It goes without saying that KJV Onlyists make a big deal about differences–any differences– between the KJV and modern versions. I’ve heard some stress that changes even in word order (as in Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ) and spelling (every jot and tittle, remember) are equally important. In many KJV Only materials, the presence or absence of Lord in Jesus’ title (Lord Jesus Christ) is called out as a doctrinal deficiency in the modern versions. Whenever “God” is removed (it depends how you look at it whether it was removed or added in by the KJV), important contextual clues like “my” or “their”, and even when words are have a different number, red flags fly and our suspicions are to rise regarding the doctrinal position of the translators or the editors of the text.
So when it comes to the King James Only position, David Cloud sums things up well when he asserts:
In the N.T. alone there are almost 10,000 word differences between the Textus Receptus and the Westcott-Hort text… It is true that many of these changes are not as significant as others–but ALL ARE real differences. More than 2,800 of the words in the Received Text are omitted in the W-H text underlying the modern versions…. — David Cloud, For Love of the Bible: The Battle for the King James Version and the Received Text from 1800 to Present (WoL 1995), pg. 57.
While they do set up the KJV as the standard by which everything else is judged (which begs the question), I can understand their point. Differences matter, even small ones. But when we come to the different editions of the Textus Receptus and the differences between King James Bibles in common use today, the KJV Only tune changes. Almost in total, KJV Onlyists downplay the differences between the King James Bibles. They try to pretend they aren’t signifcant differences even as they elevate every minor difference between the KJV and modern versions.
Isn’t this a double standard? I’m not saying the differences between the KJV editions are as many or as big a deal as the difference between the KJV and modern versions. But it is an important point for KJV Onlyists to answer. If small differences are enough to condemn modern versions, think NKJV here too; then small differences of word order and even to God’s name exist within the various KJV editions. Why is it okay that King James Bibles differ among themselves, but not okay that modern versions differn from King James Bibles?
Consider what some leading KJV Only advocates say about the various editions of the KJV:
The present King James Bible changes the spellings and the punctuation and the capitalization, but not the words of the 1611. I have compared the 1611 original to the present King James Bible (the old Scofield editor (sic) of 1917) and I found very few changes to the ear (about 136 where they add an “and” or a “but” or some other minor word or eliminate such a word). There are almost 800,000 words in the Bible and to have only 136 words which are revised is very (sic) small number indeed. — D.A. Waite, Central Seminary REFUTED on Bible Versions (BFT 1999), pg. 112.
To admit that the KJV could be updated and improved in certain points is not to say that it contains errors. We believe this is an important matter, because we are dealing with biblical authority. Further, those who point out errors in the KJV often act as if this version were merely the informal product of a few inconsequential translators. On the contrary; the Authorized English Version is the product of the most intense, scholarly, sacrificial, wide-reaching Bible translation and revision effort ever to be made in any language in history. (The revisions since 1870 cannot properly be placed into this stream, as they have taken off on an entirely different textual and methodological direction.) If the KJV has all of the errors that so many speak of, why weren’t these errors found and corrected between 1526 and 1638 (the date of the last formal revision, other than the orthographical revision of the 1760s, of the 1611 KJV)? We personally do not believe there are any true errors. — David Cloud, For Love of the Bible: The Battle for the King James Version and the Received Text from 1800 to Present (WoL 1995), pg. 93.
Though it [the KJV] has gone through a number of revisions to update spelling, punctuation, and other publishing errata, it held virtual monompoly status in the English-speaking world for three hundred years…. David Sorenson, Touch Not the Unclean Thing: The Text Issue and Separation (NBM 2001), pg. 46.
Reading this one should basically just ignore the differences because they are meaningless and small. But the leading authority on the KJV text, and the very one who produced the version of the Textus Receptus most widely revered and used in KJV Only and TR Only circles, would disagree strongly:
Most readers will be aware that numberless and not inconsiderable departures from the original or standard edition of the Authorized Translation as published in 1611, are to be found in the modern Bibles which issue from the press by thousands every year. Some of these differences must be imputed to oversight and negligence, from which no work of man can be entirely free; but much the greater part of them are deliberate changes, introduced silently and without authority by men whose very names are often unknown. Now, if such alterations had been made invariably for the worse, it would have been easy in future editions to recall the primitive readings, and utterly to reject the later corruptions. This, however, is far from being the case. Not a few of these variations, especially those first met with in Cambridge folio Bibles dated 1629 and 1638, which must have been superintended with much critical care, amend manifest faults of the original Translators or editors, so that it would be most injudicious to remove them from the place they have deservedly held in all our copies for the last 250 years…. — F.H.A. Scrivener The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1611), Its Subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives (Cambridge University Press, 1884), pg. 3-4.
Scrivener goes on in his work to detail the state of the current KJV, and he betrays a vast wealth of knowledge of the various past editions of the KJV. He includes appendices which list variations from the 1611 KJV retained in his 1873 Cambridge paragraph Bible, variations between the two editions of the KJV each published in 1611, and readings of the 1611 KJV which had been corrected in later editions which are restored in the 1873 Cambridge Bible. He also adds an appendix on the places the KJV departs from Beza’s 1598 or Stephanus’ 1550 Greek text, or both. Certainly his scholarship should not be doubted. Upon perusing his work and the listing of variations I tend to agree with James White’s honest assessment:
Does the modern edition of the KJV differ significantly from the 1611? That depends upon how one defines significantly. For the general audience seeking merely to understand the KJV’s textual tradition, no–most revisions have dealt with small matters of spelling, punctuation, etc. But for those who assert the KJV’s absolute inerrancy, the question looms large: which KJV?…
Are these changes important? Surely they present a sticky problem for the radical KJV Only proponent. How are textual changes like this to be handled? How can one determine the “right” reading, when the KJV is made the absolute standard?… — James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?, revised edition (Bethany House, 2009), pg. 124-125.
With no further ado, I present a list of 50 changes from the 1611 edition to the 1873 edition. There are twice as many more that are as signficant, if not more. Sure the number is low, but its not a matter of 2 competing Bibles either. There are hundreds of variations. Compare your Bibles at home on these passages and see if they are all alike? There are other differences such as thoroughly vs. throughly at 2 Tim. 3:17. And there are places where the changes made in later years were later retracted.
So I ask, Which King James Bible? Which one was approved by the churches? If the text in 1873 is established, waht about the textual choices behind the 1611 KJV? How do they give us the approved version of the TR? If 1873 or some such later year is chosen as the perfect KJV version, then hasn’t the textual stabilization and developmen process been progressing all along, for hundreds of years beyond 1611? Why couldn’t the 1881 revision be seen as a legitimate extension of this revision process? These questions can wait for another post, but for now again ask yourself, Which Bible?
Click the chart below to expand. Skip down past the chart to the end for a couple links for more information on this issue.
For more info on variations between King James Bibles:
- Michael Marlowe details many of the updates made to the KJV (including the fact that the italics were greatly expanded upon in later revisions from the original)
- Rick Norris lists some changes and discusses the issue here.