
Although the ESV comes close, I know of no other translation that has excellent, durable Bibles at such an affordable price. My personal reading Bible is a TBS Windsor edition with metrical Psalms. It has calfskin leather and a sewn binding. And it is available for only $50. Leave out the Metrical Psalms and you can get one for only $43!
7. Still popular. The King James Version is still one of the most popular versions of the Bible, selling millions of copies every year worldwide. People appreciate the honored tradition and are emotionally moved by the majestic, rhythmic sound of the King James. Modern versions sound out of place at weddings and funerals, at least to me. I know this is a preference, but the Christmas story from the Bible just doesn’t sound like the Christmas story in the modern translations!
In a setting with Christians from various backgrounds, which version should be used? The King James is always a reasonable choice. While some may be offended by the most colloquial of the modern translations, rarely is anyone ever offended by the use of the King James Version.
It’s tested, it’s true, and… apparently… it’s timeless.