Summary: The King James Version has over 8,000 variants — comprised of marginal notes explaining alternatives to the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek words used in the source texts for the Bible. The KJV ONLY advocates argue that there is no question that the English words selected are guaranteed by the Holy Spirit to be the proper English words to accurately convey the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek. However, the 8,422 variants inserted in the margins by the 47 translators of the King James Version constitute 8,422 issues raised regarding variations that may be as probable to be just as correct as the words they selected for the verses in question. In light of this fact, is it coherent to argue the KJV is inerrant when the translators admit the word they selected may not be the right word conveying the correct meaning of the biblical author?
What Differences Does the “Day” Make?
Most of us who study the Bible understand that a particular Greek or Hebrew word may have multiple meanings. Even a casual look at Strong’s Concordance demonstrates this. This is one of the major reasons why claiming the 1611 translation of the King James Version (KJV) is “inerrant” is incoherent. To argue that every word is correct, all spellings are correct, all sentences are grammatically correct, nothing has been omitted, and literally “nothing has been lost in translation,” goes against the methodology of the 47 scholars who translated the KJV from the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (in a few passages, mostly in Daniel). They readily testified to the fact there are variations in meaning which we call “variants.” They addressed this issue by providing thousands of marginal notes to expose the different ways in which words could be translated. Furthermore, they encouraged readers to make note of these variations to add additional nuance and meaning to what the Word of God says. Given this is what they said about their own work, the marginal notes weren’t an oversight or accident. They were a key part of their translation.
However, very much in contrast, the point has been argued by the leaders of the KJV ONLY position that “marginal notes” offering a different
meaning to a particular word, only confuse the reader and should be eliminated from the Scripture. They strongly but wrongly argue that to offer variant meanings is to deny the inspiration of God through the KJV translators down to the very word and letter of what was translated. But should we go along with this viewpoint? Does this really make sense? Is it possible that a translation can be inerrant? Or does it require a reset on where the emphasis is placed so that our focus is only on what text is inspired? Logically, two versions of the Bible that differ can’t both be inerrant if we claim only one of them has no errors. If one contradicts the other, one of them is wrong. If one needs the other to clarify its meaning, only the “other” is inspired and the former is not.
A good example comes with the matter that one word can indicate multiple things in the Hebrew and it leads to the selection of many different English words to convey the meaning chosen by the translation in a given verse. However, when it is the English translation that is inspired, things become peculiar in comparison to how students of the Bible typically seek out the meaning of a passage. Succinctly put, whatever the Hebrew word may have meant in the Hebrew version of Scripture, can no longer serve as a reference. If the English is inspired, the Hebrew no longer matters. In our situation, this means be must rely exclusively upon the KJV translation in the English as the only text that possesses the one and only correct way to understand a given word within any given passage. For KJV ONLY persons, this means that the Hebrew and the Greek Bibles can now be tossed.
For instance, take the word “day” in Hebrew, transliterated as yowm, and pronounced yom with a long “o.” It has many meanings depending on the context. According to Strong’s, “The KJV translates Strong’s H3117 in the following manner: day (2,008x), time (64x), chronicles (with H1697) (37x), daily (44x), ever (18x), year (14x), continually (10x), when (10x), as (10x), while (8x), full (8x), always (4x), whole (4x), alway (4x), miscellaneous (44x).” As to the length of time that it conveys, it is highly variable in whether it is a day, a period of time, or even a year. The concordance spells this out in a dizzying array of meanings.
- Day (as opposed to night)
- Day (24 hour period)
- as defined by evening and morning in Genesis 1
- as a division of time
- a working day, a day’s journey
- Days, lifetime (pl.)
- Time, period (general)
- Temporal references
Because of this variability, it becomes difficult to argue that the word day should be interpreted as one revolution of the earth. In regards to biblical phrases or passages, the notion of “what a day means” is not obvious. For example, is the Day of the Lord (1) one 24-hour period, which many in eschatology assert, or (2) is it equal to a number of years; or (3) is it not really a time-period at all because it really means a time of judgement of variable length? Likewise, consider the use of the phrase, “in Adam’s day.” Does it simply mean no more than one-seventh of one week in his life? No. It means instead the lifetime of Adam, his lifespan, which was 930 years. Finally, when we read in Genesis, chapter one, that the Lord God made all the earth and everything in it in six days, we are motivated to ask, “Are these six days 24-hour days or are they some other span of time? Do ‘days’ represent ages or eons? Or are they stages or phases?”
The English words chosen to translate yowm become set in concrete if the English is understood as the one inspired translation. No fair going back to the Hebrew to better understand what yowm might have meant. It’s frozen in the English Bible now, that is, if the KJV is the sole authority. Given that the KJV ONLY crowd seem to want it this way, perhaps we should stipulate to this wish for argument’s sake and see if the outcome continues to be satisfactory. If such is he case, we would then see that the work of translation would be complete. The English words have been selected and they can’t be changed (and let’s disregard for a moment that there are been many revisions of the KJV where words have been changed). So this demands that exegesis must now be directed solely to the English word and how Webster defines the English word. Yes, context still provides insight into the exact meaning of the word. But no cheating. We can no longer go back and look at the Greek or the Hebrew. The English is the authority now. The words as stated in the KJV are the only words we can trust because they are inerrant and inspired — the Hebrew and Greek are not.
Despite the fact that the KJV scholars implied that their marginal notes left the verdict unsettled as to what a word or verse means in 8,422 places where a comment exists, apparently the KJV ONLY position asserts we should also ignore these notes and the hesitancy of the translators to confirm one and only one interpretation. They made their choice of the best word to use. We have to live with that word henceforth and forever.
Did the KJV Scholars Want There to Be Variants in the Text?
We know this by the sheer number of marginal comments in the original 1611 version that the 47 scholars would find this position absurd. Additionally, we know this by the importance of comments they made in the Preface to the 1611 KJV regarding the value of marginal notes. First, be apprised of how many such comments there are: 8,422 marginal notes exist in both Testaments. As to the value of having the marginal notes to amplify (not to confuse) the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek, they had this to say: “Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be sound in this point.”
Updating their words in a paraphrase to aid the reader’s understanding, “Some might have their doubts about the wisdom of placing alternative meanings for a word translated “such and such” in the margin since this could cause the authority of Scripture to be harmed when this “foot-noted verse” is cited to decide a controversy as it could shake the confidence we have in our Bible’s clarity. However, we believe that this point of view does not stand to reason.”
Furthermore, the scholars admit that many Hebrew or Greek words are used in the Scripture only once and so there is nothing that can be gained by attempting to find out what the word means in another context for there is no other context. In the case where there are strong opinions but little to go on to make the author’s sense clear-cut, they contend it’s better to make note of the variants and cease being dogmatic about the proper meaning. In effect, they are refusing to stand by only one way to interpret a verse – only one possible way to translate the verse in English. In their own words they make this perfectly plain: “Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?” They also quote St. Augustine to justify their timidity to establish only one possible interpretation: “Therefore (he) saith the variety of translations is profitable for finding out the sense of the Scriptures.” And they continue, “So diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary as we are persuaded.”
There is no doubt that the scholars communicated to us that what they translated was NOT the final word. The individual reader retains the right to judge for him or herself as disorganized as that appears to be. In effect, the individual is sovereign and answerable to God. In other words, the reader must be responsible, through his or her study, through seeking the guidance of another more learned in the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit Himself, to lead the reader to exercise faith that the passage means what they affirm it to mean; unless the verdict is consciously left open because the reader doesn’t assess the Scripture is inclined to give us only one way to understand its meaning. This is the way of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic can ask the Priest who can ask the Pope. But the individual, in Reformed Theology, must trust in the LORD that the meaning of any specific passage, verse, or word can be made plain and the heart set on God will find its way.
Just to reiterate this key point: If the English translation is inspired and inerrant, there really can be no reason to ever consult the Hebrew or Greek to gain clarification on a confusing matter or a different sense of what the original author meant by what he wrote in the original language. If the English is inspired, then the original languages have no value and should not be studied. Indeed, this is yet another argument of the KJV ONLY community. They assert that since so few Christians understand the original languages, the KJV ONLY adherents argue they have no use anyway for these old languages. Thus, such tools like Strong’s Concordance have no value but only add to the confusion — because they take the student of Scripture back to the original languages.
And So the Septuagint Has No Value To Clarify the Bible’s Meaning Either?
Given that the English alone should be consulted to understand the meaning of the Bible, there is no point to bring up the subject of the Septuagint. The view of the KJV ONLY brethren is that the Septuagint had no place in the 1611 authorized translation. So, the Septuagint is also a waste of time. The reader can see why this author who just finished writing a book on the Septuagint has to wade deep into the whole issue of “King James Onlyism.” Consequently, I am more or less required to ask, “Is this what the translators of the King James believed? Did they find the Septuagint without value?”
In a word, no. On this point as well, the arguments of the KING JAMES ONLY brethren contradicts what the 47 translators clearly expressed.
Recall from my comments in earlier articles, there were places where the translation would have gotten the Word of God wrong if ONLY the Hebrew (Masoretic) had been consulted. For instance, I’ve mentioned the messianic prophecy by King David of Psalm 22:16, where the Septuagint agrees with the New Testament in quoting the prophecy as “they pierced my hands and my feet” and not with the Masoretic which reads, “my hands are like lions.” Likewise, Isaiah 7:14 that tells us the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Septuagint) and not of a young woman (Masoretic).
But there are direct statements that we must make note of as well. The scholars credited the Septuagint in the following passage of the KJV Preface:
This is the translation of the Seventy Interpreters, commonly so called, which prepared the way of our Savior among the Gentiles by written preaching as Saint John Baptist did among the Jews by vocal…
And even though they point out their preference for the Hebrew Masoretic (of Rabbi Akiba) over the Septuagint Greek as they see it superior in perspicuity, gravity, and majesty. They still come to the defense of the value of the Septuagint:
Yet which of the Apostles did condemn it (the LXX)? Condemn it? Nay, they used it (as it is apparent as Saint Jerome and most learned men do confess), which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend to the Church, if it had been unworthy of the appellation and name of the word of God.
The KJV translators affirm that the Septuagint played a part in their translation in the 1611 KJV and that it is worthy of conveying the Word of God.
Of course, despite these statements of the scholars who translated the KJV, the KJV ONLY advocates assert that the KJV alone is without error… and the Septuagint is without value. Indeed, their late primary spokesperson, Peter Ruckman, denies the Apostles used the Septuagint contradicting what was presented as the historical truth by the KJV translators in the Preface to the 1611 authorized version (as we quoted above). In his Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence (Pensacola, Pensacola Bible Pres, 1976, p. 50), Ruckman writes, “People who believe there was a Septuagint before the time of Christ, are living in a dream world.” Apparently in this dream word, I exist. But my consolation is that I will find the 47 scholars who translated the King James as well. For the record, I’d be honored to be among them. I couldn’t wait to tell them what the KJV ONLY crowd made of their translation.
What this means is that debating with the KJV ONLY crowd is nigh impossible because they are ahistorical. This word means such folk don’t believe that any history can be trusted to be true unless they are willing to admit it is. It isn’t that they are ignorant of history, although in certain cases that may very well be true. Rather, it is that they deny history. Think Holocaust deniers. But don’t misunderstand my analogy. The KJV ONLY folk aren’t despicable persons like any and all Holocaust deniers. But the principle of denying accepted history is the same.
Consider ancient literary works. Did Homer write the Iliad and the Odyssey? History says he did somewhere around 700 B.C. Did Plato write The Republic? History also testifies to this fact. He wrote this classic about 380 B.C. But did 70 Jewish scholars conversant with Greek create the Septuagint in 285 B.C.? Accepted history says they did. Considerable historical evidence from Josephus, Philo, and others says they did. Despite this witness, the KJV ONLY people claim that it wasn’t written before the time of Christ. Why would they say that? Because the New Testament agrees with the Septuagint’s readings – often in disagreement with what the KJV says (as noted above). So do these same ahistorical people also deny the other ancient books were written? I don’t know, but I have reason to wonder.
Their attitude toward the LXX causes me to wonder whether they have demonstrated sufficient scholarly credentials to deserve a hearing on most any historical matter. I say this because they argue that the KJV translators created an inspired inerrant book. And yet those same translators themselves did not believe that what they wrote was inspired or inerrant. What’s more, they argued it would be a grave error to say their work was the final authority or that it was superior to the sources from which they created the translation.
Therefore, we must come to a decision: Does the KJV ONLY community know more than the scholars who translated the KJV version, who in fact used the Septuagint in their translation and asserted the Apostles used it as well?
From my standpoint, I am exceedingly sure they do not know more. But my point is not to disparage them. It is rather to convince them to change the basis upon which they stand on the promises of God. The preservation of the text has not been accomplished by a supernatural, super-revelatory translation called the King James Version. Rather, it is from the fact that (just in the case of the New Testament alone), there are almost 6,000 manuscripts, taken together along with the science of textual criticism practiced by thousands of trained Ph.D.s around the world, give us the sure Word of God without the risk that a single insignificant mistake of an addition or omission will invalidate the book that is the basis of our faith. God’s method of preservation isn’t any one translation including the King James Bible. It is the fact that thousands of Christians down through the ages have copied the Word of God that brought them life, leaving small snippets or scraps, a few pages loosely woven together, and whole copies of the Bible whether in dustbins or clay jars for us to discover in our modern day that we might learn what was originally written thousands of years before us. This is the means by which we have had the Bible preserved for our use.
But there is yet much more to be said about this subject. In due time, we will take that information up for consideration as well.