I love the King James Version of the Holy Bible. I also love the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the Good News Translation, the New Living Translation, and The Message. But I first read the King James Version, and I love antiques, to the KJV has a special place in my heart.
Some say the KJV is the Gold Standard of scripture, and others say it is the only legitimate English translation. Still others say it is a deeply flawed and outdated translation that has no place in the church today. I think we can benefit from knowing a variety of translations, but the KJV is foundational to our language and our culture. There is much to recommend the KJV. But we have to accept that, in addition to its arcane language, the KJV also has an intentional bias imposed by King James VI – that it should better support the Church of England’s structure and its restriction of authority to ordained male clergy.
Many in the KJV-Only crowd say that modern translations have softened the message, tending to deny the Deity of Christ or the specific church doctrines surrounding His birth, ministry and resurrection. I do not believe this has been done intentionally, if at all. More to the point, I think that all subsequent translations have so honored the KJV as to promulgate its misogyny and other flaws that are not so prevalent in the original languages.
However, as evidence that the NIV has not intentionally softened anything, I note a passage in which the NIV has “hardened” church doctrine while remaining faithful to the historic manuscripts.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word “archegos” can be translated “prince”, “author”, or “captain”. In Hebrews 12:2, both the KJV and the NIV translate the word as “author”, as in Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. In Hebrews 2:10, the word becomes “captain” in the KJV but “pioneer” in NIV. In that verse, the KJV says that Jesus is the Captain of our salvation, thus being in charge of it. The NIV is saying that Jesus is the Pioneer of our salvation, as in the first to discover it. That is the kind of softening that leads the KJV-Only crowd to reject the NIV.
However, at Acts 3:15, the KJV translates “archegos” to say that Peter called Jesus is “the Prince of Life.” In this instance, the NIV translates it as “Author.” Thus Peter called Jesus “the Author of Life,” indicating that Peter already agreed with John 1:3 – “Through him all things were made(NIV)/All things were made by him(KJV).”
For all the complaints about the NIV (from the KJV crowd), I’ve never heard a complaint about this passage. I think it is because the NIV translation is more supportive of the Deity of Christ than is the KJV translation. Even so, I see nothing in these various passages to indicate which meaning – prince, captain, author, perfecter – best represents the intent of the original speaker or writer. If we take their shared meaning, which I might translate as “primary driver”, we lose the royalty of Prince, the authority of Captain, the pre-eminence of Author and the immediacy of Perfecter.
It is a shame that we cannot have all these meanings without having to select one for English translation. In the original language, there is no requirement to narrow it down. All of these possible meanings are existent in the word “archegos”. Sometimes a word represents a feeling or sentiment in one language that simply has no equivalent in another language. Language is a synthesis of the shared history, mythology, art and education of a given culture. We don’t share those things with ancient Greeks, Romans or Hebrews, so the best we can hope for from many words is an educated guess.
This essay will probably have readers who insist that the KJV is a perfect translation, and others who think that it is outdated and seriously flawed. The truth, I believe, lies somewhere between those two opinions. I think we should accept that the shortcomings of modern translators were probably shared by KJV translators as well.
I am grateful that God has enabled so many translations of scripture to exist, by inspiring people of goodwill to take on the task of translation. But in doing so, I think God has also revealed the imperfection of all people, in every generation. In this digital age, we have every resource we need to consider various translations, the original languages, the cultures and sects that generated each translation, and the hazards of expecting one language to replace another, whether of a different culture or of a different time.
Rather than elevate or vilify any translation, we should consider more than one and pray for insight to find the truth. More importantly, we should accept our own flawed view of God’s Word and that of others as well. We are encouraged to have mercy and to love one another – and that’s a message common to every translation.