Is the King James Version the Only Good Translation?

Question from a reader:

I just finished reading your book, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters, and I must say that I am impressed. I thought you did a very good job of showing the plans Satan has, and how he uses the things I would have thought inconsequential to attack and bring down Christians. I know now that nothing is inconsequential, and I have to be on guard 24-7.

Having said that, there are some things I would like to clear up. In Letter 32, “Worship in the Forbidden Squadron,” Foulgrin remarks that of all the songs sang, only one is of immense concern, “Alas and did my Savior bleed?” He goes on to say two paragraphs later that they had “managed to get many to change from ‘such a wretch as I’ to ‘such a soul as I.’” and “What vast gains through changing a word or two!”

The fact that the demons work to change one or two words, and then change them again, and then yet again, makes me curious as to why you use the NIV. If demons would trumpet victory over the change of one or two words in a song written by man, how much more so if man changes the Word of God? And once it is done, how much easier is it to inflict more and more damage on the very thing Jesus left us with, His Word?

Consider Isaiah 14:12. The King James says “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!...” The NIV, however, reads like this; “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!...” The NIV replaced Lucifer with Christ! Numbers 24:17 “there shall come a star out of Jacob...”, Matthew 2:2 “...for we have seen his in the east...”, Revelation 22:16; :...I am the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” The list continues.

If this were the only mistake in the NIV, which it isn’t, it would still be a major victory for the forces of hell, and enough to prevent me from reading it. I don’t know for sure, but I would think it is easier and easier for each new “translation” by man to be twisted and perverted by demons, just as is mentioned in your otherwise very good book. I would, in closing, also like to point out that the line of text from which the NIV originates is the same line out of which comes the Catholic “bible.” This also is a pretty dark mark against this perversion of God’s Holy Word. Thank you for your time, and please respond.

Response from Randy Alcorn:

I forwarded your letter to my friend Jim Swanson, an original language scholar who has worked many years with various translations and has authored various Bible reference tools. I asked him to respond, since he is far more qualified than I. Having read his response, I believe he’s right on target. He reflects my position on this as well. I hope this is of help to you.

Answer from Jim Swanson:

You take the Word of God seriously, for that I commend you. We are on the same team in that regard. Now just under 50, I have given my whole adult career to the study and exposition of the Bible as it relates to the original languages and the translations that come from it. My lexicons are taped up and worn from use, evidence of literally thousands of hours in them. I guess what I am trying to say is I have “done my time” in Bible study and want to share with you my insights about your questions and observations below.

Your observations and questions in your letter assume two things: 1) that modern version translators wish to deceive and confuse the way as would a demon. 2) the the KJV is the standard by which all modern translations should be judged. I believe both are wrong assumptions.

First of all I grant you that there may be translators that purposely mistranslate a passage of Scripture. For example, the New English Bible translates “once upon a time...” in Genesis 11:1. This is translating the common “and then” (va-ya-hee) of Hebrew when transitioning in a narrative. When I saw that rendering it really got my blood pressure up. It is a gross and willful reinterpretation of the Hebrew text. The NEB translators were willfully trying to put the story into mythology with the turn of the phrase, when the Bible places it in history.

However, I have to say also that is the lone exception to a willful mistranslation I know of off hand (not including cult translations). I do have a track record. I have read and connected every word of the KJV and NIV to the original; not only that, I have spent thousands of hours referencing a dozen modern translations comparing them for accuracy to the original Hebrew.

I cannot vouch for the motives of every translator for all time (no doubt some cult versions are willfully dishonest such as the New World Translation in the passages which teach clearly the deity of Jesus Christ). But I have met some translators of today’s versions. Their spirituality varies from pious and conservative to liberal. But every one of them I have found to be honest and understand that their “mission” is to struggle to bring the words and the ideas they represent from Bible times into our language. They are on translation committees because they have given their careers and lives to study and bring forth what they love: study of the Bible. Hence, think the best of them unless evidence allows no other explanation. Compare that with a demon, who is always and only trying to destroy! Such comparisons are not becoming nor loving, especially to those translators that are Christian brothers. I choose to think the best of why a translator seemingly mistranslates.

For example, why did the translators of the KJV translate “Easter” in Ac. 12:4 (the word is lit. “passover” and is in every other place in the KJV “passover” Strongs number 3957)? Was it because that translator was a secret worshipper of the fertility god “Oster” (cf. “Easter” was a fertility goddess similar to the Biblical Ashtar)?

Or was it more likley that the translator was trying to now give a Christian context for the time of year such a festival is held? Think the best of the translators and spend your energy trying to discover WHY they translated something different. That approach will give you more understanding of the meaning underlying the translation. Which now brings me to the second assumption: the KJV is the standard by which to judge the accuracy of all other translations.

To make one English version THE version by which to compare all other versions is an error in thinking. Moses didn’t bring the 10 commandments down Sinai in the KJV. Jesus’ words were not recorded in red letter in the KJV on papyrii paper. No, the Bible was written originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. And every time a translation is made myriads and myriads of CHANGES IN THE FORM AND MEANING AND EVEN INFERENCE are made (whether Gothic, Ethiopic, Latin, English, and 3,000 other languages and dialects). The KJV made millions of changes from the Bible Languages to get the original thoughts into our language. I have personally found that translation is a reliable, though imperfect process. Keep reading and studying your English Bibles.

But since every version has to make these millions of changes from Hebrew and Greek into English, which version to use? My answer is to have a favorite, but use them all for comparison. When a real difference in wording and meaning occur, seek to discover WHY they are different and what are the interpretation issues. Such a process takes time and thoughtful study. Christian Book stores, Bible teachers, Pastors, select reference books, evening classes, even a selected website, are all good “tools” to help you discover the underlying issues of translation of the Bible. Or maybe God is calling you to go to Bible School.

The styles of Bible translation range from more word-for-word (so-called “literal” cf. English Standard Bible) to thought-for-thought (New Living Translation). KJV, NIV, NRSV are a mix of both literal (concordant style wording) and dynamic (thought for thought). For example “God forbid” in the KJV is not literal. The NASB is closer to literal with “may it never be!” But the KJV chose to be dynamic to give the full impact of Paul’s scornful disdain in Ro. 3:4. The NIV chose to translate with the same impact “Not at all!” Both the KJV and NIV discarded the literal form to enhance the total impact of the Greek.

Concerning your specific illustration of the corruption of the NIV in contrast to the KJV, Lucifer. If you took my approach to understand the differences (and not question motives and standards) you would discover that it is mostly inference and not direct hermaneutics that the Bible teaches the Devil’s name is Lucifer. “lucifer” (no caps) is the Catholic Bible’s wording (Vulgata) in Isa 14:12. The KJV simply lifted the Catholic translation verbatim (exact letters) and capitalized it.

There is a real Devil, and he has plenty of nasty names and titles (cf. Rev. 12:9), but one of his titles may not be “Lucifer.” The name Lucifer in Hebrew (HEY-LAY-L) is found only one time in the OT Hebrew. Since we do not have other contexts to compare, a translator will tend to try and discover the associated Hebrew forms (some call “roots”) in this case to the verb “to shine, flash forth light” (HLL root 1). Hence roughly the name means “light bearer.” But to what does a “light bearer” refer? The first Greek OT translation (called Septuagint or LXX) translated it “evening star” since a star is one of the heavenly bodies that holds light. The NIV calls it “the morning star” (which both morning and evening “star” in ancient parlance usually refers to the bright orb of what we call the planet Venus usually so prominent in the morning and evening sky).

But who in context is the one that is this prominent light orb? To whom does it ultimately refer? Satan? Isaiah 14:4 says this is a taunt or proverb against the king of Babylon. Therefore you have to intellectualize and take out of context the simple truth that Lucifer or morning star refers to neither the Devil nor Jesus in this context, but to a terribly proud human king of a country called Babylon.

I sat in a seminary class and the professor spent one hour telling why this passage refers to Satan and not a human king. Maybe he is right, and maybe he is wrong. But it is not an issue of the translation, but of the theological interpretation to make a conclusion that this refers to Satan.

One final word of caution. Keep separate “meaning” and “reference.” For Example “Jesus” in the NT means “the Lord saves” (cf. Mt. 1:21) and 922 times it refers to our Savior, Son of God, born of Mary. But one time it refers to a mere sinful human, son of Eliezer (Lk. 3:29). Because they have the same names does not mean the former is sinful, nor that the latter is a Savior. Keep reference and meaning two separate steps. So in the same way, Jesus may be the wonderful Morning Star (Rev 22:16), and the “king of Babylon” a proud nasty king (Isa 14:12). Though the same or similar in meaning (“star, light bearer”), they refer to two completely separate persons: the first to be worshipped, the second to be taunted. Don’t combine meaning and reference into one step.

The KJV is a solid translation; but do not make the mistake that it is above examination and change simply because it was authorized by some fallible king (James). That would be the same mistake that the Catholics make in having only authorized translations by a (fallible) pope’s decree. Can’t you see you have just swapped titles and names but it is exactly the same in principle? What authorizes a translation is how true to the meaning of the original Bible documents. No translation does that perfectly; though most every translation does it reliably.

Image by joyfruit from Pixabay

James A. Swanson (ThB, MSM, MTh) is a biblical studies scholar with original language expertise. His works include A Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (OT)A Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (NT), and A Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Aramaic (OT).