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, and multiple other helps.

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. To me, 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 about four dozen. I also utilize various interlinears that have proven to be quite useful, along with the lexicons. These tools 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 numerous verses where other translations render a more correct rendition to the extant Hebrew texts. 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 the Hebrew. 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 into English (or Spanish for that matter), especially as it contains the JST notes. The Prophet Joseph Smith professed, nevertheless, 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 renderings (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, for myself. I rather be the interpreter of the meaning.

Examples of the literal-tending translations include the KJV, NASB, LITV, ASV, HCSB, Rotherham, Alter, Fox 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.

I subscribe to the mantra that “all translation is interpretation.” Furthermore, all exegesis involves eisegesis. That is, “the interpretation of a text (especially of the Bible) that shows the partiality and prejudices of the interpreter and not the real meaning of the text being exegeted” (Spanish Dictionary, but also see Webster). It is not possible to read something without interpreting it. May I remind us of the obvious, as we read anything, we tend to look for materials that confirm our worldview and discard those that point the other direction.

But returning to Bible translations, there is a lot more interpretation in dynamic equivalence and paraphrases than there is in the more literal versions. As I noted above, 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.

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.”

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 the 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.

Numerous papers suggest that more recent translations, those that are not based on the Received Text, are more reliable. The reason for this claim is that modern Bible translations are based on more recent manuscripts. Please be careful before you believe the claims that the age of a manuscript is sufficient on its own, to declare a text more correct. Once again, I recommend the paper by Elder J. Reuben Clark, which is very readable and well written on this debatable subject.

One of the foremost experts on Textual Criticism, Emanuel Tov, warned about that common fallacy regarding the age of manuscripts: “Older witnesses are often presented as being preferable to more recent ones.” Because we do not have the original text (i.e., the autograph) it is not possible to know which of the manuscripts is the more correct one. Tov continues, “Reliance on the age of documents is seemingly desirable, because the closer the document is to the time of the original text (the autograph), the more likely it is to have preserved the wording of that text. However, some copyists preserved their source better than others” (Tov, E., 2012. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 3rd Edition, also see p. 301 in the 2nd edition). The fact is, that scientifically we simply do not know which manuscript is the most accurate to the original, and age of the manuscript provides no clear answer to the quandary.

Throughout my life I have seen a transition or trend between putting a footnote to point out a more progressive worldview; to having that view replace the more traditional one, with a footnote on the traditional perspective; to just substituting the progressive view without including a footnote. This is also the trend in translations that have removed much of the Christology and divinity of Christ in the New Testament. Or, the modern view that Isaiah was written by multiple authors. When these views are stated as facts without even a footnote, I find it disconcerting.

Indeed, we can better gauge the correctness of a Biblical text by how it compares to the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the teachings of the Brethren, when these helps exist. Please do not misunderstand me, if another Bible translation has something to add, I find it wonderful if the speaker or author introduces such a translation. I certainly do that or provide my own translation from the Hebrew.

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 one of my latest acquisitions, 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 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of 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.

Members of the Restored Church

I am grateful to participants in a conversation in the Latter-day Saint Scripture and the Ancient Near East Facebook group, on 4 August 2019. A list of General Conference talks where the Brethren quote from a source other than the KJV is included. This was a great starting point for me to do a search through the LDS Scripture Citation Index, where I was able to find only a couple of additional instances.

These FB participants where particularly concerned that there are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who feel that the use of other versions by members is illicit. If we do not count Elder J. Reuben Clark’s talk (who speaks against other versions) and President David O. McKay’s talk (mildly negative about the elimination of one word), there are a total of 19 Scriptures quoted from 11 talks, three-quarters of these coming from 6 talks given by Elder Uchtdorf. The other quarter is divided among five other speakers, giving single talks. These 19 citations come from talks delivered between 1991 and 2019, a 28-year period. The versions used are the NIV, NET, RSV, NEB, ESV, and NKJV.

These 19 citations are negligible when contrasted to the total number of Scriptures quoted by General Conference speakers during this same 28-year period. But that is not the point. For those who worry that it is somehow wrong to even open a different edition of the Scriptures besides the KJV, there is much relief to be found. Four of the speakers are Apostles (Elders Uchtdorf, Hales, Maxwell and Holland) and two are other General Authorities (Elders Uceda and Maynes). While it had not crossed my mind that consulting other versions might be frowned upon, with this list of General Authorities I believe it is clearly acceptable to not only consult other versions, but as others have suggested, to quote from them as well.

That is not to say that we should not be careful. My hypothesis was that the Brethren would (1) use only some Scriptural references from other translations; (2) that there would be no fanfare in terms of telling the audience that a different translation was being used (but rather, that they would find a quiet place in the footnotes); or (3) that if the General Conference speakers mentioned a different edition, that they would explain why in this instance such a rendition was interesting to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As it turns out, I could not find a single instance of a speaker in General Conference announcing that a particular Scripture being quoted came from another translation. And yes, the only way we know they were used is because the appropriate citation is included in the footnotes. Also, indeed, only 18% of the citations in these talks came from translations other than the KJV. The highest percentage of alternate translations was 50% for Elder Maynes who only quoted two Scriptures from the Bible in his General Conference talk.

Archaic language 

I was born and raised in Chile, and while I was exposed to English as a child, I did not have a copy of the King James Version until I was nineteen. I fell in love with this translation and to this day it is my favorite. The archaic language even has an advantage in terms of accuracy.

It has to do with the use of the terms thee, thou, you, and the like. For the most part, the KJV provides a faithful translation of these terms from the Hebrew. While in modern English we do not differentiate between thou (second person singular) and you (second person plural), the King James Version has preserved these.

The King James Version also, at times, preserves what some might find difficult to understand expressions because of the literal fashion of the translation. Some of these provide an excellent opportunity to be transported to the Biblical times, and perhaps come close enough to smell the camels and the sheep, so to speak. For those who are interested there are lists of words and books published that point out some of these archaic terms, such as the Bible Wordbook (2nd Edition) by William Aldis Wright.

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 in English while still rejoicing in new understandings brought to the text by philology and discoveries of less understood Hebrew meanings and cultural nuances. I continually find verses which seem to be better translated by this or that version other than the KJV, and I rejoice as I do. It helps me get into the Hebrew text. As the Prophet Brigham Young often underscored, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we look for truth wherever it may be found. Let the Spirit guide you in your quest for understanding of the Scriptures.

Last revision: 17 November 2019

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