In some rather minor ways, the King James Version is not simply one thing but is many things.  By that I mean that over the years there have been minor revisions made to it – most of them very minor indeed, picayune alterations of such things as spelling and punctuation – but revisions nonetheless.  Two years after it was originally published, a new edition came out in 1613 that embodied 413 such changes.  In 1769 the translation was modernized a bit; that happened again in 1873.

The “New King James Version” that is popular today (the third best-selling Bible on the market behind the NIV and the KJV itself) (these are all popular among conservative evangelicals who, to no one’s surprise, buy the most Bibles) is a somewhat different kettle of fish.  It was commissioned in 1975 and was produced by 130 people that its publisher (Thomas Nelson) indicates included scholars, church leaders, and laypeople.

Whether these church leaders and laypeople actually knew any Hebrew or Greek they don’t say.  My guess is….   Well, never mind.   Apart from that, the New KJV is most notable for updating the archaic language in places, especially getting rid of the “thee’s” and “thou’s.”  Not sure how many of those 130 were needed for that one.

Even before the New KJV, the KJV came out in lots of editions over the years (centuries!) and as I have indicated very little – apart from vocabulary and spelling – was much changed, although thousands of such very, very minor changes were made.  The wording has by and large remained intact, and when not the changes are still small indeed.  For example, in Matthew 23:24 when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites who are more concerned with theological trivia instead of the big issues of ultimate concern to God, the original KJV said that they “Strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  That ended up becoming something only very slightly different (and a bit harder to follow): they “Strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.”  That is how the verse is worded still in the KJV version today.

The KJV was published by numerous publishers over the years, of course, and some of the printed editions have become famous for their mistakes, some of them rather humorous.  For example:

  • In an edition now affectionately known as “The Unrighteous Bible” of 1653, the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9 was misprinted by having the second negative of the sentence accidentally omitted, so that Paul in this version actually says: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom?”
  • The version now called the “Sin On Bible” of 1716 provides an unusual ending to the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, in which he sends her on her way unpunished but with an exhortation. In this edition, though, Jesus joyously tells her to “Go and sin on more” (“on” instead of “no”)
  • Your KJV, of course, will have paragraph headings that indicate what each passage is about. These are not part of the manuscripts of the Bible, but are added by publishers/editors in order to help the reader along.  For one of Jesus’ most famous parables, “The Vinegar Bible” of 1717 gave the following as the title for the parable: “The Parable of the Vinegar” (instead of “The Parable of the Vineyard).
  • According to “The Lions Bible” of 1804, in 1 Kings 8:19 God speaks to king David about “thy son that shall come forth from thy lions” (rather than “loins”).
  • My all-time favorite is “The Adulterous Bible” of 1631. Here there was a rather serious and, well, unfortunate typographical error.  The “not” was inadvertently left out of the seventh commandment, so that now it reads: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

These problems are all faults of the printer, of course, not of the translators.  The biggest problem of the KJV, as far as I’m concerned, is actually not the translators’ fault either – it is something they had no control over.  It is the manuscripts of the New Testament that their translation was based on.  These happened to be the only manuscripts readily available to them, the ones that stood at the base of the Textus Receptus produced about a century earlier by Erasmus.  But the manuscripts were problematic in a number of ways, as we now know.  I will talk more about that in another post.

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2023-01-02T10:52:30-05:00January 5th, 2023|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

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  1. giselebendor January 5, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Too funny to comment.

    Can we say that the latest version we have is flawless? I don’t mean without weird words or expressions, but free from such egregious errors as you cite?

    • BDEhrman January 5, 2023 at 6:57 pm

      Most translations are far more faithful to the original, but there are still problems with all of them. Jsut not on that level.

  2. JacobSapp01 January 5, 2023 at 11:17 am


    Do you know if any legitimate scholarship improved the translation at all for the New KJV, or was it more of a cosmetic update? Back when I was still an evangelical, I loved the NKJV but now I find myself using the NRSV or it’s newest edition the NRSVue. I also like the language of the English Standard Version…Do you know anything about the ESV as a translation, is it, say better or worse to use than the NIV?

    • BDEhrman January 5, 2023 at 7:00 pm

      The New King James is really just a cosmetic update. I too prefer the NRSV. I think the NIV is too theologically driven in places (the translators sometimes translated contradictions out of existence). I haven’t used the ESV much , so can’t really say.

      • MatthewJ January 5, 2023 at 11:51 pm


        Just curiously, what contradictions do you think that the NIV translated out of existence?

        • BDEhrman January 8, 2023 at 9:17 am

          Read the account of the sale of Joseph into slavery in Genesis 37 in the NIV and compare to, say, the NRSV, and ask, who sold him to whom (first time adn second time)

          • AngeloB January 17, 2023 at 4:15 pm

            Do you have any other examples off the top of your head?

          • BDEhrman January 18, 2023 at 2:01 pm

            Of contradictions that get explained away? There’s one in the NRSV! In John 3:22 we learn that Jesus “went into the land of Judea.” But he was already *in* the land of Judea in 3:1-21. So the translators instead render it that Jesus “went into the countryside of Judea.” Now it sounds like he left the city and went to the country. Except the word “land” doesn’t mean “countryside.”

      • AndySeattle January 7, 2023 at 6:42 pm

        How does the NRSV compare with the NRSV Updated Edition?

        • BDEhrman January 8, 2023 at 10:11 am

          THe updated edition made lots of changed but most of them not terribly significant. Most readers won’t see much difference.

          • AndySeattle January 13, 2023 at 3:38 pm

            Overall, do you regard the changes generally as being improvements (even if minor) over the NRSV, or do you prefer the non-updated NRSV?

          • BDEhrman January 15, 2023 at 10:52 am

            I haven’t done a careful analysis. I really DON’T like the decision to translate DOULOS as “servant” rather than “slave” — a decision made by the review committee at the National Council of CHurches despite the recommendation of the translation committee itself (as I understand it) — although I do understand the logic. But the word refers to someone who is owned by someone else, not an employee.

  3. tom.hennell January 5, 2023 at 11:55 am

    “My all-time favorite is “The Adulterous Bible” of 1631. Here there was a rather serious and, well, unfortunate typographical error. The “not” was inadvertently left out of the seventh commandment, so that now it reads: “Thou shalt commit adultery.””

    Having seen a copy of this edition in the Rylands Library, I am fairly confident that this was not an inadvertant misprint but deliberate sabotage. For this verse, each of the commandments is set out on a new line; so the absence of the word ‘not’ in the seventh line must stand out clearly for any reader.

    The privilege of printing the new edition had been issued in 1613 to the Royal Printer – Robert Barker – though the universities of Oxford and Cambridge claimed a prior royal exemption to this monopoly. Given his enormous up-front costs, Barker sub-contracted printing of some parts of the early editions to his main rivals, Bonham Norton and John Bill; but by the 1630s all three printers were accusing the others of fraudulent accounting and bad-faith; and tying one another up in interminable litigation.

    Most likely one of the rivals bribed one of Barker’s printsetters.

    • BDEhrman January 5, 2023 at 7:01 pm

      Interesting. Do you know of any scholarship on this?

      • tom.hennell January 6, 2023 at 5:48 am

        The best discussion of the conflict between the various printers is in David Daniell’s big book; “The Bible in English”. Printing the Bible was very big business indeed; with a guaranteed long-term profit stream, but eye-watering up-front costs if hundreds of pages were to be held in standing type. Barker had tried to spread these costs by contracting with his two rivals to set-up the printing of parts of the Old Testament; supposedly they would share out the printed sheets amongst themselves, each could then sell a specified number of bibles, and they would divvy-up the profits all round.

        But, according to the rivals, Barker was diverting the sheets due to them into his exclusive market in separate volumes of the New Testament; leaving them with unsaleable part-bibles. While Barker accused the rivals of concealing the profits on their quota of whole bibles. Likely both were right. The litigation dragged on for generations; across the printing dynasties.

        But as for the ‘Wicked Bible’ itself; the offending omission was much more likely *after* the proofs had been checked; the difference in the lines is so obvious, given the layout of the page.

        • BDEhrman January 8, 2023 at 9:24 am

          Very interesting. Daniell is the real deal, but I haven’t read that book. Does he maintain that it was intentional? I’ve never heard that before, and the argument from layout is interesting but given issues of human error and fatigue, maybe not entirely probative. It’d be nice if there were other evidence as well. I’d obvioulsy *prefer* that explanation, since it makes the story much juicier….

          • tom.hennell January 8, 2023 at 9:55 am

            As I recall; he considers it much more likely intentional. But there clearly was no evidence either way; and anyway, Barker was the one responsible for issuing the edition; so sabotage or not, he faced the same sanctions of imprisonment and fine.

  4. fishician January 5, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    Off topic, but I was just listening to Dec Q&A, in re Pascal’s Wager. As you point out, more complicated because there are many religions to choose from, it’s not a simple binary choice. I think it was the great philosopher Homer Simpson who observed, “What if we chose the wrong religion? By going to church each week we’re just making God madder and madder!”

  5. AngeloB January 5, 2023 at 8:38 pm

    You have enough material for stand up now Bart!

  6. apmorgan January 6, 2023 at 1:26 am

    You once, in reply to a comment, seemingly addressed me with surprising affection, but it was a typo (for “huh”). I hope any blog member would be amused, as I was.

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