The King James Version Bible Family

Over the next week, Pursuing Veritas will take a look at one of the most influential “family trees” of English Bible translations, that of the King James Version. As one of the most influential editions of the Bible (ever, but especially in the English language family), the 1611 KJV has spawned countless translation “offspring”, editions and translations of the Biblical text that use the KJV as their starting point. While we cannot examine here every permutation of the KJV family, the translations being compared are as follows: the 1611 King James Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the 1985 King James Version, the New King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version. Over the next several days we will briefly examine the translation histories and philosophies behind each of these versions, consider the effectiveness of each translation, and then offer a brief comparison of each version’s translation of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. As a result of this series, we argue that the New Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version are the most effective translations from the KJV family for the modern context.

1611 King James Version (Authorized Version)

1611 KJV Title Page

1611 KJV Title Page

The 1611 edition of the King James Version remains one of the most influential works of literature in the English speaking world over four hundred years after its first publication (Noll). One of King James’ principles of translation for the six teams of scholars who worked on the KJV was that traditional ecclesiastical terms and names such as “church” and “Elijah” be retained and that completion of sense unites be noted in distinct typeface (Brake, 188f; Bruce, 98). Notably, there was some confusion concerning the translation of Jesus’ name was in the 1611 edition, as several versions translated Ἰησους as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36 (Brake, 206). As a translation, the editors of the KJV were driven to present of the truths of scripture and to making the word of God understandable for English readers (Preface, “The Translators to the Reader”). While the stated purpose of the KJV included calls for a translation, “as constant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek… ” (Bruce, 96), the final version was primarily based upon the 1602 Bishops Bible, and the translators drew upon the translations of Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible, as well as Greek, Latin, and German manuscripts for their translations (Brake, 190). In the 21st century, the 17th century KJV appears quite antiquated; indeed, it takes some level of skill to interpret the spelling conventions of the 1611 edition within the text. However, the cadence and prose of the KJV remains the default reading for many Christians today, and the impact of the 1611 KJV remains unparalleled in the English speaking world.

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