Why it is Wrong for you to be King James Only

BibleThis is an insane article to write. It is almost like I’m trying to pick a fight with many members of my own tribe. But one of the benefits of having three older brothers is that you learn not to fear a fight. I’m going to offend many for whom the King James Version is the one and only English Bible.  I’m saying that if you are “King James Only” you are wrong.

First let me begin in good diplomatic fashion by saying lots of nice things about the King James Version of the Bible.

  • It is super accurate. Going back to my last article comparing bible translations, I would list the KJV on the most  accurate end of the spectrum. It isn’t a paraphrase. The translators (who were the brightest lights of their day) did an absolutely masterful job of communicating the meaning of the original languages into good (1611) English.
  • It is beautiful. I mean that. It really is majestic, brilliant, transcendent language.   This is why almost all Christians pray The Lord’s Prayer in King James English. “Hallowed” is not the way we would communicate the same thing in contemporary language, but who’s going to tinker with The Lord’s Prayer? Same as regards Psalm 23. If I’m reading Psalm 23 at a funeral, I promise you that it won’t be from the NIV! By no means! The KJV trumps all contenders in this regard.
  • It is a classic. For four hundred years this has been a standard work in the English language. For many Americans for a couple of centuries the KJV and the works of William Shakespeare comprised the sum total of tomes likely to be found on a family bookshelf. The influence of the KJV on the literature, language, education, and worldview of our civilization is incalculable.

Okay, now that I’ve boasted in its merits, let me now proceed to demolish the KJV as your bible translation of preference.

  • It is not understandable. The King James uses language that no one uses today. Do you know what “bestead” means? No? It means “hard pressed.” But no one uses “bestead” nowadays, so to understand what it means you’d need to have an Elizabethan dictionary ready at hand. Know what “sackbut” is? A stringed instrument. How about “Blains”? Boils. “Carbuncle”? Emerald. The language is archaic and you can’t understand it easily. Why use a translation that you can’t understand when we have so many readily available that you can? I personally love the KJV (and Shakespeare) because of these archaic terms…because I’m a gigantic word geek. But if you are reading the Bible to understand it, this is not helpful.

Now I know that some will say here, “That is why I read the NKJV!” – the New King James Version of the Bible. The NKJV does update the archaic English – changing “thee” to “you” and “sackbut” to “harp.” But the NKJV is no good either and you shouldn’t make it your preferred translation. How’s come? Because of reason #2:

  • It is based on inferior manuscripts. The KJV and the NKJV are based on manuscripts of the Old and New Testament that are inferior to the manuscripts used in modern translations. This gets a little bit complicated and I’ll explain how all this works in a future post, but I’ll try to give a little thumbnail here….

The KJV is based on the best manuscripts available at the time. For the New Testament this meant the textus receptus. A brilliant fellow named Erasmus had taken the Greek copies of the New Testament available to him and put together one eclectic Greek text. The problem? He only had four manuscripts, and these weren’t the best four. A few verses of Revelation were missing altogether and Erasmus back-translated them from the Latin Vulgate into Greek. We now have far better and earlier manuscripts than were available to the KJV translators – we have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, many of which are over a thousand years older than anything Erasmus had. This means we have a more accurate starting point for the translators to work with. The New King James follows the same inferior manuscript family (the 4 rather than the 5,000!).

Why would we prefer to have our translation based on later and fewer manuscripts rather than earlier, more and better ones? I can’t think of a single reason.


If the King James was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.” I think this is a joke, but having spoken to some folks in this camp I’m not so sure. I think some folks really do believe that the KJV was lowered directly from heaven. This is akin to the doctrine of Mormons with Joseph Smith and his golden plates. This is similar to the doctrine of Muslims as regards the Koran. It is not the correct view of the way we received the scriptures. God communicated in the language of the people to whom he communicated. The scriptures have always been translated into the language of ordinary people, a tradition carried on today through great organizations such as the Wycliffe Bible Translators. The Bible is a book that is meant to be understood, and therefore meant to be accurately translated.

The KJV was not the first English translation of the Bible. Before 1611 we had the Wycliffe translation, the translation of William Tyndale (which served as the basis of the KJV itself!), and the work of many other fine bible translators. Ironically the KJV was resisted upon its publication by those who preferred older and more familiar translations.

This is human nature – we abhor change; we prefer what we know. Particularly in matters sacred, such as the Bible. But those who prefer the KJV do so primarily because it is what they know, not because it’s better. It’s the same reason I prefer the NIV. But the NIV will be (has been?) replaced in the evangelical heart by newer comers, as is fit and right. The work of Bible translation can and should go on, so that every generation can read and understand God’s Word in their own language and idiom.