The King James Bible Controversy

There are many people who truly believe the only English translation of the Bible that should be trusted is the King James version. In these corners of the woods, people believe the translation was basically “inspired”, much in the manner that the books of the Bible were.

I have nothing against the King James Bible, in fact I do enjoy it, but I do have a few things to say against such a belief system. This is the type of thought process that kept the Bible in Latin for many centuries, and its content a privilege of a few people, away from the masses.

First of all, this belief system shows little or no understanding of translation as an art, craft and science. I have been a professional translator for 25 years, and have handled assignments in a vast variety of languages. I say this not to show off, but rather, to establish that I am not merely talking about a matter I have a passing interest on. I have professionally translated tens of thousands of texts from Slavic, Scandinavian, Germanic, Latin languages. In other words, I know a bit more about translation work than most folks, have been exposed to a great diversity of languages and am a bit more sensitive to the issue than most people.

I also know a bit about linguistics, which by the way, is not the same thing as translation. Quite a lot of people mix the two concepts, and therein lies most of the problem.

Translation work is not mathematical. It is not an exact science. A translation done by one qualified translator might come out very different, when done by another qualified translator, depending on each professional’s writing skills, vocabulary depth, overall culture, logical reasoning, literary proclivities, background and style. However, the essence of both translations should be the same. This is especially true for non-scientific texts, which is the case of the Holy Bible.

Add to that the difference between language groups and structures, and you will realize that translating the Bible is not an easy task, especially considering the sections written in Semitic Hebrew and Aramaic. These two languages have very different structures than Western European languages such as English. Old Hebrew is a contextual language.

On the subject of linguistics, live languages such as English are constantly changing, metamorphing, under the influence of other languages, technological, economic, social, political, historical and cultural changes. Therefore, the English spoken today has little to do with the English practiced in the 1600’s, in fact, if it were possible to record it, we would probably not understand any of it.

The changes do not happen only to words. Constructions, mannerisms, expressions change with time. Some are born, some die, some persist unscathed. The language of the day tends to be more clear, more straight-forward, journalistic and scientific, although it might not sound as elegant as the language of our ancestors. English in the 1600’s was poetic, in the new Millennium it is a practical, world language.

Additionally, advances in archeology have unveiled in the course of the last few centuries, many other manuscripts that the King James translators were not privy to. And advances in linguistics help scholars better understand the inner workings of ancient Greek and Hebrew languages.

In the essence, I have found the KJV to be in the same tune as other versions such as the NIV. There is nothing ontologically different in this version and the Living Language Bible that would warrant an educated judgment that these versions are not “inspired” as the King James Bible. By the way, the Bible itself does not make any reference to inspiration of translations, so I do not see any Biblical reason to believe any translation version or other should be construed as the only acceptable standard.

Sure, the King James version, as I said before, sounds more elegant, more eloquent, profusely traditional. And here is the problem, from a spiritual standpoint. Jesus himself fought greatly against religion tradition for the sake of tradition, and above all, against idolatry. Dogmatically believing the KJV is the only version a Christian should read is tantamount to idolatry!

Furthermore, if such argument were accepted, then all of us should fast learn ancient (not modern) Greek and Hebrew, and understand all of their linguistic nuances, because if all other English versions fail the litmus test, so would the KJV – for it does have its technical translation flaws in comparison to the originals in Greek and Hebrew.

For practical purposes, if a more modern (and good) translation of the Bible is more readable and enjoyable, I think we should embrace it, and do like Martin Luther did: make the Word available to all, for all to understand, not keep it as secret for a few chosen people.

However, if the KJV is your favorite version of the Bible, God bless you! Keep on reading it!


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