King James Version: Not Obsolete Searching the Scriptures Series

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In 1992 the First Presidency released this statement in support of the King James Version: “Since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the King James Version of the Bible for English-speaking members… Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter-days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations. While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church. In light of all the above, it is the English language Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

I have, since joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1974, been a fan and defender of the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version (AV). I particularly love our Latter-day Saint version with the JST or Joseph Smith Translation notes.

Over the last decades, it has become fashionable to put down the KJV and replace it with other, supposedly superior, English translations. The most common arguments against the AV include its archaic language and difficult linguistic approach. These simply make the text more interesting. As members of the restored Church we have many reasons to rejoice over the AV.

The Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament) has been translated from the Masoretic text (MT or 𝕸) into multiple English versions over time—and the same is true of translations into other languages.

I worked on my commentary, Isaiah Testifies of Christ (3rd edition, 2017), over a twenty-year period. During this study, I gave particular attention to what the Brethren had said about every verse of Isaiah. However, there were a great many verses wherein the Brethren were silent. So, my study also included an extensive review of Biblical translations, ancient manuscripts, Jewish commentaries, as well as commentaries from fellow Christians of other religious backgrounds and those of Latter-day Saints.

When confronted with particularly difficult verses, I would compare the KJV translation with other renditions that might shed additional light on the text. This collection of translations has continued to grow over time to over three dozen. They form an indispensable part of my study. When I find content discrepancies, these encourage me to turn to the Hebrew text. Sometimes verses in one translation say exactly the opposite than in another. As the Brethren noted in the opening verse, textual criticism (at any level) is not a perfect solution. We do not have the original signatures of any Scriptures, but rather, copies of copies.

Even so, we can make some observations as to how English translations of the Bible compare to the Masoretic text (𝕸). What have I found? That indeed there are verses where other translations render a more correct rendition to the extant Hebrew text we have available. I have pointed these out in my book on Isaiah. However, please note, I have not found a second best or a third best translation. Each one of them contributes a verse here and a verse there that is a more faithful translation of some of these verses. It is impossible for me to predict, however, which version will provide such illumination.

Please note this is not an all or nothing proposition. The Prophet Brigham Young said: “Take the Bible just as it reads; and if it be translated incorrectly and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’s translators did it, he is under obligation to do so. If I understood Greek and Hebrew as some may profess to do, and I knew the Bible was not correctly translated, I should feel myself bound by the law of justice to the inhabitants of the earth to translate that which is incorrect and give it just as it was spoken anciently. Is that proper? Yes, I would be under obligation to do it. But I think it is translated just as correctly as the scholars could get it, although it is not correct in a great many instances” (JD 14:226, in Discourses of Brigham Young by John A. Widtsoe).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie observed, speaking of the special aids found within our Latter-day Saint edition of the Scriptures: “They include the Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, the topical guide, the Bible dictionary, the footnotes, the gazetteer, and the maps. None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only” (The Bible, a Sealed Book,” Teaching Seminary: Preservice Readings (2004), 123–32).

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do not claim that every word in the KJV is correct. After all, we have the 8th Article of Faith that states: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly …”

In my opinion, nevertheless, the KJV is the most beautiful and the most correct (i.e., accurate translation) of any translation into English (or Spanish for that matter). The Prophet Joseph Smith professed, however, in speaking of the German Martin Luther’s edition: “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349). But returning to the AV, it more carefully preserves the Christ-centered scriptures in the Hebrew Bible.

Translations of the Hebrew Bible may be classified into either literal-tending versions (word for word) or dynamic equivalent versions (thought for thought). A third group goes beyond the dynamic equivalence towards the paraphrase. I have always been a strong adherent of the literal approach. Examples of the literal-tending translations include the KJV, NASB, LITV, ASV, HCSB, Rotherham, and Leeser. Most, but not all, English translations of the Hebrew Bible are based on the Masoretic text (𝕸). Some are instead based on the Chaldee, Septuagint, and Vulgate, to mention a few. These also have a place of usefulness, of course, as references.

I subscribe to the mantra that “all translation is interpretation.” There is a lot more interpretation in dynamic equivalence and paraphrases than there is in the more literal versions. I prefer to do the work of connecting ideas and elliptical thoughts rather than have someone do this for me based on their understanding. This is why I prefer the literal-leaning translations. Even so, even in the most literal versions possible, including interlinears, we are dealing with interpretation. Once again, all translation is interpretation.

Some words and ideas are very difficult to interpret. I would suggest that the translators of the KJV were mostly inspired men who loved the Lord. One of the most vital lessons that I learned from studying Isaiah is that the Prophets often hid verses, and made them difficult to understand so that they would not be corrupted by copyists and translators. These verses were often left undisturbed because they were not understood!

Zechariah 13:6

One such verse is found in Zechariah 13:6. This is a vital verse because it is Christological and because it is a wonderful example of what the Brethren said in the opening quote, namely, “The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.”

The KJV preserves the verse in question in its majesty and beauty. One can feel the testimony pouring out with force from Zechariah, who testified of Messiah just as Isaiah and all of the prophets prophesied of Him: “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (KJV, Zechariah 13:6).

The AV retained the inspired translation from the 1568 Bishop’s Bible: “And if it be saide vnto him, How came these woundes then in thyne handes? He shal aunswere: Thus was I wounded in the house of myne owne friendes” and the 1599 Geneva Bible: “And one shall say vnto him, What are these woundes in thine hands? Then he shall answere, Thus was I wounded in the house of my friendes.”

Modern translations have corrupted this verse beyond recognition. Instead of thine hands we may read, ‘back’ (RSV, AAT, JPS Tanakh), ‘chest’ (HCSB, Alter), ‘body’ (NIV), “between the hands,” “between the shoulders,” or “between your arms” (RV 1885, HNV, World English Bible). And instead of ‘friends’ we may even read ‘lovers’ (AAT, Alter), or “harlot’s house” (Moffatt). These yield increasingly corrupt texts that read something like: “What are these sores on your chest? Those I received at my lover’s home.”

Translation is interpretation. And when one wishes to destroy the Messianic or Christological meaning of the original, there is nothing easier to do. All one needs to do is find other acceptations of the same word in order to twist the original meaning.

The starting point is the translation of the expression, “בֵּין יָדֶיךָ.” The correct translation is found in the KJV, “in thine hands.” It is true that in Hebrew the word בֵּין (Beyin) most frequently means between. So that one may refer to the nose as that which is between the eyes, and so on. However, even Gesenius, the great Jewish Hebraist, admits that בֵּין has other meanings, including intra, within, as in Job 24:11, Proverbs 26:13 and yes, Zechariah 13:6!

Gesenius also uses the word amongst, such that,בֵּין הָרְחֹבוֹת  means “within the streets,” or rather “in the streets” (Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, 1870, p. 114). So, returning to our verse in Zechariah 13:6, we must translate בֵּין יָדֶיךָ as “in your hands.”

Gladly, we have more than the witness of the KJV to hold on to the correct translation. These are the words that the Prophet Joseph Smith received in a revelation dated 7 March 1831, “Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God” (D&C 45:52).

My own father is Jewish, as are my grandparents, great grandparents and so on in an unbroken chain. I found Christ through the reading of the Book of Mormon and rejoice in this knowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the very Christ, the Holy One of Israel.

The New Testament

If there is corruption in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the corruption in the New Testament is even more grotesque. Indeed “plain and precious things [have] been taken away” (1 Nephi 13:40). In the New Testament, the problem is more than doubled because the translations do not even come from the same text. The KJV uses the Received Text while others use texts which have removed much of the divinity of Christ. I particularly recommend Elder J. Reuben Clarke’s book, Why the King James Version.

And it came to pass

One reason why I am interested in using other translations for my studies of Scripture, besides an occasional more correct translation, is that these sometimes support the JST or the Book of Mormon. While I have a long list of articles that I wish to write, this one on the beauty and correctness of the KJV got sent to the top of the list after reading the introduction to my latest acquisition, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, 3 volumes. The author is a Jewish scholar and former UC Berkeley professor of Hebrew and Literature. Dr. Robert Alter’s recently completed translation (it also took him twenty years to complete his project) of the Hebrew Bible has become a bestseller.

In the introduction Alter writes: “One might have expected that this recent flurry of translation activity, informed by the newly focused awareness of the meanings of biblical Hebrew, would have produced at least some English versions that would be both vividly precise and closer to the feel of the original than any of the older translations. Instead, the modern English versions—especially in their treatment of Hebrew narrative prose—have placed readers at a grotesque distance from the distinctive literary experience of the Bible in its original language. As a consequence, the King James Version, as Gerald Hammond, an eminent British authority on Bible translations, has convincingly argued, remains the closest approach for English readers to the original—despite its frequent and at times embarrassing inaccuracies, despite its archaisms, and despite its insistent substitution of Renaissance English tonalities and rhythms for biblical ones.”

Alter explains how readers have been put at a disadvantage by these modern translations: “The unacknowledged heresy underlying most modern English versions of the Bible is the use of translation as a vehicle for explaining the Bible instead of representing it in another language, and in the most egregious instances this amounts to explaining away the Bible” (emphasis added). While Robert Alter does a brilliant job with some verses, in others he falls for the same errors than modern translators, however.

What may be of particular interest to Latter-day Saints, however, is what he has to say about the particle “and” (ו). Here is just one brief quote: “The assumption of most modern translators has been that this sort of syntax [i.e., including the and, and by extraction, one might say the very same about the “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon—GB] will be either unintelligible or at least alienating to modern readers, and so should be entirely rearranged as modern English. There are two basic problems with this procedure. First, it ignores the fact that parataxis is the essential literary vehicle of biblical narrative: it is the way the ancient Hebrew writers saw the world, linked events in it, artfully ordered it, and narrated it, and one gets a very different world if their syntax is jettisoned. Second, rejection of biblical parataxis presupposes a very simplistic notion of what constitutes modern literary English. The implicit model seems to be, as I have suggested, the popular press, as well as perhaps high-school textbooks, bureaucratic directives, and ordinary conversation. But serious writers almost never accept such leveling limitation to a bland norm of popular usage.” Robert Alter then goes on to give an example of how these ands give the Biblical narrative life and movement (Genesis 24:16). I wonder if Robert has ever had the chance to read the Book of Mormon, which truly preserves the ancient way of writing.

Conclusion I love the KJV. It is a breath of fresh air to have it defended by others, especially those not of our faith. I am so grateful to the Brethren for their directive regarding the AV. I will continue to use the KJV as my go-to-Bible-of-choice while still rejoicing in new understandings brought to the text by philology and discoveries of less understood Hebrew meanings and cultural nuances.

Last revision: 7 February 2019

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