Is the King James Version garbage?

Some scholars and ministers would seem to think that is the case. A quick Google search with a phrase like “is the KJV a poor translation” will yield a huge number of results.  Some of the criticisms, like this one, are written by highly qualified biblical scholars. Others, like some found here, are written by average Joe’s.

I have found a couple of good videos by Dr. Bart Ehrman that discuss the King James Bible itself and on the manuscript differences in New Testament manuscripts.

So what do I think? I think the KJV is limited, certainly not inerrant, and could be better. But I think the same thing about any other Bible that is currently published. As Ehrman points out, we do not have the original “editions” of any Biblical text. Second, it’s impossible to literally translate from one language to another. Having limited experience in Spanish and German, sometimes word order changes. Consider something as simple as “the green pants” which translates into Spanish as “los pantalones verdes.” That can’t translate literally word-for-word because it would say “the pants green.” So all versions of the Bible suffer from this limitation. 

Are there significant differences in the translations? Not really. Even passages that biblical scholars say are not original (see the first Ehrman video for commentary on this) are still in the modern translations. They may have a small note saying they do not exist in the original manuscripts or might be in brackets, but they are still there. There are some differences among the versions with language (gender-neutral and so forth) but the end of the story is always the same: the same Jesus died on the same Cross for the same sins of Mankind.

Just for comparison, let’s look at the same passage in 5 different Bible translations. The passage, selected at random, is 2 Corinthians 11:16.

KJV: I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.

Revised Standard Version: I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.

New Revised Standard Version: I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.

New International Version: I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.

The Message: Let me come back to where I started—and don’t hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you’d rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little.

Obviously The Message version is rather different from the first four. That’s a thought for another time and is based on the translation philosophy of The Message. But the basic point is that the KJV is not substantially different than the others, though it is a bit more difficult to read. So, no, the KJV is certainly not garbage, at least not more than the rest. A professor once told a story of a person at a conference who asked the speaker what is the best Bible translation. The speaker responded “if you can’t read the original Greek or Hebrew, you’re reading garbage.” This is a two pronged answer in that the vast majority of readers of the Bible cannot read Greek or Hebrew but on top of that, whether he intended this or not, it’s impossible to read the originals because they don’t exist anymore. So, while some newer versions of the Bible might be a little better than the KJV, they’re not substantially better.

Bottom line: The KJV is far from being real garbage and, even though Dr. Ehrman doesn’t think so, makes a perfectly good study Bible. Keep on reading it if you’re comfortable with the words line “thee,” “thou,” and “chode.”


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