What's so great about the KJV?

I wasn’t sure whether to put this in GQ or GD, so if this is wrong, Mods, please move it.

There is this other message board I like to lurk at. It is a Fundamentalist Christian place, and I read it because I think it is funny/ absurd. I am aware of the fact that this makes me a horrible person. Now, the people on there call themselves Independent Baptists, and one of the major things they get really worked up about is the King James Version of the Bible. It is the ONLY version. Anything else is toilet paper. One of the members even said that the KJV was the Bible Jesus wrote, and this statement was met with approval (see, I told you this place was great!). So what is the deal with this? I have tried to figure it out, but everything I find just restates this as fact (“The King James Version of the Bible is the only correct version; if you read something else you are misinformed and going to hell”) and never really bothers to explain why this is so. Is this just a major case of stupidity? As in, these people really don’t understand that Jesus never wrote anything, let alone a Bible in English? And it’s not just this place; I’ve seen it repeatedly stated that the KJV is the Infallible Word of God, even to the point of saying if the original Greek differs from the way the KJV puts it, it is the Greek that is wrong.

So, what I’m asking is, How old is this convention? How widespread? And how did it start?

Interesting info in wiki about the “King James Only movement”:

The KJV replaced several earlier translations by the middle of the seventeenth century, to the point where it and the Catholic Douay-Challoner were the only translations in general circulation in the late nineteenth century.

The nineteenth century happened to be the period when nascent archaeology began turning up ancient and previously unknown manuscripts of the New Testament. These discoveries gave new impetus to a series of scholarly investigations into scripture that had been going on for a few hundred years, but in a rather quiet way.

Suddenly, there were scholars popping up all over Europe (and the Middle East) who were proposing alterrnative texts as the better sources for translating scripture into English. This new scholarship also coincided with events such as Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and other social and scientific events that challenged many long-held religious assumptions. The verious religious groups had two conflicting reactions: one group began looking to re-translate the scripture into English based on new information gleaned from the latest scholarship, leading to updated works such as the New American Standard Bible and, later, the Revised Standard Version; the other group believed that the new scholarship was faulty and that the Authorized Version of King James was the only work not “corrupted” by the new-fangled ideas that accompanied the later literary scholarship. (A few of this second group have given in to complaints about the archaic language of the KJV and have produced a New King James Version where the thees and thous become yous, etc., but the general trend among those who cherish the KJV is to hold to the original.)

I like the KJV for the poetry, not for the accuracy of translation. Apparently there are people out there who forget that is just that…a translation.

From the 17th to the 20th century, the King James Version of the bible was the standard and most popular Protestant bible translation. In the late 19th century, though, a group of English theologians decided to update the language and modernize the King James Bible. This new bible version became known as the “English Revised Version”, and a similar American project taking place at the same time was called the “American Standard Version”.

However, as well as updating the language of the King James Version, the translators had new sources to draw on. The King James Version used a version of the Greek New Testament called the “Textus Receptus”, which was published by the Dutch theologian Erasmus based on those texts of the New Testament he had available at the time.

However, when the English Revised Version was being translated, the translators had access to a lot of biblical manuscripts that Erasmus hadn’t known about, including some texts that were older than the ones Erasmus had access to. So when they used their translation, they used the other texts as well as the Textus Receptus, which led in some cases, to really different translations.

Jump ahead to the 1930s and 1940s, and there had been even more ancient texts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls found, and sothe publishers of the American Standard Version decided to start a new translation, which became the Revised Standard Version. This translation also changed a lot of language, and got some pretty heavy criticism from some people.

There would later be another translation of the bible in the 70s, also using a wide variety of ancient manuscripts, called the New international Version. Currently, the New International Version and the Revised Standard Version are the two most popular American bible translations, the NIV being more popular among evangelicals, and the RSV being more popular among liberal/modernist denominations.

However, like you said, there are some fundamentalists who think that the King James Version is the only proper English translation of the bible. This is because both the RSV and NIV draw from texts other than the Textus Receptus, and the KJV-only people think that the only correct text is the Textus Receptus…these other sources (which are called the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Sinaiticus, btw) are corrupt versions and counterfeits, and, by using them, the translators introduced anti-Christian messages into the other bible versions.

I only spent a couple of semesters studying Biblical Hebrew, and am in no way an expert. Nevertheless, my impression of the KJV from studying the Hebrew text is that it is an amazing translation.

It is hampered by its reliance on late and unreliable manuscripts, and by its use of language that was archaic and stilted even when it was published. But despite these limitations, it is an incredibly precise, almost word-for-word translation. That it manages to be so precise while attaining heights of poetic composition makes it truely genius. I have little doubt that for the time and given the manuscripts and knowledge available to the translators, it is as nearly perfect a translation as could have been made.

I’d love to have a copy of the KJV with a modern apparatus showing variations from the current critical texts. I’d love to have a modern translation that was its equal, but I’m afraid contemporary English simply isn’t up to it. The loss of seperate singular and plural 2nd person pronouns alone does serious damage to many passages of text. :frowning:

BTW, I’m fully aware of the irony of complaining about the shortcomings of contemporary English whilst using a smiley. My response to anyone inclined to point it out to me is simply:

No cite, but my impression is that it used to be a lot more common than it is today. For a long time the KJV was the Bible in English (at least among Protestants). The first serious attempts to update it were met with alarm, probably thinking along the following lines:

If every detail of the Bible, down to the wording, spelling, and punctuation, was inspired by God, then where two versions differ, one of them must be wrong—and I sure don’t want to believe it’s the Bible that I and my family have been reading and quoting and living by for generations that’s the wrong one.

If anybody can come along and rewrite/retranslate/change the Bible, they can make it say anything they want it to, and then how will we be able to trust it?

Changing/modernizing the Bible is just one symptom of changing/modernizing religion, and when you change The Truth, it isn’t The Truth anymore. [Garth from Wayne’s World]We fear change.[/Garth]

The KJV-only attitude is rarer today than it used to be. I’ve never encountered it in person, though I’ve definitely heard of it. The translation of choice among conservative Christians in America lately seems to be the New International Version.
(Maybe we’re making progress. It’s better than those (like William Tyndale) who were persecuted and/or executed for translating the Bible into English in the first place.)

Where is this site? It sounds fascinatingly STOOOPID!

In other words: SITE, please!

True Blue Jack

If you wish to exchange that information via e-mail, you may.

Please do not make a point of calling out other message boards as deficient in some way, announce the desire to “visit” them, then call for a link to be posted from the SDMB.

[ /Moderating ]

Not sure if I am thinking of the one already referenced, but I know of a good fundie forum that actually has an entire branch devoted to bible translations. The KJV arguments on it are epic, a recent thread is titled “Biblical proof positive that KJV-onlyists are stupid retards.” The name-calling that I’ve seen over correct bible translations over there makes the pit look like Disneyland. I’d be happy to email the link to you, but your email is not listed.

I just want to point out that I was very careful to not name the other message board I like to visit, and in fact left out a couple important identifying features for just that reason. However, my email is listed, and if isn’t against the rules I would be happy to tell whoever wants to know in that way.

miss elizabeth, we make no effort to censor or control the actions of posters when they are not posting to the SDMB.

We do discourage any action that will result in board wars, (such as going directly to another board from a link, here, particularly with the intent to raise a ruckus or to sneer, jeer, or leer).

Share the url with whomever you wish, but we do ask that posters who go to that site not identify themselves as Dopers, given that they will not be acting in any official capacity for the SDMB.

I do appreciate the fact that you did not provide a link with your commentary and I was only moved to comment after I saw a bit of potentially unfortunate exuberance in response.

I don’t have a great deal to add to what’s been already said. The KJV is a masterpiece of English literature of the Elizabethan-Jacobean period, and, as noted by Alan Smithee, a quite accurate and relatively literal translation of the Textus Receptus as well. As literature, its prose style is head and shoulders above any English translation before or since – the New English Version attempted to duplicate its quality as literature, with mixed results. For evidence, look at Isaiah 53, Psalms 23, 37, 51, 121, 126, and 130, Luke 3, and I Corinthians 13. Whether or not you agree with the contents theologically, they are moving, poetic prose.

Key to the whole KJV issue, however, is that Textus Receptus issue. The TR is a recension based on a majority of manuscripts. Modern scholarship much prefers using older (and thus putatively more error-free) manuscripts, the Uncial Codices, over the miniscule texts which are later and hence more prone to have accumulated copyist errors (and the majority of the TR’s sources can be traced back to a single early manuscript, which differs in some significant ways from the UCs). Hence the modern translations are founded on what is presumably better scholarship.

This is not, however, to impugn the scholarship that went into the TR. As anyone who has read Stephen Jay Gould’s essay on Archbishop James Ussher (he of the 4004 BC date), early efforts at good scholarship may suffer from inadequate data from the modern view, but were working with the best resources available at the time. However, many KJV fans invest the product of the old scholarship with qualities never intended by its translators, as the quote provided by Kimstu quite amply shows.

I am, in fact, curious about the ideas expressed in Kimstu’s quote and referenced by Polycarp. Where did the idea that the KJV may be a new revelation from God, even superior to the original texts, start? And was it based on anything substantial (for example, on the fact, cited by Alan Smithee, that the text is an amazing literary tour de force, blending beautiful poetry with an almost textual translation of the original text, making some people believe that it could not have been produced by man alone), or just on Anglo-centrism mixed with the idea that “this is what I grew up with, this is what is the best”?

See, my problem is that

I don’t really care how pretty it is; accuracy in translating the book which forms the basis for your religion should trump all else.

Well that’s a bit short-sighted, isn’t it? What if God intended it to be beautiful? Large sections of it are written as poetry, after all. It’s clearly a work of literature, not a VCR instruction manual for life.

Besides, as I pointed out, the KJV is one of the most accurate translations of the Bible ever produced. It just happens to be a translation of a no-longer widely favored set of manuscripts.

So? It has been superseded in accuracy by the RSV. In fact, with the New RSV, your (legitimate) concern about the singularity/plurality of the second person in Modern English is offset by other improvements (such as translating anthropos/[symbol]anqropos[/symbol])as “human” or some synonym where the KJV used the paternalistic “man” (more appropriately reserved to translate andros/[symbol]andros[/symbol]).

So…um…nothing? I wasn’t trying to argue a point beyond the one I actually made. I think the RSV and NRSV (hardly anyone uses the old RSV anymore, of course) are excelent translations. There is no question that the NRSV is perhaps the most accurate translation currently available. But the OP was about “What’s so great about the KJV,” and Captain Carrot seemed to be blithely dismissing what is, in fact, great about it.

I hardly ever read the KJV; the NRSV is my preferred text. But that doesn’t mean that the KJV should be dismissed as inaccurate. There have been times (I can’t think of any examples at the moment) when the NRSV seemed unclear or obscure and the KJV gave me a better sense of the original language. It’s still a valuable resource, even if it has been superceded by superior versions.

It seems to me that if the practice of a religion is dependent on the precise parsing or translation of text, then the message might not be all that clear in the first place.

Can someone provide a few examples where a person using KJV, NRSV and NIV would get significantly different meanings from various passages. I can see where different people using the same text can get different meanings because of individual interpretations. I’m looking for cases where a person would get a significantly different message depending on which translation he is using.