Thursday, July 23, 2009

Joel Beeke on Practical Reasons for Retaining the KJV

Thirteen practical reasons for retaining the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. By Dr. Joel R. Beeke who is the president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

1. The Standard Text of the English Bible

It is wiser to choose the known over against the unknown. The weaknesses and disadvantages of a particular version of the Bible cannot really be assessed apart from a thorough trial of daily usage over many years. Many who welcomed the New International Version (NIV) with great enthusiasm when it first appeared are now prepared to admit its serious weaknesses as a translation.

The KJV is well established in the market-place and in the literature of Christian scholarship. It will continue in production in many editions for years to come. Helps and reference works are commonly available. It is not likely that the KJV will fade from view and disappear as have many versions produced to supplant it.

Likewise the KJV is widely studied and commented on in the literature of biblical scholarship. It will always be a standard of reference and comparison of Bible commentators. All other versions are compared to it, contrasted with it, tested by it. Campaigns to sell other versions must attack it. The same cannot be said of any other Bible version.

2. Based on the Full Text of the Hebrew and Greek Originals

Based on the Textus Receptus (the Greek NT), and the Masoretic Text (Hebrew OT), the KJV gives the most authentic and fullest available text of the Scriptures, with none of the many omissions and textual rewrites of the modern translations such as the Revised Standard Versions (RSV) and the NIV.

(a) Oldest Does Not Mean Best - The Westcott and Hort arguments that 'the oldest manuscripts are the most reliable' and that 'age carries more weight than volume' are not necessarily true. It could well be that the two oldest, complete manuscripts were found to be in such unusually excellent condition because they were already recognized as faulty manuscripts in their time and therefore were placed aside and not recopied until worn out as were the reliable manuscripts. This is further supported by numerous existing differences between the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts.
(b) Volume - The King James Version is based upon the Traditional Text. The vast majority of the more than 5,000 known partial and complete Greek manuscripts follow this textual reading.
(c) Church History - The 'Received' or 'Ecclesiastical' Text has been used by the church historically. The English, French, Dutch, and German Reformation churches all used Bibles based on the Traditional Text. (The Dutch 'Statenvertaling' is also based upon the 'Ecclesiastic' Text.)

3. A More Faithful Method of Translation

The KJV translators employed a method of verbal equivalence ('word for word') rather than the method of paraphrase of dynamic equivalence ('meaning for meaning') used in the NIV. The result is that the KJV gives you what biblical authors wrote, not what a committee thinks they meant to write.

4. A More Honest Translation

The text of the KJV used italics to identify every word or phrase interpolated (supplied by the translator) and not given in the original. Such a practice was not followed in the NIV, lest the loose method of its translators be unmercifully exposed to view.

5. A More Precise Idiom

Often attacked at this very point, the KJV actually is a more accurate and helpful translation precisely because of the archaic pronouns ('thou, thy, thee,' etc.). Both Hebrew and Greek distinguish clearly between the 2nd person singular ('thou') and the 2nd person plural ('ye,you'). In many statements this makes an important difference (e.g. John 3:7). In a sense it is correct to say that in praying the Lord Jesus used 'Thou' - God is one, not many! - for he definitely used the Hebrew or Greek equivalent.

6. The Best Liturgical Text

The KJV excels as a version to be used in public worship. That is why it has been used so widely in the churches. The requirements of the sanctuary are not those of the classroom. Other versions may be helpful on occasions to the student, but none is more edifying to the worshipper.

7. The Best Format For Preaching

The KJV traditionally has been laid out verse by verse on the page, rather than in paragraphs; though for most of the text, paragraphs are indicated by a sign. The Hebrew and Greek texts, of course, have no paragraphing at all. The verse-by-verse format best serves the purpose of verse-by-verse consecutive expository sermonizing.

8. The Most Beautiful Translation

The KJV gives classic expression to many important passages in the Bible (e.g. Ps 23, Isa 53, Luke 2, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son). Our seniors need to hear these passages as a comfort and help as they draw near to the end of life's journey and our children need to hear them in the KJV as part of their nurture and education. They need to understand that the KJV is an important part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of all English-speaking Christians, and a key to our greatest literature. Children well instructed in the KJV will be greatly advantaged over other children, spiritually, linguistically, educationally, and culturally.

9. An Ecumenical Text For Reformed Christians

No other version has been used so widely among evangelical Christians. More significantly for Reformed Christians, this version is used by preference in many conservative Reformed congregations. The KJV is also used in the Christian schools these churches sponsor. Using the KJV is one way to underscore our unity and identity with other conservative evangelical and Reformed Christians.

10. A Practical Choice

The KJV is available in many editions; with a full range of helps and reference materials, not to mention computer software; in large-type, clear-print editions; and often priced well below modern translations.

11. 'Sounds' Like the Bible

More than any other version, the KJV sounds like the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The KJV translators aimed at this very thing. Even in 1611 the KJV sounded old-fashioned, ancient, a voice from the past. This was to command a reverent hearing, and to suggest the timeless and eternal character of God's Word.

The modern unbeliever, if he has any spiritual concern at all, is well aware that the contemporary scene really offers him no hope. He expects the church to speak in a way that is timeless and other-worldly.

Many church-goers and occasional visitors to a church go much more by 'feel' and 'mood' than by intellectual content or apprehension. They are more likely to take seriously what is said to them if they sense that this is something more important than a casual conversation.

12. The Character of the Translators

The fifty men appointed to translate the King James Version were not only well-known scholars, but were also men of sound religious faith. They were strong believers in every word of the Bible being inspired by God and in all the central doctrinal truths of Scripture. They were God-fearing men whose lives testified of a saving knowledge of these truths. This same testimony cannot be made of all translators serving on modern translation teams.

13. Upholds 'Old Paths'

Using the KJV is a clear statement of where we stand and want to be as a church walking in the 'old paths' of God's Word. 'Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls' (Jer 6:16). In choosing this version we choose to stand with all that is best in the great tradition of historic Christianity.

The penchant for new translations was part of the program of change which has done such harm to many denominations over the past century. This change to new translations was often part of an effort to strip worship services of dignity, reverence, and beauty, in favour of the casual, the contemporary, and the convenient. It also causes a congregation to lose touch with keeping the Word in memory. Memorization of the Scriptures suffers when each generation uses a different translation.


Duane said...

These are great arguments for the primacy of the Latin Vulgate for worship.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Dear Duane,

I am trying to get a read on your post, assuming it is meant to be sarcastic.

Someting like: "Using the KJV in this advanced day and age makes as much sense as reading the Latin Vulgate." Is that the drift?

Beeke is, of course, defending a distinctly Protestant or Reformed view of the text and translation of the Scriptures. If you had to translate the Bible into English, the RCs favored the use of the Latin Vulgate. The Reformers, however, went to the Hebrew MT and the Greek received text for their translations. Maybe you meant to say, "These are great arguments for the primacy of the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT for worship."

In addition: Like many modern text critics the RCs were also keen to point out the many variants in the Greek texts of the NT (and to use this as ammo in defending the Vulgate). See John Owen's response to Brian Walton's Polyglot in his Collected Works (vol. 16).

At any rate, the obvious preference is for intelligible translations from reliable texts.


Duane said...

Pastor Jeff,

I apologize, as I should have been more clear and I see how the comment can be taken in a variety of ways. Let me clarify that I think these are all excellent points about the aesthetic and liturgical value of the KJV versus more modern translations into English. The part about it "feeling like the word of God" in particularly moved me.

My brief comment was meant to point out that many of the same arguments hold for the Latin Vulgate. Like the KJV we know where it lacks, but it remains an authoritative version for all others to stand against. Both the KJV and LV are inspiring renditions of Holy Scripture that have transformed lives and nations.

Its fashionable these days to pick apart the great translations through the critical method but one can't help but be in awe of how powerfully they still speak to all generations. I'll be surprised if the NIV is regarded this way in centuries to come.

I hope this clarifies how much I appreciated the posting.

Anonymous said...

I think many of these points are valid, although I do not necessarily agree with the conclusion. It is only a comparison of the KJV and NIV, when many people are going with the NASB (which is what I prefer).

What is meant by "retain?" Retain it as a source? Primary daily reading?

1. Standard Text. Biblical scholars and pastors will likely read at least a couple (probably several) translations, and commentary. I don't see that changing. As far as attacks from new versions - that comes from being first and established, not "right?"

3-5. More faithful & honest? You would get an argument about the NASB, and even isolated text for other versions.

6. Best Liturgical Text. I disagree here. A few centuries of habit doesn't make it the best. (It also does not make it NOT the best either...). I am not sure there was a point other than it has been used for a long time.

7. I have to defer to you on this, but I don't think the pastor and congregation all need the same version.

8. Eye of the beholder. I'd say easier to understand would more important (if we are going past accuracy..).

10. Not so much anymore.

12. A long post and response in itself.

13. I don't buy this one. There are many reasons for the decline of denominations. Changing the Bible to something that better fits them is a bad sign. So are hundreds of other things. Maybe they want to drop the Baptist Hymnal? This is a problem with the church and people, not an argument in favor of keeping a tight grip on a translation of the Bible (again...assuming the translations are accurate).

The bottom line for me is that they are all translations. We are not reading original manuscripts. If there is another literal (as it can be) translation AND it is more readable, and so on, it would be hard for me to say the KJV should be the primary text ONLY because it is old and also meets all of the qualifications. I'd love, one day, to have one that is the most absolutely accurate, maningful translation, ever! I'll be glad one day to hear it directly from the Source!

What about the discovery of additional texts that have provided more accuracy in translating and understanding the meaing of words and phrases??

I should make it clear I am not arguing against the KJV - just that I don't necessarily think Beeke's arguments are that strong.
I think the best Bible is the one that a person is reading, whether it is KJV or the Living Bible. If it gets them saved and focusing on living a Godly life, great. If they get beyond that and study different translations and texts, great!

But... I also go to a Bible & Christ based church with thousands in attendance, casually dressed, and loud music, to give it some perspecive. I had about 12 translations on my Palm years ago, but the Blackberry is horribly for manuevering though text.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the clarification, though I'm still a bit cloudy on your praise for the Vulgate. Are you RC?


A few responses:

The issue with the NASB (and all other modern translations except the NKJV) would be the text and not merely the translation. KJV and NKJV are based on the traditional text of Scripture (OT: Masoretic text and NT: Textus Receptus) while the modern translations are based on the modern critical texts.

As for the last point, Beeke, and others, are raising the questions of whether the multiplication of translations have really added to or taken away from our sense of Scripture's authority.

Yes, God can convert someone via the Living Bible, just as be could speak through Balaam's donkey, but let's not try the Lord put a donkey in the pulpit!


Anonymous said...

I believe Dr. Beeke is correct. Many years ago, I gave up using the modern English versions. Since then I have found clear comprehension of biblical truth. (I am not confused about Who God is, His sovereignty, His Glory, His people and their purposes.) As a result, I find agreement in my conclusions from study with the historical writers. I challenge everyone to stop just believing the modern message concerning Bible versions, and instead try reading the KJV. See for yourselves what I have experienced.