On the first day of my undergraduate classes on the Bible each semester, I tell my students which Bible translations are acceptable for the class. The basic answer: most any modern translation is fine (though I myself prefer the New Revised Standard Version), but I do not allow paraphrases (such as the ol’ favorite, The Living Bible, or the more recent The Message — which are not actually translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, but are simplifications of previously existing English translations and as a result can be highly interpretive and misleading) or the King James Version.
When I tell them I do not allow the King James, I let them know that I think the King James is one of the great classics of English literature. As a piece of writing, it is arguably the most significant work ever produced in English. But it is decidedly not a good study Bible. That is for several reasons. As I’ve suggested and will say more about in a future post, one is that the manuscripts of the New Testament it is based on (going back to the Textus Receptus – i.e. the original edition by Erasmus) were not ancient or of high quality. Another is that the language used is from over 400 years ago, and can be easily misunderstood – or not understood at all.
Here let me give some examples (which I don’t give my students: I just ask them to take my word for it and to ask me about it later if they wanted some instances.)
But here are some rather amusing instances. Some involve changes in the English language: a number of words occur in the King James that make zero sense to most people today. These include the following nuggets that you will find scattered here and there:
- wimples, ….
The King James translators also translated some animal names into animals that in fact we now have pretty good reason for thinking don’t actually exist:
- unicorn (Deut. 33:17)
- satyr (Isa 13:21);
- dragon (Deut 32:33) (for serpent)
- cockatrice (Isa 11:8),
- arrowsnake (Gen 49:11, in the margin).
Moreover,, there are phrases that simply don’t make sense any more to modern readers: Phrases that no longer make sense:
- ouches of gold (Exod. 28:11);
- collops of fat (Job 15:25);
- naughty figs (Jer 24:2);
- ien with (Jer. 3:2);
- the ground is chapt (Jer 14:4);
- brazen wall” (Jer 15:20);
- rentest thy face (Jer. 4:30);
- urrain of the cattle (Exod. 9:2);
And there are whole sentences that are confusing at best, virtually indecipherable (or humorous)
- And Jacob sod pottage (Gen 25:29)
- And Mt. Sinai was altogether on a smoke (Exoc. 19:18)
- Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing (Ps. 5:6)
- I trow not (Luke 17:9)
- We do you to wit of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1)
- Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels (2 Cor. 6:12)
- He who letteth will let (2 Thes 2:7)
- The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd (Eccles. 12:11)
Other sentences make sense, but would today be considered somewhat problematic – at least for the sacred Scripture. My favorite is the one that refers to a man who: “Pisseth against the wall:…. 1 Sam 25:22, 34, I Kings 14:10! And yup, that is indeed what the Hebrew text itself says. Ha!
So even though the KJV is a brilliant classic of English literature, it is not the best option for a study Bible. But there are other reasons, as I’ll indicate in later posts.