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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