Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why prefer the KJV?

The Principal Reasons I prefer the KJV

Those who have been reading my blog will note that I normally quote from the KJV translation of the Scriptures. Also, some readers who have been following closely will recall this recent post (linked), in which I responded to Mr. Kurschner's article (linked) that is somewhat critical (pun cheerfully intended) of the Greek text that underlies the KJV. My pattern of usage, and my response (may I dare to view it as a rebuttal?) do not positively or clearly set forth my own position.

Why do I prefer the KJV? The short answer is that I think that the KJV is the best English translation available.

Some of the reasons why I think so include:

- The use of a distinct second person singular pronoun, i.e. "thee/thou" in contrast to "ye/you." There are other (at least most of them older) translations that make a similar distinction. The KJV, however, is the best among those English translations that do so distinguish. All the "modern" translations that eliminate this distinction automatically take information away from the reader.

- The accuracy of the translation from Greek. The KJV translators generally translated using a literal methodology: in other words, to the extent possible, they translated word-for-word. There are some natural exceptions, such as periphrastic constructions and article usage, in which English cannot precisely follow the Greek. One reason I will never use certain of the modern translations is that they translate the Greek text less well, because they attempt to convey the gist, instead of the words. Thus, when you read - for example - the NIV, you are frequently reading not a literal translation but a paraphrase or gloss.

It is important to note that this is a big difference as compared with the NIV, and a relatively small difference compared to, for example, the ASV, ESV, or even the NASB. Nevertheless, in most cases when there is a difference in the reading between the KJV and the ASV, ESV, or NASB, after studying the underlying Greek text, I conclude the KJV's reading is the best reading of the major translations. There are certainly exceptions to that general rule. I am not saying that the KJV's rendering is always or monotonically the best.

- The choice of underlying Greek text in the New Testament, and - to a lesser extent - the emphasis on the Hebrew text in the Old Testament. I do prefer the critical text of the Reformation to the critical text of modern liberalism. I do believe that God providentially preserved the text of Scripture from both significant subtractions AND significant additions. I am not particularly interested in debating specific readings because - frankly - there are a plethora of variants. The Johannine comma (I John 5:7b-8a) would, however, provide for an excellent comparison of the providential preservation argument, versus the modern reductionist argument, especially because of the exaggerated claims of some of those who oppose it.

- The ease of reading many classic reformed writers. Many classic reformed writers relied on the KJV in their sermons, commentaries, and letters. Reading and understanding these writers is enhanced by familiarity with the KJV.

- The beauty of the readings. The KJV is written in a remarkably beautiful style, which is not matched by any of the modern translations.

- One exception: for singing, the KJV's rendering of the Psalms is practically useless. For singing, other translations, such as the Scottish and Irish metrical psalters would be my preference. I would pick those two in preference over the RPCNA's current psalter, and certainly far above most of the paraphrases found in the "Trinity Hymnal" and other hymnals.

- One caveat: although I think the KJV is the best English translation for personal devotions, public worship, and apologetics, English is not a substitute for Greek and Hebrew. Serious study cannot rely solely on one English translation, or even on a handful of English translations. I am always saddened when I listen to, or read, a sermon that was written by a preacher who did not find time to review the underlying text. How can I tell? I can tell when preachers misunderstand that more elegant (and sometimes archaic) language of the KJV, and conclude something from the text that requires imposing a modern sense of the word on the word in the text, or - more often - when preachers emphasize a word choice in the NIV that is not motivated by the Greek. Depending on one's background, one may have heard more of the first or more of the second kind of errors. Both are a shame, and can be largely avoided.

Praise be to the God of the Bible!



Anonymous said...

Very well written. I love this entry. Danke sehr!!

Turretinfan said...

I believe the appropriate German response is "Bitte," but you're welcome to the post in any language, and I'm glad you liked it.