I know this may come as a bit of a surprise for some, but for all the reasons that the KJV was so far ahead of the other translations in its time, is the same reason that several more modern translations have passed it up now in terms of the overall quality of the translation.
Here’s a bit of a run down on what I mean. The KJV comes from an older textual stream. Basically, that means that since the early 1600s we have acquired more manuscripts of the original text that are much better copies. We have manuscripts now that have fewer errors and mistakes made by copyists. And the newer translations use those manuscripts. As a result, those newer translations are going to be a little more accurate. Now, most of the errors are small and insignificant – especially when it comes to doctrine and theology. But there are some that do play a larger role. For example, in the KJV, 1 John 5:7 reads “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” This verse is not in any other modern translation. Simply because we have more manuscripts to look at now and none of them have this verse. In fact, there are only two manuscripts in the entire world that have the verse like this. One of them was copied in the 1400s and the other in the 1500s. We now have manuscripts that are 1000 years older (that is 1000 years closer to when it was actually written) that do not have the verse like that. Now, this isn’t a slight against the men who translated the KJV. They just didn’t have the information that we have now.
Another issue is that the KJV contains many words that are no longer used in the English language – at least not in the English that is spoken in the United States. We just don’t use words like peradventure, longsuffering, sleight, circumspectly, etc. (I got these words from reading chapters four and five in Ephesians). Someone might say, well those are Bible words. Huh? What’s a Bible word? Actually, they are old English words that people living 400 years ago used: just because the words are old doesn’t make them more scriptural.
Here’s another way to think about it. What’s the most important relationship you have on earth? If you’re married – it’s your spouse. If you’re not married, it’s probably your parent(s) or a best friend. Now, how would you feel if every time that person, your husband, wife, mom, dad or best friend spoke to you they used words you couldn’t understand? It would make communicating more difficult and would eventually strain your relationship. How much more important is the relationship you have with God? The Bible is the way that He talks to you. Why wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to make sure you understand what He’s saying?
The last point regarding the KJV is that there is simply more errors involving the actual translation. That is, mistakes made from ignorance by the translators. Consider the setting of the early 1600s. They had only come out of the Dark Ages about three, maybe four or five, generations earlier. The Dark Ages was a time when there was no scholarship, no developments of human life or thinking. And biblical languages had not been studied seriously since about 1000 AD. That means that there would have been limited information and knowledge concerning these languages that had not been spoken or read consistently for some time. It simply takes a while for scholarship to build upon previous scholarship so that a knowledge base can grow and develop. And compared to what is available today – their knowledge base in 1600 was extremely weak.
All this makes it sound like I think the KJV is just awful and needs to be put up on the shelf. That’s not the case. It’s a beautifully written masterpiece of literature that has a rich tradition and history. And it’s a good translation. But for in-depth Bible study there are other versions that more accurately translate the original languages. Unfortunately, many people who grew up on the KJV (and love it today) do not understand its history and limitations. And it’s even more unfortunate that many of these people are so dogmatic about the use of the KJV, even going so far as to say that it’s the only true or “authorized” version. I ever heard one man say that it’s the version that Paul used. That’s sad and unfortunate.
So I’ll close this short little series by saying this: use the translation that you feel most comfortable with and can understand without having to get a dictionary. And please, understand that all translations are going to have issues. But if your interest is in-depth study there are particular translations that are going to offer a stronger rendering of the Greek and Hebrew.
May God bless you as you seek out His will!