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Problems with Some Bible Translations, including the King James: A Blast from the Past

    In my Introduction to the New Testament undergraduate class this semester, I have told the students that they can use most any Bible translation they want, but I prefer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and I do *not* want them using either a paraphrase or the King James.  Some of them want to know why, and so I explain to them.  Here is a post on the topic from almost exactly five years ago.  (Note: I'm talking about undergraduates; my graduate students read the NT in Greek) (and also note: despite what I say about the NIV I certainly allow students to use it in class, since it is the most popular translation on college campuses today) ********************************************************************* I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: [...]

Does It Mean What It Says? More Problems with the King James

In my previous post I pointed out that the King James Version sometimes uses words and phrases that no longer make sense to most speakers/readers of the English language today.  That obviously makes it use complicated.  Why would you want to use a study Bible that doesn’t communicate in common English – or in this case, in English that no longer makes sense?   I can understand – and heartily support – those who want to read the King James for its sheer beauty and historical significance.  But if you want to study what the Bible actually means, it’s not the best place to go.  In fact, it’s a rather awful place. An even bigger problem comes from the fact that sometimes the King James uses a word or phrase that does in fact make perfectly good sense in modern English.  But the word means something very different now from what it meant in 1611, since the language (and hence the meanings of words) has changed over the past four hundred years.  Here are a few [...]

Problems with the Language of the King James Version

In my Introduction to the New Testament class this semester, I talked on the first day about which Bible translations I would allow students to use for the class.  The basic answer: most any modern translation would be fine (though I myself prefer the New Revised Standard Version), but I would not allow paraphrases (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 every produced in English.  But it is decidedly not a good study Bible.  That is for several reasons: 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 [...]

Leading up to the King James Translation

The King James Version (KJV) is right hailed as one of the great classics – arguably *the* great classic – of English literature.  But most people have no idea where it came from and how it came into existence.  And so I am going to take a side-path (OK, a tangent) in my thread to devote a few posts to the KJV, also known as the Authorized Version (AV). To start with, contrary to what a lot of people think, the KJV, which appeared in 1611 under, yup, King James of England, was not the first translation of the Bible into English.  Not even close.  The first English translation was by John Wycliff (or his followers), done long before, in 1382.  Wycliff, however, did not translate the Bible from the original languages, Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate.  That makes sense, since the Catholic church had always used the Latin version (ultimately going back to the fifth-century church father Jerome).  And almost no one in the 14th century even knew Greek and Hebrew, [...]

Where Did the King James Bible Come From?

What were the King James Bible translators actually translating?  You may not have known it from the previous two posts – but that is what I have been getting at, when talking about the first published edition of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus, and the subsequent editions.    The King James is deservedly considered of the greatest classics ever produced in the English language.  There can be no doubt about its enormous influence on English literature and the English language itself.  But as a study Bible, it is problematic – in part because of the Greek text (for the NT) that underlies it.  Here is how I explain all that, going back to my discussion yesterday about Erasmus. ***************************************************** The larger point I am trying to make, however, is that all of these subsequent editions of the Greek New Testament  – those of Stephanus included – ultimately go back to Erasmus’s editio princeps, which was based on some rather late, and not necessarily reliable, Greek manuscripts – the ones he happened to find in Basle [...]

The First Greek New Testament

In this thread on Bible translation, I have been talking about what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  In order to answer the question, I have had to explain how we started to get printed editions of the Greek New Testament, including the first to come off the printing press, the Complutensian Polyglot (discussed in yesterday’s post).  Today I take the discussion a step further, to talk about the first published (not the first printed!) Greek New Testament.  Again, the discussion is taken from my book Misquoting Jesus. ************************************************************** The First Published Edition of the Greek New Testament Even though the Complutensian Polyglot was the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament, it was not the first published version.  As I pointed out, even though the work was printed by 1514, it did not actually see the light of published day until 1522.  Between those two dates a famous and enterprising Dutch scholar, the humanist intellectual Desiderius Erasmus, both produced and published an edition of the Greek New Testament, receiving the [...]

The Oldest Printed Versions of the Greek New Testament

I have started to explain what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  They do not translate just one manuscript or another; they translate what they take to be the “original” text as it has been reconstructed by textual specialists (some of whom are the translators themselves).  These reconstructions can be found in printed editions of the Greek New Testament. To make sense of what the translators actually have in front of them when they are translating, I need to give a brief history of the printing of the Greek New Testament.  To that end I will provide in two or three posts the directly relevant material given in my book Misquoting Jesus.  I’ve always thought this is unusually interesting information connected to “how we got our Bible.”  I start at the beginning, with the invention of printing.   *********************************************************   The text of the New Testament was copied in a fairly standardized form throughout the centuries of the Middle Ages, both in the East (the “Byzantine” text) and the West (the Latin [...]

What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible?

Introduction: On January 24, 2013, the traveling exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible opened at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University. The keynote talk for the opening: "What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV" was presented by Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Grey Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and New York Times bestselling author. In this lecture by Dr. Bart Ehrman, a leading authority on the New Testament and New York Times bestselling author, you will hear why the KJV has received such praise and adoration over the centuries, and then turn to consider aspects of the translation that also need to be considered when assessing its greatness and value:  the archaic language that at times can confuse modern readers; the inferior ancient manuscripts on which the translation was based; and the theological biases that occasionally led the translators to make the biblical text say something other than it originally meant. [...]

2017-12-31T23:42:48-05:00February 26th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum, Video Media|

Textual Problems with the King James: The Trinity

I’ve mentioned several problems with the King James Version in previous posts.  Arguably the most significant set of problems has to do with the text that the translators were translating.   Here I’ll stick with what I know the most about, the text of the New Testament.   The brief reality is that in the early 17th century, Greek editions of the New Testament were based on very few and highly inferior manuscripts.   Only after the King James was translated did scholars begin to become aware of the existence of older, and far better, manuscripts.  For those of you who have read Misquoting Jesus, much of what follows will be a brief review. Before the invention of printing, the NT (and all other books) circulated in manuscript form (the word manu-script literally means “written by hand”), as scribes copied the text by hand, one page, one sentence, one word at a time.   All scribes copying long texts made mistakes; and anyone who copied a manuscript that had mistakes replicated the mistakes and made some of his own, [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:51-04:00January 14th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

More King James Curiosities

A terrific and detailed discussion of some of the problems of the King James as a modern translation can be found in Jack Lewis’s helpful ,The English Bible: from KJV to NIV.    Among some of the more interesting points he makes are the following. Words used in the KJV that we have no clue about today (well, most of us):  almug, algum, chode gat, habergeon, hosen, kab, lugure, neesed, ring-straked, wimples, ouches, cracknels…. He lists dozens more. Phrases: ouches of gold (Exoc. 28:11); collops of fat (Job 15:25); naughty figs (Jer 24:2); lien with (Jer. 3:2); rentest thy face (Jer. 4:30); murrain of the cattle (Exod. 9:2).  He gives lots more. Sentences that may, at least, puzzle: 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) Solomon loved many strange women (2 Kings 11:1)  (!) 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, [...]

2020-04-03T19:03:07-04:00January 12th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

Misleading Translations in the King James

In a couple of weeks I’m going off to Los Angeles to give a lecture at Loyola Marymount University as a keynote address for their putting on of the (traveling) exhibition on the King James Bible, started in commemoration of its 400th year (in 2011). The exhibition is called Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, and my lecture is entitled: “What Kind of a Text Is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV.” In addition to celebrating the greatness of the translation – it’s obviously one of the greatest classics of the English language – I will be talking about various aspects of the KJV that make it less usable as a study or research Bible. I haven’t written the talk yet, but I’m thinking, at this point, about talking about three topics: The fact that in the New Testament the KJV was based on Greek manuscripts (the only ones available at the time, of course – so it was no one’s fault) that are [...]

2020-04-03T19:05:22-04:00January 9th, 2013|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|
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